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Archive for Edward VI

Bears, Stairs, and Tuberculosis


Maybe it’s because Halloween is drawing close (and has been since July, if you like craft stores) but I am morbidly enchanted by the song “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” by Train, a fixture on radio stations in my area. I hadn’t paid much attention to the lyrics, but last night it came on in the car and when my 10-year-old daughter started belting out all the words I finally realized just what was going on!

Here’s the story: Girl breaks up with guy. Guy runs into friends from time to time who ask how girlfriend is doing and where she is. Too embarassed to admit he’s been dumped, guy instead tells them she’s dead, making up different scenarios for different friends. It’s like the pop-music version of Edward Gorey’s Gashlycrumb Tinies.

“She was caught in a mudslide / Eaten by a lion / Got run over by a crappy purple Scion / Help me, help me, I’m no good at goodbyes! / And ways to say you died.”

Factor in the mariachi band in the background, and that the melody sounds awfully Phantom-of-the-Opera-y, and you’ve got a delightfully disturbing ditty.

When we read about the Tudor period, it seems like everyone and their illegitimate offspring is dying of consumption (tuberculosis). We know some particularly gory details about Edward VI’s final days with this dreadful disease. When your nails are dropping off, your skin is blue, and you’re coughing up a stinky black substance, all the codpieces and ermine cloaks in the world are not going to distract from that.

Monarchs and others in power were always in danger of assassination. Then there were mysterious accidents, such as Robert Dudley’s wife, Amy Robsart, who took a fatal spill down a flight of stairs.

Have a look at this BBC article for ten unusual accidental deaths discovered in 16th-century coroners’ reports. Maypole injuries, mad cows, bear attacks, even “testicles crushed in a Christmas game.” Honestly!


Guess Who I Ran Into Today!

As I turned a bend in one of the galleries at Washington D.C.’s National Gallery of Art this morning, I ran into a familiar face!                                                                        

(click for a larger view)

Hans Holbein the Younger whipped up this portrait of toddler Eddie VI in around 1538.

The text translates to “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 has outstript all, nor shall any surpass thee in ages to come. By Sir Richard Morison.”

He is holding a golden rattle, what every baby needs! The gold accents in the painting really stand out and add some nice texture to this regal portrait. Little Ed is the only Tudor I ran into on the main floor of the National Gallery but next time I go I will explore the lower floor for more of our favorite family.

After You, Who?

Here’s a stellar 5:40 bit from Showtime on life after Henry VIII . He was a tough act to follow, for sure, but someone had to do it! Take a gander at how the succession went for the remainder of the Tudor period.

Something in the Heir

Tuberculosis creates cavities visible in x-ray...

Image via Wikipedia

It’s April and the leaves are emerging, the days are longer, and the robins are out (so is the pollen, but I digress). New beginnings are all around us now, but April 1552 signaled the beginning of the end for young Eddie VI, Henry VIII’s only legitimate son and intended savior of the post-Henry dynasty. He was smacked down by measles, and although his illness was a short one, it may have contributed to possible his death by tuberculosis (the most common theory, though not proven beyond a doubt).  

The spotty sickness is thought to suppress the body’s natural immunity to TB, and he would have only needed to be exposed to the pulmonary disease briefly after having had measles. His swift downward spiral came at the start of 1553 and gained momentum with each passing month. Scattered fevers and fits of coughing gave way to a major drop in weight and some amazing technicolor vomit: yellow, green, black, and pink.

By late May, the boy-king’s demise was a done deal. Eddie had grown up draped in the most gorgeous fabrics and in the most sumptuous settings, but now all vanity took a back seat. He was coughing up a black carbon-like substance that stunk to the high heavens and sank when placed in a basin of water.  His hair and nails were falling out, and his skin was turning blue. He was wasting away and yet blown up like a balloon. The “medicine” he was given was a concoction of raisins, dates, turnips, celery, pork, fennel, and spearmint syrup. If I were given that, I’d be producing something worse than heavy carbon mucus, that’s for sure.

He whispered his last prayer on the evening of 6 July 1553, while a major thunderstorm raged outside his windows and red hailstones pelted the earth. By six o’clock he was dead and the Lady Jane Grey saga began. When Eddie’s docs did an autopsy, they found huge black pits in his lungs, smelly with decay. The findings are consistent with death from TB, though at the time many thought (from his skin color and swellings) that he was actually poisoned. Tuberculosis is the likely cause, but it’s never been determined exactly what was in that long-awaited, celebrated heir.

Ye Olde Christmas Workout

winter walk

Image by AlicePopkorn via Flickr

It’s about time for another Tudor Christmas factoid and I couldn’t resist this one: The boy king, Edward VI, passed a law back in 1551 declaring that everyone had to walk to church for Christmas services. Easy for him to say, as he probably just woke up Christmas morning and padded down the warm hall in his comfy slippers to attend Mass at that palace’s in-house chapel. Fortunately for his subjects, he didn’t live long enough to create too many more inane laws, as he died two years later.

The kicker? This law is still in effect today. Wonder how many still heed it?