Tomb: Thomas Lord Audley

Who was Thomas Audley?

Thomas Audley began his career as a lawyer at the Inner Temple in London, and a minor official in Essex. He was elected to parliament as MP for Colchester in 1523 and quickly came to the attention of Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII. A number of appointments and offices followed and, by the end of 1527, he was a member of Wolsey’s household and a groom of the King’s chamber. Audley was elected to the House of Commons again in 1529 and was appointed Speaker of the Commons. During the following parliament (1529-36), he played a key role in ensuring that the legislation was passed to enable Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon. He was appointed Keeper of the Great Seal in May 1532 and, on 26 January 1533, he was appointed Lord Chancellor.

As one of Henry VIII’s newly promoted men who had risen through administrative skill rather than birth or military prowess, Audley was loyal to Henry and the protection of royal interests. However, he was also keen to uphold the authority of parliament and the letter of the law, at times bringing him into conflict with other men. He never rose to the dizzy heights of men such as Thomas Cromwell but his administrative and legal skills were valued. He was called upon by the privy council for his legal expertise (especially in matters of treason), was a point of contact for foreign ambassadors in London, and his house was sometimes used as a jail – Agnes, dowager duchess of Norfolk, was held there in December 1541 before being transferred to the tower of London. He presided over the trial of Anne Boleyn’s alleged lovers and acted as a legal advisor at her trial; he also interrogated Katherine Howard and others about her alleged infidelity. He kept his personal religious beliefs close to his chest but, as he worked closely with Cromwell, helped bring about the break with the Catholic church, and benefitted from the dissolution of the monasteries he is often seen as an evangelical. In reality, it seems more likely that he was driven by his desire to serve the King than by religious fervour.

His loyalty and hard work were rewarded in November 1538 when he was made Baron Audley of Walden and in May 1540 when he was elected to the Order of the Garter. He amassed a large fortune from humble beginnings and one of his daughters would go on to marry Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk. Unlike men like Wolsey and Cromwell, Audley never fell from royal favour and retired from public life only as a result of ill health.

Where was he buried?

Thomas Audley died in London on 30 April 1544. His was body was taken to Essex to be buried in the church of St Mary the Virgin in Saffron Walden, near to his home at Walden Abbey.

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The (lack of) coronations of Henry VIII’s wives

Tomorrow (6th May 2023), Charles III with be crowned and annointed in Westminster Abbey. Alongside him will be his second wife, Camilla, who will be crowned as Queen Consort. It seemed an apt time to consider the coronations, or rather, lack of coronations of four of Henry VIII’s wives.

Henry’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon, was crowned alongside him in a ceremony that took place on 24th June 1509, just 13 days after they had married. His second wife, Anne Boleyn, was crowned in a solo ceremony on 1st June 1533. They would be the only two of his wives to be crowned. So, why did the other women not get a coronation?

His third wife, Jane Seymour, was supposed to be crowned in 1536. However, the ceremony was postponed until the following year. On 3rd October 1536, the Holy Roman Emperor’s ambassador to England, Eustace Chapuys, wrote to Emperor Charles V saying that the coronation was delayed to the following summer “and some doubt it will not take place at all”. He then added that there was no sign that she would have children. The implication was clear, he believed that Henry would not crown his wife until he had a male heir. Queen Jane did eventually have the desired son but, as she died shortly after, she was never crowned.

Over the next ten years, Henry would have three further weddings but there would be no more coronations. The marriage to Anne of Cleves was annulled as soon as possible, Katherine Howard was executed for treason without children, and Katherine Parr also had no children with Henry VIII.

It does seem likely that Henry was once bitten, twice shy (or rather twice bitten, three times shy) when it came to crowning the women he married. His marriages to both Catherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn were both annulled meaning that, legally, neither of them had been his wife. Therefore, neither of them should have been crowned as a Queen. The fact that the coronations had taken place was an embarrassment. An embarrassment that he was not prepared to risk happening again.