King Edward VI

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King Edward VI

by Workshop associated with 'Master John'
oil on panel, circa 1547
61 1/4 in. x 32 in. (1556 mm x 813 mm)
Purchased, 1982
Primary Collection
NPG 5511

On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

  • King Edward VI (1537-1553), Reigned 1547-53. Sitter associated with 48 portraits.

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

Edward's wide-legged pose mimics that of his father Henry VIII in the Whitehall Cartoon. X-ray analysis has revealed that originally he had an even wider stance but the artist altered the position of Edward's right foot during the painting process, possibly because the pose may have looked strange for such a young boy. The coat of arms was also added late in the painting process, which may indicate that the portrait was begun while Edward was prince and completed after he became king.

Linked publicationsback to top

  • I-Spy National Portrait Gallery, 2010, p. 7
  • 100 Portraits, p. 20
  • Smartify image discovery app
  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 29 Read entry

    The son of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour, Edward became king at the age of nine after his father’s death in 1547. Scholarly and a fervent Protestant, he ruled with the help of a council that was dominated first by his uncle Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, in the role of Lord Protector, and, subsequently, by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. He was described by the Italian physician and astrologer Girolamo Cardano as ‘of a stature somewhat below the middle height, pale-faced with grey eyes, a grave aspect, decorous and handsome’. He was a healthy child but contracted tuberculosis after a bout of measles and died aged only fifteen. As the longed-for heir, Edward was painted by a number of artists throughout his childhood. This painting was intended to mark Edward’s investiture as Prince of Wales but had to be transformed into an image of him as king after Henry VIII’s death in January 1547; this was achieved through the addition of the pillar and the royal coat of arms in place of a second window. Edward’s pose mimics that of his father in the Whitehall mural, which suggests that Holbein’s painting had already come to be recognised as a means of making a visual statement of authority. X-ray analysis shows that Edward originally had an even broader stance, but the artist altered the position of his right foot during the painting process, possibly because the exaggerated pose looked strange when adopted by such a young boy.

  • Bolland, Charlotte, The Tudors Passion, Power and Politics, 2022, p. 46
  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 76
  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), pp. 88-93
  • Cannadine, Sir David (Introduction); Cooper, Tarnya; Stewart, Louise; MacGibbon, Rab; Cox, Paul; Peltz, Lucy; Moorhouse, Paul; Broadley, Rosie; Jascot-Gill, Sabina, Tudors to Windsors: British Royal Portraits, 2018 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Texas, USA, 7 October 2018 -3 February 2019. Bendigo Art Gallery, Australia, 16 March - 14 July 2019.), p. 43
  • Clare Gittings, The National Portrait Gallery Book of Elizabeth I, 2006, p. 4
  • Gittings, Clare, The National Portrait Gallery Book of The Tudors, 2006, p. 15
  • MacLeod, Catharine, Tudor Portraits in the National Portrait Gallery Collection, 1996, p. 19
  • Rab MacGibbon, National Portrait Gallery: The Collection, p. 17
  • Ribeiro, Aileen, The Gallery of Fashion, 2000, p. 36
  • Ribeiro, Aileen; Blackman, Cally, A Portrait of Fashion: Six Centuries of Dress at the National Portrait Gallery, 2015, p. 47
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 195
  • Various contributors, National Portrait Gallery: A Portrait of Britain, 2014, p. 39 Read entry

    Edward VI succeeded his father as king in January 1547, aged nine years, and it is likely that this portrait was painted around the time of his accession. Learned and devoutly Protestant, Edward instigated the removal of images from churches and the introduction of Archbishop Cranmer’s first Book of Common Prayer, the enforced use of which led to a series of violent uprisings.

    Edward is shown richly dressed and wearing the Greater George of the Order of the Garter. His pose is similar to that of his father Henry VIII in the Whitehall cartoon. Technical analysis has revealed that his feet were originally even further apart and were adjusted by the artist before the portrait was finished, perhaps because it appeared an odd pose for a young boy. A second arched window was initially placed to the left but was superimposed by the pillar with Edward’s coat of arms, suggesting that the boy king had inherited the throne before the portrait was completed. At least three different artists appear to have worked on the painting, which would not have been uncommon for a busy workshop.

  • Williamson, David, Kings and Queens, 2010, p. 93
  • Williamson, David, The National Portrait Gallery: History of the Kings and Queens of England, 1998, p. 93

Linked displays and exhibitionsback to top

Events of 1547back to top

Current affairs

Death of King Henry VIII and the coronation of King Edward VI, aged nine. Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset is appointed Lord Protector.
Parliament repeals the Act of Six Articles of Religion, 1539. The English Reformation becomes more Protestant.
The Abolition of Chantries Acts (1545 and 1547) dissolve over 2,000 chapels which had held masses for the dead.

Art and science

The Book of Homilies is published to promote preaching in English.
Full-length portrait of King Edward VI is painted the Dutch artist William Scrots.
Somerset House is constructed in London for Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset.


The Battle of Mühlberg - the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V defeats the Protestant Schmalkaldic League.
Death of Francis I of France and accession of Henri II.
Coronation of Ivan IV of Russia (the Terrible), the first ruler of Russia to assume the title Tsar.

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