Thursday, November 11, 2010

On This Day in Tudor History

On November 12, 1555, Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester and long-time servant of three Tudor monarchs, died at the (approximate) age of 62.

Gardiner was an English Roman Catholic bishop and politician during the English Reformation period who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Mary I of England.

Interestingly, Gardiner *may* have been a blood relation of Queen Mary I. His father is known to have been Sir William Gardner, a substantial cloth merchant of the town where he was born. His mother, Helen, was reputed to be an illegitimate daughter of Jasper Tudor, 1st Duke of Bedford.

Gardiner's abilities attracted the notice of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, who made him his secretary. In 1527 he and Sir Thomas More were named commissioners of England in arranging a treaty with the French ambassadors for the support of an army in Italy against Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.

That year he accompanied Wolsey on his important diplomatic mission to France. Henry VIII was, at this time, anxious to cement his alliance with King Francis I, and gain support for his plans to divorce Katherine of Aragon. In the course of his progress through France, Wolsey received orders from Henry to send back his secretary, Gardiner, for fresh instructions. Wolsey was obliged to reply that he positively could not spare Gardiner as he was the only instrument he had in advancing the king's "Great Matter." The next year, Wolsey sent Gardiner and Edward Foxe, provost of King's College, Cambridge, to Italy to promote the same business with the pope. Pope Clement VII, who had been recently imprisoned in Castel Sant'Angelo by mutinous soldiers of the Holy Roman Empire, had managed to escape to Orvieto and was fearful of offending Charles V. Clement refused to issue a definitive ruling concerning Henry's annulment.

Gardiner's pleading was unsuccessful and he returned home where Wolsey and the pope's legate, Cardinal Campeggio, began the infamous trial at Black Friars.

Under King Edward VI, he completely opposed the policy of the dominant party both in ecclesiastical and in civil matters. Of course he objected to the religious changes in England, both on principle and on the ground of their being moved during the king's minority. His remonstrances resulted in his being imprisoned in the Fleet, and the visitation of his diocese was held during his imprisonment. Though soon released, he was soon called before the council, and, refusing to give them satisfaction on some points, was thrown into the Tower of London, where he remained for the rest of the reign, a period of over five years.

On Queen Mary I's entry into London, Gardiner and other Catholics were set free. Gardiner was restored to his Bishopric and appointed Lord Chancellor, and he placed the crown on the queen's head at her coronation. He also opened her first parliament and for some time was her leading councillor. He was now also called upon, in old age, to undo not a little of the work in which he had been instrumental in his earlier years — to demonstrate the legitimacy of the queen's birth and the legality of her mother's marriage, to restore the old religion, and to recant his own words touching the royal supremacy.

As chancellor he had the onerous task of negotiating the queen's marriage treaty with Philip II of Spain, for which he shared a general repugnance. Shortly after this, he became ill and died quickly. He lies buried in his own cathedral at Winchester, where his effigy is still to be seen.

Gardiner is played by Terence Rigby in the 1998 film Elizabeth, where he is portrayed as a villainous bishop who took part in the Ridolfi plot and who vehemently opposed Elizabeth I's Act of Uniformity. For the record: this is quite inaccurate, as Gardiner had died before Elizabeth ascended the throne.

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