Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton

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The Earl of Southampton
Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton by Hans Holbein the Younger.jpg
Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, miniature by Hans Holbein the Younger
Born21 December 1505
Died30 July 1550(1550-07-30) (aged 44)
Lincoln Place, London
Noble family Wriothesley
Spouse(s)Jane Cheney
William Wriothesley
Anthony Wriothesley
Henry Wriothesley, 2nd Earl of Southampton
Elizabeth Wriothesley
Mary Wriothesley
Katherine Wriothesley
Anne Wriothesley
Mabel Wriothesley
Father William Wriothesley, otherwise Wrythe
MotherAgnes Drayton
Arms of Wriothesley: Azure, a cross or between four hawks close argent WriothesleyArms.png
Arms of Wriothesley: Azure, a cross or between four hawks close argent
Quartered arms of Sir Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, KG Coat of arms of Sir Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, KG.png
Quartered arms of Sir Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton, KG

Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton [lower-alpha 1] (21 December 1505 – 30 July 1550 [3] ), KG was an English peer, secretary of state, Lord Chancellor and Lord High Admiral. A naturally skilled but unscrupulous and devious politician who changed with the times and personally tortured Anne Askew, Wriothesley served as a loyal instrument of King Henry VIII in the latter's break with the Catholic church. Richly rewarded with royal gains from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, he nevertheless prosecuted Calvinists and other dissident Protestants when political winds changed.

Order of the Garter Order of chivalry in England

The Most Noble Order of the Garter is an order of chivalry founded by King Edward III of England in 1348. It is the most senior order of knighthood in the British honours system, outranked in precedence only by the Victoria Cross and the George Cross. The Order of the Garter is dedicated to the image and arms of Saint George, England's patron saint.

Anne Askew English Protestant martyr

Anne Askew was an English writer, poet, and Protestant martyr who was condemned as a heretic in England in the reign of Henry VIII of England. Apart from Margaret Cheyne, wife of Sir John Bulmer, who was similarly tortured and executed after the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1537, she is the only other woman on record known to have been both tortured in the Tower of London and burnt at the stake. She is also one of the earliest-known female poets to compose in the English language and the first Englishwoman to demand a divorce.

Dissolution of the Monasteries legal event which disbanded religious residences in England, Wales and Ireland

The Dissolution of the Monasteries, sometim


Early life

Thomas Wriothesley, born in London 21 December 1505, was the son of York Herald William Wriothesley, whose ancestors had spelled the family surname "Wryth", and Agnes Drayton, daughter and heiress of James Drayton of London. Thomas had two sisters, Elizabeth, born in 1507, and Anne, born in 1508, and a brother, Edward, born in 1509. Thomas's father and uncle were the first members of his family to use the "Wriothesley" spelling of the family surname. [4]

York Herald Officer of arms at the U.K.s College of Arms

York Herald of Arms in Ordinary is an officer of arms at the College of Arms. The first York Herald is believed to have been an officer to Edmund of Langley, Duke of York around the year 1385, but the first completely reliable reference to such a herald is in February 1484, when John Water alias Yorke, herald was granted certain fees by Richard III. These fees included the Manor of Bayhall in Pembury, Kent, and 8 pounds, 6 shillings, and 8 pence a year from the Lordship of Huntingfield in Kent. The badge of office is the White Rose of York en soleil ensigned by the Royal Crown.

William Wriothesley or Wrythe was an officer of arms at the College of Arms in London. He was the second son of Garter King of Arms, John Writhe; the younger brother of Thomas Wriothesley; and the father of Thomas Wriothesley, 1st Earl of Southampton. He is a direct ancestor of 20th-century British prime minister Winston Churchill.

Wriothesley received his early education at St Paul's School, London. In 1522 he was admitted to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he was taught law by Stephen Gardiner; although Wriothesley did not take a degree, he and Gardiner remained lifelong friends. In 1524, at the age of nineteen, he entered a career at court and came to the attention of Thomas Cromwell. Before 4 May 1530 he was appointed joint Clerk of the Signet under Gardiner, by then secretary to King Henry VIII, a post Wriothesley held for a decade while continuing in Cromwell's service. [5] One historian has described the young lawyers as "able, entreprising, tenacious and ruthless, yet unsufferably overconfident and egotistic." [6]

St Pauls School, London Independent private school in Barnes, London

St Paul's School is a selective independent school for boys aged 13–18, founded in 1509 by John Colet and located on a 43-acre (180,000m2) site by the River Thames, in Barnes, London.

Trinity Hall, Cambridge College of the University of Cambridge

Trinity Hall is a constituent college of the University of Cambridge, England. It is the fifth-oldest college of the university, having been founded in 1350 by William Bateman, Bishop of Norwich.

Stephen Gardiner English bishop

Stephen Gardiner was an English bishop and politician during the English Reformation period who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Mary I and King Philip.

A useful courtier

A member of the royal secretariat, Wriothesley and William Brereton were charged with helping secure an annulment for the king against Katherine of Aragon, from the Pope to allow Anne Boleyn to assume her royal position; they were sent out to get members of the nobility to sign written statements indicating assent to the annulment. [7] Wriothesley was at Windsor with the Court when the series of protests known as the Pilgrimage of Grace broke out in reaction to the religious changes brought in by the crown and its advisors. The Clerk of the Signet admired the King but probably learnt lessons of cruelty from the treatment of Robert Aske in 1536. "It was upon such men that the King relied at times of crisis". Wriothesley's services were richly rewarded at the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was granted extensive lands between Southampton and Winchester, once belonging to the abbeys of Beaulieu and Titchfield. Even with the retrospection of later life he was able to 'forget' the excesses of the 1530s, Wriothesley was still able to exaggerate his fidelity to his "benign and pleasant' King, who he knew only in the febrile atmosphere of the Court. [8]

Pilgrimage of Grace

The Pilgrimage of Grace was a popular uprising that began in Yorkshire in October 1536, before spreading to other parts of Northern England including Cumberland, Northumberland and north Lancashire, under the leadership of lawyer Robert Aske. The "most serious of all Tudor rebellions", it was a protest against Henry VIII's break with the Roman Catholic Church, the Dissolution of the Monasteries, and the policies of the King's chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, as well as other specific political, social and economic grievances.

Robert Aske (political leader) English rebel

Robert Aske was an English lawyer, who became a leader of rebellion in Yorkshire. He pushed the Pilgrimage of Grace protest in 1536; King Henry VIII of England had him executed for treason on 12 July 1537.

Until May 1539, he was Henry VIII's ambassador in Brussels. [9] In late 1539, Anne of Cleves was due to come from the German principality to England, and Wriothesley was to lead the naval escort. On 27 December the Princess arrived at Deal in Kent, from whence she was shown to Dover Castle; on New Years Day the party reached Rochester Castle. Wriothesley continued to support Norfolk's Catholic party, but only when it suited him at court, as parties emerged between the reformists and conservatives. In the absence of a predominant figure the Council became more conciliar towards the end of the reign. Having been sent on diplomatic errands abroad, in 1540 Sir Thomas Wriothesley was made one of the king's principal secretaries (a position he held jointly with Sir Ralph Sadler), acting as Secretary to the Privy Council. Dividing the duties, Sadler's was personal secretary to the King, whereas Wriothesley's responsibilities were purely political. Wriothesley was rewarded with the dissolved abbey of Titchfield for good service to the king. He rapidly converted it into a country house which became the family's ancestral seat. Wriothesley's noble parentage and strong personality enabled him to dominate the commoner Sadler. Knighted in 1540, Wriothesley made friends with Sir Anthony Browne of the refounded Gentleman Pensioners, who acted as an armed bodyguard of the King pursuant to the Greenwich Ordinances. [10] The expansion of the Pensioners from 50 to 350 members was an expansion that signalled the resurgence of the conservative noble faction at court during the 1540s. Wriothesley, having earned his place at court as a faithful attendant to Thomas Cromwell, instead turned traitor in 1540, telling the king that Cromwell was indiscreet over Henry's inability to consummate his marriage to Anne of Cleves. This news, coupled with the Cleves alliance threatening war with Emperor Charles V, proved Cromwell's undoing. Wriothesley happily lied to the Council, and betrayed his master, in order to take his place beside the king.

Secretary of State (England) appointed position within the government of England

In the Kingdom of England, the title of Secretary of State came into being near the end of the reign of Queen Elizabeth I (1558–1603), the usual title before that having been King's Clerk, King's Secretary, or Principal Secretary.

Queen Catherine Howard's conviction and execution for adultery signalled that the political pendulum was swinging away from Norfolk once more. On 13 November 1542, Secretary Wriothesley was sent to announce the bad news to members of the Queen's Household at Hampton Court; all her chamber were dismissed and sent home. In 1542 it was said that Wriothesley governed almost everything in England. [11] He sought to bring about an alliance between England and Spain in 1543. Wriothesley was one of the Council led by Catholic Bishop Gardiner, who ordered the imprisonment of Thomas, Earl of Surrey for being drunk and disorderly. He supported Gardiner's crackdown against Lutheran opinions, threatening the lives of reformers Miles Coverdale and Hugh Latimer, presaging the reign of 'Bloody' Mary. All Protestants were rooted out of the royal household, with those of the new extreme Puritan sect Calvinism being treated with especial prejudice. The Council even intimidated Archbishop Cranmer, who was protected by the King himself. Sir Ralph Sadler was ousted as the principal secretary to the King to be replaced by the more judicious and discreet William Paget. [12] But the rise of the conservatives meant Wriothesley had eventually to go, in January 1544 in favour of the openly Catholic Sir William Petre. Fortunately for Cranmer and others, the King was not prepared to turn the clock back to the 1530s, and Catherine Parr, with her experience in two previous marriages, impressed Wriothesley by offering Henry stability in his old age. Furthermore, as Governess to Princess Elizabeth, bringing the children to court at Christmas 1543, Parr showed off what Wriothesley had accurately predicted to be Elizabeth's promise as a future leader.

Catherine Howard Queen consort of England

Catherine Howard was Queen of England from 1540 until 1541 as the fifth wife of Henry VIII. She was the daughter of Lord Edmund Howard and Joyce Culpeper, cousin to Anne Boleyn, and niece to Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk. Thomas Howard was a prominent politician at Henry's court, and he secured her a place in the household of Henry's fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, where she caught the king's interest. She married him on 28 July 1540 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey, almost immediately after the annulment of his marriage to Anne. He was 49 and she was 16 or 17.

Hugh Latimer British bishop

Hugh Latimer was a Fellow of Clare College, Cambridge, and Bishop of Worcester before the Reformation, and later Church of England chaplain to King Edward VI. In 1555 under the Catholic Queen Mary he was burned at the stake, becoming one of the three Oxford Martyrs of Anglicanism.

William Paget, 1st Baron Paget English statesman

William Paget, 1st Baron Paget of Beaudesert, was an English statesman and accountant who held prominent positions in the service of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I.

A confident counsellor

Wriothesley disliked the arrogant, swaggering Earl of Hertford; they had long been enemies. [13] Wriothesley and Secretary Paget tried to effect a necessary reconciliation, that prompted the former to step down. [14] Hertford was sent north to fight the Scots, when on 22 April 1544, Lord Audley died, leaving Wriothesley to be appointed Lord Chancellor the next month, at a time when Gardiner's power was waning. Ever the unscrupulous schemer, Wriothesley was purposely chosen to keep both papists and reformists at bay. The King relied heavily on his aristocratic friends Suffolk and Wriothesley to secure a balance of power in the Privy Chamber. So the King prepared an invasion of France, much to the nobility's approval. [15] Wriothesley was created Baron Wriothesley of Titchfield in 1544. But as Lord Chancellor he became notorious for torturing Anne Askew, a self-confessed Protestant, personally operating the wheel on the rack. [16] The Catholic faction was determined to root out heresy, suspecting Queen Catherine's influence over the royal children. When Gardiner tried to arrest Surrey's friends with Wriothesley's support, the earl was severely reprimanded by the King. On 6 July 1546 the King moved to Greenwich Palace; with the conservatives holding the Secretaryship, Chancellor, and with leading privy councillors, they tried to make further arrests. Wriothesley secured the royal warrant for Catherine's arrest but when he went to present it to the king, he was despatched by the King as "Arrant knave! Beast! Fool!", a humiliation especially damaging given that his faction was already in decline. By September 1546 they were outnumbered by the reformists; his hatred for Hertford had deepened. Privy Council meetings broke out into fisticuffs. The Lord Chancellor conducted French Lord Admiral Claud d'Annebaut to Hampton Court for a royal audience. He accompanied the royal progress, and joined the hunting at Windsor, but Wriothesley had lost control of the Privy Chamber. Speechless and overcome with grief Lord Chancellor Wriothesley could do nothing to prevent Hertford from taking control in defiance of the late King's will. [17]

Under Edward VI

He was one of the executors of Henry's will, and in accordance with the dead King's wishes he was created Earl of Southampton on 16 February 1547 and was a member of the Regency Council that would rule collectively during King Edward VI's minority. [18] He was one of the few members of the council to oppose the rise of the king's maternal uncle, Edward Seymour, 1st Duke of Somerset, to the position of Lord Protector. [19] Wriothesley objected to Somerset's assumption of monarchical power over the Council. In March 1547, he then found himself abruptly dismissed from the chancellorship on charges of selling off some of his offices to delegates. Also he lost his seat on the Privy Council. [20]

Later he was readmitted to the Council, and he took a leading part in bringing about the fall of the Duke of Somerset, but he had not regained his former position when he died on 30 July 1550. His successor in the earldom was his son, Henry.

Marriage and issue

Southampton married Jane Cheney (d. 15 September 1574) in 1533, the daughter and heiress of William Cheney of Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire, by Emma Walwyn, daughter of Thomas Walwyn, by whom he had three sons and five daughters: [21]

In fiction

Wriothesley is a character in Hilary Mantel's novels on Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies (nicknamed "Call Me Risley" for the pronunciation of his name); he is played by Joel MacCormack in the television adaptation Wolf Hall . He is also a character in Margaret George's novel The Autobiography of Henry VIII and C.J. Sansom's novel Lamentation. In the British-Canadian BBC mini-series The Tudors he is played by Frank McCusker, an actor from Northern Ireland. Wriothesley is a central character in the TUDOR CRIMES series of historical novels (Anne Stevens) and he is portrayed as a knave, who will do anything to advance himself. Wriothesley is a major character in two novels based on Thomas Cromwell, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, by Caroline Angus-Baker. He is an important character in Paul Doherty's The Last of Days, in which Henry's fool, Will Somers, witnesses the last few months of Henry's reign.


  1. The pronunciation uncertain. /ˈrzli/ RYZE-lee (archaic), [1] /ˈrɒtsli/ ROT-slee (present-day) [1] and /ˈrəθsli/ RY-əth-slee [2] have been suggested.

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  1. 1 2 Montague-Smith 1977, p. 410
  2. Wells 2008
  3. Pollard, Alfred Frederick (1900). "Wriothesley, Thomas (1505-1550)"  . In Lee, Sidney (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography . 63. London: Smith, Elder & Co.
  4. Cokayne 1953 , p. 122; Graves 2004.
  5. Graves 2004; Elton 1953 , pp. 308ff..
  6. Weir, p.399
  7. Letters and Papers of the Reign of Henry VIII; Weir (2001), p.311
  8. Letters and Papers of Henry VIII; Domestic State Papers: Spanish; Weir (2001), p.415
  9. Thomas Wriothesley
  10. Weir (2001), Henry VIII, p.422
  11. Edward Hall, The Triumphant Reign; Weir (2001), p.455
  12. Weir (2001), p.464
  13. Weir (2001), p.479
  14. Letters and Papers of the Reign of King Henry VII; Weir, p.479
  15. Weir (2001), p.479-80
  16. Alison Weir (1992). The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Pimlico Books.
  17. Tytler, P. (1839), England under the Reigns of Edward VI and Mary, 2 vols, London; Weir (2001), p.503
  18. Starkey 2002 , pp. 138–39; Alford 2002 , p. 69
  19. Elton 1977 , p. 333
  20. Loades 2004 , pp. 33–34; Elton 1977 , p. 333
  21. Cokayne 1953 , pp. 125–66; Stopes 1922 , pp. 486–7; Akrigg 1968 , pp. 4, 6; Elzinga 2004; Goulding 1920 , p. 23; Baker 2004.
  22. Cooper 1858 , p. 469.
  23. Dugdale reverses the order of her marriages.


Political offices
Preceded by
Thomas Cromwell
Secretary of State
With: Sir Ralph Sadler 1540–1543
Sir William Paget 1543–1544
Succeeded by
Sir William Petre
Sir William Paget
Preceded by
The Lord Audley of Walden
Lord Chancellor
Succeeded by
The Lord St John
(Keeper of the Great Seal)
Peerage of England
New creation Earl of Southampton
Succeeded by
Henry Wriothesley
Baron Wriothesley