245 The Prebendaries Plot

In 1543 religious conservatives were in the ascendant, dominated the aristocratic Privy Council and a wave of prosecutions for heresy followed. When some of Archbishop Cranmer’s own parishioners  of Kent sought to discredit him Gardiner saw an opportunity to bring him down.

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And so, ladies and gentlemen, girls and boys, we come to the last act of the reign of Henry VIII, or shall we say that we are rounding the corner into the home straight, and a particularly fascinating final act it is at that. The last 5 years of Henry’s reign are maybe not the most well known or discussed – this is, I must admit a bald statement with absolutely nothing to back it up, but we no longer have those towering figures that get everyone going, the likes of Wolsey, Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cromwell. And yet it is fascinating. You think there have been factional struggles up to now – well let me tell you, you ain’t seen nothing yet. The absence of one dominant figure at court was like chucking fish entrails into a barrel of piranhas – the water boils, the water turns red, the stench of fear and pain fills the gilded corridors of court. Brooding over all is the vicious and suspicious figure of the Henry of Cornelius Metsys’s portrait. Bloated, balding, unhealthy, narrow eyed, grotesque. Around the decaying body of the Lion the children play, closer and closer daring until the body stirs, a roar and the blur of claws and teeth, and a flash of red until the dying lion falls back exhausted once more from the corpse of the offending subject.

I exaggerate for effect of course, and we musn’t get ahead of ourselves; Henry doesn’t become moribund until after December 1546, and we are only in 1543, but he’s most certainly at an advanced level of bloat. And now he was to be seen more and more rarely in court amongst his people, increasingly keeping to his private chambers. He found it difficult to move because of his illness and his weight, and when he did he was to be seen leaning heavily on his gold tipped cane. And the affair of Catherine Howard had seemed to affect him more than his other wives; he felt it as a vicious personal betrayal, the final acceptance maybe that his youth was permanently gone.

And yet, despite all these well trodden images, the old guy was not done yet, not by any means, there was life in the old carcass. In fact after Catherine’s execution he famously roused himself again in February 1543 to start entertaining, so much so that Chapuys began to speculate that maybe, just maybe, the old dog would marry yet again. Surely you jest monsieur, surely you jest.

These years are Henry’s most politically involved. He resolved that there would be no more Wolsey’s, no more Cromwells – now he’d do his own dirty work, he’d make the decisions. Afterall, he had less to do with himself, given that he could rarely get off his backside to go hunting anymore, and jousting was a distant dream, he’d flatten the poor old horses. The images are of him reading away in his private room; there’s a much quoted example of an annotation against verse 25 of Psalm 37 in his own hand. The Psalm reads

I have been young and now am old; yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken nor his seed begging bread

Henry’s annotation reads

A painful saying.

Poor Henry was feeling his age and mortality. But, he was getting involved with the decision making of his Council. And besides he’d tried the likes of Norfolk and Suffolk before and they’d proved themselves very much second division. In fact, it had been as early as 1541 when Chapuys reported Henry storming at his Council that the execution of Cromwell had been a disaster

under pretext of some slight offences which he had committed, they had brought several accusations against him, on the strength of which he had put to death the most faithful servant he ever had

Which is as good evidence as you are likely to meet of Henry’s talent for shifting the blame. But the point is that now he resolved to rule with the Council only.

And so appears for the first time, formally at least, the Privy Council. Now we have talked about the king’s council and we may even have used the words privy council, I know not, but now for the first time we can use it officially, and of course it will be a feature of our Tudor histories, we will grow to love it.  You might be wondering why I am saying official, given that the king’s council has been going on for ages. Well, now there is an official secretariat of about 19 clerks; there is an official minute book of all the meetings. Although the move is often presented as Cromwell’s and owes something to his reforming direction, the change comes after his fall in August 1540, and so it’s Henry’s initiative. But while to some degree it obviously seems like a bureaucratic sort of change, actually it is also a symbol of the deep division that will dominate the final years of Henry’s reign; between a group composed of broadly aristocratic, religious conservatives on the one hand, and a group composed of broadly evangelical bureaucrat on the other.

On Cromwell’s fall, like the kids let out from school on the first day of the summer holidays, the aristocratic faction under Norfolk and Gardiner that had laid him low ran screaming and shouting and leapt into the swimming pool that was the privy Council in a chaos of shrieks and water bombs. The Privy Council of Henry’s later years is nothing like the professional council of serious faced men in Elizabethan days; this is finally at last the culmination of all Norfolk and Suffolk and Gardiners dreams of the way the world should be – rule by the ecclesiastical and secular aristocratic elite. Kick out the oiks.

To see how this was achieved, we have to go back a bit to the 1539 act of Precedence. This was part of Henry and Cromwell’s great strategy to bring the nobility of England into a service, dependant relationship with the crown at court. All the great offices of state were amalgamated and defined into 11 great offices. Of these 6 were the old royal household offices – Constable, Marshal that sort of thing. They could only now be held by a peer. The other five were the more bureaucratic ones – Chancellor, Lord Privy Seal, but actually almost all of these were always held by nobles too, and so the result was that the secretary to the king was often the only office held by a commoner. All these 11 offices of state were members of the new Privy Council, and their domination by the nobility meant that the PC was dominated by the nobility – 58% were barons in 1540, 61% in 1551 were barons.

The act also meant that rank and precedence was defined by holding conciliar office, rather than the old rules about age of creation, and whether you were a marquis or an earl or a baron and so on. You might think this is trivial in our modern egalitarian view where we tell ourselves furiously that rank and hierarchy are not important and we can all wear holey jumpers, but back then precedence was worth fighting a duel for and taking folks to the Marshal’s court. So the impact was to bring about that focus of most of the peerage into court; the example we had a few episodes ago of Baron Ogle who rejects the call of court and concentrates on doing his job on the northern border ‘gainst the Scot, is rare. Also  full 25% of the peerage are now represented on the Privy Council. So yippee! Finally at last, phew, thank the lord, the aristos are back in control, driving the bus of state as they should.

But hang on just a minute. While the PC might be dominated by religiously conservative aristocrats, there was another source of power. Much more subtle, much more informal, but every bit as effective. This was the court, the household, or more specifically, the privy chamber.

This is the domain of the likes of Cromwell and his appointees; the Gentry who served the king in his private chambers and personal day to day life; his Chief Gentleman of the Privy Chamber Anthony Denny, his physicians like William Butts and Dr Wendy. These are the men who know the right time to gently suggest to the king that such and such and a course of action might be a good idea, or intervene to defend one of their own. And these men are not only gentry, they are almost all evangelical. The story of the last few years of Henry’s reign is the story of the struggle between religious conservative and evangelical, where the conservatives are broadly aristocratic and dominate Council, and where evangelicals tend to dominate the court and privy Chamber and seek to thwart the conservative effort to roll back the progress of the reformation.

At this point I must pause, and issue a caveat. This is a lovely model, delightful in it’s simplicity and clarity, and will open up to us a world of fun and games. But life is never that simple. There were sill commoners on the privy council. There were still peers who passionately embraced the evangelical cause. We can count Bishop Gardiner in the conservative group and Denny in the evangelical, but note that Denny would beg Henry to appoint Gardiner as one of the executors of his last will. That is may be the second to last time I issue that caveat, I’ll try not to be puritanical about it.

The attitude of Henry is also critical of course. It’s really not entirely clear how much in control of events Henry is. There are broadly two views. The extremists, if I may call them that, old school of Henry the Hero and on the other end of the scale the exponents of Henry the blood dripping tyrant and murderer of small fluffy puppies – though actually that’s hardly extremist anymore, that is essentially orthodoxy now – these folks would probably prefer the view of Henry the puppet master, playing off faction against faction to demonstrate and exercise his absolute power and tyranny. The alternative view is of the indecisive Henry; constantly wavering between different courses of action, and in his indecision encouraging faction to flourish; after all, as I think I said a few eons ago, there’d be little point in factions if they had no chance of influencing the king’s decisions, you might as well stay at home and go and eat worms. I suppose you could believe either theory and still consider Henry a tyrant – though as we must discuss at some point, if all these folks at court are executed because of the political infighting amongst themselves, it’s scarcely possible to lay all the moral responsibility at Henry’s door. Anyway we’ll come to that – I plan a big debate, the answer to which is probably deeply predictable.

Anyway, the point is that by 1543 the battle was well and truly joined, and the conservative faction were in the joyful ascendant. They had seen the end of Queen Anne Boleyn and that had given them hope. They’d seen the Act of six articles which finally stopped the gradual forward progress of the evil, puppy-strangling evangelicals; they’d brought down Thomas Cromwell, and in the wake of his fall had colonised the Privy Council. In 1541 they’d acted against two high profile court evangelicals and Cromwell disciples – Thomas Wyatt and Ralph Sadler, and managed to get them accused of treason – and Sadler would have been a scalp of real consequence – though as we have seen the pair were subsequently released, unstrangled. But now in 1542 and 3 the king was chasing an Imperial alliance against France, and the king would be keen to show his orthodoxy to smooth the conscience and path of the deeply orthodox Charles V.

At the heart of struggle was Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, much more so than Norfolk really. Because Gardiner was a man of genuine talent, subtlety and conviction, and unlike Norfolk had the ability to coordinate a concerted attack on the evangelicals. The traditional historiography of Gardiner, bred of course in the crucible of the Protestant narrative that was John Foxe, was of ‘wily Winchester’, Machiavellian, scheming. Many attempts have been made to criticise and revise such a crude characterisation – and have generally ended up concluding that, as so often, John Foxe had a point. And there’s no reason why that should detract from Gardiner’s reputation – no doubt Gardiner was as interested in power as the next Councillor, but there’s equally little doubt of his conviction of how important his victory was to the souls of the kingdom’s subjects.

One figure of consequence seemed left to stand in his way – Archbishop Thomas Cranmer. As far as the evangelical cause was concerned, now the value of Cranmer’s decision to stay, in the face of the Act of Six Articles was confirmed 10 times over – without that, the conservatives would have had a clear field. Not just that, but Cranmer continued work hard to restart the evangelical cause, though stripped of his supporters in the church hierarchy of Bishops Latimer and Shaxton; in the church convocation of 1543 for example, Cranmer was working hard to stuff the lower house with his evangelical chumps so that he push through evangelical changes to the liturgy. And so, of course, Gardiner’s next target was to bring down Cranmer. As Cranmer laboured away with the convocation of the church in April 1543, little did he know that for two years all sorts of hatching and plottings had been going on in his own back yard; and these plots were ready to be hatched. No point in a plot that you can’t hatch. Might be good to keep a plot in a hutch before you hatch, but hatch you must. The plot in the hutch that was hatched is often known as the prebendaries plot, though it’s a plot suspiciously free of Prebends actually, but its definitely a plot. I cover it in more depth here than normally because it shows the depth of religious division throughout the country. And because Cranmer is important, and it’s a cliff hanger. And because it’s fun. It occurs to be that not all of you will know what a Prebend is; you might be searching for similar words, like, I don’t know, Proboscis, or predestination, or prehensile, who knows. A Prebend is a sort of office holder in the English church drawing a stipend, and often in Cathedrals you will find the Prebendal stalls where they have sat. They might have a proboscis, though that’d be odd.

Just to make sure we are all in the same place, as ABC, Cranmer was like an onion. In that there were multiple layers to his job – he was boss of the diocese of Canterbury, broadly of Kent in the south East of England, as well as the primate of all England, plus a member of the PC and all that jazz. And in his diocese he faced a constant resistance to the implementation of the evangelical reforms from both his own ecclesiastical structure, and from parts of the secular community as well. By 1541, Cranmer had a pretty loyal, evangelical secretariat around him for his diocese, very many of them drawn from his alma mater, the petri dish of evangelical reform in England, Cambridge University. One of these men you have met before in the story of a boat, the bishops book and a bear – the king’s secretary Ralph Morice. Morice would be crucial to all of this following plotting, because he was also well connected in Westminster – not to the Privy Council, but in the king’s privy chamber, with Anthony Denny, and the king’s Physician, William Butts.

Having the support of his secretariat was all very well, but it didn’t mean that the rank and file in Kent had all been fully converted. Throughout Kent there remained a network of a very different order of conservative cleric, brought together by a shared resentment over a series of defeats visited on them over the last few years. Many of them were from the other premier university of England, Loughborough. Did I say Loughborough? I meant of course Oxford University, so the third best university in the country. Oxford was very different – a bastion of conservative and traditional theology. Interestingly, Gardiner himself was a Cambridge man who grew to much prefer Oxford, and employed his clerics from Oxford rather than his home university – no doubt appalled by the evangelical drift there. And there were other resentments in Kent. Remember Elizabeth Barton, the Maid of Kent? Her conviction and execution was still deeply resented by those had believed in her, and the more cynical who had used here to try and stop the progress of reformation in 1536.

Along with their conservative beliefs, their resentments, and the golden memory of Cranmer’s predecessor AB Warham, there was a group of both cleric and secular gentry, just ready to be used and mobilised in the conservative cause if the right man came along to direct their resentments.

Some of these folks had already tried to cause Cranmer trouble in defence of their firmly held views; one such was a man called Robert Serles, who in 1541 had actually already brought charges of heresy against Cranmer to the Privy Council only to be firmly rebuffed. In 1541 Serles had enlisted another local cleric in Kent, Dr John Willoughby, to start an underground resistance, and together they started to gather whatever evidence they could, work they carried on in secret through 1542 and into 1543. Willoughby and Serles expanded their network as they went, forming alliances with Justices of the Peace, who were influential secular gentry with seats at parliament as well as local authority – Sir John Baker, Sir Christopher Hales, Sir Thomas Moyle. All these names you can forget, it’s just to add reality to the vision of people fervently and angrily beavering away in the background. And it’s interesting isn’t it? It gives you an idea of the atmosphere of anger and distrust – you really needed to be careful about what you said to whom, because someone might easily denounce you. It was a world will sown with anti personnel mines, you could tread on one any moment. And the eager seeker after accusations like these was the conservative, aristocratic Privy Council. Still, men like Serles and Willoughby needed a focus, a catalyst.

This duly turned up in the rather unattractive form of one Dr John London. He’s a very ambiguous figure is our Dr John London; a persecutor of evangelicals in 1528, who had then none the less worked for Cromwell as a commissioner in the dissolution of the monasteries, described by a 19th C Catholic historian as ‘one of the vilest men of all this vile time’; an Oxford man as well, and part of Gardiner’s orbit. Then in early 1540, he was a canon at Windsor at the Chapel of St George, and there as the conservative cause became ascendant and again started encouraging heresy accusations, he ran down three evangelicals who would be burned for heresy as a result of his work. And through such work, London was on the tail of an evangelical cleric called Richard Turner – Turner it was that was selected as the first victim. Turner was in the sights of London’s crossbow.

For the conservatives, help was desperately needed, because for Gardiner and the conservatives, Cranmer’s convocation of 1543 was not going well, progress in liturgical changes were being made, the conservatives were under terrible pressure. And then, in March 1543, there was a recess for Holy Week, time for the conservatives to breathe, to gather their forces. And fortunately for them, Turner chose this very time for a particularly fiery evangelical sermon. London, Serles and Willoughby had the trigger they needed to launch their attach, and accusations against Turner were launched to the Privy Council.  The PC was duly delighted to pull together Turner with other suspected evangelical heretics such as the Dean of Exeter and the men accused at Windsor. It all worked spectacularly well, and the conservative conspirators were delighted with their success. The king was reported to be

‘Astonished and wondered, angry both with the doers and bearers of the …evangelicals’

Gardiner and his faithful disciples were by now working together. On 17th March London, Willoughby and Serles were all spotted outside the Privy Council room door, as London prepared to go in and give evidence, and meanwhile Gardiner was there, carefully supporting the accusations in Council and adding his own names and accused. He;d clearly discussed his aims pretty openly it all with Dr Willoughby, since Willoughby was reported to say excitedly that

The Bishop of Winchester would give six thousand pounds to pluck down the ABC

Nor was it just Gardiner egging them on and co-ordinating them with other accusations; Sir Anthony Browne, a knight of the Garter, immensely rich and influential member of Council was also in touch with them – further evidence of the essentially conservative nature of the Council.

But John London and Gardiner were still not happy – it was not enough to attack the clergy in Cranmer’s diocese; in the end Cranmer would probably ride out the accusations, and even protect those accused. They needed dirt on Cranmer himself. And so on Good Friday 1543 Willioughby rode hard back to Canterbury to meet the conservative clergy there, and hey presto! Came riding back with sheafs of accusations against Cranmer personally going back to 1541. Game on. By 22nd April all these had been laid before not just the council but also before the King. On Easter Day a prebendary giving the sermon at Canterbury Cathedral celebrated with an excited attack on wrong thinking evangelicals, calling the faithful to arms with shrieks of

Heretics! Faggots! Fire!

A nastier, meaner little story is of the evangelical cleric’s funeral at the same time. As his body lay in the grave, one of the cathedral clerics grabbed the censor and threw burning coals on his body in its coffin, contemptuously signalling that he had been a heretic and should have been burned.

Now, remember Catherine Howard and the secret investigation we talked about last episode? Now the same thing was set up for Cranmer led by Sir John Baker and Stephen Gardiner – and Cranmer of course was blissfully unware such a thing was going on. But while he might have been unaware of the assassin’s knife at his back, he was made painfully aware of the conservative strength in other ways. Helped by this flurry of accusations against evangelicals, the wheel fell off Cranmer’s convocation with a mighty crash, tires bouncing all over the place mowing the evangelical arguments down. The first was the review of the Bishop’s Book. The Bishops book had been a significant step forward for the evangelical cause – now it was revised, and was a major defeat for Cranmer’s arguments. On 5th May the revised Bishop’s book, called the King’s Book since this one had the explicit approval of the king, was published as the official doctrine of the church in England. It was more conservative in almost every respect than the Bishop’s book, with the exception being the very dismissive treatment of purgatory.

And then on 8th May came a further hammer blow against a central achievement of the evangelicals – the bible in English. The Act for the Advancement of True Religion was described as being designed for the abolishment of erroneous books, and censorship of the bible in English was back in town. Tyndale’s bible was banned, no scripture was to be included in any plays or poems. Quite remarkably, only people of a certain status could read the bible in English; no

‘artificers, apprentices, journeymen, serving men of the degrees of yeomen or under, husbandmen nor labourers’

Were allowed to read it. Obviously, no women either – although that was amended to allow women of noble and gentle status to read ‘to themselves alone, and not to others’. Gardiner was delighted and wrote that the king had ‘by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, settled all matters of religion’. Furious evangelicals thundered that those

Who went about to take away the reading of the Bible went about to pluck Christ’s words and the Holy Ghost from the people

Cranmer had no choice but to accept it all; and it is characteristic of his view of his duty, and of the authority of the king that he did so. And from May to August evangelicals continued to be examined and imprisoned; and the investigation against Cranmer secretly proceeded. In May, Norfolk was brought into the know, and the strength of the forces arrayed against Cranmer grew. In July, to the surprise of many Henry married his 6th and final wife Catherine Parr, of whom more at some future episode, – and yet it was not Cranmer who officiated at the wedding – it was Gardiner; Cranmer was not even there. The Windsor evangelicals were finally burned, Richard Turner was incarcerated. Cranmer, still unaware of the investigation, stood under the sword of Damocles.

It may well have been the 10th September 1543 that one of Cranmer’s servants came rushing in to see Ralph Morice and told him that the king was indulged in one of his favourite pastimes – an evening’s boat trip with music playing on the Thames. And he seemed to be heading to Lambeth, the place of course, of the AB’s palace. Morice rushed to tell his boss to prepare, hurriedly Cranmer rushed to meet his king, and was invited to join him on his river journey. Henry had brought the accusations with him – the axe was about to fall. As they set off, Henry turned to Cranmer, presented him with a sheaf of papers and declared

Ah, Chaplain. I have news for you. I know who is the greatest heretic in Kent

Cranmer read the accusations with horror, and then fell to his knees, and did his thing – which was the naieve, honest thing. He admitted that he opposed the spirit of the six articles, but declared he’d done nothing against them, and that he wanted to avoid further disunity. He asked for a trial to find out the truth.

Henry suggested that yes, an investigation and trial was indeed a good idea – and he had a man to lead it. He would choose – Thomas Cranmer. Now, whereas you and I would have laughed, bitten the king’s hand off and taken the job, Cranmer argued, the big ninny. No, no, he said, it should be someone impartial. Henry’s head in this was of course, much wiser. Thomas Cranmer it would be that would lead his own investigation.

Well, this was a golden opportunity for Cranmer of course; not only did it look as though he was out of jail, but now he had the platform to find out exactly who had said what and upon them he could visit the vengeance of the wronged, which is something most certainly his opponents would have done.

Cranmer on the other hand did no such thing, and a few investigations limped on with no great speed or fury. The conspirators meanwhile were terrified; Gardiner had to reassure Willoughby that the AB ‘could not kill them’, although at the same time Gardiner was sneering at their fears, and in one case, their tears. Amateurs, I can imagine him snarling.

It was Cranmer’s secretary Morice who compensated for his master’s lack of the killer instinct. He called in his Privy Chamber contacts, Anthony Denny and William Butts. As a result the much more ruthless Thomas Leigh appeared in Kent with the King’s personal ring to lead the investigation. The situation was transformed. All over Kent conspirators doors crashed inward as a bunch of burley men invited themselves in and seized their papers. And duly, incriminating evidence was found specifically from Stephen Gardiner’s secretary Germain Gardiner. One of the conspirators, one John Thatcher rode through the night to warn the Gardiners of what was going on, only to find court gone from Westminster so he chased it through London for two days before catching up with the good Bishop. When he did Gardiner just snarled at him again

Get you home again. What need you come so far for such a matter?

Slightly crestfallen, the amateur left the professional schemer, and went home to panic. It is indeed very cool of Gardiner; maybe he knew his man, and knew that while he Gardiner, would drive a plot to kill his opponents, Cranmer would not – unless he had Cromwell at hand to do the deed. And such proved to be the case. Despite Thomas Leigh’s evidence of Gardiner’s involvement, Cranmer did not pursue him. If Cromwell had been there, Gardiner had been the most toastied of toast, and no amount of butter and jam would have revived him, if that is an appropriate metaphor. I rather suspect it is not.

You might have thought Gardiner might have been thankful, grateful even, wiped his brow. Not a bit of it – whatever Gardiner was, he was no shrinking violent, in for a penny and all that, and anyway, Gardiner had another card to play. He had the Council on his side. And by November Council went to the king for his permission to summon Cranmer to answer charges of heresy before the Council itself. To their delight, Henry agreed; and he specifically agreed that ‘as they saw cause so to commit him to the Tower’. No doubt as he went to sleep at night, the reverend Bishop of Winchester lulled himself to sleep with visions of Cranmer’s defeat in Council, maybe it would be just like Cromwell all over again, insignia and signs of office pulled from him as he was cast into the dankest of Tower dungeons. Yum Yum. Delicious.

Meanwhile however, Henry had sent Denny to get Cranmer. When he arrived, Henry laid into him for his utter daftness in thinking that he would get a fair hearing from Gardiner and the Council

Do you not think that if they have you once in prison, three or four false knaves will soon be procured to witness against you and to condemn you, which else now being at your liberty dare not once open their lips or appear before your face?

Cranmer, you see, was a cleric, not a politician. Henry sent him away with a flea in his ear and a gift.

The following day, Council duly assembled, buzz of excitement and anticipation. Possibly a little dribbling while no one was looking. Cranmer came at the allotted time – but the doors were not opened for him. The ABC, primate of all England, kicked his heels outside the door like a boy at Loughborough Grammar School in the 70’s waiting for the application of the Headmaster’s cane. That’s not me by the way. Eventually after three quarters of an hour left waiting, the Council deigned to let him in. Curtly, pitilessly, the Council growled at Cranmer that he was under arrest, and waited for the AB to collapse.

Instead, Cranmer stepped forward and presented them with the gift the king had given to him the day before – it was not the flea from his ear, it was in fact the King’s own personal ring. How lovely. I imagine there was a horrified silence while the council assassins tried to come to grips with the relevance of said ring. Lord Russell found his tongue first

Did I not tell you, my Lords?

I have no idea if Cranmer managed to keep the smugness out of his voice as he told them the king was waiting to see them – I can tell you now, if he did, that were an achievement well beyond my acting talents. Knowing Cranmer, it’s just possible he felt worried for them.

Next door they rushed, to find said schoolmaster waiting, swishing his cane. The best bit of the whole story was Norfolk, who managed the most delightfully feeble schoolboy excuse

We meant no manner hurt unto my lord Canterbury in that we requested to have him in durance; that we only did because he might after his trial be set at liberty to his more glory

Please. Norfolk. Stop now. It’s embarrassing.

Nevermore after no man durst spurn Cranmer during the king Henry’s life

These words were written decades later by John Foxe, no doubt with glee and satisfaction every bit as deep as Cranmer’s. The fallout was most un Gardinerian or indeed Cromwellian. There were casualties, but not much in the scale of things. John London was thrown in jail for perjury, and there died in the Fleet prison. Willoughby and Serles seem to have survived, for which generosity of spirit Cranmer would be poorly repaid by Serles in Queen Mary’s reign. In fact, Cranmer was really quite absurdly magnanimous about the whole event. He acted as patron to one of the conspirators, and commissioned him to write a play, and supported the request of another for the king’s favour. Cranmer’s survival, a lamb amongst wolves, is surely one argument in defence of Henry’s character. Here was one person he appears to have genuinely loved and stood by throughout his reign. .

Richard Turner’s story is a nice example of how the Privy Chamber worked to defend the evangelicals. After Turner had been incarcerated, he was released pending trial – and his return to Kent turned into a triumphal progress. This was unwise – Henry was told, Henry was cross, and he ordered Turner whipped. Once more, Morice pulled strings, and Denny and Butts rolled into action. Butts it was who waited for the right moment, and then

‘spying a time when the king was in trimming and washing he pleasantly and merrily beginneth to insinuate unto the king the effect of the matter’

Butts had chosen his moment well, and as a result

Whereas before he had commanded the said Turner to be whipped out of the country, he now commanded him to be retained as a faithful subject

Result. As ever, access to the king was everything. The same was true of Gardiner, for his story was not over yet. Gardiner had blotted his copy book, and in February payment was made, and was paid by a Gardiner. But the Gardiner who paid the ferryman was not Stephen, but his nephew and secretary, Germain, who was executed for having communicated with the hated Reginald Pole. Stephen was reportedly devastated – as well he might be; John Bale, one of the many evangelicals now hiding in exile from Gardiners persecution speculated that

That excellent young man Germain Gardiner would have avoided his fate if he had been brought up in Cranmer’s rather than Bishop Gardiner’s household.

The Gardiner of the Stephen variety came close to paying the ultimate price himself, facing examination by Council; but he also managed to find a way to the king, prostrated himself and so won his pardon. It was a close call, and there would be others ahead.

Excellent, so there we go; a study in scarlet, day to day life in the court of King Henry.


6 thoughts on “245 The Prebendaries Plot

  1. Good for Cranmer, the principled lad, though I could hardly believe a man can reach (and maintain) such high office without becoming at least a little wiser about the ways of man.

    1. A dyed in the wool academic I think was our Cranmer. In that context quite capable of cutting another’s work and ideas to pieces, but driven by loyalty to the king, his personal religion, and a lack of both the courage and brutality needed for political life

  2. As I noted on the Facebook page, this is my favorite story ever, and one of your best episodes. I was genuinely worried about Cranmer when he was on the barge with Henry, and he called for an investigation into the accusations against him. When the King said he knew just who should lead that investigation, I laughed out loud-in relieved glee-in my car. It only get better with the Council meeting.

    1. Thanks! I suspect that Cranmer was a much better man than I – because I would have savoured every moment. With a substantial element of gloating.

      1. I certainly would have taken the opportunity to pen in Gardiner, though Wily Winchester seems to have been correct in dismissing his underling’s alarm.

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