The Privy Council was a group of men who were advisers to the King. It included a variety of men including those from the religious sector to very important state offices, as you’ll note from the list.
After 1540 the Privy Council (19 men) worked together as a board having letters and warrants signed collectively by them.
The Privy Council sat virtually every day. Within it Court and State became as one, for the Privy Council met almost exclusively at Court after the reconstructions of 1536-7 and 1540. It also sat judicially as the Court of Star Chamber on Wednesdays and Fridays: councillors commuted by horse or barge to Westminster. -Tudors.org
Here are the nineteen men who were part of Henry VIII’s Privy Council in 1540, with a brief description:
Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor
Thomas Audley, Lord Chancellor became a member of Henry VIII’s Privy Chamber in 1527 and was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1533 after the resignation of Thomas More.
Thomas Audley had a very illustrious career at Tudor court. In 1529, he received two titles when he was made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and Speaker of the House of Commons. In 1532, Audley was knighted and also succeeded Sir Thomas More as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal. In 1533, he was appointed Lord Chancellor succeeding Sir Thomas More and on 29th of November 1538 he was created Baron Audley of Walden and installed as a Knight of the Garter shortly afterward.
It is easy to see that Audley was friendly toward Henry VIII’s agenda. One could say this is why he was given so many great titles, especially Lord Chancellor. He backed the King on his desire to divorce Katherine of Aragon and his marriage to Anne Boleyn. Audley presided at the trials of Fisher and More in 1535, and was again part of the trials in 1536, during the downfall of Anne Boleyn and the men around her.
We know that Henry VIII “interfered so much in the chancellor’s domestic concerns as to command him to marry, and to bring about the match, and promise to endow him accordingly…”
Audley married Elizabeth Grey sometime between 1538 and 1540 – she was his second wife. About 1540 Elizabeth gave birth to their first child, a daughter, Margaret Audley.
Thomas Audley, 1st Baron Audley of Walden died on 30 April 1544
Sir John Baker, Chancellor of the Court of First Fruits and Tenths
Sir John Baker was a well-known figure at court and had the reputation as a brutal persecutor of protestants which earned him the nickname ‘Bloody Baker’. Legend says that he was riding to persecute some protestants when he heard Queen Mary had died. The place where he turned back became known as Baker’s Cross
In June 1540 he was knighted and the same year he was a member of Henry’s Privy Council. In 1545, he was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Baker first married Katherine Sackville and then Elizabeth Dineley with whom he had five children with.
He died in London from a short illness in December 1558 less than a month after the death of Queen Mary.
Sir Anthony Browne, Master of the Horse
“Browne gave early evidence of a wayward personality when, in March 1519, he struck a colleague in Sir Thomas Boleyn’s embassy to France. The King demanded the recall of both, but Browne’s career was not to suffer: Boleyn gave him a good report and Francis I on leave taking made him a gentleman of his household with a pension of 200 crowns a year.” – The History of Parliament
When Browne was appointed ambassador to France in 1527, he revealed an animosity to the French court that only grew over the years. “His despatches strike a slightly petulant note, he found fault with everything, the French manner of hunting, the King’s latest mistress, the Order of St. Michael which he considered a poor copy of the Garter, and the fact that he could find nothing worth purchasing.” Henry VIII must have found Browne a loyal and competent servant since continued to send him on French embassies.
As Master of the Horse, Browne was in charge of the maintenance of the royal horses. This would include their feeding and training. He would also accompany Henry VIII whenever he rode.
Browne’s sister, Elizabeth Browne, Countess of Worcester was one of the principle accusers of Anne Boleyn. It was her brother that she confessed an affair between Anne and court musician, Mark Smeaton, as well as incest with her brother, George Boleyn.
William Fitzwilliam, Earl of Southampton, Lord Privy Seal
Fitzwilliam, a former servant of Cardinal Wolsey, was a prominent member at court. Like his half-brother, Anthony Browne, in 1536, he was instrumental in bringing down Anne Boleyn.
Raised at court alongside young Henry, Prince of Wales he indeed had a close relationship with the future King. After Henry’s coronation in 1509, Fitzwilliam was made a Gentleman Usher and King’s Cupbearer, and gradually rose at Court.
As Lord Privy Seal, Fitzwilliam supervised the staff of clerks plus he prepared documents for authentication by the Great Seal.
‘He acted as “enforcer” for Henry in the fall of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard, the Pilgrimage of Grace and the Exeter Conspiracy. In 1539, as Admiral, he conveyed Anne of Cleves from Calais, and on first meeting her wrote letters in her praise to Henry, ‘considering it was then no time to dispraise her, … the matter being so far passed.‘
Sir John Gage, Comptroller of the Household
As Comptroller of the Household, Gage was responsible for the royal household’s finances. Along with this position he held several prestigious offices including: Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Constable of the Tower and Lord Chamberlain.
“An Esquire of the Body to both Henry VII and Henry VIII, he served offices in the Pale of Calais, becoming Comptroller in 1524. After receiving a knighthood in 1525, he moved to the post of Vice-Chamberlain of the Household in 1526, leaving court in 1533.”
“He remained active, attending, in 1537, the baptism of Prince Edward and the funeral of Jane Seymour.”
Sir John Gage died on 18 Apr. 1556.
Sir William Petre, King’s Secretary
As a conservative Catholic he became a secretary to Henry while his second wife, Anne Browne served as lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine Parr. Petre is said to have been employed by Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, as tutor to his son George.
Petre was married twice, firstly to Gertrude Tyrrell in 1533, and after her death in 1541 he married Anne Browne in 1542.
“In January 1544 Petre was knighted and appointed one of the King’s two principal secretaries, the other being William Paget; a member of the Privy Council virtute officii, he attended its meetings regularly. He was one of the six persons authorized to sign documents with a stamp of the King’s signature and one of the five appointed to advise Queen Catherine Parr during her regency in July 1544.”
Sir Richard Rich, King’s Solicitor
Due to Rich’s testimony in 1535, Thomas More was condemned for treason because of a personal conversation the two men had together. Rich was also instrumental in the downfall of Thomas Cromwell in 1542.
As King’s Solicitor, he went to Kimbolton Castle in January 1536 to take the inventory of the goods of Katherine of Aragon – he then wrote to the King advising how he might properly obtain her possessions.
Rich was also an assistant executor of the will of Henry VIII and received land for it. In February 1547 he was created Braon Rich and then became Lord Chancellor from 1548-1551.
Rich and his wife Elizabeth Gynkes had a wopping fifteen children together.
Sir Richard Rich died in June 1567.
Sir John Russell, Lord High Admiral
John Russell was present throughout the entire reign of Henry VIII. He was knighted in 1522 and was created Comptroller of the King’s Household in 1537. In 1540 he was appointed Lord High Admiral until 1543 when he relinquished his title to become Lord Privy Seal.
His wife, Anne Sapcote was a lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine Parr and was a frequent member at court.
“After Henry VIII met Anne of Cleves at Rochester, the next day he asked Russell if he “thought her fair”. Russell replied with his natural diplomacy and prudence that he took her “not to be fair, but of a brown complexion”.In 1542, Russell himself resigned the Admiralty and succeeded to the Privy Seal on the death of Southampton. He was High Steward of the University of Oxford from 1543 till his death.”
Russell fell ill at the beginning of 1555, making his last appearance at Council on the 11th of January – he died the 14th of March.
Sir Ralph Sadler, King’s Secretary
Sadler served as secretary to Thomas Cromwell and was knighted in 1540, as well as becoming a joint secretary to the king alongside Thomas Wriothesley.
When Cromwell went to the Tower in June 1540, Sadler was the only one who dared to carry Cromwell’s letter for mercy to the King. The King did not grant mercy and it’s unknown if he actually read the letter.
In January 1541, Sadler himself was imprisoned in the Tower, only to attend a Privy Council meeting six days later having cleared himself.
Sir Ralph died 30 March 1587 reputedly, “the richest commoner in England.”
Sir Anthony Wingfield, Vice-Chamberlain
Wingfield was a member of court since the reign of the first Tudor King – Henry VII. He was Esquire of the Body at the court of Henry VII in 1509. Wingfield was at the funeral of the King.
It is during the reign of Henry VIII that Wingfield showed great advancement. In 1513 he was knighted his part in the capture of Tournai and he only grew from there.
Similar to his prominent kinsmen he served a long time in the administration of his county (Suffolk). In 1539 his responsibilities included being part of the royal household and he had a seat on the Privy Council – which allowed him to profit from the Dissolution of monasteries.
Anthony Wingfield was made a Knight of the Garter on St George’s Day 1541.
He died on 15 Aug. 1552 at the house of his friend Sir John Gates (listed above) at Bethnal Green.
Sir Thomas Wriothesley, King’s Secretary
Wriothesley was the one of two secretaries of King Henry VIII, along with Ralph Sadler. “A naturally skilled but unscrupulous and devious politician who changed with the times, Wriothesley served as a loyal instrument of King Henry VIII in the latter’s break with the Catholic church.”
In 1532, Wriothesley was sent abroad as a bearer of despatches.
In late 1539, when Anne of Cleves was due to arrive in England, Wriothesley lead the naval escort. On 27 December, Anne arrived at Deal Castle in Kent.
Wriothesley continued to support Norfolk’s and his pro-Catholic faction, but like many of the time did so when it suited him at court.
He died 30 July 1550.
Also on the Privy Council but not included:
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, Lord Treasurer
Robert Radcliffe, Earl of Sussex and Lord Chamberlain
Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham
Edward Seymour, Earl of Hertford, Privy Councillor
William Lord Sandys, Lord Chamberlain of the Household
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, President of the Privy Council
Evans, Victoria Sylvia; “Who’s Who at the Tudor Court” (Dorothy M. Gladish, The Tudor Privy Council, p. 141 - where list was taken from)
Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 1 part 2, Oxford (1822), 454, deposition of Southampton.
Strype, John (1822). “Rich to Henry, 19 January 1535/6”. Ecclesiastical Memorials. 1. Oxford. pp. 252–255
Strype, John, Ecclesiastical Memorials, vol. 1 part 2, Oxford, 1822 p. 455, deposition of Russell
Potter, David (January 2010). “Gage, Sir John (1479–1556)”. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press.
The History of Parliament – British Political, Social and Local History