Wednesday, 29 May 2013

The many faces of Edward VI

Edward VI was born on the 12th October 1537 and was the long awaited son of Henry VIII by his third wife Jane Seymour. From his birth Edward was heir to the throne of England and he became king upon his father's death in January 1547 as Edward VI, England's boy king. Sadly his reign was short due to his death on the 6th July 1553  from a prolonged pulmonary infection. Despite the brevity of both his reign and life there are many surviving portraits of him, which depict his growth from infancy to a young king eager to emulate his father.


The above portrait of the baby Prince Edward was painted by Hans Holbein in 1538 as a new year's gift for Henry VIII. The Prince is dressed in rich, fashionable clothes and there is an ostrich feather tucked in his cap which symbolises his position as heir to the throne (to this day the ostrich feather is used as the symbol of the Prince of Wales). His position is both poised and authoritative as he sits straight backed whilst gazing straight out at the viewer with more gravity and authority than one would usually attribute to a toddler; so even from an early age the Prince's capacity for kingship is being advocated. The inscription in the foreground of the painting is in Latin and was composed by Sir Richard Morison who was a propagandist and diplomat for Henry VIII. When translated into English the inscription reads: 'Little one, emulate thy father and be the heir of his virtue; the world contains nothing greater. Heaven and earth could scarcely produce a son whose glory would surpass that of such a father. Do thou but equal the deeds of thy parent and men can ask no more. Shouldst thou surpass him, thou hast outstript all, nor shall any surpass thee in ages to come'. Given the degree of flattery for both father and son in this short inscription Sir Richard must have been good at his job and popular with Henry!



The above cameo depicts Henry VIII with his arm draped around Edward's shoulders. Unfortunately I couldn't find much information concerning the date or artist of this piece, but it is currently housed in the Queen's Royal Collection. Despite the lack of available information this cameo also seems to depict Edward at a young age as there are notable similarities with the above portrait, given the lace skull cap and thin fringe of hair that is visible, and even the style of tunic. However this piece best illustrates Henry's adoration of his little son, Henry loved all of his children but Edward was much more valuable due to his legitimacy and most importantly his sex.


The above portrait of Edward was painted by Hans Holbein c.1541, it has faded over the years due to exposure to sunlight. A notable feature of this portrait is the monkey that the Prince cradles, monkeys were popular royal pets in the sixteenth century due to them being exotic and expensive creatures. They were also popular due to them providing entertainment through their antics and through them performing tricks. No doubt as a young boy Edward would have enjoyed playing with them.


The above portrait of Edward in profile was painted by William Scrots c.1546 and like many members of his family, including his grandparents, father and sisters, he is painted holding a rose. In Edward's case this is likely to be in demonstration of how the Tudor dynasty is flourishing and growing with Henry VIII on the throne and his healthy legitimate son waiting to continue the line.


The above painting is another by Scrots c.1546 which shows Edward again in profile but using the fashionable technique of anamorphosis, which would have been done to demonstrate the artist's skill and to entertain the young Prince.



This portrait of Edward c.1546 shows him beginning to emulate his father as he stands in imitation of the pose infamous to Henry VIII in the Holbein portraits, with his feet slightly apart, hands gesturing towards his codpiece and gaze staring boldly out. His clothes are trimmed with ermine and gold, so in this portrait Edward clearly a king in waiting. His face has lost much of the roundness that it held in previous portraits and the artist is presenting the nine year old Prince as a miniature adult. In the top left of the painting a house is visible in the distance, many have suggested that this house is Hunsdon House which was a favourite residence in Hertfordshire of both Edward and his elder sister Mary.



Above is an allegory for the succession c.1570 which depicts the dying Henry VIII on the left and the young King Edward VI in the centre. On the right the old king's councillors kneel to the new king and beneath Edward the Pope is crushed by the weight of the 'word of God' in English. In the top right of the painting people can be seen burning and destroying religious images/icons that were seen as superstitious by the radicals that gained power in Edward's reign. So this painting represents  the huge steps in the Protestant Reformation that were undertaken throughout Edward's short reign.


Portrait of Edward as king by William Scrots c.1550 which shows a very serious looking adolescent king.


The above painting is by an unknown artist c.1590 and is titled 'An Allegory of the Tudor Succession: The Family of Henry VIII'. The painting portrays Henry VIII seated on the throne in the centre of the painting regally holding a scepter in one hand and the sword of justice in the other. On Henry's right in the painting Mary and her husband Philip II stand with Mars the God of War looming behind them. Whereas on Henry's left Elizabeth holds the hand of Peace and is followed by Plenty. Dwarfed by his sisters, Edward kneels as a rather diminutive figure at Henry's side and he receives the sword of justice from his father. Edward is not followed by any representative figure and he alone receives the sword which is bigger than he is. This work was commissioned by Elizabeth as a gift for Sir Francis Walsingham. (to the left is an enlarged image of Edward from the painting)

Further Reading: 
Edward VI by Jennifer Loach
Edward VI: the lost King of England by Chris Skidmore
In fine style: the art of Tudor and Stuart fashion by Anna Reynolds
www.npg.org.uk

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