Saturday, August 14, 2021

The Boy King by Janet Wertman examines the short reign of the young Tudor monarch, Edward VI

The six-year reign of Edward VI is often forgotten amid the eventful lives of his fellow Tudor monarchs. With the newest novel in her Seymour saga, Janet Wertman shows why the boy and his era are worth a closer look.

Born in 1537 as the long-sought male heir to Henry VIII and his third queen, Jane Seymour, who died days later, Edward embodied the hopes not just of his family but of the entire nation. His story in Wertman’s retelling is one of unachieved potential, a theme which Edward himself sadly acknowledges. He knows he’s too young to rule alone.

Spanning from his father’s death in 1547 to his own in 1553, aged fifteen, the novel is pure catnip for fans of Tudor politics – which are made easy to grasp because politics and character are so inextricably woven together. Lonely and overprotected, with the most private aspects of his life governed by ritual (a scene showing how his bed is freshly assembled each night to assure his safety is illuminating for both him and the reader), Edward struggles to discern his advisors’ true motives. They may have England’s best interests at heart, or they could be seeking to consolidate power.

The ongoing rivalry between the Lord Protector – his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset – and John Dudley, Earl of Warwick, plays out in powerful fashion, and the behavior of Somerset’s irresponsible brother, Tom, teaches Edward a tough lesson. Not even a nine-year-old likes to be caught off guard.

Edward’s viewpoint, shown in close third person, is utterly credible: his yearning to fulfill the promise that his birth foretold, his internal growth as he learns the threats facing his realm and rule, and his longings for aspects of a normal childhood. His insistence on viewing an acrobat’s street performance on his coronation day is meaningful and sad, “the first time since his accession that he had actually done what he wanted instead of what someone else wanted.” Edward’s cascade of emotions while seated on the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey, in full view of the large congregation, is magnificent:

“After a joyous time, he caught his breath and his heart returned to normal… The warm oil’s touch on his forehead was a mystical cord binding him to Christ. For a moment he was Christ, all blinding light and pulsating energy. Then the word pulled him back and from that height he tumbled through time, past the other sanctified prophets and rulers, until he was just himself sitting on the holy chair again, a boy straining to hold the heavy regalia upright.”

The Boy King has a serious tone befitting its subject, so the few moments of joy and kindness stand out, such as Edward’s love for his loyal dog and his friendship with Barnaby Fitzpatrick, a baron’s son whose honesty he trusts. Alas, their closeness is used against him.

In counterpoint to Edward’s perspective, Wertman also gives us that of his sister, Mary, a woman in her thirties whose devotion to her mother’s Catholicism is as fervent as Edward’s Protestant beliefs. While his councilors urge lenience with Mary’s religious expression, in the interest of international diplomacy, Edward detests “popish superstition.” Although Edward’s personal story is tragically short, one can’t help but wonder how his intolerance would have affected England in the future, had he lived longer.

The Boy King was independently published in 2020; thanks to the author for the Kindle copy. [Find it on Goodreads]


  1. Such a "What If" story!

  2. I know - history could have been so different. It makes you think.

  3. If only - I read this in a recent book I read. So much would be different. Not just for kings though.

  4. Yes, I agree - the changes would be widespread.