Sunday, June 14, 2015

Factions and the Prebendaries Plot

Derek Wilson describes the factions at Court during the last years of Henry VIII in the June 2015 issue of History Today and how they contributed to the Prebendaries Plot, which threatened to bring Thomas Cranmer down:

In the 1530s the reform movement had been led by Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer: the former giving the forces of change legislative teeth, the latter providing the theological meat for them to chew on. They had seemed unstoppable. Then the fiasco of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves gave the Catholic clique the opportunity for a counter-attack. Cromwell’s fall in July 1540 was sudden and complete. One charge against him was that he was an extremist religious radical and a supporter of known heretics. Over the ensuing months the Catholic group on the council, led by Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, made the most of their advantage. They took every opportunity to block moves by Cranmer and his supporters to press on with the work of reform. There are various schools of thought about how appropriate it is to think of the sick and aged king as being manipulated by ‘court factions’, but there is no doubt that two activist groups were now emerging with radically different visions for the future of the realm.

For his support Cranmer could look to members of Henry’s intimate inner circle, such as the Earl of Hertford, Prince Edward’s grandfather, the royal physician, Sir William Butts, and the head of the privy chamber, Sir Anthony Denny, as well as lesser members of the household carefully placed in position by Cromwell before his fall. To counter this the conservatives tightened their grip on the Privy Council. In order to prevent an ‘over-mighty subject’ ever again holding supreme power, this body re-invented itself. By adopting a new constitution it became a committee whose collective decisions carried ultimate authority under the Crown. Cranmer was a member of this body but was in no position to dominate its proceedings. For 16 months there was a period of calm at the political centre. Gardiner was away most of the time on a diplomatic mission. The court was much taken up with the celebrations of Henry’s fifth marriage, to the vivacious Catherine Howard (Norfolk’s niece), and with preparations for a royal tour of the North (from June to November 1541). This does not mean that the politico-religious conflict was over. As Diarmaid McCulloch explains, the conservatives began ‘nibbling again at the edges of the Cranmer circle’ in December 1540. Pulpit wars continued in various locales and Bishop Bonner began a purge of people suspected of being in breach of the Act of Six Articles, which demanded obedience to major Catholic doctrine.

Read the rest here. I think this would usually be behind a pay wall but History Today has opened up access for now, at least. Wilson, who writes both fiction and non-fiction, has written a mystery novel set against the backdrop of the Prebendaries Plot under the nom-de-plume D.K. Wilson.

I admit that I had to look up the term "own goal" which Wilson uses in reference to the Howard faction: it means that a player scores a goal for the other team by mistake. More on those executed in the Prebendaries Plot here.

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