Thomas Wriothesley Becomes Chancellor

There are some historical figures that the more one reads about them, the more one loathes them. For me, one of those figures is Thomas Wriothesley, who clawed his way up to the position of Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor on 4 May 1544.


But as Lord Chancellor he became notorious for torturing Anne Askew, a self-confessed protestant, personally operating the wheel on the rack. 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 a Secretaryship, Chancellor, and leading privy councilors, they tried to make further arrests. Wriothesley secured the royal warrant for Catherine’s arrest but then lost it, only to be dispatched 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.

As a “devout” Catholic Wriothesley  had no scruples about getting rich off the dissolution of Church property, yet felt justified in the persecution of non-Catholics. He was a man who could always find the excuse to have his cake and eat it too.

Not only did he throw his religion to the side with no compunction when it suited him, he stood by and did nothing to even TRY to help Thomas Cromwell after he was unjustly condemned by Henry VIII even though it was Cromwell who took Wriothesley under his wing and helped him rise. To be honest, it was the exact kind of gratitude that Cromwell had shown Anne Boleyn for her kindness so I am not entirely sorry for Cromwell, but it was still a wretched thing to do and speaks volumes about Wriothesley’s lack of character.

Wriothesley was finally finished when he ran afoul of someone more opportunistic than himself; Edward Seymour, brother of Jane Seymour and Lord Protector of Edward VI. Wriothesley tried to stand in the way of Seymour’s path to power and was bulldozed into retirement. Although he was able to get back on Edward VI’s Privy Council before he died 30 July 1550, he never recovered his position entirely.


On behalf of Anne Askew, I hope that really bothered him.

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