249 Knaves I Cannot Rule

It’s time for a naval encounter, marked by the sinking of the Mary Rose, and then we set the scene for the cut-throat politics of the last years with Richard Rich, Thomas Wriothesley and William Paget.

Download Podcast - 249 Knaves I Cannot Rule (Right Click and select Save Link As)



3 Councillors

Last time I irritatingly left you rather hanging, with the French fleet sighted in the Eastern approaches of the Solent in July 1545. The Solent, for those that do not know, is the stretch of water off the south coast, running about 20 miles between the mainland and the Isle of Wight.  The origin of the name Solent itself is unknown, but it’s old, old, oh very old, first written down as far as we know in 731, but its pre English, containing the Celtic -uente element that is the same as the element in names such as Gwent. The Solent can be a tricky and dangerous stretch of water, especially if nautical idiots like me are found on it. Fortunately, the one time I have been sighted on the Solent I was in the hands of the at least reasonably competent so thank you, Pat, for that.

I delayed last time, because there is a reasonably famous event on the way and didn’t want to mess it up. But look, let me point out that England was genuinely in a spot of bother. The French fleet was much bigger, it was better equipped with Galleys, which as we said last week were better designed for inshore fighting, carrying heavy, ship killing cannon and the manoeurvability of those oars. As the French were sighted, Henry was on the ship Great Harry, his flagship, along with John Dudley Viscount Lisle; so Henry scuttled ashore to take up position on the shore fortresses Southsea Castle to watch the show. History does not record if popcorn was provided.

Anyway, the French Galleys approached, and so the English tried to come out to meet them before they could wreak mayhem, but there was no wind, and they were helpless. For some reasons Henry’s galleys are not mentioned so it could be that they were defending the western approaches since we know there was a squadron doing that very thing. But there were the English Rowbarges, and they might have engaged, but it is a little academic because fortunately the wind did finally get up, and from the harbour came Henry’s fleet, led by the Henry Grace de Dieu and the Mary Rose. Some of you may have spotted the famous event now.

The Mary Rose was a big Carrack. She’d been in service for an impressive 33 years in 1545, commissioned by Henry in the early years of his reign, and in 1536 she’d been rebuilt, increasing from 500 to 700 tons. The previous night she’d been presented to one George Carew, a 40 year old relation of the executed Nicholas Carew and something of a reformed adventurer. George was presented with this magnificent ship and made not only it’s captain, but Vice admiral of the fleet. In Anthony Anthony’s picture of the fleet, the Mary Rose made a brave and colourful sight as the wind filled her sails at last, with the flag of St George flying from her 4 masts, the bight and colourful painting of her bulwarks, and massive streamers followingly freely behind her. Though on going into battle some of the fancies like streamers would not be there – instead, over the weather deck, or the top deck in the waist of the ship, if you like, a netting was stretched across over the heads of the crew. This was common enough – it was designed to prevent boarding parties leaping onto her deck. Meanwhile, her new captain was less impressed, not with the ship at his command, but with the humans beings:

 “I have the sort of knaves I cannot rule”

He was heard to growl. Language might have been a problem; his crew was drawn from all over the place, a lot from southern Europe as well as England. But maybe there was a command and discipline problem too.

Never mind, onward. The Mary Rose sailed toward the French fleet and glory. As she approached, she turned her starboard towards the French galleys and let fly a broadside to clear the opposing decks of the men crowding to prevent boarding, and then the watching crowd saw her start to go about to turn her larboard side towards the enemy and give ‘em another taste of English steel. Well, a taste of English shrapnel, waste metal and pieces of stone. But to their horror, they quickly realised something was wrong. Rather than heeling over in the turn before righting herself and firing, the big ship never came upright, but simply kept heeling over. Cries of alarm and panic drifted over the water as cannon and supplies crashed across decks, shifting weight dramatically and pushing the Mary Rose over even faster. Frantic sailors tried to escape the dying ship and leap into the shallow sea, and only then did the full horror of the situation become apparent – the thick boarding netting trapped almost everyone onto the ship, except those in the masts. And horribly quickly the screams of the sailors were drowned as the ship sank beneath the waves, not to be seen for another 437 years.

‘Oh my gentle men! Oh my gallant my gallant men!,’

Henry is reported to have exclaimed as the disaster unfolded.

500 men died, including her new commander, only 25 of her crew escaped. There are a few reasons why we remember the Mary Rose; primarily of course because of the dramatic story of the archaeological rescue, but that rescue reminded us of the horrific death of 500 trapped sailors. And then there is the drama and the humiliation of Henry and his flagship. It’s also a bit of a mystery – why did the Mary Rose sink? After all, here is a ship with decades of service; and even after her rebuilding she’d sailed along the channel with no apparent trouble. There are a few theories, helpfully listed on the Mary Rose’s website.

One, and the most often repeated, is that holiday question ‘did anyone shut the back door?’, or in this case that when she went about someone left the starboard gun ports open, tsk, tsk, and let all the water in as she turned. This seems mega unlikely surely, it’s a pretty fundamental thing for multiple people to forget. Or there’s George’s grumble about the quality of his staff – maybe there was some kind of mutiny going on and the eye was taken collectively off the ball? Or, more popular is to blame Henry VIII because that’s always fun, maybe he’d insisted that too much ordinance be crammed aboard the Mary Rose in her rebuilding and produced an unbalanced boat. Or finally the last theory beloved of the French and usually ignored by the English, maybe she was you know, sunk by the glorious French Navy. We will never know.

You might think that the French would be galvanized by this dramatic own goal. But the rest of the battle was in fact very unsatisfactory for the French. Despite their overwhelming numbers, their Admiral, D’Annebault, was sick with the gout and desperate to be on dry land, and his fleet was racked with plague. He withdrew as the English ships emerged from the harbour. He then made an abortive landing on the Isle of Wight. Now I know the inhabitants of the Isle of Wight are most hardy, but really, if you can’t conquer even the Isle of Wight it’s a pretty poor look out for conquering the whole of England. Dudley’s fleet meanwhile had been swollen by ships freshly arrived from Cornwall, and was now over 100, and they pursued D’Annebault as he sailed along the coast to Sussex, where a second engagement took place, little more impressive than the first – to be fair, partly because the wind dropped. French Galleys rowed into the attack, but were well dealt with by the responding English galleasses – those are the composite Carrack plus oars type. The following day the next round was expected, but as dawn broke the French were nowhere to be seen. 50,000 men and 200 ships had legged it back to the Seine. Francis I spent no time preparing any red carpets for his admiral, though D’Annebault was indeed carpeted. Francis I was furious, he’d just achieved the impressive task of making Henry’s foreign campaigns look positively glorious.

It’s an engagement that’s been described as unsatisfactory to both sides, but actually it was something of a result for the English; this was a very major threat, a genuinely massive fleet and army, and it had got nowhere. And apart from the unfortunate incident of Mary Rose, John Dudley the Viscount Lisle at all times had managed his fleet well and stared down a far superior enemy in terms of numbers.

One man who was unexpectedly not able to share the joy with Henry for long, was his pal, Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. It was all very sudden. Up to 21st August he’d attended Privy Council meetings, everything seemed fine. And then on 22nd August 1545 he suddenly died at home at Guildford. Henry appeared to be gutted and sang his old friend’s praises

‘For as long as Suffolk had served him, he had never betrayed a friend or knowingly taken unfair advantage of an enemy’.

Brandon pulled off that trick of remaining Henry’s friend throughout, start to finish. Anne, and a few Thomases might have mentioned when he arrived at the pearly gates that this was no mean achievement.

However, despite this victory of sorts, the fact remains that all Henry had achieved in the campaigns of 1543 – 1545 was the extremely precarious capture of a French city, constantly under siege from the French, and whose future looked as solid as the English middle order. And the cost, gentle listeners, the cost.

Henry had lived a charmed life, money wise. He’d been left a nice nest egg by his father, and spent it within a few years on war and partying. Never mind, he’d found an extraordinary servant in Cromwell, who’d kept the money rolling in by carving out all that income and assets back from the church, surely one of the greatest windfalls ever for the English monarchy. And his vision had been a permanently endowed monarchy, strong and well financed who would surely only ever have to go to parliament to consult and to raise money in the direst of situations. But he had reckoned without his boss’s itchy fingers.

Henry’s last huzzah was a little pricey. And by a little pricey, I mean incredibly, toe curlingly, buttock clenchingly expensive. Terminally expensive. Just to put it in perspective, you like me may have got used to the sort of revenues we mention from time to time as generated by the English crown – £100,000 a year give or take, which Cromwell had taken to north of £200,000. Quite big figures compared to previous Plantagenet monarchs, good going – a pimple compared to Francis and Charles obviously, but not bad for a small damp island off the coast of Europe. And the campaign of 1544 had been planned to cost £250,000 so that’s a lot but you know, manageable if they were careful and minded the pennies.

Instead the 1544 campaign alone cost £650,000. And that was just the start of it; over the next 12 months a further £560,000 was spent. £216,000 was spent on the Navy which alone was almost unbearable. The river of money continued to flow outwards – between 1542 and Henry’s death in 1547, he spent £2 million.

There was no way Henry and his Privy Council could handle this within normal expedients, and the desperate efforts to raise money would seriously damage the Tudor economy, cause hardship and suffering for all Henrys subjects but particularly the poorer members. And it would affect the future of the English constitution almost as much as the Reformation and his use of parliaments. Here’s what they did.

They went back to the hated technique of his father and the Yorkists – the delightfully named Benevolence, named by a sharp marketing consultant with square glasses, a flowery shirt and a hipster beard, on his way to a boutique early morning cereal bar. The reality of the gently named Benevolence was Hey, rich noble dude, you do want to lend me some money don’t you? Um, or Else? These were followed by forced loans and heavy subsidies from both the lay lords and church in 1543 and 1545. That wasn’t enough, so there was an avalanche of sales of ex-monastic lands that had supposed to be endowing the monarchy for the rest of time. So that’s the end of that plan then, sorry Crommers. Still it wasn’t enough. And so the last of the family church silver began to be sold off – the last bunch of church establishments, the colleges of secular priests and free chapels, the chantries established to pray for the souls of the dead by the wills of the people. Henry even began to consider how to ‘borrow’ church plate. This sounds bad, but just to add a bit of justification, the evangelical Hertford applauded the move on the ground that

‘God’s service, which consisteth not in jewels, plate or ornaments of gold and silver, cannot thereby be anything diminished, and those things better employed for the weal and defence of the realm.

Which neatly sums up the evangelical attitude. But it still wasn’t enough. Henry went onto the Antwerp money market to raise £75,000 at rates of interest as high as 14%. But still it wasn’t enough.

So Henry turned to an expedient the French had routinely used but which the English had resisted – a debasement of the coinage. As you may remember from the 100 Year’s war, the idea was that you brought in as much coin as you could, and then remake the coins, using less than the face value of bullion. And we are not talking of just a smidge either, indeed the word smidge would be most inappropriate. The 1544 coins had silver as low as 50% of the face value; those of 1546 had silver just a third of the face value would you believe, and embarrassingly they turned a coppery red colour with use they were so rubbish.  On the plus side, the enterprise yielded at least £250,000 and probably a lot more. But what it produced, or actually aggravated is a much better word because it was by no means all Henry’s fault, was a phenomenon to which England and Medieval Europe was completely unprepared. I speak of the I word. The word with which I spent a considerable part of my youth in the 1970’s. Inflation.

Inflation is part of the everyday to use now, but the very idea of inflation was just, I mean, weird to the Tudor mind. A day’s labour cost what it cost why would it change? They were not open to the idea of supply and demand – you might remembered the outraged response of the king and nobility after the BD to the idea that labourers, being much harder to come by, might charge a little more for their services – the result were laws to try and stop any change in prices. Obviously people were used to bread prices fluctuating with the harvest, but there was a reason for that they could see; what they couldn’t understand was the quiet background, creeping inflation, around 2% a year of average. Now I can see you all laughing happily at the thought of a mere 2% inflation, I mean that’s hardly worth calling inflation is it? That’s just breathing. Well 2% a year catches up on you, especially since employers  saw absolutely no reason to raise wages by 2% or indeed by any percent. This is not ALL Henry’s fault; we will spend a bit more time on 16th century inflation at some future episode but inflation was also a Europe wide phenomenon, possibly maybe perhaps driven by bullion from the new world, but it’s controversial. But there is no doubt at all that it was made much worse by war, taxation and debasement of the coinage.

It has been noted that Henry was by no means devoid of radar. He began to pick up that there was a sense of crisis in the corridors outside the private rooms in which he skulked. Gardiner was finding it difficult to see the bright side of life

We are at war with France and Scotland, we have enmity with the bishop of Rome; we have no assured friendship here with the emperor and we have received from the landgrave, chief captain of the Protestants, such displeasure that he has cause to think us angry with him. … Our war is noisome to our realm and to all our merchants that traffic through the Narrow Seas … We are in a world where reason and learning prevail not and covenants are little regarded.

The councillor Thomas Wriothesley was tasked with raising a prodigious war chest for a triumphant campaign for 1546. When he reported in, all the other councillors could see that his hands were red and raw from the pain of pushing them as far down the back of the sofa of state as he possibly could; the best he came up with was the financial equivalent of a few old coins, multiple buttons, an old banana skins and the remote control to the telly. Or more precisely £15,000 from the mints, £3,000 from the Court of Augmentations, and £1,000 each from the duchy of Lancaster and the Court of Wards; £1,000 from the Exchequer. It’s not great. It may have been this that decided Henry that it was no use any more. Nonetheless, although he allowed at last his negotiators to talk to the French about peace, he played hardball; Hertford was sent to France again with a reasonably substantial army, and the deal that was finally signed in June 1546 with France meant that Henry kept Boulogne for 8 years and then when paid £2m crowns. Where Charles had refused to have the phrase Supreme head of the church in his treaty with England Francis gave not a tinker’s curse and happily included it. The French did not quite forget their Scottish allies; they insisted on the inclusion of a clause whereby Henry promised not to attack the Scots unless they attacked him. With the level of mutual raiding going on across the border, the clause was a waste of ink in the longer term.

Henry continued his rough wooing of the Scots, insisting that they should send the infant Mary Queen of Scots to the English court where she could live until ready to marry Edward. The Scots had absolutely no intention of doing such a daft thing, but in 1545 Hertford had again been sent to devastate Scottish border villages and so the wooing continued in a suitably rough way. And at the end of 1546 he was preparing another raid for 1547. In Henry’s mind, the Scots were breakers of treaties; for the Scots, each act of violence simply stiffened their determination not to marry their daughter to the son of a bloke that kept beating them up, which seems not unreasonable.

Let us return though to the English court, for the last few years of Henry’s life, because it is a bun fight of global proportions, and I should like to set the scene for you all, with a little dramatis personae sort of thing. I will introduce you to three critical figures – Richard Rich, Thomas Wriothesley, and William Paget. But first of all, we should survey the trophy cabinet everyone was fighting for; what was the prize, the objective of said squabbling?

Well, obviously, there was a general theme of personal power, that kind of goes without saying, but putting that to one side, the prize was nothing less than the soul of England. It would be the application of 20/20 hindsight to suppose that when Henry married Catherine Parr in 1543 everyone was preparing for Henry’s death, but his health was very obviously not good, and everyone must have been nervously aware that at some point probably in the not too far distant future Henry was going to croak. And when said croaking was visited upon the kingdom, what then gentle listeners, what then? A minority was a racing certainty, and who would control the religious future of the country? Could the country’s soul be saved? The constituents of Privy Council would divide along sectarian lines; though it’s also true to say that there were plenty of those who chose their religious faction on the basis of which one of them was most likely to bring them to power rather than which one was more likely to save their immortal soul. Nor was it just about religion; let us not forget Norfolk, since of course as far as Norfolk and his son the earl of Surrey were concerned, this was a world which should or course be led by the natural leaders of the kingdom – the great magnates, the nobility. Oooh, led by Norfolk did I mention that? Members a few weeks ago have heard about the Earl of Surrey, who was in a slightly odd position, since he was more aligned in religious matters with reformists than with conservatives; but for Surrey, family trumped God, and his thirst for the triumph of the Howard clan was paramount. Did all of that make sense? What I am saying in words of one syllable is that the struggle was to be in a position to dominate any regency council that followed the death of a king. Some were motivated by power, some because they could then either confirm the reformation, or reverse it. Sorry for the preceding blather.

Let us have a quick survey of just a few of the players. We have not introduced before, or only mentioned, Richard Rich, ladies and gentleman. Rich is a name of which you may be aware, because the young Richard Rich appeared in a Man for All Seasons, which made him famous and of course damned his reputation for all time as a weak, greedy, perjuring man without the strength of character of his first master, Thomas More.

Why, Richard, it profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world, but for Wales!

This is of course as scandalous a statement as any you are ever likely to meet, on the grounds that it appears to suggest as serious undervaluing of Wales, and because the Richard Rich presented in the film was of an utterly venal man who lied and perjured himself for advancement, completely making up More’s statement. In fact, he was probably more likely guilty of entrapping More into a statement, as he had done to Fisher. That having been said it is difficult to get too upset about a slur on Richard Rich’s character, really it is. Bambi he was not. He was the son of John Rich, of the magnificently named Penton Mewsey in Hampshire – what is it about Hampshire and her place names? Farleigh Wallop, and all that. There’s a tradition that Rich was the son of a London merchant, which is apparently wrong, though there must have been a family connection somewhere to the Merchant family. And Rich did grow up in London – and may well have therefore known Thomas More, though probably not to the extent suggested in the film. Rich chose the law as his route to the top, through the Inns of court, and despite the above Welsh slur, Rich was made Attorney General of Wales in 1532, well before Thomas More’s incarceration. More had a low opinion of Rich:

“as yourself can tell (I am sorry you compel me to say) you were esteemed very light of your tongue, a great dicer, and of no commendable fame. And so in your house at the Temple, where hath been your chief bringing-up, were you likewise accompted”

Rich certainly was a most boudaciously ambitious man. His religious politics were almost certainly traditional from conviction; but plastic from ambition. Like many in his position he participated with some enthusiasm in the dissolution; it was he that destroyed the priory of St Bartholomew’s at Smithfield, while also beautifying the church; it’s a lovely place, and you can see Rich’s Tudor Entrance there now. Rich’s career would continue on through Catholic Mary’s time and Protestant Elizabeth’s time, so here was a man able to cut his jib according to the wind. But all things being equal, Rich would prefer a return to conservative practice – and so aligned himself after Cromwell’s fall with Stephen Gardiner and the conservatives. And anyway, the evangelicals would have been an odd decision for a privy councillor bent on power – with Cromwell gone and with the more conservative King’s Book now out, their cause was not finished, but it wouldn’t be the betting man’s first choice without some pretty good odds to encourage him.

A similar calculation was made by Thomas Wriothesley, a leading exponent of the values of an unpronounceable surname, which has been variously pronounced Risley, rotesley and ryseley. Delete as applicable. Thomas Wriothesley was a cousin of Charles Wriothesley, the author of a chronicle of the times, and the son of a London merchant – a draper in this case; where have we heard that before? Tudor England is becoming something of a triumph of social mobility. Wriothesley’s progression to a position of power followed the trajectory of university, but he did not complete his degree or turn to the law, but instead directly pursued a career at court as a bureaucrat, and it was Thomas Cromwell who championed his cause in 1524. By the 1530s he was a favourite of both Cromwell and the king, for good reason. He was intelligent, diplomatic and discrete, able to handle difficult matters and bring them to a conclusion, he was hard working and conscientious. He was also well connected, with a number of links to Stephen Gardiner. Gardiner had taught him law at Cambridge University. While Gardiner was the king’s secretary, he had Wriothesley working for him, his wife was related, and Wriothesley was friendly with Germayne Gardiner too. So there were lot of positive connections. But actually through the 1530’s the relationship was a bit uneasy because Wriothesley was an enthusiast for reform, unsurprisingly maybe given his relationship with Cromwell. But when Cromwell fell, Wriothesley was one of those who desperately scrabbled to distance himself from his former master. “Oof, never could stand the bloke really, dear oh dear, the things I had to put up with, you would not believe…”. That sort of thing. It was a close call for him though; he was examined, one of Gardiner’s henchmen, Walter Chandler made various accusations against him. The atmosphere of the Privy Council was something of a volatile nightmare. But in the end Wriothesley was too useful to the king; poor old Walter was forced to stand in front of Wriothesley and the Privy Council and apologise for his slander. It’s worth remembering that we are in a society here that values honour to the degree where the wrong greeting in the street could lead to bloodshed. And it’s also unlikely Henry’s court would have featured in an HR Monthly trade magazine for the best in positive working environments. Poison dripped from the very tapestries.

So Wriothesley switched horses from reformist to conservative religion. It is easy to be cynical, and actually being cynical is probably pretty justified in Henry’s court of the 1540’s, but it’s worth noting in Wriothesley’s defence that by backing religious conservatism he was also simply implementing his King’s will by that time. But you have to think that the man was desperate to avoid losing his influence, position on the PC, and of course potentially his life. So, in summary, in the wake of Cromwell’s fall, like Rich and other members of the Council Wriothesley stood at Norfolk and Gardiner’s side, working to undermine the evangelicals on the Council and seize control of the world after Henry.

Let me mention one more then, one William Paget. If Wriothesley came from a less glorious background than Norfolk would approve of, the same was even more true of William Paget, a man 38 years old in 1543. The insult thrown at Paget by Surrey at his trial was ‘catchpole’. A Catchpole was a bailiff – because Paget was the son of a poor sergeant at arms in London. His rise to power and influence was therefore all the more extraordinary, and it marked him – William Paget was deeply motivated by power and wealth, and was a subtle and ruthless politician. One observer would remark that

He will have one part in every pageant if he may by praying or paying put in his foot

The 16th century equivalent of two attributes delightfully described by two handy clichés I shall now roll out – having his finger in every pie and running with the hare and hunting with the hounds. Before we condemn Paget though, let us note that Paget made his fortune and won his place at the high table by talent, and by making himself indispensable; his route was similar to Wriothesley – St Paul’s School and Cambridge University, and like Wriothesley he therefore had good connections with Gardiner. Let us also note that good governance really mattered to Paget, doing a good job, administering the world well – it was to that end that all his politicking was bent. I suspect he may have operated a tidy desk policy, a dangerous breed if ever there was one. But there’s no denying that when he finally won his place on the Privy Council in 1543, everything about Paget was ambivalent. He had a reputation for being involved with evangelicals at Cambridge university, but the Imperial ambassador had noted him as resolute against protestants. He was a friend of Gardiner and Wriothesley, and yet also of Edward Seymour, the Earl of Hertford, a notable evangelical on the Council. When Mary came to power, he would be seen as a perfectly acceptable religious traditionalist. And William Paget won his place because he held the position Cromwell had known to be utterly critical – he was the king’s secretary. He was always at the king’s side, always his first port of call for the difficult jobs, always the first to be able to make a suggestion quietly in the king’s ear. And as the king grew more and more reclusive, his position became increasingly valuable, increasingly powerful. So, ladies and Gentlemen, I give you William Paget.

Up to 1544 then Norfolk, Gardiner and the conservatives on the Privy Council had had their successes, but equally their set backs. Bringing down Cromwell was undoubtedly a crowning triumph; and we’ve heard that in 1541 Ralph Sadler and Thomas Wyatt were accused and imprisoned for treason – but to the dismay of the conservatives had been released by the king. They’d targeted Cranmer in 1543 and 1544, but been thwarted by the King’s love for his Archbishop, and by the work of the evangelicals in the Privy Chamber like Anthony Denny, to protect their own. So although their star was in the ascendant in 1544, Norfolk, Gardiner and the conservatives could by no means be sure of ultimate victory. And in 1544 Cranmer was no longer alone; Edward Seymour the Earl of Hertford had grown in influence, and Henry had married a Queen with strong convictions, so that Anne Boleyn at last had a worthy successor.

It’s to Catherine and the politics of power we will turn next week – and to the fate of a young woman from Lincolnshire called Anne Askew.







Leave a Reply