Most Fearless Women in Tudor England

I finished reading a couple of books about Mary Tudor, sister of King Henry VIII and Queen of France; it got me thinking about how fearless some of these women in the Tudor period really were. By todays standards they would not be considered as brave (depending on what part of the world you live in of course), but in 16th century England the things these women did may have been considered reckless and disobedient by their male counterparts.

When I began to think about which Tudor women I considered fearless I realized that these women would also fall under the brave category. So with that in mind, lets look at the definition of both words:

The definition of fearless is: Lack of fear

The definition of the word brave is: Ready to face and endure danger or pain; showing courage.

Here are some synonyms of the word brave: courageous, valiant, heroic, fearless and daring. Did you catch that? Fearless. Okay, so with that in mind, who are some of the Tudor women you thought deserved to be on this list?

When I look back at my own life there is one instance when I saw myself as brave, or fearless – the first time was when I was 18 years old. Ill give you a little backstory to put in perspective: I may or may not have been a bit rebellious when I was 18. Anyway..I was hanging out with all the wrong people and ended up getting beat up. I ended up in the Emergency Room with a concussion, a fat lip, strained neck and a huge bump on my head. There is so much more to this but I dont think you want to hear all the details about how I got beat up. When I was in the ER I had to give a statement to the police. At the time I was terrified because these girls that attacked me were local gang members (it was the 90s) and I feared them coming after me again, but the officer explained to me that they had done this to others before me and nobody was willing press charges. At that moment I decided that I was in control and I stop this from happening to anyone else. I pressed charges and had to be a witness against them in court. That was the scariest thing I had done at that point in my life. But because of my actions those girls turned their lives around. With that being said, my modern day example of when I thought I was brave does not stand up to these ladies situations.

Okay, so with that in mind, who are some of the Tudor women you thought deserved to be on this list?

I took a poll on social media and came up with a list of who you all thought deserved to be on it and who I thought deserve to be named. Here is the list in no particular order:

  • Katherine of Aragon
  • Margaret Pole
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Kateryn Parr
  • Anne Askew
  • Margaret Douglas
  • Katherine Willoughby
  • Anne Stanhope
  • Mary Boleyn
  • Mary Tudor
  • Mary I
  • Elizabeth I
  • Elizabeth Barton
  • Margaret Beaufort
  • Elizabeth of York
  • Jane Grey
  • Bess of Hardwick
  • Margaret Tudor
  • Mary, Queen of Scots
  • Catherine Grey
  • Mary Grey
  • Mary Howard

Now, before I give you my list of the Most Fearless Women in Tudor England I want you to understand that this is my list and Ive chosen these women by my own opinions, so my views may not line up with yours exactly. Please dont be mad, I tried to look at this objectively and honestly before deciding.

So many of the women you all listed were brave, but I had to choose who was the most and give reasons as to why.

So, I picked the top two/three who I believed deserved to be honored. Here are the honorable mentions of Most Fearless Women in Tudor England (in no particular order):

  • Elizabeth Tudor, future queen of England
  • Mary Tudor, Queen of France – for secretly marrying Brandon without the permission of her brother, the King. For standing against Henrys marriage to Anne Boleyn.
  • Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland – I excluded Margaret because (for the most part she was in Scotland and not England)
  • Mary Boleyn, for marrying William Stafford while her sister was queen and not obtaining permission.
  • Anne Boleyn
  • Margaret Douglas – for wanting to marry without the kings permission. Twice.
  • Mary Howard – not remarrying after the death of her husband and giving testimony in the downfall of her brother and father.

So, who is missing from that list? Who did I chose as the Most Fearless Women in Tudor England?

Does it come as any surprise that Katherine of Aragon should be near the top? I didnt think so. I also included with her her daughter Mary and here are the reasons why:

Katherine of Aragon (and Mary)

When Henry VIII believed that Katherine of Aragon would no longer be able to give him a male heir he began to look for ways out of the marriage. Whether he truly believed his own statements, or if he was just looking for a way out, only he and his closest advisers would know. Henrys biggest concern was that Katherines marriage to his older brother Arthur must have been consummated and that is why he had not been able to conceive a surviving son and male heir with her.

While reading Sarah Gristwoods book, Game of Queens she discusses two different debates regarding Henrys concern with his first marriage.

In the book of Leviticus, the Bible says, If a man shall take his brothers wife, it is an unclean thing: he has uncovered his brothers nakedness. Thy shall be childless.

Katherine of Aragon points at Cardinal Wolsey

In Henrys mind this meant not without child, but without male heir. Clearly he interpreted things the way that would benefit himself. However, in the book of Deuteronomy it contradicts Leviticus saying that a man has a duty to marry his deceased brothers widow and to raise up seed for his brother. Sowhich was it? Was Henry supposed to marry his brothers widow or was he not?

The ultimate question was whether or not Katherine of Aragon and Arthur, Prince of Wales had consummated their marriage. When the papal legates (Campeggio and Wolsey) visited Katherine and tried to convince her to join a nunnery she refused. They told the Pope, Although she is very religious and extremely patient, she will not accede in the least. Katherine swore on her conscience that she and Prince Arthur had never consummated their marriage, and declared that she intended to live and die in the estate of matrimony to which God had called her.

Cardinal Campeggio attempted to sway the queen but she would not listen. Wolsey warned her to yield to the Kings displeasure she snapped at him saying:

Of this trouble, I thank only you, my lord of York! Of malice you have kindled this fire, especially for the great grudge you bear to my nephew the Emperor, because he would not gratify your ambition by making you Pope by force!

Wolsey then went on to excuse himself. He stated that it had been sore against his will that ever the marriage should be in question and he promised, as legate for the Pope to be impartial. Katherine did not believe him as she knew Wolsey to be the closest adviser to the King.

On the 26th of October 1528, by her request, Campeggio heard Katherines confession. She declared, upon the salvation of her soul, that she had never been carnally known by Prince Arthur. Campeggio believed she was speaking the truth but continued to push for her to go to a nunnery.

In 1531, Katherine was still declaring herself Henrys true wife. Henry was attempting to force Katherine to sign his Act of Supremacy. She refused, stating that the Pope was the only true sovereign and vicar of God She went on to say:

I love and have loved my lord the King as much as any woman can love a man, but I would not have borne him company as his wife for one moment against the voice of my conscience. I am his true wife.

Around 1532, when Henry VIII requested Katherine of Aragon return her jewels to the crown she fell ill soon after. To be quite honest, Katherine was already ill. She had made a request to see her good friend the Imperial Ambassador, Eustace Chapuys. Chapuys, wanting to following court rules, requested permission from the King to see Katherine of Aragon at Kimbolton. The chronicler reported Henry VIII saying, Yes, Ambassador, you have my permission; I will send you word when you can go. Henry did not send word. Chapuys requested leave many times and yet received no word from the King. Eventually Chapuys sent word to the King that he was leaving he was tired of waiting. If, while on the road, he received word from the King of England he would surely obey it.

Lady Mary

After the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn and a year after the birth of Princess Elizabeth, King Henry had demanded that Mary take the oath to the Act of Succession, which meant that her parents were never married and she was illegitimate. Mary had refused his request and was understandably fearful of someone trying to harm her because of it. Henrys retribution was to not allow the person most important to her, her mother. In addition, he dismissed her household, and placed her in the care of Lady Anne Shelton, who was the aunt of her enemy, Anne Boleyn.

The mother and daughter team did not make things easy for Anne and Henry. They fought tooth and nail to keep what was rightfully theirs.

Not only did Mary stand up to her father but also her brother when he was King of England.

Mary was a staunch Catholic and voiced her distaste for the governments religious policies. Because of her fearlessness she became a figurehead for the conservatives.

Mary and her household continued to hear mass, secretly and unapologetically. To Mary, the mass and all the traditional Catholic rites represented the true faith. She also believed that her brother, King Edward was being led astray by his council.

Because of her strong beliefs, in January 1549 she argued again the the Act of Uniformity stating that religion be left untouched until Edward reach his majority.

Here is a quote from the book Edward VI by Chris Skidmore:

On Whit Sunday, in defiance of the introduction of the Prayer Book, Mary celebrated mass in her chapel at Kenninghall with particul pomp. On the 16th of June the council delivered a restrained letter ordering her to desist and to use the new Prayer Book instead. Mary wrote back on the 22nd of June. I have offended no law, unless it be a late law of your own making, for the altering of matters in religion, which, in my conscience, is not worthy to have the name of a law.

Even Somerset saw that he could not get her to change her mind, however his greatest wish was that, if he couldnt, that she would continue as such quietly and without scandal.

Marys fight continued on and she would not back down.

Anne Askew

In my mind, and I can assume many of yours as well, Anne Askew was by far the MOST Fearless Women in Tudor England.

On the 16th of July 1546, the Protestant martyr, Anne Askew was burned at the stake for her beliefs. Anne had been unfairly racked till her bones and joints were almost plucked asunder, in such sort as she was carried away in a chair. She had been imprisoned in the Tower by Thomas Wriothesley and Richard Rich in an attempt to force her to implicate Queen Katherine Parr and other prominent court members including: Anne Stanhope and her husband Edward Seymour. She never gave up names.

Anne Askew was strong in her beliefs she truly believed that everyone should be able to read the bible for themselves and not only rely on the clergy to interpret it for them. Something we take for granted in the 21st century.

John Foxe, English historian and martyrologist, recorded the event in his book Actes and Monuments which was an book that emphasized the sufferings of English Protestants. Here is what he had to say:

She being born of such stock and kindred that she might have lived in great wealth and prosperity, if she would rather have followed the world than Christ, but now she was so tormented, that she could neither live long in so great distress, neither yet by the adversaries be suffered to die in secret. Wherefore the day of her execution was appointed, and she brought into Smithfield in a chair, because she could not go on her feet, by means of her great torment. When she was brought unto the stake she was tied by the middle with a chain that held up her body. When all things were thus prepared to the fire, Dr. Shaxton, who was then appointed to preach, began his sermon. Anne Askew, hearing and answering again unto him, where he said well, confirmed the same; where he said amiss, There, said she, he misseth, and speaketh without the book.

The sermon being finished, the martyrs standing there tied at three several stakes ready ready to their martyrdom, began their prayers. The multitude and concourse of people was exceeding; the place where they stood being railed about to keep out the press. Upon the bench under St. Bartholomews Church sat Wriothesley, chancellor of England; the old Duke of Norfolk, the old earl of Bedford, the lord mayor, with divers others. Before the fire should be set unto them, one of the bench, hearing that they had gunpowder about them, and being alarmed lest the faggots, by strength of the gunpowder about them, and being alarmed lest the faggots, by strength of the gunpowder, would come flying about their ears, began to be afraid; but the earl of Bedford, declaring unto him how the gunpowder was not laid under the faggots, but only about their bodies, to rid them out of their pain; which having vent, there was no danger to them of the faggots, so diminished that fear.

Then Wriothesley, lord chancellor, sent to Anne Askew letters offering to her the Kings pardon if she would recant; who refusing once to look upon them, made this answer again, that she came not thither to deny her Lord and Master. Then were the letters like-wise offered unto the others, who, in like manner, following the constancy of the the woman, denied not only to receive them, but also to look upon them. Whereupon the lord mayor, commanding fire to be put unto them, cried with a loud voice, Fiat justicia. (Let justice be done)

And thus the good Anne Askew, with these blessed martyrs, being troubled so many manner of ways, and having passed through so many torments, having now ended the long course of her agonies, being compassed in with flames of fire, as a blessed sacrifice unto God, she slept in the Lord A.D. 1546, leaving behind her a sifac

ngular example of christian constancy for all men to follow.

It is difficult to imagine what it was truly like for women to live during this time period. We hear awful stories about how womens voices did not matter and how their lives were seen as inferior to men.

By still talking about them 500 years later we honor them and the difficult lives they lived.

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The Regency Council of Edward VI

As Henry VIII lay dying in his bedchamber in January 1547, Edward Seymour and William Paget were whispering in the gallery outside his chamber door at Westminster plotting the future. We know this is true because later Paget calls out Edward Seymour on following through on what they had discussed in the gallery that day in a later letter – the letter is also a warning to his close friend. At the point of this letter, Thomas Seymour was already dead (20 March 1549) and things were beginning to fall apart for Edward Seymour, Lord Protector:

I see at the hand the king’s destruction and your ruin. If you love me or value my service since the king’s father’s death, allow me to write what I think. Remember what you promised me in the gallery at Westminster before the breath wasn’t out of the body of the king, that dead is. Remember what you promised immediately after, devising with me concerning the place which you now occupy, I trust, in the end to goodness purpose, howsoever things thwart now. And that was, to follow mine advice in all your proceedings, more than any other man’s. Which promise I wish Your Grace had kept. For the I am sure things had not gone altogether as they go now.’ (July 1549)

William Paget and Edward Seymour were friends. You could probably say they were very close friends. In May 1549, Paget wrote in a letter to Seymour his feelings for him:

…so deeply in my heart as it cannot be taken out, I could hold my peace as some others do, and say little or nothing.”[1]

In a July 1549 letter, he said:

I have ever desired your authority to be set forth, ever been careful of honour and surety; both for now and for evermore, ever glad to please you, as ever was gentle wife to please her husband, and honest man his master I was.

Paget clearly had strong feelings for his friendship with Edward Seymour. Where some might read an intimate relationship between the men, others like historian Suzannah Lipscomb see Paget comparing their relationship to that of a master and servant and also between spouses.

It would not take long after the accession of Edward VI for William Paget to discover, his close friend and Lord Protector would not see through his end of their earlier promise made at Westminster.

In the will of Henry VIII, he formed a regency council of sixteen men, men who he trusted to keep his best interests in mind during the minority of King Edward. The late king’s wish was to have a council to make decisions instead of one person. Henry had formed a Privy Council in 1540 and felt that the group of men had proved an effective executive body to the King – for this reason he believe a regency could would be better than say a Regent.

At some point after Henry submitted his final will (30 December 1546) and the death of Henry VIII (28 January 1547), Edward Seymour recognized the council needed a leader.

As Paget and Seymour whispered in the gallery of Westminster they agreed that they were to move forward to have Seymour named Lord Protector. Paget in turn would be, because of his loyalty and friendship, would be his greatest advisor. The result being Seymour and Paget would be the two most powerful men in England. But before they could get that far they would need to find allies within the council.

Speaking of the king’s mortality was treason and punishable by death, so those near him who knew he was about to die were too afraid of the dying King’s temper to prepare him for death. The only man brave enough was Sir Anthony Denny. Denny tread lightly around the topic to ask the King if he wished a priest to come give him his last rites. King Henry said, “If I had any, it should be Dr. Cranmer but I will first take a little sleep. And then, as I feel myself, I will advise [you] upon the matter.”[2] Those were the last known words of King Henry VIII. Not long after that incident he died.

After the death of Henry VIII it was imperative for Seymour to respond immediately to the death of the king, and within hours he left with Sir Anthony Browne (named as a member of the regency council), who was master of the horse, and a force of 300 mounted troops to retrieve the new king from Hertford Caslte. [3] They traveled twenty-five miles by horse to reach him. One can imagine them riding as fast as they could – they needed to get to the new king first.

A former servant of Sir Anthony Browne wrote this about what happened in a 1549 letter:

…communing with my Lord’s Grace [Browne] in the garden at Enfield, at the King’s Majesty’s coming from Hertford, gave his frank consent [in] communication in discourse of the State, that his Grace should be Protector, thinking it (as indeed it was) both the surest kind of government and most fit for that Commonwealth.

Edward Seymour now had William Paget and Anthony Browne in his corner – champions to assist in making him Lord Protector.

The following evening, they transported Edward to see his sister Elizabeth at Enfield – it was there that both “kids” were informed of their father’s death. Sir John Hayward, Edward VI’s first biographer reported that, “Never was sorrow more sweetly set forth, their faces seeming rather to beautify their sorrow, than their sorrow to cloud the beauty of their faces.”[4]

While Seymour was with Edward (and possibly Elizabeth as well), he received an urgent letter from William Paget at one or two in the morning on the 29th of January. Neither men had been sleeping well and Paget was especially having a difficult time – Edward Seymour had locked Henry VIII’s will in a box and had accidentally taken the key with him. Where the will was, the power was. With Seymour away Paget needed immediate access to the most powerful document in England.

In Seymour’s response letter to Paget he sent the key and some advice on what should be done with the will. Seymour didn’t believe that anyone (other than the council) needed to see the will in its entirety. Seymour stated that they needed to be cautious and to only show as much as “were necessary to be published for divers respects I think it not convenient to satisfy the world”. We can see the urgency in the plan when Seymour endorsed the letter on the outside: “To my right loving friend, Sir William Paget, one of the King’s Majesties Two Principal Secretaries. Haste, post haste, haste with all diligence, for thy life, for thy life.”

With access to the will, Paget would now be able to have the contents revealed as to who the members of the regency council would be and the executors of the late king’s will.

Seymour showed his leadership skills when on the 30th of January he wrote the Council to discuss their idea of a general royal pardon. In the letter he advises them to wait until the coronation of King Edward. If they waited, Edward, as the new king would be looked favorably upon.

Letter: 30 January 1547 from Enfield

Your lordships shall understand that I the Earl of Hertford have received your letter concerning a pardon to be granted in such form as in the schedule ye have sent, and that ye desire to know our opinions therein.

For answer thereunto, ye shall understand we be in some doubt whether our power be sufficient to answer unto the King’s Majesty that now is, when it shall please him to call us to account for the same. And in case we have authority so to do it, in our opinions the time will serve much better at the Coronation than at this present. For if it should be now granted, his Highness can show no such gratuity unto his subjects when the time is most proper for the same; and his father, who we doubt not be in heaven, having no need thereof, shall take the praise and thank from him that hath more need thereof than be.

We do very well like your device for the matter; marry, we would wish it to be done when the time serveth most proper for the same.

We intended the King’s Majesty shall be a horseback tomorrow by 11 o’clock, so that by 3 we trust his Grace shall be at the Tower. So, if ye have not already advertised my Lady Anne of Cleves of the King’s death, it shall be well done ye send some express person for the same.

And so,with our right hearty commendations, we bid you farewell.

From Enfield this Sunday night, at a 11 o’clock.

Your good lordships’ assured loving friends,

E. Hertford

Anthony Browne

On the 31st of January, the Commons were sent to the House of Lords. A grief-stricken Lord Chancellor, Thomas Writholsey, called upon William Paget, Secretary of State to read to Parliament the parts of Henry’s will that pertained to the succession as well as who was named on the regency council. That afternoon, the new regency council met – however, three members were missing from the first meeting. Dr. Nicholas Wotton was absent due to his residence at French court, his brother Sir Edward Wotton was in Calais and Sir Thomas Bromley was not present.

In their first council meeting, they all (those present) agreed that Henry’s will instructed them to have “full power and authority”. After reading the late king’s will, they “fully resolved and agreed with one voice and content…to stand to and maintain the said last will and testament of our said master.” The council decided that one special man should be preferred to be their leader. This man should be of “virtue, wisdom and experience” on to be a “special remembrancer”4 and one good at management. They renamed themselves the “Privy Council” with Edward Seymour as it’s head. [5]

The following day, on the 1st of February, all the executors gathered again at the Tower of London.² It was there that the will was read from beginning to end. It was then that they all took their oath to King Edward and their faithfulness to him. It was also on this day that the members of the council instructed the King that they had name Edward Seymour Lord Protector and asked for his blessing, he agreed and later that day Edward was proclaimed King of England. [6]

Sir William Paget was considered a close friend and confidant of Henry VIII. As his secretary he knew many of the dying king’s wishes. Sometime during the early days of King Edward’s reign, Paget made a long speech to the council informing them of what he head believed to be the late king’s wishes regarding the new honors for the council members. He said that during King Henry’s final days that he and Seymour spent hours alone with the dying king. He said that King Henry had wished to advance certain men to higher titles as to increase the number of noblemen after attainder and death had left many vacancies. Paget also confirmed that Henry VIII wish for Edward Seymour to claim Norfolk’s old titles of Lord Treasurer and Ear Marshall.[7]

After Paget’s speech had concluded the council believed him wholeheartedly.

In the end, Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford would now be styled as Duke of Somerset. William Parr, John Dudley and Thomas Wriothesley did not accept their new titles, but instead took the following titles:

  • William Parr, Marquess of Northampton (former title Earl of Essex)
  • John Dudley, Earl of Warwick (former title Viscount Lisle)
  • Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southampton (former title Baron Wriothesley of Titchfield & Lord Chancellor)

John Dudley wrote a letter to Secretary Paget about his wish to have the peerage, “Earl of Warwick”:

Master Secretary, perchance some folks allege considerations concerning the not assignment (had been vacant since 1499 after the death of Edward Plantagenet) of the lordship of Warwick, saying it is a stately castle, and a goodly park, and a great royalty. To that it may be answered – the castle of itself is not able to lodge a good baron with his train; for all the one side of the said castle, with also the dungeon tower, is clearly ruinated and down to the ground; and that of late the King’s Majesty that dead is, hath sold all the chief and principal manors that belonged unto the said earldom and castle; so that at this present there is no lands belonging unto it, but the rents of certain houses in the town, and certain meadows with the park of Wegenock. Of the which castle with the park, and also of the town, I am Constable, High Steward, and Master of the Game, with also th’herbage of the park during my life; and because of the name, I am the more desirous to have the thing; and also I come of one of the daughter and heirs of the right and not defiled line.

I will rebate part of my fees in my portion, to have the same castle, meadows, and park; wherein I pray you to show me your friendship, to move the rest of my lords to this effect: and further to be friendly to Mr. Denny, according to his desire for the site and remains of Waltham, with certain other farms adjoining unto Jeston; wherein, as for the site of Waltham, I suppose it shall grow to a commonwealth to the country thereabouts to let him have it.

And in case that they will not condescend to me for the lordship of Warwick, as is aforesaid, I pray you then let me have Tunbridge and Penshurst, that was the Buckingham’s lands in Kent, as parcel of my portion, with also Hawlden, that was my own; and, whether I have the one or the other, let Canonbury be our portion.

The Master of the Horse would gladly, as I do perceive him, have the lordship in Sussex that was the Lord Laware’s; which in my opinion were better bestowed upon him, or some such as would keep it up, and serve the King in the country in maintaining of household, than to let it fall to ruin as it doth, with divers other like houses; being a great pity, and loss it will be at length to the King and realm.

Your own assuredly, J. Warwick

Sir Anthony Denny later told Roger Ascham that, “The court…is a place so slippery that duty never so well done is not a staff stiff enough to stand by always very surely; where you shall many times reap most unkindness where you have sown greatest pleasures and those also ready to do you much hurt, to whom you never intended to think any harm.“[8]

So, anyway, this article wasn’t supposed to be all about what happened after the death of Henry VIII, but I felt like I needed to set the scene for when I get to my next part – listing the sixteen men who were named to Edward VI’s regency council. So, with that being said, let’s look at the men who were supposed to make the decisions for a nation. Were they indeed the trust men of King Henry VIII or were they believers in Edward Seymour?

This might be hard to believe, but a couple of weeks ago was the first time I have ever really paid any attention detailed list of the sixteen men on Edward’s regency council. To be completely honest, I had not been all that interested in them before now. That is, until I came upon “A General History of the Lives, Trials, and Executions of all the Royal and Noble Personages”. This book covers the those who had been found guilty of high treason and other crimes from the accession of Henry VIII and on. It may seem obvious that I came across this book while doing more research on Thomas Seymour. There are many other men mentioned in this book as well, like: Thomas More, Bishop Fisher and the Duke of Buckingham, to name a few.

When I initially read the list in “A General History of the Lives, Trials, and Executions of all the Royal and Noble Personages” I became overwhelmed with the idea of finding out who each of these men were, where they came from and how they interacted with the other council members. That’s what I’m doing with this post.

Here is the list of the men who were chosen by the late Henry VIII to be on the regency council for his son and heir, Edward VI:

  1. Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
  2. Thomas Wriothesley, (1st Earl of Southampton and) Lord Chancellor
  3. William Paulet, Lord St. John and Master of the Household
  4. Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Great Chamberlain
  5. John Russell, (1st Earl of Bedford and) Lord Privy Seal
  6. John Dudley, Viscount Lisle and Lord High Admiral of England
  7. Bishop Cuthbert Tonstall of Durham
  8. Sir Anthony Brown, Master of Horse
  9. Sir Edward Montagu, Chief Judge of the Common Pleas
  10. Thomas Bromley, Judge (need more information on this)
  11. Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Augmentations
  12. Sir William Paget, Chief Secretary
  13. Sir Anthony Denny, Chief Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber
  14. Sir William Herbert, Chief Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber
  15. Sir Edward Wotton, Treasurer of Calais
  16. Dr. Nicholas Wotton (Edward’s brother), Dean of Canterbury and York
Paget, North, Bromley, Montagu, Paulet, Seymour, Denny, Wriothesley, Russell, Dudley, Tunstall, Browne, Herbert, Wotton, Wotton & Cranmer.

Paget, North, Bromley, Montagu, Paulet, Seymour, Denny, Wriothesley, Russell, Dudley, Tunstall, Browne, Herbert, Wotton, Wotton & Cranmer.

With these men in place, in his will, Henry VIII instructed that “none of them shall do anything appointed by this Will alone, but only with the written consent of the majority.” This group of sixteen men who made up the regency council did not take long before deciding (by majority) that one of them should be the leader.

This position, and title of Lord Protector was given to the King’s eldest uncle, Edward Seymour, followed by the title, Duke of Somerset. The dukedom was a late addition to the late king’s will.

Now…back to what we came here for – learning about the sixteen men who were named to the regency council:

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury

Thomas Cranmer is probably known best as the man who helped change religion in England. It was Cranmer who had a close relationship with the Boleyn family and on the day of Anne’s execution said, ‘She who has been the Queen of England upon earth will today become a Queen in heaven.’ So great was his grief that he could say nothing more, and then he burst into tears. Cranmer definitely owed his rise in favor to Anne and the Boleyns, and after her execution must have felt broken and lost. It also does not surprise me that he was named one of the members of the regency council by Henry VIII – the King definitely had faith in Cranmer.

In his position on the regency council, with Somerset at the head, Cranmer would have been happy to move forward with the reformation.

Thomas Wriothesley, Lord Chancellor

Thomas Wriothesley studied civil law at St. Paul’s School, London and Trinity Hall in Cambridge. He studied under Stephen Gardiner. In 1524, Wriothesly was employed Cardinal Wolsey and it was in that service that he met Thomas Cromwell. Nine years later Thomas Wriothesley would be in the service of Thomas Cromwell.

I’ve read bits and pieces about Wriothesley but never put two and two together about how important of a figure he was at Tudor court. On the 16th of February 1547, Wriothesley was given the title: 1st Earl of Southampton, upon the request of the late King Henry.

Wriothesley had been one of the councillors who were against making Edward Seymour the Lord Protector. Wriothesley did not believe one man should rule the country – Henry’s will specifically stated that it should be a group of chosen men.

Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton by Holbein Courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, New York.

What do we know about Wriothesley? Well, we know that he was the man responsible for personally torturing Anne Askew in 1546. We also know that he earned favor with Henry VIII when he assisted him with his Great Matter. He was ambassador to Brussels. He led the naval escort to bring Anne of Cleves to England. It is also believed that Wriothesley had similar power as both Wolsey and Cromwell had – that he had been ‘governing almost everything in England.”

Lord St. John, Master of the Household

Lord St. John was what William Paulet styled himself as from 1539-1550. Paulet was raised in peerage to Baron St. John of Basing in 1539. He was Comptroller of the King’s Household. Paulet also turned against Somerset in 1549 in support of John Dudley.

St. John supported the reformation but refrained from politics. That being said, he was one of the sixteen men on the king’s regency council.

St. John was named treasurer of the household in 1537 and then chamberlain in 1543, followed by great master of the household in 1545. Then in 1546 he was named as lord president of the Privy Council.

William Paulet, Lord St. John

Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford and Great Chamberlain

Edward Seymour was the eldest uncle of King Edward VI. After the death of Henry VIII he voted by the regency council to be named Lord Protector of the Realm. It was in that position that Edward Seymour would experience the most dangerous experiences of his life. Without the approval and backing of the regency council, Edward was alone.

Collection of Marquess of Bath, Longleat House, Wiltshire.

John Russell, (1st Earl of Bedford and) Lord Privy Seal

John Russell served four of the Tudor monarchs.

In 1506, John Russell was of service to King Philip and Queen Juana from Castile when they were shipwrecked off the English coast. Once ashore, “the people sent the royal strangers to the finest house they knew, Wolfeton, the great house owned by Sir Thomas Trenchard ten miles away. Sir Thomas was at home, but he could not speak Spanish, so he sent for his kinsmen John Russell, who was living at the farmhouse Kingston Russell House at Long Bredy Dorset. John had been in Spain and could interpret, the Spaniards were so delighted with his manner that they took him to see the King. King Henry VII made Russell a gentleman of the privy chamber”, a position he remained at in the reign of Henry VIII as well. “Prior to his elevation to court he was the last of a long line of successful wine importers.”[9]

John Russell, 1st Earl of Bedford, by Hans Holbein the Younger; Royal Collection, Windsor Castle

Then in 1509, Russell was employed in various military and diplomatic missions during the War of the League of Cambrai.

He had many years of experience at court and had accompanied Mary Tudor, the king’s sister, to France in 1514 for her marriage to King Louis XII.

In 1520, Russell attended the Field of Cloth of Gold, and he was knighted on 2 July 1522 after losing an eye at the taking of Morlaix in Brittany

Sir John was named Lord Privy Seal by Henry VIII after the execution of Thomas Cromwell who held the title prior to his death.

John Dudley, Viscount Lisle and Lord High Admiral of England

John Dudley was the son of the ill-fated financial minister, Edmund Dudley. If you recall from a previous episode Edmund Dudley and his counterpart, Robert Empson were executed at the beginning of Henry VIII’s reign. The men had been extremely unpopular during the reign of Henry VII due to all the taxes that were being subjected to the English subjects. By executing them it brought favor to the new Tudor king.

Under the tutelage of his guardian’s brother Sir Henry Guildford, a boon companion of Henry VIII, Dudley was trained as a soldier and courtier.”[10]

Dudley was well-connected at court and in the late 1530’s he was made governor of Calais and in 1542 he was created Viscount Lisle and Lord High Admiral, a position he held until he voluntarily renounced his position so it could be given to Sir Thomas Seymour. He then held the role again after the execution of Seymour until 1550.

John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland

In my opinion, Dudley was one of the most ruthless men at Tudor court, he would do whatever it took to get what he wanted. It has always been my believe that he was the one who stirred up trouble between the Seymour brothers and he was also instrumental in the downfall of them both. Dudley took advantage of the dying King Edward VI and (also in my opinion) convinced him to name his new daughter-in-law as his heir.

This is the funny thing about researching the Tudor era. There are so many interesting “characters” to learn about that sometimes, over the years of researching, our opinions of them can change. It’s possible that one day I’ll discover he wasn’t as despicable as I once suspected, but right now he ranks right up there for me with Anne Stanhope, wife of Edward Seymour, Lord Protector.

Bishop Cuthbert Tonstall of Durham

Of all the men listed as members of the regency council, Bishop Tonstall of Durham is the one I know the least about. I’ll do my best to give you the information that I DO have on him.

Serving Henry VIII, Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, Tonstall’s career at court was a long one. In 1511, William Warham, Archbishop of Canterbury, made Tunstall his chancellor. A few years later he was running diplomatic missions abroad for King Henry and Wolsey. Then in 1516 he was made Mast of the Rolls, an office which he held for six years and would on occasion acted as the Keeper of the Privy Seal. Seven years later he then became Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal.

Curthbert Tunstall

After the downfall of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey in 1530, Tunstall succeeded him as Bishop of Durham, which involved Tunstall having significant power within the territory of the diocese.

In 1537, Tonstall became President of the new Council of the North. Although he was often engaged preoccupied with ongoing negotiations with Scotland, he had time to attend Parliament and participated in the discussion of the the Bill of Six Articles.

So…as you can tell, Tunstall was a man on the rise at court and clearly had favor with the King, which is a little surprising because he was one of the men (along with Bishop Fisher and Thomas More) that represented Katherine of Aragon during the divorce proceedings. Tunstall spared himself from execution by playing the part. Even if he didn’t agree with what was going on he understood that it would do him no good to follow Fisher and More.

Sir Anthony Brown, Master of Horse

Another man close to the king and other members at court was Sir Anthony Browne. Browne’s half-brother was the William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, and the men had shared a mother.

It is believed that Browne, born around 1500, was at court from an early age and was probably raised in the royal household – you see, his father was a standard-bearer to King Henry VII.

Browne’s service to the King began in the year 1518 and by the following year he was made gentleman of the privy chamber, a position kept him near the King. Because of this position Browne became one of the King’s close circle of friends that were called his “minions”. Another man who was part of this group of friends was Sir Francis Bryan, the Vicar from Hell.

Anthony Browne, 1st Viscount Montagu, NPG 842

Over the years Browne favor with the King continued to grow and grow. He was knighted in 1520 by Thomas Howard, Earl of Surrey (future Duke of Norfolk) for his service against the French. He was appointed lieutenant of the Isle of Man and then in 1527 served the King as ambassador to France.

It is believed to be Browne’s sister, Elizabeth Somerset, Countess of Worcester was the person who provided the testimony to build the charges of adultery against Anne Boleyn.

While it appears that Browne supported Henry in the downfall of Anne Boleyn in 1536, he also briefly fell from favor that year when he showed his support to returning the Lady Mary to the succession.

Sir Anthony Browne assisted Edward Seymour in the French wars in the 1540s when they were successful and securing England’s coastal defences.

Browne was returned to favor and continued to serve the King until his last day. In his will, King Henry VIII named Browne an executor to the King’s will and member of the regency council.

Sir Edward Montagu, Chief Judge of the Common Pleas

Unfortunately I was unable to find anymore information on Sir Edward Montagu at this time.

Thomas Bromley, Judge (need more information on this)

Puisne Justice of the King’s Bench [11] and he was absent from the meeting where the council voted to make Edward Seymour, Lord Hertford as Lord Protector of the Realm. I was unfortunately unable to find more information on Bromley.

Sir Edward North, Chancellor of the Augmentations

From History of Parliament:

The beginning of the new reign saw North made a Privy Councillor and reappointed to the chancellorship, but he was soon to be antagonized by the Protector Somerset who in August 1548 connived at his being eased out of his office in favour of Richard Sackville II. This act was to cost the Protector dear, for in the coup d’état against him a year later North was one of the first to join the dissident Councillors in London and to sign the letter listing the Protector’s offences.

Edward North

Sir William Paget, Chief Secretary

We’ve talked quite a bit about him already, so here is a portrait of him for you to gaze at.

Anglo/Netherlandish School; William Paget (1505/1506-1563), 1st Baron Paget de Beaudesert, KG; National Trust, Plas Newydd;

Sir Anthony Denny, Chief Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber

In the final years of Henry VIII’s life, Sir Anthony Denny was his chief gentleman of the privy chamber (& groom of the stool). He and the King were constantly together. Denny was also a co-keeper of the king’s dry stamp in 1546 and the use of that stamp is what has history buffs wondering if it may have been misused.

Possible Portrait of Denny

Denny was with King Henry in France and was knighted at Boulogne and the King even trusted Denny to his privy purse.

Sir William Herbert, Chief Gentlemen of the Privy Chamber

A few days after Henry VIII’s death Herbert, Paget and Denny informed the council that they had “remembered” more things that were their late King’s wishes. Like….these things were so important that it escaped the King’s mind at the time he made up his will. Because of their flood of memory, Edward Seymour became Duke of Somerset, William Parr became Marquisate of Northampton, John Dudley became Earl of Warwick and Thomas Wriothesley became Earl of Southampton.

William Herbert

Sir Edward Wotton, Treasurer of Calais

Edward Wotton’s duties in Calais prevented his frequent attendance at the council board and so he was probably a non-factor when it came to votes by the council.

Dr. Nicholas Wotton (Edward’s brother), Dean of Canterbury and York

Nicholas Wotton was one of the men charged with going to Cleves and getting a glimpse of Anne of Cleves for King Henry. But in that mission he failed miserably and ‘complained that he could not see her face beneath her voluminous headdress’.



[1] Craik, George Lillie & Charles MacFarlane. “The pictorial history of England during the reign of George the Third: being a history of the people, as well as a history of the kingdom. Illustrated with several hundred woodcuts, Volume 2”. pg 472
[2] Hutchinson, Robert. “The Last Days of Henry VIII”. pg 219-220
[3] Hutchinson, Robert. “The Last Days of Henry VIII”. pg 15
[4] Lipscomb, Suzannah. “The King is Dead”. pg. 81
[5] De Lisle, Leanda. “Tudor”. pg. 239-40
[6] Acts of the Privy Council of England Volume 2, 1547-1550. Originally published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1890. pg. 7-8
[7] Scard, Margaret. “Edward Seymour”. pg. 81
[8] Hutchinson, Robert. “The Last Days of Henry VIII”. pg 14-15
[10] Wagner, John A., Susan Walters Schmid. Encyclopia of Tudor England, Volume 1 (A-D). pg 371
[11] Hutchinson, Robert. “The Last Days of Henry VIII”. pg 213


Acts of the Privy Council of England Volume 2, 1547-1550. Originally published by Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, London, 1890.
England Under the Reigns of Edward VI. and Mary, With the Contemporary History of Europe, Illustrated in a Series of Original Letters Never Before Printed : with Historical Introductions and
Craik, George Lillie & Charles MacFarlane. “The pictorial history of England during the reign of George the Third: being a history of the people, as well as a history of the kingdom. Illustrated with several hundred woodcuts, Volume 2”
De Lisle, Leanda. “Tudor”.
Hutchinson, Robert. “The Last Days of Henry VIII”.
Lipscomb, Suzannah. “The King is Dead”.
Scard, Margaret. “Edward Seymour”.
Tytler, Patrick Fraser, Biographical and Cirtical Notes ; in Two Volumes
Wagner, John A., Susan Walter Schmid. “Encyclopedia of Tudor England”.

Portraits of a Queen: Elizabeth of York


Portraits of a Queen: Elizabeth of York

Elizabeth Plantagenet was the oldest child and daughter of King Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville (Wydville). She was considered very beautiful and had been promised in marriage a few times before her mother and Margaret Beaufort arranged her marriage with Henry Tudor. The marriage would inevitably end the Wars of the Roses and bring together the House of York and Lancaster.

As queen consort, Elizabeth brought forth one of the most memorable dynasties in English history – she, of course, gave birth to the future Henry VIII. Her daughter Margaret married the Scottish King James IV, and her descendants still live on today through the current monarch – Elizabeth II.

unknown artist; Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), Queen Consort of Henry VII; Trinity College, University of Cambridge;
unknown artist; Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), Queen Consort of Henry VII; Trinity College, University of Cambridge;


ca. 1825 — This illustration was published in . — Image by Stapleton Collection/Corbis


Portrait of Elizabeth of York (1466-1503);16th Century English School – Copyright Philip Mould Ltd.


unknown artist; Elizabeth of York; National Portrait Gallery, London;
unknown artist; Elizabeth of York; National Portrait Gallery, London;


British (English) School; Elizabeth of York (1465/1466-1503), Holding the Yorkist White Rose; National Trust, Dunham Massey;
British (English) School; Elizabeth of York (1465/1466-1503), Holding the Yorkist White Rose; National Trust, Dunham Massey;


British (English) School; Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), Queen Consort of Henry VII; National Trust, Anglesey Abbey;
British (English) School; Elizabeth of York (1466-1503), Queen Consort of Henry VII; National Trust, Anglesey Abbey;



Alexander, Cosmo; Elizabeth of York; The National Trust for Scotland, Mar Lodge Estate;
Alexander, Cosmo; Elizabeth of York; The National Trust for Scotland, Mar Lodge Estate;


Elizabeth of York by William Thomas Fry


unknown artist; Elizabeth of York (1465-1503); Christ Church, University of Oxford;
unknown artist; Elizabeth of York (1465-1503); Christ Church, University of Oxford;


Burchett, Richard; of York (Elizabeth of York); Parliamentary Art Collection;
Burchett, Richard; of York (Elizabeth of York); Parliamentary Art Collection;


credit unknown
credit unknown


(c) National Trust, Nostell Priory; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
(c) National Trust, Nostell Priory; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

Other images:

van Leemput, Remi; Henry VII (1457-1509), Queen Elizabeth (of York) (1466-1503), Henry VIII (1491-1547), Queen Jane Seymour (1509-1537), and Edward VI (1537-1553), as Prince of Wales; National Trust, Petworth House;
van Leemput, Remi; Henry VII (1457-1509), Queen Elizabeth (of York) (1466-1503), Henry VIII (1491-1547), Queen Jane Seymour (1509-1537), and Edward VI (1537-1553), as Prince of Wales; National Trust, Petworth House;


Funeral Effigy of Elizabeth of York


Funeral Effigy of Elizabeth of York


Funeral Effigy of Elizabeth of York


Effigies of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York on their tomb in Westminster Abbey


Elizabeth of York has been immortalized on decks of playing cards throughout English history as the ‘Queen of Hearts’, holding a Tudor Rose.

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