1902 Encyclopedia > Stephen Gardiner

Stephen Gardiner
English prelate and lord chancellor
(1483-1555)




STEPHEN GARDINER, (1483-1555), bishop of Winchester and lord chancellor of England, was born at Bury St Edmunds in 1483. He is believed to have been the illegitimate son of Dr Woodville, bishop of Salisbury, brother of Elizabeth Woodville, queen of Edward IV. If so, he lost his father when he was only one year old ; but his education seems to have been carefully provided for. He was sent to Cambridge and studied at Trinity Hall, where he greatly distinguished himself in the classics, especially in Greek. He afterwards devoted himself to the canon and civil law, in which subjects he attained so great a proficiency that no one could dispute his pre-eminence. He received the degree of doctor of civil law in 1520, and of canon law in the following year. Ere long his abilities attracted the notice of Cardinal Wolsey, who made him his secretary, and in this capacity he is said to have been with him at More Park in Hertfordshire, when the conclusion of the celebrated treaty of the More brought Henry VIII. and the French ambassadors thither. It is stated, and with great proba-bility, that this was the occasion on which he was first in-troduced to the king's notice, but he does not appear to have been actively engaged in Henry's service till three years later. In that of Wolsey, he undoubtedly acquired a very intimate knowledge of foreign politics, and in 1527 he and Sir Thomas More were named commissioners on the part of England in arranging a treaty with the French ambassadors for the support of an army in Italy against the emperor. That year he accompanied Wolsey on his important diplomatic mission to France, the splendour and magnificence of which are so graphically described by Cavendish. Among the imposing train who went with the cardinal—including, as it did, several noblemen and privy councillors—Gardiner alone seems to have been acquainted with the real heart of the matter which made this embassy a thing of such peculiar moment. Henry was then parti-cularly anxious to cement his alliance with Francis I., and gain his co-operation as far as possible in the object on which he had secretly set his heart—a divorce from Catherine of Aragon. In the course of his progress through France he received orders from Henry to send back his secretary Gardiner, or, as he was called at court, Master Stevens, for fresh instructions; to which he was obliged to reply that he positively could not spare him as he was the only instrument he had in advancing the king's "secret matter." Next year Gardiner, though still nominally in the service of Wolsey, was sent to Italy along with Edward Fox, provost of King's College, Cambridge, to promote the same business with the pope. His de-spatches on this occasion are still extant, and whatever we may think of the cause on which he was engaged, they cer-tainly give a wonderful impression of the zeal and ability with which he discharged his functions. Here his perfect familiarity with the canon law gave him an advantage over all with whom he had to negotiate. Clement VII., who was then at Orvieto, and had just recently escaped from captivity at St Angelo at the hands of the imperialists, did not wish to offend the king of England, but was still more in dread of the emperor. He only desired to temporize. But Gardiner would not allow him to take refuge in an evasive policy. What was to be thought, he said, of a spiritual guide who either could not or would not show the wanderer his way 1 The king and lords of England would be driven to think that God had taken away from the Holy See the key of knowledge, and that pontifical laws which were not clear to the pope himself might as well be com-mitted to the flames.

In short, it was owing to Gardiner's vigorous advocacy that the celebrated commission was issued to Cardinals Wolsey and Campeggio to try the cause in England. After obtaining it he was recalled, but early in the following year, 1529, as Campeggio delayed proceeding, he was sent once more to Eome. This time, however, his efforts were un-availing. The pope would make no further concessions, and would not even promise not to revoke the cause to Eome, as he did very shortly after. Gardiner's services, however, were fully appreciated. He was appointed the king's secretary. He had been already some years arch-deacon of Taunton, and the archdeaconry of Norfolk was added to it in March 1529, which two years later he re-signed for that of Leicester. In 1530 he was sent to Cambridge to procure the decision of the university as to the unlawfulness of marriage with a deceased brother's wife, in accordance with the new plan devised for settling the question without the pope's intervention. In this he succeeded, though not without a good deal of artifice, more creditable to his ingenuity than to his virtue. In November 1531 the king rewarded him for his services with the bishopric of Winchester, vacant by Wolsey's death. The promotion was unexpected, and was accompanied by ex-pressions from the king which made it still more honour-able, as showing that if he had been in some things too subservient, it was from no abject, self-seeking policy of his own. Gardiner had, in fact, ere this remonstrated boldly with his sovereign on some points, and Henry now reminded him of the fact. "I have often squared with you, Gardiner," he said familiarly, "but I love you never the worse, as the bishopric I give will convince you." It must be owned, however, that his next distinguished service was not a very creditable one; for he was, not exactly, as is often aaia, one of Cranmer's assessors, but, according to Cranmer's own expression, "assistant" to him as counsel for the king, when the archbishop, in the absence of Queen Catherine, pronounced her marriage with Henry null and void on the 23d May 1533. Immediately afterwards he was sent over to Marseilles, where an interview between the pope and Francis I. took place in September, of which event Henry stood in great suspicion, as Francis was ostensibly his most cordial ally, and had hitherto maintained the justice of his cause in the matter of the divorce. Here he intimated the appeal of Henry VIII. to a general council in case the pope should venture to proceed to sentence against him. He also made a like appeal in behalf of Cranmer. Next year he and other bishops were called upon to vindi-cate the king's new title of " Supreme Head of the Church of England." The result was his celebrated treatise Be Vera Obedientia, the ablest, certainly, of all the vindications of royal supremacy. In 1535 he had an unpleasant dispute with Cranmer about the visitation of his diocese. During the next few years he was engaged in various embassies in France and Germany. He was indeed so much abroad that he had little influence upon the king's councils. But in 1539 he was much concerned in the drawing up and passing through the House of Lords of the severe statute of the Six Articles, which led to the resignation of Bishops Latimer and Shaxton and the persecution of the whole Protestant party. In 1540, on the death of Cromwell, earl of Essex, he was elected chancellor of the university of Cambridge. A few years later he attempted, in concert with others, to fasten a charge of heresy upon Archbishop Cranmer in connexion with the Act of the Six Articles ; and but for the personal intervention of the king he would probably have succeeded. He was, in fact, though he had supported the royal supremacy, a thorough opponent of the Beformation in a doctrinal point of view, and it was sus-pected that he even repented his advocacy of the royal supremacy. He certainly had not approved of Henry's general treatment of the church, especially during the ascendency of Cromwell, and he was frequently visited with storms of royal indignation, which he schooled himself to bear with patience. In 1544 a relation of his own, named German Gardiner, whom he employed as his secretary, was put to death for treason in reference to the king's supremacy, and his enemies insinuated to the king that he himself was of his secretary's way of thinking. But being warned of his danger he sought an interview with Henry, in which he succeeded in clearing himself of all injurious imputations. That he was party to a design against Queen Catherine Parr, whom the king was at one time on the point of com-mitting to the Tower, rests only upon the authority of Foxe, and seems a little doubtful. It is certain, however, that his name was omitted at the last in Henry VIII.'s will, though the king was believed to have intended making him one of his executors.

Under Edward VI. Gardiner was completely opposed to the policy of the dominant party both in ecclesiastical and in civil matters. The religious changes he objected to both on principle and on the ground of their being moved during the king's minority, and he resisted Cranmer's project of a general visitation. His remonstrances, however, were met by his own committal to the Fleet, and the visitation of his diocese was held during his imprisonment. Though soon afterwards released, it was not long before he was called before the council, and, refusing to give them satisfaction on some points, was thrown into the Tower, where he continued during the whole remainder of the reign, a period slightly over five years. During this time he in vain demanded his liberty, and to be called before parliament as a peer of the realm. His bishopric was taken from him and given to Dr Poynet, a chaplain of Cranmer's who had not long before been made bishop of Bochester. At the accession of Queen Mary, the duke of Norfolk and other state prisoners of high rank were in the Tower along with him; but the queen, on her first entry into London, set them all at liberty. Gardiner was restored to his bishopric and appointed lord chancellor, and he set 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 called upon, at the age of seventy, to undo not a little of the work in which he had been instrumental in his earlier years,—to vindicate the legitimacy of the queen's birth and the lawfulness of her mother's marriage, to restore the old religion, and to recant what he himself had written touching the royal supremacy. At least this, it may be presumed, was the time when he wrote, if, as we are told, he really did write, a Palinodia or retractation of his book Be Vera Obedientia, which, however, does not seem to be now extant, so that how far he had changed his sentiments we cannot very well judge. That he should have really changed them to some extent is not at all unnatural; and in relation to the divorce of Catherine of Aragon, we may well believe that it was his earlier and not his later action that ever troubled his conscience. Yet as to the royal supremacy, it seems that he would have advised Queen Mary to retain it; but her own desire was so great to give up ecclesiastical jurisdiction to the pope that he could not press the matter. A less agreeable task which fell to him was the negotiation of the queen's marriage treaty with Philip, to which he shared the

In executing it, however, he took care to make the terms as advantageous for England as possible, and to make express provision that the Spaniards should in nowise be allowed to interfere in the government of the country. After the coming of Cardinal Pole, and the reconciliation of the realm to the see of Rome, his influence suffered some eclipse, though he still remained in high favour. How far he was responsible for the persecutions which afterwards arose is a debated question. There is no doubt that he sat in judgment on Bishop Hooper, and on several other Pro-testants whom he condemned to the flames. But being placed on a commission along with a number of other bishops to administer a severe law, it does not appear that he could very well have acted otherwise. On the bench he is said to have used every effort to induce the accused to make concessions and accept a pardon ; and a remarkable instance of his clemency is recorded by the church historian Fuller, who, notwithstanding his prejudices, acknowledges a debt of gratitude to him for preserving one of his own ancestors from the persecuting zeal of others. It would seem, moreover, that when he saw the results of the cruel proceedings against heretics, he very soon got tired of them. The persecutions raged with the greatest vehemence during his absence at the Calais peace conferences in 1555, and when he came back he declared he would have no further hand in them, so that those afterwards apprehended in his diocese were removed into that of London in order to be adjudged to the flames. In October 1555 he again opened parliament as lord chancellor, but towards the end of the month he fell ill and grew rapidly worse till the 12th November, when he died about the age of seventy-two.
Perhaps no celebrated character of that age has been the subject of so much ill-merited abuse at the hands of popular historians. That his virtue was not equal to every trial may be admitted, but that he was anything like the morose and narrow-minded bigot he is commonly represented there is nothing whatever to show. He has been called ambitious, turbulent, crafty, abject, vindictive, bloodthirsty, and a good many other things besides, not quite in keeping with each other; in addition to which it is roundly asserted by Bishop Burnet that he was despised alike by Henry and by Mary, both of whom made use of him as a tool. How such a mean and abject character submitted to remain five years in prison rather than change his principles is not very clearly explained ; and as to his being despised, we have seen already that Henry VIII., at least, did not consider him despicable. The truth is, there is not a single divine or statesman of that day whose course throughout was so thoroughly consistent. He was no friend to the Reform a-tion, it is true, but he was at least a conscientious opponent. In doctrine he adhered to the old faith from first to last, while as a question of church polity, the only matter for consideration with him was whether the new laws and ordinances were constitutionally justifiable.

His merits as a theologian it is unnecessary to discuss; it is as a statesman and a lawyer that he stands conspicuous. But his learning even in divinity was far from commonplace. The manual set forth in 1543 by royal and parliamentary authority, entitled A necessary Doctrine and Erudition for any Christian Man, was chiefly from his pen; and at a later date he was the author of various tracts in defence of the Beal Presence against Cranmer, some of which, being written in prison, were published abroad under a feigned name. Controversial writings also passed between him and Bucer, with whom he had several interviews in Germany, when he was there as Henry VIII.'s ambassador.

He was a friend of learning in every form, and took great interest especially in promoting the study of Greek at Cambridge. He was, however, opposed to the new method of pronouncing the language introduced by Sir John Cheke, and wrote letters to him and Sir Thomas Smith upon the subject, in which, according to Ascham, his opponents showed themselves the better critics, but he the superior genius. In his own household he loved to take in young university men of promise; and many whom he thjs encouraged became distinguished in after life as bishops, ambassadors, and secretaries of state. His house, indeed, was spoken of by Leland as the seat of eloquence and the special abode of the muses.

He lies buried in his own cathedral at Winchester, where his effigy is still to be seen. (j. GA.)








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