The Marian Court and Tudor Policy-Making

On the morning of 15 February 1554, five months before King Philip landed at Southampton, and a week after the collapse of Sir Thomas Wyatt’s revolt, a rainstorm caused an atmospheric birefraction over London. Two suns seemed to shine simultaneously, each at a distance from the other. An inverted rainbow then appeared high in the sky. The sights were visible at Westminster, in Cheapside and on the south side of St Paul’s. John Foxe took them as a portent.1 And this trompe l’oiel is characteristic of the historiography of Marian politics. Like double suns, the Court and Privy Council are represented as separate, or even polarized, institutions. The political scene, like the rainbow, accordingly becomes topsy-turvey, because the sources have been refracted through the distorting lens of constitutional and administrative history, a depiction exacerbated in this case by the image of Mary that Foxe’s Acts and Monuments did so much single-handedly to create, and on which so many historians still unconsciously rely.

Let me briefly summarize my agenda and the views I find unsatisfactory. What interests me is that the reign of Mary, or as Dr Glyn Redworth has lately argued, the reign of Philip and Mary,2 does not fit into the model of politics that Dr Christine Carpenter and Dr John Watts3 have been investigating for the fifteenth century and which I and other contributors to the recent Edward Arnold collection on The Tudor Monarchy have been considering for the sixteenth century. 4 Recent work on Marian politics, for example that by Professor Loades5 and Professor Hoak,6 has concentrated on the personnel and administrative functions of the Court or Privy Council, but in the process the social dynamics of politics have been obscured by a focus which is directed to the ‘formal’ aspects of policy-making at the expense of the ‘informal’ ones. Tudor historians have been extremely reluctant to separate the exercise of power from the institutions that allegedly comprised the state. Their political accounts are predicated on the assumption that ‘institutional’, ‘official’, or ‘formal’ channels of counsel and policy-making were more important than ‘unofficial’ or ‘informal’ ones, and that the latter had no part in an authentic ‘constitutional’ history. To cite Dr Watts, not only does this approach create the misleading impression that ‘government’ is ‘an essentially uncontroversial and bureaucratic exercise, carried out to a large extent by professional administrators’, it presupposes that the (official) ‘Council’ was ‘somehow a more proper forum for the expression of the will of central government’ than the (unofficial) ‘Court’.7

For Tudor historians, there can be no better illustration of this intrinsic bias than those innumerable, dreary surveys of Court, Council, and policy-making which presume that the ‘proper’ forum for policy and political debate was the Privy Council, ignoring the fact that the monarch never attended its regular meetings; that debates on ‘policy’ (as opposed to administration) in the Privy Council before the 1560s were the exception rather than the rule; and that the ‘informal’ conversations between the monarch and his nobles, friends, intimate body servants, or other members of his affinity were likely to have been far more significant politically than anything done through the supposedly ‘official’ channels.

Furthermore, writers other than Dr Redworth have generally ignored the implications of King Philip’s presence in England between July 1554 and August 1555 and March and July 1557, and his absence at other times. Only latterly did Professor Loades acknowledge Philip’s role in the government of England, and by then it was too late to revise his account of political structures.8 It is partly a problem of sources, but in this respect Professor Hoak and Dr Redworth have also handicapped themselves. The extant English sources are split between the British Library and the Public Record Office. Dr Redworth cited the Cottonian manuscripts in the British Library, which he reinforced with material discovered in Spain and Brussels. For some reason, he treated the documents in the PRO cursorily, whereas Professor Hoak, who produced a valuable inventory of the PRO sources,9 neglected those in the British Library. Only when these sources are reintegrated can this topic be adequately discussed. In particular, the vexed issue of the Marian Select Council, its membership and relationship to the Privy Council, is obfuscated without cross-reference between the collections.

To begin with the historiography. Mary, we are traditionally informed, was the first Tudor to prefer devotees to experienced advisers.10 A woman ruler required female attendants, but Mary’s approach to Court appointments was exclusive. The staff of her privy chamber were Catholic loyalists or familiars, some of whom went back to the days of her princely household, or were the wives of her Court officials or servants. Typical choices included Susan Tonge, Mary Finch, and James Basset. Susan, the widow of the herald Thomas Tonge, had been in Mary’s service for twenty years when she was appointed mistress of the robes, a hybrid between groom of the stool and yeoman of the robes.11 Mary Finch had been keeper of Mary’s jewels in Henry VIII’s reign. James Basset had served Stephen Gardiner for fifteen years before entering Mary’s service as a gentleman of her privy chamber. He also served in Philip’s privy chamber and married Mary Clark alias Roper, one of the queen’s gentlewomen and the grand-daughter of Sir Thomas More. Their son was named Philip after the king, who stood godfather by proxy.12

Mary’s leading Court officials were also loyalists or personal adherents.13 The earl of Oxford recovered his hereditary position of lord great chamberlain from the marquis of Northampton. The earl of Arundel, the earl of Southampton’s ally against the duke of Northumberland in the winter of 1549-50, was appointed lord steward. He had arrested Northumberland at Cambridge and was chosen to act as high constable at Mary’s coronation. Sir Edward Hastings was appointed master of the horse. Not previously Mary’s servant and an adherent of the Courtenay marriage proposal before swinging round to Philip’s candidacy, he was nevertheless a loyalist, who, when ordered by Northumberland to raise Buckinghamshire for Queen Jane, had joined Sir Edmund Peckham in the march on London. Most prominent among Mary’s personal following were Sir Robert Rochester, who was appointed comptroller of the household; his nephew, Sir Edward Waldegrave, who was appointed keeper of the great wardrobe; and Sir Henry Jerningham, who was named vice-chamberlain and captain of the guard. When Sir John Gage, who had abandoned Northumberland in favour of Mary and was rewarded with the office of lord chamberlain, died in the summer of 1556, he was replaced by Hastings, who was succeeded by Jerningham, who was in turn succeeded by the Framlingham loyalist Sir Henry Bedingfield. When Sir Robert Rochester died in the autumn of 1557, he was replaced by another loyalist, Sir Thomas Cornwallis.

Mary’s earliest appointments were dominated by her Kenninghall group and by those who joined her forces en route for Framlingham and London.14 The Kenninghall loyalists comprised Mary’s first Privy Council, but they were displaced from government and administration by those ex-Edwardian privy councillors headed by Sir William Paget — the so-called ‘men of business’ — who abandoned Northumberland and declared for Mary as she approached London. The ex-Edwardian cadre became the backbone of the ‘working’ Privy Council. Court and Privy Council were polarized as a result. The household was the sanctuary of loyalism, the Privy Council the platform of the professional politicians whose commitment to recatholicization was lukewarm. This categorization is adopted by Dr Penry Williams in his recent volume in the New Oxford History of England, where he concludes that the ‘important difference’ between the Edwardian and Marian Privy Councils, is that under Edward VI membership of the Privy Council and the Court had ‘overlapped’, whereas under Mary a ‘clear distinction’ existed between these two bodies.15

Mary never attended the Privy Council. It follows, so the argument goes, that she was distanced from ‘majority’ opinion. While her early propaganda hyped the model of a ‘consensus’ government from which radical Protestants and Northumberland’s close adherents alone were excluded, the reality was that a structural crack between Court and Privy Council disabled her régime. The ‘proof’ of a dysfunctional régime is that Mary had to dictate policy to her Privy Council. That assertion, however, is predicated on the premise that advice in policy matters was properly restricted to the ‘formal’ Privy Council and that if policy was not being determined in the Privy Council, then something had gone wrong. It is my contention that policy on high political topics in Mary’s reign (that is to say, policy other than administrative policy) was rarely, if ever, determined in formal meetings of the Privy Council, and never so after 1555. More generally, I shall argue that the conjecture of an ideological split or structural crack between the Marian Court and Privy Council is unjustified.

The point of entry is the Court, where the king and queen resided and the Privy Council met. Not only did Philip and Mary have separate households, but Philip in August 1555 established a conciliar nexus at Court that went beyond the Privy Council. 16 Mary’s household was located in what, during her father’s and brother’s reigns, had been the king’s side; Philip’s in what had formerly been the queen’s or consort’s side. I shall briefly survey the households of Philip and Mary before turning to the conciliar aspects of politics.

Mary’s ‘above stairs’ establishment was relatively small. On the roll of her outer chamber were twenty-five ladies, and on that of the privy chamber five or six ladies and nine or ten gentlewomen (the exact numbers varied according to the date).17 The latter took the places of the six lords, four principal gentlemen and eighteen gentlemen of the privy chamber who had served Edward VI. Edward’s grooms of the privy chamber were supplanted by three (later four) female ‘chamberers’, who with Susan Tonge, and possibly Frideswide Strelly, had exclusive access to the queen’s bedchamber and secret lodgings. Mary’s male privy chamber establishment was curtailed to three (later four) gentlemen, three gentlemen ushers, and four grooms. Their duties were to make ready the privy chamber, to regulate access, and to assist at the queen’s dining service. In addition, Mary retained two personal physicians and two fools: Henry VIII’s old fool, Will Somers, who by now must have been quite old, and Jane the fool, of whom the queen was especially fond.

On the consort’s side, Philip’s entourage must have had difficulty in accommodating itself within the available space. The king brought a full chamber staff with him from Spain only to find another waiting for him in England complete with a guard of 100 archers. Professor Loades discusses the subsequent acrimony and the final composition of Philip’s household.18 The compromise was that Philip used Spaniards almost exclusively in his privy chamber, leaving his English servants to perform outer chamber and ceremonial duties. He had no patrimony as king of England and was required to meet the costs of his chamber and privy chamber service out of his own revenues. By August 1554, over eighty Spanish noblemen and gentlemen had sought and obtained leave to withdraw, leaving behind the duke of Alva, the counts de Feria and Olivares, and Philip’s privy chamber establishment. His English service was headed by Sir John Williams, lord chamberlain, and Sir John Huddlestone, vice-chamberlain.19 Seven gentlemen of the privy chamber had been pre-selected: the earl of Surrey and the eldest sons of the earls of Arundel, Derby, Shrewsbury, Pembroke, Sussex and Huntingdon. A further thirty or so gentlemen were deputed to act as cupbearers, carvers, sewers, gentlemen ushers, gentlemen waiters, sewers of the chamber, or harbingers.20 Eleven grooms and pages were appointed, plus three or four interpreters whose services were not used, since Philip addressed his English household and councillors through Spanish and not English intermediaries. Finally, there were some 100 yeomen ushers plus the guard of 100 archers. Many of these servants or their replacements were on Philip’s payroll in 1558, but few seem to have been performing duties that were more than titular.

‘Below stairs’, a consolidated domestic establishment catered for the requirements of the queen’s and consort’s sides under the direction of the lord steward, treasurer and comptroller. Professor Loades notes that no attempt was made to vet the religious opinions of members of the household ‘below stairs’, which was said to have been one of the safest places to avoid taking the sacrament at Easter.21 These departments continued much as before, save for the fact that numbers were reinforced after Philip’s arrival in July 1554, which explains why charges increased in the second year of Mary’s reign.22

Whether Mary’s privy chamber was ‘depoliticized’ by virtue of the fact that intimate body service was performed by women is a less important question than the recent historiography suggests.23 The issue relates to patronage rather than policy-making. Mary was generous within her limited means. She rewarded courtiers and servants by means of supplementary offices, preferential leases, annuities, wardships, and opportunities for purchase on advantageous terms. The list of those who acquired the goods of Northumberland and his fellow-conspirators has been called a ‘roll-call’ of her affinity.24 Her gifts of wedding clothes and other presents to her privy chamber staff were more numerous than those of her predecessors.25 Yet, by whatever means patronage was brokered or procured, there is no sign that it was influenced by policy-making concerns.

In general, I reject the view that policy-making was driven by patronage considerations before the rise of the second earl of Essex in the 1590s. The function of Crown patronage was to underline the benefits that accrued from royal service, not to bolster factions or determine policy, which is why Essex was so divisive when he attempted both these things.26 Again, the current thesis that equates access to the ruler with political power is too simplistic, certainly if the definition of ‘access’ is derived from the official orders for the privy chamber from the Eltham Ordinances onwards. The nobility were frequently resident at Court, and yet neither the extent of their ‘informal’ access nor that which was available to Court supernumeraries has been adequately discussed for the Tudor period — or even recognized as a legitimate and urgent topic for investigation — this apart from the more explosive issue of whether such a thing as political power could have subsisted in the absence of financial independence.27

The influence of Mary’s gentlewomen seems to have been resented, and Charles V instructed his ambassadors to intimate ‘that people are said to murmur because some of her ladies take advantage of their positions to obtain certain concessions for their own private interest and profit’.28 John Foxe’s Acts and Monuments recounts how Sir Thomas Holcroft persuaded two unnamed ladies of the privy chamber to intercede with Mary for the release of Edwin Sandys from the Marshalsea.29 The story is told to Gardiner’s disadvantage, but the details concerning the privy chamber are incidental and there is no reason to doubt their authenticity. It is well known that Susan Tonge, Frideswide Strelly and Joanna Russell lobbied for the Spanish marriage, but that is hardly a test case since Mary was known to have supported it from the start.

If the evidence of public spectacle and the material culture is anything to go by, political and ideological divisions were absent at the Marian Court. The household and wardrobe accounts document a confident and unreserved commitment to magnificence and the ‘imagination’ of majesty on behalf of the king and queen. Outdoor events and processions were deemed as important as indoor ceremonies and entertainments. Vast quantities of satin, damask, taffeta, sarcenet, velvet, russet, gold buttons, tassels, carpets, tapestries, and arras were requisitioned.30 Their distribution was not narrowly confined: an inclusive policy was adopted, and as many as possible cashed in on the perks. The slogan might have been ‘New Government, New Outfits’. Resident ambassadors as well as the nobility, courtiers, privy councillors and the ordinary of the household received liveries or allowances. 31 Gardiner had a full set of prelate’s Garter robes tailored at the queen’s expense,32 while Philip and Cardinal Pole were supplied with Parliament robes.33 Whereas Henry VIII’s expenditure on the miscellaneous trappings of honour amounted to £4,300 in the financial year 1518-19 and £3,070 in 1519-20, Mary’s expenditure in her first year exceeded £9,600 exclusive of the expenses of her coronation and Edward VI’s funeral.34

Public ceremonies also reflected Mary’s aspirations. The opening of Parliament was preceded by masses and ornate processions, and requiems were held for Philip’s grandmother, Juana, sometime queen of Castile, in June 1555, and for John III, king of Portugal, in October 1557.35 Mary revived the ceremony for the blessing of cramp rings on Good Friday, she touched for the King’s Evil, and she eagerly participated in the ceremonies for Maundy Thursday in which she washed the feet of a number of poor women corresponding to her age.36 Whereas Henry VIII spent £63 on the Maundy ceremony, Mary’s honour required an outlay of £160.37 Her newly-refounded religious houses at Greenwich and Syon were re-equipped with albs and other artifacts taken from stock held in the great wardrobe.38 Her chapel was liberally supplied with albs, surplices, altar cloths, crossbearers, towels, tapers, cruets etc.39 Likewise, the costs of building restorations at the Observant Friary at Greenwich were directly billed to the account of the Queen’s Works.40

Outdoor events were choreographed by John Norris, chief gentleman usher of Mary’s privy chamber,41 who also served as usher of the Order of the Garter and Black Rod. According to his memoir, he had ‘all the doings’ for the marriage of the king and queen ‘and in all other places where any great ceremony was to be done’.42 The marriage was celebrated at Winchester Cathedral on 25 July 1554 (St James’s Day), when Mary was given in marriage by the duke of Alva. The Spanish and English nobility and leading courtiers were carefully intermingled in order of their degrees on the steps of the throne.43 Large numbers of standards, banners, streamers, and other heraldic devices emblazoned with Spanish regalia were commissioned for the occasion, and these purchases continued in 1555, when new liveries and artifacts were quartered with the king’s arms.44 Confusion later arose as to who exactly was entitled to Philip’s liveries, and it was eventually decided that they should be restricted to his own servants.45

At the requiem for Queen Juana at St Paul’s, the Spanish and English nobility led the solemn procession, walking side by side, headed by the count de Feria and the marquis of Winchester.46 There followed the imperial, French, Venetian and Portuguese ambassadors, the clergy, and a small army of mourners carrying banners and escutcheons wrought with fine gold and silver in oil upon buckram. A magnificent hearse was constructed of wax over a timber frame with an ornamental dome and gilded canopy. Wax for the four staff torches alone that surrounded the hearse weighed 1231 lbs, and the event was reminiscent of no lesser an event than the funeral of Henry VIII.

A comprehensive renovation of furnishings and dynastic symbolism was also set in train. Substantial sums were spent on embroidered cloths of estate, hangings, heraldic achievements, and badges and accoutrements decorated with the initial letters of the king and queen’s names.47 Equestrian purchases were also prominent, and extra horses, especially geldings and palfreys, were obtained and equipped with pommels of gold and silver.48 A new royal barge, emblazoned in silver and gold and with elaborate wainscoting, was commissioned, and trimmed with the king and queen’s regalia.49 Lastly, building alterations were undertaken at the royal houses at costs that exceeded anything since the death of Henry VIII apart from the ceremonial fortifications at Greenwich and the improvements to the tournament yard at Westminster begun by the duke of Northumberland.50 Since these alterations occurred in the calendar years 1554, 1555, and 1557, when Philip’s arrival was either imminent or the king was resident in England, it is possible that this expenditure was incurred in adapting the old queen’s or consort’s side for his use and that of his entourage. The most significant alterations were undertaken at the ‘standing palaces’ of Whitehall, Greenwich, St James’s, Richmond, Eltham and Hampton Court, and also at Windsor where the ceremonies of the Order of the Garter were celebrated.

If the physical arrangements for the Court are straightforward to reconstruct, the conciliar structures are not. The Privy Council continued to meet at Court in the Council chambers which lay off the long galleries at most of the royal houses. These Council chambers were within the queen’s privy lodgings and were approached from the privy gallery. There was no automatic egress from the Council chamber to the queen’s presence, and Mary tightened the arrangements for access. Her protocol, recorded by Norris, was extremely strict: ‘that no man of what degree or estate soever he be of shall attempt or by any wise suffered to come or repair into the queen’s privy chamber other than such as her highness shall from time to time call or command and such as her highness hath now taken into her privy chamber’.51

Mary was something of a loner. Her ‘board of estate’ was in the privy chamber, but she usually dined alone in her withdrawing chamber, attended by four or five of her servants with two grooms to carry away the dishes.52 Like Henry VII, and more obviously so than Henry VIII, she disliked uninvited visitors. The same criticism was levelled at Philip, but since it was his English servants who most audibly complained, the issue is obfuscated by the rivalry between the English and Spanish members of Philip’s establishment.

There is no evidence that Mary or Philip attended the Privy Council. Dr Redworth claims that Philip attended on Tuesdays and Fridays,53 but this derives from a Spanish relation and rests on a misunderstanding, possibly a confusion with Philip’s Select Council. Quite apart from the fact that Philip’s attendance would have been recorded in the Privy Council registers, it is inconceivable that the king could have attended the Privy Council without the presence of interpreters. No established mechanism whereby Mary was briefed on her Privy Council’s proceedings can be detected. Henry VIII had received letters from his ministers when they were absent from Court, and correspondence from his London Council in the 1540s, but routine contact was informal and conversational.54 In Elizabeth’s reign, the queen received letters from Cecil and others, reinforced by conciliar memoranda or ‘consultations’ on sensitive political topics.55 A note by William Thomas suggests that at one point during Edward VI’s reign, the clerk to the Privy Council delivered sealed packets to a designated gentleman of the privy chamber for onward communication to the king, but the practice may have been geared to the requirements of a royal minority.56 There is no evidence of a protocol under Mary, except that written memoranda were used by the Council in 1557 to oppose the slide into war. 57 Mary sometimes interviewed her councillors individually, but since the evidence relates to her marriage, the reunion with Rome, and the war with France, it is unlikely to be typical.

On the other hand, Philip’s right of access to conciliar information was unquestioned. Shortly after his arrival, the lord privy seal, then the earl of Bedford, was instructed to ‘tell the king the whole state of the Realm, with all things appertaining to the same, as much as ye know to be true’ and to declare his mind on any matter the king wished ‘as becometh a faithful councillor to do.’58 Again, two days after the marriage was celebrated at Winchester, the Privy Council issued standing orders to its clerks that ‘a note of all such matters of estate as should pass from hence should be made in Latin or Spanish from henceforth, and the same to be delivered to such as it should please the king’s highness to appoint to receive it.’ State documents of any significance were to be signed by both the king and queen, and a stamp was to be made in both their names for the expedition of lesser matters.59

By 1554, an inner circle of counsellors associated with policy-making had emerged, but the circle was not coextensive with the most frequent attenders at Privy Council meetings,60 its collective membership cannot be correlated with the patterns of attendance at regular meetings of the Privy Council, and its political weight was derived solely from the relationship of individuals to the queen and king. The circle also varied in composition. Essentially, it comprised the earl of Arundel, the earl of Pembroke, Rochester, Paget, Sir William Petre, Bishop Thirlby, and Gardiner.61 Of course, the rivalry between Paget and Gardiner created tensions: the latter’s clericalism irritated the laity, while Paget articulated the standpoint of ex-religious property owners. In this respect, Gardiner’s views were closer to Mary’s and Paget’s to Philip: it was an uphill struggle to turn either into policy. The débacle of April 1554 was caused by Gardiner’s artless, and probably unauthorized, attempt to ‘bounce’ the Privy Council into supporting the heresy bill in Parliament when it had previously been decided that no contentious religious measures should be introduced in that session.62 Pole became a key member of the inner circle after his arrival in England, exerting considerable influence even though he was not a member of the Privy Council. Nor did this mark a change, since he had been advising Mary by correspondence on the arrangements for the reunion with Rome from the beginning of the reign.

As if to crystallize this circle, a new tier of conciliar government was established on the day of Philip’s first departure from England on 29 August 1555. This was the so-called ‘Select Council’ or ‘Council of State’, a council which, as Dr Redworth has noted, was of a primarily continental type.63 Spanish-Habsburg practice worked on the basis of regional councils for Castile, Aragon, the Indies, and so on, and departmental councils for war, finance, and the Inquisition, above which sat a policy-making Council of State. It was this last type of council that Philip may have envisaged. Its members were to reside at Court and to consider ‘all causes of state and financial causes, and other causes of great moment’.64 They were to report to Philip three times a week, and brief the other councillors on Sundays. Items of immediate concern were preparations for the fourth Parliament of the reign that was due to begin on 21 October 1555, and royal finance, in particular Crown debts and the charges of certain offices in the royal household. A regular correspondence between the Select Council and Philip on the government of the realm thereafter ensued, which opened with four important papers submitted by the Council in September 1555.65

The role and composition of the Select Council has caused confusion. Dr Redworth argued for an immediate political purpose. Philip ‘needed to place his distraught wife under a degree of protection’.66 Cardinal Pole was chosen for that role. Mary’s ‘prime consolation’, according to Redworth, ‘was in following the routine which her beloved husband had laid down for her.’ Such was her distress ‘that she imagined she saw in the select councillors the King himself.’67 But this ignores the fact that Philip had criticized the size of the Privy Council since he arrived in England. He first envisaged the appointment of a Select Council as early as the autumn of 1554.68 Again, the accounts of Professors Loades and Hoak are obfuscatory. Professor Loades held that Philip intended the Select Council to be institutionally distinct from the Privy Council. He expressed surprise when, by the spring of 1557, ‘the distinction between the two councils again became blurred’.69 Professor Hoak, by contrast, defended the Eltonian supremacy of the Privy Council with the vigour of a man staring at evidence that would lead him into heresy if only he allowed himself to consider it. According to Hoak, the name of the ‘Select Council’ did not matter since ‘no English official ever referred to it that way in English’.70 ‘For the English only one body existed, the Privy Council.’ Only the Spanish believed in the existence of a ‘select council’. The evidence pointed to a single conclusion, which is that the Select Council was ‘an ad hoc committee of the Privy Council’.71

Neither of Hoak’s points should pass unchallenged. The very first memorial of the Select Council to Philip, written in Latin in the hand of Secretary Petre and probably sent to Brussels on 1 September 1555, records that on 31 August the ‘select councillors’ present at Court met to despatch the business referred to them by the king and queen.72 Next day, by the queen’s command, the other councillors were told what had been decided. Although Hoak’s assertion that ‘no English official ever referred to [the Select Council] that way in English’ is technically correct, since Petre’s reports were invariably in Latin, it is misleading. Again, in supposing that the Select Council was ‘an ad hoc committee of the Privy Council’, Hoak overlooked the fact that Pole was a member of the Select Council but not of the Privy Council. There were nine members of the Select Council, not eight as stated by Hoak.73 Since Pole was not a privy councillor, the Select Council could not have been a committee of the Privy Council.74 A comparison of the sources in the British Library with those in the PRO will help to resolve these difficulties.

The Select Council comprised Pole, Arundel, Pembroke, Winchester, Rochester, Paget, Petre, Thirlby, and Gardiner (who died in November 1555 and was replaced by Nicholas Heath).75 The membership had most likely evolved out of the earlier ‘circle’ of policy-makers that had existed after Pole’s arrival in England. Initially the earls of Arundel and Pembroke were absent, since they had accompanied the king to Brussels. Their departure irritated Pole, who was chef de cabinet by the terms of Philip’s instructions.76 His name headed the list of those named to the Select Council, with a note to say that he was appointed for ‘important business’ as he chose and when it was convenient.77 When Pole attended the Select Council, meetings were held in his chamber.78 Sometimes meetings took place in the queen’s presence, in which case they were probably held elsewhere, perhaps in the privy chamber.

A set of briefing notes prepared by Pole for Mary’s use in late September or October 1555 is extant. On the day in question, Mary was to meet the Select Council in the afternoon without Pole, who was unable to attend. Pole supplied Mary with a ‘remembrance of those things that your highness pleasure was I should put in writing as most convenient in my poor judgement to be communed and spoken of by your Majesty with your counsellors called to your presence.’79 The queen was to remind the select councillors of their charge, in particular of Philip’s order that they were to reside at Court. They were to begin the preparations for Parliament immediately, in order that the king could be told what business was to be undertaken there and his prior approval obtained. Financial affairs were also urgent, since funds were short and the queen’s creditors due for imminent repayment. Lastly, Pole attempted to lay down procedures for the Council’s work. He was well aware of the dangers of over-commitment:

Also, if it pleased your Majesty in general for all matters which be entreated in the council which require commission and execution to give this order, that those that have had commission to execute any matter let never pass the week but they inform the council what execution is made of their commission. And that the council themself should never begin the entreatment of new matters the second week but that they have information first what is done in those which were committed to be executed the week afore.80


Although the Select Council did not report to Philip as often as it was supposed to, it briefed him for the rest of the reign. 81 (After his departure in 1555, Philip was continually absent apart from the months between March and July 1557.) The Select Council’s reports typically dealt with three to a dozen items of business, neatly minuted in Latin in an italic script by Secretary Petre, who worked from drafts that he had previously prepared in English. Sometimes the original reports were returned by Philip’s secretary, annotated with comments, either at the foot of the page or in the margins — a time-saving procedure still recommended by management consultants to chief executives or their deputies — or else items were dealt with in correspondence from Philip or by his despatch of subsequent instructions under separate cover.82

Philip meticulously examined the Select Council’s reports. Sometimes his comments were brief. As the marginalia reported: ‘It seems well done’; ‘It pleases the king’; ‘The king is most grateful to be told’; ‘The king explains his wishes in letters to the councillors’.83 At other times, his comments were substantive. For example, the proposal that Lord Clinton should be appointed lord deputy of Ireland was met with the terse response: ‘Although the king thinks him worthy … he judges it not convenient at this time that he should be sent outside the realm, especially as there are many others who might be found suitable.’ 84 Lord Fitzwalter was accordingly chosen to succeed Sir Anthony St Leger as lord deputy.

Philip sought or received the Select Council’s advice on a wide range of matters: prospective legislation, appointments to offices, the nomination and recall of ambassadors, the condition of the shires, the coinage, the appointment of commissioners for the subsidy and for enclosures, the disputes of foreign merchants in England, the defence of the realm (especially Portsmouth, Calais and the Isle of Wight), the activities of English exiles abroad, the state of the northern borderlands, and relations with Scotland and Ireland.85 He also referred petitions to the Select Council, including that of the merchants of Brabant against the Privy Council’s order suspending cloth exports, another concerning Francis Bernardo at the request of the signory of Venice, and a third at the request of the duke of Cleves concerning the servants of Anne of Cleves.

By the summer of 1556, Philip was increasingly anxious about threats of domestic conspiracy, French invasion, and the readiness of the coastal defences. The Select Council wrote to reassure him on such matters, and the earl of Sussex and other trusted nobles and captains were sent to reside in their localities and to take charge of the coastal defences.86 When reports were received in November of a general mobilisation in France and of the naval preparations at Dieppe, the earl of Pembroke was despatched to Calais as lieutenant to assume command of the town and its security.87

Two of Philip’s annotations, read in conjunction with his instructions to the Select Council, suggest that a more nuanced account of the relationship between the Select Council and the Privy Council may be formulated. One informed the Council that certain parliamentary proposals, including the queen’s intended renunciation of first fruits and tenths and of the proceeds of impropriated benefices, should be discussed ‘in council by eight select councillors’, who should report to the king before anything was done in Parliament.88 The second noted that the Council’s earliest reports on the state of the realm ‘should be extensively debated by the eight select councillors with the most reverend cardinal’.89 These comments do not lead us to suppose that there were, after all, only eight members of the Select Council, since there were demonstrably nine. Apart from the evidence already discussed, Pole himself informed Cardinal Carafa that he was attending the Select Council, but he added that he had refrained from signing decrees until hearing from the pope.90 Almost certainly, Pole was appointed because he was the linchpin of the régime where policy-making was concerned, but he disliked the idea of holding secular office because he believed that he had a higher duty to the church. He agreed to serve providing he did so informally, without a councillor’s style or an official recognition of his appointment. As to the other eight select councillors, they should be regarded as having been ‘selected’ by Philip from the ranks of the available councillors on the grounds of their value to the king, queen and state in the sense that conciliarists and humanists conventionally debated the topic. The Select Council, like the ‘inner circle’ that had proceeded it, was both a policy-making forum and a probouleutic committee, but it was regarded neither as an official bureaucratic agency distinct from the Privy Council nor as a committee of the Privy Council.

Quite simply, the Select Council was subsumed within the Court. Its most structured proceedings were its correspondence with Philip when he was abroad, but this was the product of circumstances. When consultation and advice were needed, Mary would discuss affairs with her inner or select councillors, but not with the Privy Council.91 A telling instance occurred in June 1556, when, as the result of a meeting between Mary and the Select Council, the clerk of the Privy Council noted in the register that a commission of privy councillors had been appointed to consider ‘mint matters’, in particular the general recoinage that was eventually postponed until 1560-1.92

If the social dynamics of Marian politics will never be fully reconstructed, several points can be clarified. First, the Court and Privy Council, far from being distinct suns in the constellation of power, were in a closely-related orbit. The inclusion of Pole, Arundel, Pembroke, Winchester, Rochester, Paget, Gardiner, Petre and Thirlby as members of the Select Council suggests that polarization between loyalists and professional politicians exists chiefly in the eye of the beholder. Not only did Paget work closely with Pole and Rochester, and later Nicholas Heath, it is a doubtful assumption that household loyalists and ‘ex-Edwardians’ were equal and opposing forces. If one considers the ‘ex-Edwardians’ who served in Mary’s régime, the roll includes none other than Arundel, Pembroke, Winchester, Paget, Hastings, Petre, Gardiner, Thirlby and Heath.93 Catholicism was a major force in Mary’s reign, but it is likely that ‘loyalism’ should be defined less in relation to religion or to the kaleidoscopic events of mid-1553 than in terms of a commitment to royal service and the ability to adapt to circumstances.

Next, Pole’s importance as a policy-maker was far greater than is conventionally supposed. His role in fiscal affairs and diplomacy is evident from the reports of the Select Council, and it is noteworthy that when the Council sent its advice to Mary on the subject of the French war, it proposed that Pole should be its agent to open negotiations with the French ambassador on the grounds that he was already in correspondence with Henri II and the Constable, Anne, duc de Montmorency.94

As to the institutional Council, it continued to function more or less autonomously as an administrative body, but did not do so as a policy-making body. In high political matters it was emasculated to an extent as great or greater than anything since the reign of Henry VII. Protocol developed informally on the basis of the continental model, whereby advice on matters of state was monopolized by the ‘inner circle’ of courtiers and counsellors which began to function in 1554, and which Philip crystallized into the Select Council in 1555. Within this Select Council, Pole was the key player, even though he was not a privy councillor.

If this reconstruction is correct, there could be no structural crack between Court and Privy Council. We tend to forget that the Marian monarchy was not an acephalous one like that of Elizabeth I, where policy on ‘matters of state’ was initiated by the Privy Council, which also sought to outmanoeuvre the queen in Parliament on religion, the succession, and the fate of Mary, Queen of Scots.95 In Mary’s reign there were divisions over policy issues: notably over the queen’s marriage, the timing and nature of the legislation to implement the reunion with Rome, and the declaration of the war with France. But differences were not encompassed within a bipolarity of Court versus Privy Council. In the first two cases, they permeated the régime, and in the third, Mary was isolated. In late 1556 and 1557, it was the select councillors as much as the Privy Council which resisted the slide into war, until Philip intervened to convey his opinions and instructions.96

A full reassessment of Mary’s reign would require an agenda beyond the confines of Court and conciliar politics, but whatever is finally determined, it cannot be held against her that her régime was dysfunctional on the grounds currently proposed, a notion which is also belied by the evidence of public spectacle and the material culture. Things started to disintegrate after Philip’s second and final departure in July 1557, especially during the recriminations that followed the loss of Calais in January 1558, when even Paget abandoned his efforts to support and promote the king’s interests.97 The count de Feria informed Philip in February that he was dissatisfied with Arundel, Pembroke, Paget, Petre, Heath, Thirlby and others.98 Thereafter, Pole and Winchester alone continued to retain the king’s confidence.

Tudor historians are used to uncomplicated structures and are unaccustomed to polymorphism or convergence theory. Biologists or mathematicians might cope better with Marian politics, but in any case the conceptual basis on which Marian politics have been discussed will have to be reworked. Existing accounts of the Marian régime have tended to focus on constitutional or administrative concerns. In the process, the nature of the political process has been obscured. Conceptually, the essence of monarchy was the notion of the sovereign ruler, who was obliged to rule in the interests of the respublica, and who therefore needed ‘counsel’ and advice.99 ‘Counsel’ made the exercise of sovereign power legitimate, but whether it was properly expressed in Court, Council, or even Parliament, was something that was not constitutionally prescribed. The revelation that the focus of ‘counsel’ in Mary’s reign was not the Privy Council is hardly shattering. Not, that is, to anyone who has recently considered the politics of Henry VI, Edward IV, Henry VII, Henry VIII, or James I. That the political structures of Mary’s régime may have been less introverted and adversarial than has previously been thought need not imply mutatis mutandis that she was successful. If the reign was unsuccessful, the most likely reason is that Mary wanted Philip on her own terms, just as much as Philip wanted her on his.100 If there was a failure in political communications and therefore in policy-making, it was less between courtiers and councillors, or between privy councillors and select councillors, than between the king and queen themselves.


Primary sources

Acts and Monuments (1843-9). The Acts and Monuments of John Foxe, ed. G. Townsend, 8 vols., London

APC (1890-1964). Acts of the Privy Council of England, New Series, ed. J. R. Dasent et al., 46 vols., London

Lisle Letters (1981). The Lisle Letters, ed. M. St. Clare Byrne, 6 vols., Chicago and London

Revised CSPD, Mary (1998). Calendar of State Papers, Domestic Series, of the Reign of Mary I, 15531558, revised edn., ed. C. S. Knighton, London

[State Papers] (1830-52). State Papers during the Reign of Henry VIII, 11 vols., Record Commission, London

Secondary sources

Adams, S. L. (1991). ‘Favourites and Factions at the Elizabethan Court’, in Princes, Patronage and the Nobility: the Court at the Beginning of the Modern Age c.14501650, ed. R. G. Asch and A. M. Birke, Oxford, pp. 265-87

Adams, S. L. (1995b). ‘The Patronage of the Crown in Elizabethan Politics: the 1590s in Perspective’, in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, ed. John Guy, Cambridge, pp. 20-45

Alford, Stephen (1996). ‘William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis of the 1560s’, unpublished St Andrews Ph.D. dissertation

Alford, Stephen (1997). ‘Reassessing William Cecil in the 1560s’, in The Tudor Monarchy, ed. John Guy, London, pp. 233-52

Carpenter, Christine (1992). Locality and Polity: a Study of Warwickshire Landed Society, 14011499, Cambridge

Carpenter, Christine (1997). The Wars of the Roses: Politics and the Constitution in England, c.14371509, Cambridge

Guy, John (1988a). Tudor England, Oxford

Guy, John (1995b). ‘Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell, and the Reform of Henrician Government’, in The Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and Piety, ed. D. MacCulloch, London, pp. 35-57, 227-8, 232-5, 253-9

Guy, John (1997a). ‘General Introduction’, in The Tudor Monarchy, ed. John Guy, London, pp. 1-10

Guy, John (1997b). ‘Tudor Monarchy and its Critiques’, in The Tudor Monarchy, ed. John Guy, London, pp. 78-109

Hammer, Paul E. J. (1995a). ‘Patronage at Court, Faction and the Earl of Essex’ in The Reign of Elizabeth I: Court and Culture in the Last Decade, ed. John Guy, Cambridge, pp. 65-86

Hoak, D. E. (1986). ‘Two Revolutions in Tudor Government: the Formation and Organization of Mary I’s Privy Council’, in Revolution Reassessed: Revisions in the History of Tudor Government and Administration, ed. C. Coleman and D. R. Starkey, Oxford, pp. 87-115

Lemasters, G. A. (1971). ‘The Privy Council in the Reign of Queen Mary I’, unpublished Cambridge Ph.D. dissertation

Loach, J. (1986c). Parliament and the Crown in the Reign of Mary Tudor, Oxford

Loades, D. M. (1986). The Tudor Court, London

Loades, D. M. (1988). ‘Philip II and the Government of England’, in Law and Government under the Tudors, ed. Claire Cross, D. M. Loades, and J. J. Scarisbrick, Cambridge, pp. 177-94

Loades, D. M. (1989). Mary Tudor: A Life, Oxford

Loades, D. M. (1991). The Reign of Mary Tudor: Politics, Government and Religion in England, 15531558, 2nd edn., London

Redworth, G. (1997). ‘”Matters Impertinent to Women”: Male and Female Monarchy under Philip and Mary’, English Historical Review, 112, pp. 597-613

Strong, Roy (1983). Artists of the Tudor Court: The Portrait Miniature Rediscovered, 15201620, London

Tittler, R. (1983). The Reign of Mary I, London

Watts, John (1996). Henry VI and the Politics of Kingship, Cambridge

Weikel, Ann (1980). ‘The Marian Council Revisited’, in The MidTudor Polity, ed. J. Loach and R. Tittler, London, pp. 52-73

Williams, Penry (1995). The Later Tudors: England, 15471603, Oxford

Wright, Pam (1987). ‘A Change in Direction: the Ramifications of a Female Household, 1558-1603’, in The English Court from the Wars of the Roses to the Civil War, ed. D. R. Starkey et al., London, pp. 147-72


  1. Acts and Monuments (1843-9), VI, pp. 543-4.
  2. Redworth (1997), pp. 597-613.
  3. Carpenter (1992), (1997); Watts (1996).
  4. E.g. Alford (1997); Guy (1997a), (1997b).
  5. Loades (1986), (1988), (1989), (1991).
  6. Hoak (1986), pp. 87-115.
  7. Watts (1996), pp. 81-2.
  8. Loades (1988), pp. 177-94. Loades (1991) is the second edition of a work originally published in 1979 and does not fundamentally depart from its conclusions.
  9. Hoak (1986), pp. 109-10 and nn.
  10. Here I argue against myself, using the account which I gave in Guy (1988a), pp. 226-49, as a convenient summary of the traditional account.
  11. Loades (1986), pp. 56-7; PRO, E 101/428/5; E 101/428/10; E 351/3029; E 351/3030; LC 2/4/2.
  12. Lisle Letters (1981), VI, pp. 262-74.
  13. Loades (1991), pp. 18-56. Cf. Weikel (1980), p. 71; Tittler (1983), p. 13.
  14. The best summary is Hoak (1986), pp. 92-111.
  15. Williams (1995), pp. 87, 133.
  16. See below, p. 00.
  17. Loades (1986), pp. 55-7. BL, Additional MS. 71990, fos. 59v-60; PRO, E 101/428/5; E 101/428/10; E 101/428/17; E 351/3030; LC 2/4/2.
  18. Loades (1986), pp. 41-2, 57; Loades (1988), pp. 185-7.
  19. Loades (1988), pp. 185-6.
  20. Loades (1988), p. 186.
  21. Loades (1986), p. 93.
  22. Charges for diets alone ranged from £130 to £185 per day, approximately double that at Christmas and Epiphany, and slightly less than double on St George’s Day. PRO, E/101/427/19; E 101/428/4; E 101/428/8; E 101/428/12; E 101/428/13; 101/428/16.
  23. Wright (1987), pp. 147-72.
  24. Loades (1991), pp. 54-5.
  25. Revised CSPD, Mary (1998), no. 234, p. 114; PRO, E 101/428/10; E 351/3030; E 351/3031.
  26. Hammer (1995a); Adams (1991), (1995b).
  27. S. L. Adams, unpublished paper to Court History Conference, Windsor, April 1998.
  28. Loades (1991), p. 43.
  29. Acts and Monuments (1843-9), VIII, pp. 594-5.
  30. PRO, E 351/3028; E 351/3029.
  31. PRO, E 101/428/5.
  32. PRO, E 351/3028.
  33. PRO, E 351/3030.
  34. PRO, E 351/3028; SP 11/14, fos. 47-55v; Revised CSPD, Mary (1998), no. 234.
  35. PRO, E 101/427/14; E 101/428/5; E 351/3029.
  36. Strong (1983), pp. 53-5.
  37. Revised CSPD, Mary (1998), no. 234, p. 115.
  38. PRO, E 101/428/5, E 101/428/10.
  39. PRO, E 351/3030, E/351/3031, E 101/428/10; LC 9/52.
  40. E 351/3326.
  41. Loades (1986), p. 56.
  42. BL, Additional MS 71009, fo. 31.
  43. BL, Additional MS. 71009, fos. 31-2.
  44. PRO, E 351/3029.
  45. APC (1890-1964), V, p. 39.
  46. PRO, E 101/427/14.
  47. PRO, E 351/3030.
  48. PRO, E 101/428/10; LC 9/952.
  49. PRO, E 351/3326.
  50. PRO, E 101/504/10, E 351/3326.
  51. BL, Additional MS 71009, fo. 60.
  52. BL, Additional MS 71009, fo. 60v.
  53. Redworth (1997), p. 601.
  54. Guy (1995b), pp. 49-53; [State Papers] (1830-52), I, pp. 740-2.
  55. Alford (1996), 1997).
  56. Ex inf. Stephen Alford.
  57. BL, Cotton MS. Titus C. 7, fos. 198-99; Loades (1988), pp. 191-2; Loades (1991), pp. 320-1.
  58. Redworth (1997), p. 601.
  59. APC (1890-1964), IV, p. 53.
  60. For membership and attendance information, see Lemasters (1971), appendix 2.
  61. Loades (1991), p. 195.
  62. Loach (1986c), p. 93.
  63. Redworth (1997), p. 601.
  64. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fos. 160-1.
  65. PRO, SP 11/6, fos. 25-31v; SP 11/14, fos. 47-55v; Revised CSPD, Mary (1998), nos. 229-35. Further references in Hoak (1986), p. 109, nn. 65-6. See also BL, Cotton Titus B.2, fos. 114-16.
  66. Redworth (1997), p. 603.
  67. Redworth (1997), p. 604.
  68. Loades (1988), p. 189.
  69. Loades (1991), p. 199.
  70. Hoak (1986), p. 108.
  71. Hoak (1986), pp. 108-9.
  72. PRO, SP 11/6, fo. 25.
  73. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fo. 160; cf. Hoak (1986), p. 109.
  74. PRO, SP 11/6, fo. 25.
  75. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fo. 160. Although Petre is commonly said to have retired in March 1557, this may only have been from the secretaryship or the Privy Council. Petre was among the councillors criticized by Feria in February 1558; see below, p. 25.
  76. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fo. 162; Redworth (1997), p. 604 n. 1.
  77. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fo. 160.
  78. PRO, SP 11/6, fo. 25.
  79. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fo. 162.
  80. BL, Cotton MS. Titus B.2, fo. 162v.
  81. Redworth (1997), p. 602; Loades (1988), pp. 190-1.
  82. Redworth (1997), p. 602; Loades (1991), pp. 198-99; Hoak (1986), p. 109, nn. 65-6, is an inventory of correspondence and reports extant in the State Papers. Hoak mistakenly places SP 11/14, fo. 6 in 1558. The document belongs to October 1555. His list also omits SP 11/14, fos.47-55v, which belongs to September 1555. These documents are calendared in Revised CSPD, Mary (1998).
  83. E.g. PRO, SP 11/6, fos. 27-29v; SP 11/8, fo. 121.
  84. PRO, SP 11/6, fo. 29; Revised CSPD, Mary (1998), no. 232.
  85. E.g. PRO, SP 11/6, fos. 25-30v, 130; SP 11/8, fos. 72, 85-6; SP 11/9, fos. 16-17, 18-19, 25-6, 28-9, 60-1, 64-5, 91-2; SP 11/14, fos. 4-5; Loades (1991), pp. 186-7, 198-99.
  86. E.g. PRO, SP 11/9, fos. 25-6, 28-9, 94-7, 104-5.
  87. PRO, SP 11/9, fos. 94-7, 104-5.
  88. PRO, SP 11/6, fo. 27.
  89. PRO, SP 11/6, fo. 31v.
  90. Redworth (1997), p. 604, n. 1.
  91. Redworth (1997), p. 603.
  92. APC (1890-1964), V, p. 284.
  93. Hoak (1986), p. 106.
  94. BL, Cotton MS. Titus C.7, fo. 199.
  95. Alford (1997); Guy (1997b).
  96. Loades (1988), pp. 191-2.
  97. Loades (1988), p. 192.
  98. Loades (1991), pp. 323-4.
  99. Watts (1996), pp. 16-17, 25-8.
  100. Loades (1988), p. 194.

Powered by WordPress. Designed by WooThemes