Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Thomas More's Successor and Judge

Thomas Audley, 1st Baron Audley of Warren died on April 30, 1544--he managed to die safely in his bed with his head intact by serving Henry VIII very well. A lawyer by training, Audley served Cardinal Wolsey and served in Parliament, representing Essex and he continued to rise in office throughout Henry VIII's reign. 

Audley participated in the trials and executions of not only Thomas More and John Fisher, but also of Thomas Cromwell, and he sentenced the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace to death. For these and other services (the annulment of Henry VIII's marriage to Anne of Cleves, for instance), he was not only knighted but became a member of the Order of the Garter. He succeeded Thomas More in nearly several offices: as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and as Speaker of the House of Commons in 1529, as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal in 1532, and as Lord Chancellor in 1533. 

In August of 1534, when Thomas More had been in the Tower of London for four months, Audley visited Alice Alington, More's step-daughter (Lady Alice's daughter by her first marriage). He thought that Thomas More was being stubborn about the Oath of Succession and told Alice two Aesop fables to illustrate the issue. Margaret Roper wrote to her father, and More replied: thus The Dialogue on Conscience was composed.

And at the trial of St. Thomas More, Audley made two mistakes: first, he tried to pass sentence before letting More speak after being found guilty and second, he let More speak:

Interrupting Audley, More calmly stated: “My lord, when I was toward the law, the manner in such a case was to ask the prisoner before judgment why judgment should not be given against him.”

Audley was undoubtedly anxious about the role he was now playing in the condemnation of an old friend and honored colleague. This unease may well explain the departure he had made from established procedure. But that anxiety would have been even greater had he known what More was about to do.

Aware that his words would echo throughout England, throughout Europe, and throughout subsequent history, Sir Thomas More now brought into full play all of the rhetorical power and legal expertise that a lifetime of training had placed at his disposal. . . .

According to this parliamentary history website, there has been some controversy about his activity at these trials and about his religious positions:

If his knightly status exempted Audley from the trial of Anne Boleyn in 1536 (it was not he but John, 8th Lord Audley, who took part in this), he was involved in all the other state trials of these years. His conduct in these trials, and especially in More’s, has been much criticized but it deserves to be judged in the light of Audley’s own beliefs concerning the rights of the sovereign and the duties of the subject. No such criticism, despite occasional and clearly prejudiced charges of favouritism and corruption, can be levelled against his conduct as an equity judge, and even in cases of treason his attitude is illustrated by his advice in 1536 that the Duke of Suffolk should be armed against the Lincolnshire rebels with a commission to try cases of treason, showing that he took for granted, even in such circumstances, the necessity of a trial at common law.

Audley’s religious position is difficult to assess. A correspondent of Melanchthon named him with Cromwell and Cranmer as friends to Protestantism but, if he was, the friendship was always qualified by his allegiance to the King whose policies he faithfully carried out, a course which in general gives an impression of conservatism. Thus an anonymous enthusiast for the Act of Six Articles (31 Hen. VIII, c.14) again linked Audley with Cromwell as two men who, this time in contrast to Cranmer and to other bishops, had been ‘as good as we can desire’ in the furtherance of the measure. Audley was equally content to follow Cromwell’s lead and what few clashes there were between them arose largely out of minor questions of patronage.

Audley also benefited from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, receiving grants of Holy Trinity Priory in Aldgate, London (which had been founded by Queen Matilda or Maud, Henry I's wife) and Walden Abbey, where his grandson, Thomas Howard, 1st Earl of Suffolk built Audley End, which is now part of the English Heritage program. He founded Magdalene College at the University of Cambridge in 1542, after the Benedictine's Buckingham College was closed. 

Audley's title as 1st Baron Audley of Warren died with him. One of his daughters, Margaret, married Thomas Howard, the 4th Duke of Norfolk (who was executed by Elizabeth I).

Image source and copyright information: anonymous artist.

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