Saturday, June 27, 2009

Question from Catharine - Choice of Edward VI's name


I have a personal question that has always puzzled me. I hope you can give me an answer.
Why did Henry VIII and Jane Seymour name their legitimate son Edward, when his (supposed) two illegitimate sons (with Bessie Blount and Mary Boleyn)were named Henry?
I know this question may be asked on hearsay that I have read but I hope you can enlighten me one way or another.

Catharine Gauden


PhD Historian said...

Parents, especially wealthy parents, did not ordinarily attend the actual christening ceremony of their own infant, though they did attend the celebrations after the ritual. Instead, the godparents usually stood proxy. And it was customary for the godparents to select the name for the child, though they usually did so in consultation with the parents. For a male child, the godfather(s) usually chose the name, while the godmother(s) chose for a girl. But in the instance of Edward VI, I am inclined to believe that Henry VIII himself asserted final veto power over the name chosen.

I have never seen any historian present solid evidence for why the name "Edward" was chosen, rather than "Henry," but we can certainly speculate. Recall that Henry VII had named his first child "Arthur," believed by many to be a reference to the legendary Arthur of Camelot. Henry VII reserved his own name for the second child. Henry VIII may well have been following that precedent ... especially since the entire christening ceremony followed Margaret Beaufort's prescribed format.

"Edward," like "Arthur," was the name of a famous and much-admired former English king: Edward the Confessor. "Edward" was also the name of one of the ancient hero-kings of Wales, Edward the Great (circa 1300 BC).

Further, "Edward" was the name of the 14th-century English king from whom the rival Yorkist and Lancastrian lines descended. Perhaps Henry VIII and Prince Edward's godfathers were making a reference not unlike the "Arthur" reference of the previous generation, signaling the final reconciliation of the rival clans in the person of the new prince.

Lastly, with Henry VIII's acknowledged but illegitimate son named "Henry" only recently dead, naming the first legitimate son "Henry" as well may have posed certain problems ... confusion among the general populace, animosity within the royal family and court, whatever. I have to suspect there was "sensitivity" toward that name being used again so soon ... not out of any respect for the dead duke of Richmond, but owing instead to purely political concerns.

Lara said...

I wonder if maybe Henry also associated some bad luck or bad memories with naming an heir Henry, since he had two sons with Catherine of Aragon that were named Henry but didn't survive?

little_miss_sunnydale said...

Did perhaps the fact that Edward was born on the eve of St Edward's Day have anything to do with the choice? If I remember correctly the 13th October is St Edward the Confessor’s feast day (or another such event connected to this figure), and Henry’s son was born on the 12th. Could this have had an impact on Henry’s choice (along with the reasons laid out excellently in PhD Historian’s post)?

PhD Historian said...

A excellent observation, Little Miss Sunnydale! Well done! October 13 is indeed the feast day for Saint Edward the Confessor, and the prince's birth on the eve of that feast reinforces the likelihood that he was named for the ancient English king.

Anonymous said...

I agree that he was named for St Edward the Confessor because Henry VIII was a very religious and superstitious man in general, and he liked to do everything according to "God's will", or what he thought would be God's will. He divorced Katherine of Aragon because it said in the Bible that it was sinful to marry your brother's wife, and divorced Anne Boleyn because of his affair with Anne's sister, which apparently meant that there was already an affinity between them. He always gave religious reasons for everything he did (even if it was just his own selfishness). Also, he had been waiting for a son for so long that he would probably want to give thanks to God for his child, and what better way to do so than by naming his baby after an important saint?

Diane said...

Another thing to consider is that Jane Seymour's oldest brother was named Edward and also Henry's maternal grandfather and uncle.