Henry VIII and the Lords of the Council

Henry VIII and the Lords of the Council

David Starkey

‘Pastime with good company’ – how the image of ‘Bluff King Hal’ glosses over the harsh realities of life-and-death court intrigues played out among the nooks and crannies of the king’s private apartment.

A king spying on his councillors from ‘a window above’ is hardly our image of ‘Bluff King Hal’. Yet that is what Shakespeare gives us at the climax of his King Henry VIII. The occasion is a plot against Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, hatched by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, and sprung on the Archbishop in the Council Chamber. Cranmer, by his office the highest ranking of the king’s Council, is kept waiting at the Council Chamber door, until he is summoned within to be upbraided by his fellow councillors. His plight, however, is spotted by Sir William Butts, the royal physician, who brings the king to witness the humiliation of the archbishop from his secret vantage point. Outraged, Henry muses:Is this the honour they do one another? ‘Tis well there’s one above them yet.He then breaks into the Council meet­ing to remind the councillors that he is master and that, so long as he pleases, Cranmer shall remain untouched. This is an early, and rather good, example of the dramatic reconstruc­tion of reality. Shakespeare dates the event twelve years too early; other­wise he follows closely his source, Johne Foxe’s Acts and Monuments (bet­ter known as The Book of Martyrs); while Foxe himself was drawing on eye-witnesses, including Cranmer’s own secretary, who were in a position to know. Shakespeare’s audience is thus seeing something not very dif­ferent from what happened, as his­torians have begun to realise. Anyone who has read, for example, the 1982-83 History Today series on ‘Faction in Tudor and Stuart England’, will find himself at home in Shake­speare’s world. For faction, the fac­tional plot, and the show trial are what threaten to destroy Cranmer. As Henry VIII tells him: Your enemies are many and not small; their Practices may bear the same proportion; and not ever The justice and truth o’the question carries The due o’the verdict with it: at what ease Might corrupt minds procure knaves as corruptTo swear against you? Such things have been done.Such things had been done indeed: in 1535 against Sir Thomas More, in 1536 against Anne Boleyn and her ‘lovers’, in 1538-39 against the Poles and their friends, and in 1540 against Cromwell himself. Familiar, too, will be the role of Butts and Sir Anthony Denny, Who ushers Cranmer into the king’s presence in the Privy Gallery. For Butts and Denny were leading members of Privy Chamber, as the body of the king’s personal servants was known. This group has emerged in recent historiography as one of the key elements in the reign. The members of the Privy Chamber were the king’s eyes and ears in the localities; formed an inner royal administration that handled the king’s private treasures and procured the king’s sign manual or signature, the prime motor of government; and, above all, acted as a seed-bed of faction. ‘Faction’, in fact, has become interchangeable with ‘court politics’. Here comes the difficulty: the politics in King Henry VIII are certainly faction politics, but they are based, not in the court or Privy Chamber, but in the Privy Council. It is among Cranmer’s fellow-councillors that Gardiner raises a party against Cranmer; it is in the Council Chamber that the plot is sprung; and after he that the plot is sprung; and after he his divided councillors that Henry VIII commands ‘be friends, for shame, my lords!’ The Privy Council, of course, was the central theme of the earlier generation of Tudor historiography: for Geoffrey Elton, it was the crown of Thomas Cromwell’s achievement, the ‘coping stone’ of reformed government. And Professor Elton has sought, despite all the winds of change in scholarship and his own trimming to them, to keep this vision intact. He has done so by emphasising the differences between court and Council: ‘power in its political guise’, he tells us, ‘continued to depend only in small part on the function or place of the courtier’. And if courtiers were rarely politicians, then, it seems, politicians were courtiers only reluctantly, and the greatest most reluctantly of all: ‘the role of courtier sat uneasily’ on Cromwell; the court was ‘the one area of public life of which Cromwell had had no experience before he embarked on his career in the king’s service’; and he never ‘fully penetrated its essence’. This distinction between court and Council leaves Professor Elton free to paint the picture in Reform and Reformation of a king and court swept by the turbulent, irrational waves of faction, while meantime in the Council Cromwell and his successors struggle heroically with the task of governing the kingdom, and even, when they are allowed, reforming it. It is a case, in City of London jargon, of ‘Chinese walls’ (designed to insulate competing departments within the same organisations). But how strong can such walls be when courtiers and councillors rub shoulders in the palace; when the Council meets a few yards from the king’s Bedchamber; and when, above all, courtiers and councillors are often the same person? Such social and personal realities have blown down the City’s ‘Chinese walls’; they topple, just as remorselessly, Professor Elton’s too nice distinctions. From the fragments we shall try to construct a sounder fabric of interpretation that will show the Privy Council, not as something alien to the court, but as its very centre. It had not always been so, however. In his studies of the Council in the first half of Henry VIII’s reign John Guy paints a very different picture. The Council then was not at court; it was the ‘Cardinal’s court’. Domestic government, at any rate, was firmly in the hands of the king’s chief councillor, Thomas Wolsey, and he used the Council meeting judicially in the Star Chamber at Westminster as the vehicle of his power. Policy was proclaimed in Star Chamber; Star Chamber enforced it; and Star Chamber broke and humiliated those unwise enough to ,cross the Cardinal Chancellor. The king’s Council, in short, attended not on the king, but on the king’s minister. This reflected the political realities that made Wolsey (always conditionally, of course) alter rex (‘the second king’); the arrangement was also conditioned by geography.The Star Chamber – in fact a rather modest, gabled structure – was situated on the east, or river side of New Palace Yard. At right-angles, on the south side, was Westminster Hall. There, divided only by temporary wooden partitions, sat all three com­mon law courts, King’s Bench, Common Pleas and Chancery. While between the Hall and Star Chamber was housed the Exchequer, the oldest department of the bureaucracy. All this was conveniently to hand for Wolsey. For immediately to the north of New Palace Yard lay York Place, the old palace of the archbishops of York, which he had rebuilt in fine style. Thence ‘daily … in the term season’ (that is the legal terms when the law courts were in session), he would go in procession of Westmin­ster Hall. He rode on a mule, which was trapped with crimson velvet and mounted with gilt spurs; while before him were borne the symbols of his dual authority, temporal and spiritual. At the door of Westminster Hall the Cardinal dismounted and went to sit in Chancery till 11 o’clock; ‘and from thence he would divers times go into Star Chamber … where he spared neither high nor low’. But what was handy for Wolsey was inconvenient in the extreme for Henry VIII. The residential part of the Palace of Westminster had been destroyed by fire in 1512 and had never been rebuilt. Nor was any sizeable alternative palace constructed in the first two decades of the reign. The nearest adequate accommodation in fact was Greenwich, five miles or so down river, and there the court was ‘for the most part … in the term’. And there Wolsey would go most Sundays: in his barge to the City; then through the City in procession, and by barge again to Greenwich: He being thus in the court, it was wonderfully furnished with noblemen and gentlemen, much otherwise than it was before his coming. After dinner among the lords, having some consulta­tion with the king or with the Council, he would depart homeward with like.But term time lasted for only about sixteen weeks in the nine months from October to June. At other times, and particularly in the long summer vacation, the king and court could be anywhere in the dozen or so royal palaces scattered in the south and south east. Then the problems of communication became acute. Early in Wolsey’s ministry, his mentor and sometime patron, Richard Foxe, bishop of Winchester, advised him ‘when the term is done, keep the Council with the king’s grace where­soever he be’. It was a counsel of perfection. Many of Henry’s palaces were cramped and old-fashioned – little better than hunting lodges in fact. It would have been hard to accommodate Wolsey and his train, and in any case he preferred the comfort and modernity of his own houses. Nor, to begin with, was he much concerned that others might get at the king during these long periods of separation. In the course of1515-16, the remaining substantial figures on the Council had either withdrawn from the fray – like Warham and Foxe – or – like Norfolk and Suffolk – knuckled down. The minister sensed correctly that he had nothing to fear from that quarter.But Henry, however dependent he might be on his ‘own good cardinal’, remained king and retained the capac­ity for independent action. Which turned the spotlight on those who did accompany the king in all his wander­ings; the servants of his Chamber, and more particularly, of the rapidly developing inner circle of the Privy Chamber Under Henry VII these men had tended to be colourless functionaries; under Henry VIII, however, brilliant young men of high birth increasingly took over. They were even given a special name: the king’s ‘minions’. They were, of course, primarily body servants and boon companions. But in a personal monarchy the line between private favour and public power was a very fine one. The circumstances of 1517 conspired to erase it entirely. The year had begun normally enough. Henry had spent Christmas at Richmond, and was to return there for Easter; otherwise he resided prin­cipally at Greenwich. And there on July 5th took place the ceremonies for the signing of a treaty between Henry VIII and Charles of Spain. These celebrations set the seal on the min­ions’ place at court: they made up the bulk of the king’s band in the jousts, and the chief of their number, Nicholas Carew, was the king’s cup­bearer at the following banquet. But stalking the banquet, like cholera at a masked ball in nineteenth-century Paris, was the ‘sweating sickness’ (perhaps a virulent form of influenza). Wolsey had fallen victim to an earlier outbreak in June; now he nearly died. Henry, as usual with pestilence, fled – first to Richmond, then to Windsor. And as the disease lingered on into the autumn and the winter, the whole routine of business collapsed. Henry wandered from place to place to the west of London; Wolsey, after his return from a pil­grimage to Walsingham to give thanks for his recovery, retired to Hampton Court, taking Chancery with him. Not till January 21st did Wolsey come back to Westminster for the start of Hilary term; Henry VIII too put in an appearance, but immediately with­drew again to Windsor. In the intervening months, king and cardinal had met only once. Otherwise Henry was left both with­out formal counsel and without for­malised methods of transacting busi­ness. The Privy Chamber stepped into the breach: a clerk (probably Carew’s) wrote out the king’s letters and his master influenced their con­tents. Minions and minister clashed over the marriage of the wealthy widow of a tenant-in-chief; and able to command the king’s signature, the minions won. Wolsey had learned the hard way the value of Foxe’s advice and moved immediately to fill the vacuum he had created about the king. Richard Pace, the royal secretary, who had just returned from an embassy to the Swiss, was sent to reside at court in the new year, as was the up-and-coming humanist and lawyer, Thomas More. Pace’s job was to write Henry’s letters and hold a watching brief for Wolsey; while More’s was to act as a ‘councillor attendant’, consulting with the king on business and handling, in harness with John Clerk, the dean of the Chapel Royal, ‘poor men’s suits’ at court. In addition, More too was soon roped into the thankless task of acting as intermediary between king and cardinal. For Henry it had all the delight of a new game. Clearly modelling himself on Wolsey’s grand orations in Star Chamber, he gave ‘substantial pre­cepts’ to More and Clerk about the discharge of their duties, ‘especially enempst (concerning) forfeitures’. He was weaker, however, at detail. On April 1st (appropriately enough) Pace informed Wolsey of a request by Clerk and More that the cardinal should write to the lord steward or controller of the household to make sure that they were actually given ‘daily such allowance of meat and drink as the king’s Grace granted unto them gladly by his bill signed’. At the same time Pace put in a word for himself, ‘for though I have somewhat better than they have’, yet still Tam not served according to the order of the king’s house, neither as his Grace would I should be’. These events are impor­tant. They mark the first stirrings of Henry’s own appetite for control; they also show the intimate connection between household and Council that is a ‘central, and neglected, theme of the reign. Yet, most of all, they highlight the gap between intention and fulfilment: Henry might aspire to be master, but he was not even master in his own house. The following year Wolsey put it in order for him. He had, however, his own motives for doing so. The min­ions had not been so easily dealt with. In autumn 1518 they consolidated their position at court by acquiring the formal office of gentleman of the Privy Chamber; eight months later in May 1519 Wolsey procured their expulsion from court on the grounds that they were a bad influence on the king. In their place he put four ‘men of greater age, and perhaps of greater repute, but creatures of Cardinal Wolsey’. They were given a hybrid title – ‘knights of the body in the Privy Chamber’  – and had a hybrid func­tion, for they were both courtiers and body servants and councillors: indif­ferently they would go on an embassy, appear in a masque and help audit the Jewel House. The politics settled, Wolsey turned at leisure to the administrative details: during thee summer, the four knights, More, the two gentlemen of the Privy Chamber who had survived the purge, and the junior members of the Privy Chamber staff, were all given salaries; in the autumn, their rights to board and lodging at court for them­selves and their servants (which had so agitated Pace and co. the previous year) were settled as well in a series of lists of ‘daily liveries in the king’s household’, issued at monthly inter­vals. This completed the institutionalisation, not only of the Privy Chamber, but also of a Council Atten­dant  – indeed the two groups inter­meshed and overlapped to the point at which they became one. The king now had the private staff he wanted. But it was one hand-picked by Wolsey and spent much of its time liaising with him. The lion, to paraphrase Councillor Attendant More, was stir­ring, but he did not yet know his own strength: the centre of political gravity was still the cardinal and the cardinal’s court. Nevertheless Wolsey tended to get jealous – for no very good reason – of the little group of councillors and courtiers about the king and sought to attract them back into his own orbit. Henry, for his part, stood his ground: he insisted that Pace should go to Wolsey only for special items of busi­ness, ‘and at other times to remain in the court’. It was less easy to take a firm line when it was the demands of war and diplomacy that called men away. By 1522, however, things had reached such a pass that Henry announced that he would not remain ‘so bare without some noble and wise sage persons about him’. Asked whom he wanted, ‘his Grace answered that he would name none but some he would have’. The trou­bled international situation, and the consequent need for courtiers to double-up as soldiers and negotiators, were real enough; con­temporaries, on the other hand, sus­pected Wolsey of exploiting the situalion for his own purposes because he wanted possible rivals ‘out of the way’. But these excuses, if excuses they were, came to an end in 1525 with the advent of ‘right honourable and profitable peace with all outward reg­ions’. In fact Wolsey, never one to neglect a good line when he saw it, played the old tune for the last time and blamed existing disorders on the war effort; then he turned to the task of the ‘reformation’ of the royal household. The result was the publication of the Ordinances of Eltham in January 1526. The Household (save for its accounting machinery) and the Chamber were passed over cursorily; for the Privy Chamber, on the other hand, detailed regulations were pre­scribed and a full listing of its person­nel given. Next came the chapters dealing with the Council. Their ostensible purpose was to provide for ‘a good number’ of councillors to give ‘their attendance upon [the king’s] most royal person’. Twenty such were listed, beginning with Chancellor Wolsey, Treasurer Norfolk, and Privy Seal Ruthall, and ending with the captain of the Guard, Sir William Kingston, and Dr Richard Wolman, who was responsible ‘for ordering of poor men’s complaints and causes’. But recognising that the leading coun­cillors ‘shall many seasons fortune to be absent from the king’s court, and specially in the term time’, arrange­ments were made for groups of their more junior colleagues to hold the fort: first ten, then four and finally ‘two … at the least [shall] always be present’.Historians have seen two hands at work here: the king, pressing for ‘an honourable presence of councillors about his Grace, as to his high honour doth appertain’, and Wolsey, more aware of the realities of power which kept councillors ‘absent for some reasonable cause’, and of course hav­ing his own reasons for welcoming such absence. This indeed seems to be the case. Wolsey’s working papers for the Ordinances show that he was thinking throughout of the kind of small group of ‘councillors daily attendant’ that had existed since 1518-19. In fact 1526 represents a wholesale return to the ad hoc changes of 1518-19. But with one important difference: in 1519 the personnel of the Privy Chamber and the Council Attendant had virtually fused; in 1526 they were carefully separated. Coun­cillors no longer had offices of inti­mate access to the sovereign; while the members of the Privy Chamber, who had such access, were enjoined to keep strictly to their domestic sphere, ‘not. . . advancing them­selves . . . or intermeddl[ing] of any causes or matters whatsomever’.These nice distinctions collapsed in the political revolution of the late 1520s, which first bridled Wolsey’s power and then broke it. The cardinal, old trouper that he was, kept up appearances to the last. On the first day of Michaelmas Term 1529, as he himself was being indicted in King’s Bench, he ‘came into Westminster Hall with all his train … and … sat in the Chancery’. He was unable, how­ever, to sit in Star Chamber, ‘for all the lords and other the king’s Council were gone to Windsor to the king’. The conciliar mountain, immoveable so long, had come to the royal, Mahomet.Mahomet also came to the moun­tain. With Wolsey’s fall, all his prop­erty was forfeit to the king. Henry seized York Place first. Wolsey left the palace arrayed like a sacrificial victim: the Gallery was hung with cloth of gold, silver and tissue; in the Gilt Chamber, to one side of the Gallery, were trestle tables heaped with gilt plate and a sideboard of gold and jewelled vessels; while in the Council Chamber, to the other side of the Gallery, were stacked silver and silver gilt plate. Under its new owner, the palace was to remain an Aladdin’s Cave of plate and bullion; even more importantly, the Council Chamber became his Council Chamber. From Whitehall, his ‘place besides Westminster’ as he called it, Wolsey had gone in procession to Star Chamber; now the councillors in Star Chamber could come to the king in his ‘new palace of Westminster’, as it was formally entitled by act of parliament in 1536, or, as it was soon popularly known, Whitehall.These developments – the shift of political gravity from the cardinal’s court to the king’s court, on the one hand, and the king’s acquisition of a new palace at Westminster that replaced Greenwich as his usual term-time residence, on the other permanently altered the Council. What mattered was no longer the councillors in Star Chamber, but the ‘Council appointed to attend upon his Grace’. The king’s view of counsel had triumphed over Wolsey’s. But there is another element to the story – the contribution of the king’s most power­ful subjects, the nobility. In May 1525, as they were mopping up after the disturbances which had followed the disastrous financial expedient known as the Amicable Grant, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suf­folk had written jointly to Wolsey, insisting that ‘we never saw the time so needful for the king’s Highness to call his Council unto him to debate and determine what is best to be done’. The Council outlined seven months later in the Eltham Ordinances can plausibly be seen as a response to this advice. In particular, the emphasis on the ‘qualifying office’ (as Professor Elton has called it) held by each councillor reflected a typically noble mode of thought. Nobles were used to arguing before the Court of Claims for rights to perform honorific services at the coronation by virtue of offices or property they had inherited; and their libraries contained treatises written to support their claims. Nor were such hereditary offices as earl marshal merely ceremonial, as we tend to think. In 1536 Norfolk cited the treatise on the Marshalship, of which he had commissioned a copy, to plead that, as marshal, ‘I may have van­guard’ of the army against the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace; while in 1526 the Marshalship was the ‘qualifying office’ for the seat in the Council Attendant of Norfolk’s pre­decessor as marshal, Suffolk.In 1526 the role of the nobility in shaping the proposed Council Atten­dant has to remain a matter of conjec­ture; three years later with the fall of Wolsey it is not in doubt. The leaders of the attack on the cardinal were Anne Boleyn and her supporters, who were strong in the Privy Chamber, and the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, who aspired to domi­nance in and through the Council. The two dukes charged Wolsey with having subverted conciliar govern­ment: by monopolising information, by cutting off direct access to the king, and by inhibiting free discussion in the Council itself, where ‘if any man would show his mind … contrary to the opinion of the said cardinal, he would so take him up with his accus­tomable words, that they were better to have held their peace’. And they promised better for the future. Gov­ernment would now, Norfolk assured the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, be entrusted ‘to those who from birth and circumstances were more competent’. Not that he was taking over; instead, he emphasised, affairs ‘would be managed not by an individual but by a Council’.For the next year or two they were. The leading councillors also displayed the characteristic noble concern with office and dignity: in autumn 1529 parliament gave statut­ory authority to the office of ‘presi­dent of the king’s most honourable Council … attending up on his … per­son’, and ranked it third in the official hierarchy, behind the chancellor and treasurer but ahead of the privy seal. The office was then assumed by Suf­folk, the second of the duumvirate of dukes. All was not plain sailing how­ever. Some.nobles, like Norfolk, were avid for power and willing, even eager, to assume the consequent burden of work. Most were not. They did not have the habit of business; they did not even have the habit of attend­ing at court, save for the great feasts like Christmas and Easter. Easter also fell near to St George’s Day, when the knights of the Garter, who included the leading nobles, met in chapter under the presidency of the king, the sovereign of the Order. Naturally advantage was taken of these unusual concentrations of high-ranking coun­cillors to blend business with pleas­ure: the Council sat on Christmas Day in both 1540 and 1541; while in 1535, as Chapuys shrewdly noted, the lords attending the chapter of the Garter were used to reinforce the commis­sion of oyer and terminer that tried and condemned the recalcitrant monks of the London Charterhouse. A party of lords went on to be present at the executions.John Husee, Lord Lise’s London agent, passed over the executions in his letter to his mistress, since ‘I know your ladyship so pitiful that such are little pleasant unto your ear’. Whether any of the lords shared her tender­hearted scruples is unclear. But many of them were doubtful about the Reformation, of which the executions were a particularly nasty episode. Their doubts were only reinforced by the fact that the Reformation had propelled another minister into power, Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell had been Wolsey’s own ‘councillor’ and had learned from his old master; while Henry VIII, for his part, enacted some of the same rituals of friendship with the new minister as with the old, ‘visiting him and supping at his house’, for example. Cromwell’s house thus became a power centre, besieged with a ‘great multitude of suitors’ and buzzing with run1our, like the story about a tripartite meet­ing between the kings of England, France and Scotland that Chapuys picked up in 1535. But the report, Chapuys also noted, ‘was circu­lated … at court’. Never, that is, did Cromwell’s house displace the court, as Wolsey’s had done; nor did Crom­well demote the Council so ostentati­ously.But he made both court and Council less attractive, even hostile, to his rivals for power. The result was that when the tensions of the 1530s finally boiled over into the rebellion of the Pilgrimage of Grace, it was not only the substance of the government’s policy that was attacked, but also its form. The rebels complained that ‘your Grace takes of your Council and being about you such persons as be of low birth and small reputation’; and they demanded instead that a Council of ‘noblemen of the true noble blood [should] reign or rule about the king’.In 1536 these demands were rejected and the rebellion itself defeated. This was because most of the conservative nobility, in whose interests the rebels claimed to be acting, remained loyal. Men like Norfolk disliked Cromwell and all he stood for, but they disliked rebellion even more. In 1539-40, how­ever, the same issues were raised. But this time the battle was fought not in the field, but in court, Council and Parliament. And, in this safer terri­tory, it was the conservatives, not the radicals, who triumphed.The ground had been cut from under Cromwell’s feet by develop­ments abroad. Charles V and Francis I, having settled their own differences, were contemplating united action against heretical Eng­land. Blockhouses and castles along the Channel coast were one line of defence; another was lo rebuild the citadel of orthodoxy. Parliament met in April 1539 and, led by Henry with Norfolk as his mouthpiece, restored the essence of Catholic doctrine in the Act of Six Articles. Two other acts showed that politics had turned smartly right as well. The Act of Proc­lamations provided that proclama­tions could only be issued by ‘the advice of the more part’ of the Coun­cil, and listed the office holders who were to make up the Council. The old tradition of constitutional history, which concentrated on the supposed conflict between a ‘libertarian’ parli­ament and a ‘despotic’ monarchy, has hopelessly obscured the meaning of the act. It was about conflict indeed, but between minister and Council. And conciliarism triumphed, as did, by and large, a more narrowly aristoc­ratic vision of Council in the act of precedence, which put the holders of the eleven principal ‘qualifying offices’ listed in the act of proclama­tions into a general order of prece­dence. The act also took for granted that the holders of these offices would be noble.Its hand mightily strengthened by these acts, the Council started to exert itself against the minister. In June Nicholas Shaxton, the radical bishop of Salisbury, sought Cromwell’s pro­tection against ‘the other lords of the king’s most honourable Council’. Writing at the same time but from the opposite political perspective, John Husee suggested that Lord Lisle, whose attempts to bring the excesses of the religious radicals in Calais to Henry VIII’s attention had been per­sistently frustrated by Cromwell, should signify the king of it and the Council while all the lords are here’ for the Parliament. The ending of the parliamentary session on June 28th thus raised some of the domestic pressure on Cromwell; simultane­ously the European scene changed in his favour too and he was able to carry through the negotiations for the Cleves marriage. The prospect of another queen consort moved the question of household reform, which had been intermittently discussed since 1536, to the top of the agenda. And in December 1539, a week or two ahead of the marriage, ‘the new book of household’ was published.More interesting than its provisions for the new queen, however, is what it tells us about the new Council. The Council was now the Council ‘in his Majesty’s household’: its leading members, it was envisaged, would be resident at court and dine together ‘in the king’s Council Chamber’, at the table of the Duke of Suffolk, who was both lord president of the Council and, as lord great master, chief officer of the royal household. But only earls or above could dine at this table. Cromwell, however, was only a baron. So ‘the lord privy seal’ was given his own table, at which ate ‘such barons and bishops as do not sit with the great master’. This was the reality of an aristocratic council: Cromwell, the leading councillor, could not dine with his senior colleagues because his status was not high enough. It now becomes clear why, four months later, Cromwell was made Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain: the earldom gave him rank within a noble Council; the Great Chamberlainship, standing within a household one. His promo­tion took place on April 18th, 1540. That day he dined in the Council Chamber with his fellow earls and the dukes. He had made the inner circle at last.Three months later still, however, in July 1540 Cromwell was dead. He was overthrown by his noble fellow coun­cillors, who arrested him in the Coun­cil Chamber; tore the George and Garter, the symbols of his pretensed nobility, from his person with their own hands, and added scandalum magnatum, or criminal contempt for the nobility, to the charges of treason and heresy in his attainder. Norfolk, it seems clear, even wanted to exact the ultimate vengeance of having him executed as a commoner, by hanging, drawing and quartering. But Henry drew the line at that. Otherwise, the noble programme went ahead. The great minister gone, collegiate, conciliar rule was now a reality and was acknowledged as such – prayerfully by the English ambas­sador in the Netherlands, who ended his first despatch to the Council (before he had written individually, first to Cromwell then to Norfolk) by beseeching Almighty God to give the councillors Nestor’s years ‘to rule, govern and counsel … to the honour and comfort of our master and lord most sovereign. Amen’. And within this Council, the nobility played a highly active role. They made up half or a )little more of the Council, and they ‘were regular attenders. His­torians/ spokesmen as usual of the school-swot tendency, have held nobles congenitally incapable of the neces­sary hard work. Helen Miller’s recent study of Henry VIII’s nobility proves them wrong: the Earl of Sussex, Cromwell’s successor as great cham­berlain, attended three-quarters of Council meetings, Norfolk a third and even Suffolk over a quarter.But it was Henry’s programme – and Council – as well. It was Henry, who in the early days of 1539-40, had used his authority, lightly disguised by the Council, to impose the unwonted habit of regular attendance on the nobility; on the other hand, he did not hesitate to reverse orders conveyed in the ‘common letters’ of the Council by his own instructions written by ‘the secretary to the king’s Majesty’. And by withdrawing tem­porarily from court he would suspend the Council’s sittings entirely. This of course explains the name of the new Council. The Council Attendant had been known by a variety of terms: the ‘Council for [the king’s] person’, or the Council ‘in his Majesty’s household’, as well as the ‘Secret’ or ‘Privy’ Coun­cil. From the summer of 1540, how­ever, the last established itself as the official title. The Privy Council, in other words, was ‘privy’ in the same way that the Privy Chamber was ‘privy’. Both were supremely intimate with the king: the latter were his personal, confidential attendants; the former his personal, confidential advisers. The fact was expressed geographically. Hitherto the Council Chamber at court had been part of the outer royal apartments; now it was moved into the privy lodgings. At Hampton Court it shifted from a site off the Chapel Gallery to one at the end of the queen’s Privy Gallery; at Whitehall it opened off the king’s Privy Gallery directly opposite the antechamber to Henry VIII’s Bedchamber. We are thus back in the world of Shakespeare’s play, as factions in court and Council struggle for power round the king, with the Privy Gallery, the common territory of the inner circle of the court, as their battle field.But it is a mistake to exaggerate the importance of court faction. As Dr Guy has recently pointed out, the Privy Council did not become a Bed­chamber Council, as in France. There the king’s intimate council met in his Bedchamber while he was relieving himself, whence the name conseil des affaires. In England, however, there was a marked preference for formal, responsible counsel. We can now see that the influence of the nobility – with their fondness for office, hier­archy and collegiality –  was the prime force that translated this preference into reality. A century later, Charles I noted that ‘the good of aristocracy is the conjunction of counsel in the ablest persons of a state for the public benefit’; while the ‘ill of aristocracy is faction and division’. It would be hard to think of a better starting point for the historian of Tudor government.

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