Edward VI before his coronation

A slender young boy slipped out of his bed to prepare himself for the biggest event of his life. He was a small, sickly-looking boy, but his eyes shone with a radiant luster that seemed to glow with an inner light. Some remarked of him that he was an “angel in the body of a boy.” But this boy, a humble Christian, would have been the last to call himself an angel

Before getting dressed, he slipped to his knees to pray. This was a habit he carried all through his life. Kneeling beside his bed, he prayed a prayer that his tutor had taught him and he had memorized,

Almighty and most merciful Father, I have erred and strayed from Thy ways like a lost sheep. I have followed too much the devices and desires of my own heart. I have offended against Thy holy laws. I have left undone those things which I ought to have done; and I have done those things which I ought not to have done; and there is no health in me. But Thou, O Lord, have mercy upon me a miserable offender. Spare Thou me, O God, which confess my faults, restore Thou me, that am penitent; according to Thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesus our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for His sake, that I may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, to the glory of Thy holy name. Amen.

These words are now famous as one of the important prayers in the English Book of Common Prayer. But in this day, they were the words composed by a Godly preacher named Thomas Cranmer for the personal use of his young charge, a prince named Edward. The boy prayed this prayer, not as liturgy, but as the fervent prayer of a humble heart.

Finishing his prayer, Edward allowed his servants to enter his private chamber in the Tower of London. They were already waiting to attend him. For three full weeks, they had been preparing for this event. They dressed their young master in a long gown of crimson velvet. The outer garments were embroidered with silver and gold. Rubies were set in his belt. Upon his head was placed a white cap set with diamonds and pearls. As the boy emerged onto the street, he was greeted by a shout of triumph from crowds assembled in the streets, “God save the King!”

Edward was only nine years old, but today was the procession to his coronation ceremony as King Edward VI, ruler of one of the most mighty and respected kingdoms on the face of the earth. In spite of the warmth of his long velvet robe, he trembled at the weight of responsibility he now carried. A pang of sadness also passed over him as he thought upon the event that made this day so important. Only recently he and his two sisters had wept together over the death of their father. The crown had passed by dynastic law to the head of Edward, the only son.

Edward VI around 1550

Finally, the young king was ready. First there would be a royal procession from the Tower of London through the streets of the city to Westminster Abbey, where the coronation ceremony was to take place on the following day. A magnificent horse was brought forward, and the young king had to be lifted onto the back of the noble steed. Bishops, dukes, lords, and officers took their places in the royal train.

Three swords were brought forward, emblematic of the three kingdoms under his dominion. These swords were to be carried in the procession. Edward now spoke up with a remark that surprised his attendants, “One sword is yet wanting.”

For a moment, the attendants thought they had omitted something in the royal ceremony. Had a treaty been made, a kingdom added, that they were unaware of? No. The youthful king had in mind a different sword. When the nobles and attendants inquired what the king meant, Edward replied,

The Bible. That book is the Sword of the Spirit, and to be preferred before these swords. That ought in all right to govern us, who use them for the people’s safety by God’s appointment. Without that sword we are nothing, we can do nothing, we have not power. From the Bible we are what we are this day. From it we receive whatsoever it is that we at present do assume. He that rules without it is not to be called God’s minister or king. Under the Bible, the word of God, we ought to live, to fight, to govern the people and to perform all our affairs. From it alone we obtain all power, virtue, grace, salvation, and whatsoever we have of divine strength.

At these words, a Bible was brought and carried in the royal procession in front of young King Edward. At Westminster, the king was prepared for the official coronation, which was to take place the following day.

On this next day, at Westminster Abbey, the King was brought before the people. The King of England lay prostrate before the Throne of God as Thomas Cranmer prayed for Divine Blessing upon the new king. Edward was anointed with oil, and then the Crown Imperial was placed upon his head. The crown he wore was actually a reproduction, specially made to fit his small head. Trumpets sounded in the hall as the people cried, “God save the King.”

Thomas Cranmer, the minister of God, now gave a charge to the king. For the first time in many long years, a King of England was crowned, not by the authority of the Roman Pope, but by the authority of Jesus Christ. Cranmer announced,

Not from the bishop of Rome, but as a messenger from my Saviour Jesus Christ, I shall most humbly admonish your Royal Majesty what things your highness is to perform.

Cranmer then proceeded to give the king a charge from the Bible. He quoted the duties of a king from the Book of Deuteronomy. He admonished King Edward to see that Jehovah be worshipped in truth, to destroy idolatry, and to banish the tyranny of Roman bishops from his dominions. He commanded him “to reward virtue, to avenge sin, to justify the innocent, to relieve the poor, to procure peace, to repress violence, and to execute justice” in his dominions.

Cranmer then compared the young king to Josiah, the eight year old king of Judah of whom it was written “while he was yet young, he began to seek after the God of David his father: and in the twelfth year he began to purge Judah and Jerusalem from the high places, and the groves, and the carved images, and the molten images” (II Chronicles 34:3).

Concluding his address, Cranmer invoked the blessing of the God of David, Solomon, and Josiah upon the head of the new English monarch, “The Almighty God in His mercy let the light of His countenance shine upon your majesty, grant you a prosperous and happy reign, defend you, and save you; and let your subjects say, ‘Amen, God save the King.’”


Edward VI reigned only six short years. But his brief reign was a model of Godliness. Cranmer once said of the young king that he had “more divinity in his little finger than we have in our whole bodies.” Edward wrote a scholarly treatise “Against the Primacy of the Pope” when he was only 12 years old. He outlawed the idolatrous mass in England, enforcing the prohibition even against his own sister, Mary. His tender letters to his older sisters are a model of gracious but firm Christian witness. He elevated Godly preachers such as Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley to places of influence. He also secured the release of John Knox from the French galleys, paving the way for the Scottish Reformation. On the practical side, Edward founded schools for the poor and hospitals for the needy. Under his reign thirty-four editions of the English Bible were printed and disseminated over the land. This was all less than a decade after William Tyndale, the translator, had been burned at the stake.

Edward VI died at the age of fifteen. Bishop Hopper wrote of his life and death, “He died young but lived long, if life be action.” Edward VI has been called, and rightly so, the “British Josiah.” His example serves as an enduring model of what a Christian ruler over a Christian people ought to be. The “Sword of the Spirit” was the guiding rule of his life and reign, and God’s Word did not return void.


The British Josiah by N. A. Woychuk
The History of the Reformation by J. H. Merle D’Aubigne