Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore

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Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore

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Category: History
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Often overwhelmed by the looming figures of his father, Henry VIII and his sister, Elizabeth I, Edward VI presided over a dramatic stage in the Reformation and it's brought to life in this lively, interesting and accessible book by Chris Skidmore.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 320 Date: January 2007
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson
ISBN: 978-0297846499

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What do you know about Edward VI and his short reign, so often overshadowed by the towering figures of his father, Henry VIII and his sister, Elizabeth I and to a lesser extent, by his sister Mary? Edward is often overlooked, viewed as a sickly boy king, manipulated by his nobles and a mere chess piece in the contemporary battles of religion and succession. The occasional rumour of death by arsenic poisoning gets some circulation, but not often, and Jane Grey, queen for just a few days after Edward's death, is a much better known figure in the popular imagination.

Yet Edward wasn't always a sickly child. He excelled at physical sport. His final illness - probably tuberculosis according to Chris Skidmore - lasted only a few months and before it, he had been perfectly hale and hearty. Many of the first, wrenching moves towards a Protestant church actually occurred during Edward's reign, but we tend to think of Henry VIII as their architect. Yet Henry was actually a religious conservative. He may have broken with the Pope, but it was Edward who introduced the Book of Common Prayer and Edward who tore down the altars and defaced the images of the saints. So radical had the Reformation become in the six short years of Edward's rule, his Catholic sister Mary found herself unable to reverse them. Understanding Edward's reign is key to understanding those that followed.

Or so Chris Skidmore thinks. And in this book about Edward, significantly subtitled The Lost King of England, he sets out to prove it. And the result is a rattling good read, full of intrigue, tension, treachery and religious fervour.

I'm all for accessible history. I'm also for accessible history from writers who realise that their subjects are as interesting, contentious and controversial as they themselves could ever be. Much as I appreciate David Starkey, I would rather the characters took centre stage, not the person writing about them. There's no danger of the characters not taking centre stage here. Skidmore has written a lively, interesting book - for the non-academic reader, it is very much along the lines of the exemplary books put out by Alison Weir. Skidmore's opinions, judgements and conclusions are very clear, but they do not overtake the relation of events. The notes and sources are accurate but not overwhelming to the lay reader. The style is taut and pacy and it's a great credit to Skidmore that you find yourself eagerly turning the page to see what happens next, despite knowing what happens next.

I shouldn't imagine it was an easy task, disconnecting such a short period of time as Edward's reign from that which went before and that which followed, but Skidmore has succeeded remarkably well. He wanted, I think, to show that Edward was not the sickly child always destined for an early grave that we tend to think he was. Skidmore wanted to show a bright, passionate young man who could, had he lived, have been as remembered a ruler as either his father or his sister. And that's very possibly true.

Thanks very much to the publisher, Orion, for sending the book.

Those interested in intelligent but accessible history for the lay reader might also like Alison Weir's view on the world's most famous whodunnit - The Princes in the Tower.

Buy Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Edward VI: The Lost King of England by Chris Skidmore at Amazon.com.

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