Sir Ralph SADLER

Born: ABT 1507, Hackney, Middlesex, England

Died: 30 Mar 1587, Standon, Hertfordshire, England

Father: Henry SADLER

Mother: ¿?

Married: Margaret MITCHELL (dau. of William Mitchell and Margaret Cromwell) ABT 1533, Stockwell, Surrey, England


1. Thomas SADLER (b. 1534 - d. 5 Jan 1606) (m.1 Ursula Sharington - m.2 Gertrude Markham)

2. Edward SADLER (b. 1537 - d. 4 Apr 1584) (m. Anne Lee)

3. Henry SADLER (b. 1539 - d. 17 Mar 1618) (m.1 Dorothy Gilbert - m.2 Ursula Gyll)

4. Anne SADLER (d. 1576) (m. George Horsey)

5. Mary SADLER (m. Thomas Bowles)

6. Dorothy SADLER (d. ABT 1578) (m. Edward Elrington)

7. Jane SADLER (d. ABT 1587) (m. Edward Baesh)

Associated with: ¿?


8. Richard SADLER

An unidentified man

Possibly Sir Ralph Sadler

by Hans Holbein the Younger

Diplomatist and statesman, was born in 1507, son of Henry Sadler, a steward or minor official in the service of the Marquis of Dorset and of Sir Edward Belknap. Henry Sadler was originally from Warwickshire, but later settled in Hackney. Ralph had a brother, John, who commanded a company at the Siege of Boulogne in 1544.

While still young, Ralph was taken into the household of Thomas Cromwell, later Henry VIII's great minister and Earl of Essex. By the time he was 19 Sadler was serving as Thomas Cromwell's secretary, learning about administration, finance and politics. In this role he handled Cromwell's household business and was also involved in drafting and writing his correspondence.

He was taught to read and write, becoming fluent in French, Latin and Greek and acquired a working knowledge of the law. He proved to be not only intelligent and resourceful, but also capable of great feats of horsemanship and was skilled at falconry. Roger Ascham compared Sadler's appearance in terms of complexion, countenance and beard to Duke Maurice of Saxony, although the Duke was taller.

By 1529 he had become one of Cromwell's most trusted friends and was appointed an executor of his will. Between 1525 and 1529, his name appeared in Cromwell's correspondence in connection with suppression of monasteries.He was granted the manor and lands from the suppressed St Leonard's Priory in Bow. It was probably around this time that his talents came to the attention of the king.

Probably soon after Cromwell's elevation to the peerage, on 9 Jul 1536, Sadler was made a gentleman of the King's privy chamber.

In the same year, he became M.P. for Hindon, Wiltshire and his name also appears in the list of administrators named for Catalina of Aragon's will.

Henry VIII sent him in Jan 1537 on a most delicate and important mission to Scotland, to try to find out how much truth there was in the complaints made by bis sister, Margaret, the Queen-Dowager, against her third husband, Henry Stewart, Lord Methven, and to investigate the relations between the King of Scotland and the French. He succeeded in both respects. On 1 Apr 1537, Ralph met James V of Scotland, newly married to Madeleine of Valois, at Rouen.

Sir Ralph Sadler travelled through Yorkshire in Jan 1537 on his way to Scotland. The North of England was still horrified after the events of the Pilgrimage of the Grace. He arrived at his lodgings in Darlington at about 6pm on 27 Jan. No sooner had he climbed the stairs to his room than 40 people "assembled in the strete afore my chamber wyndows, with clubbs and bats, and they came running out of all quarters of the strete and stood together on a plompe (a rise in the ground), whisperinge". Menaced by such behaviour, Sir Ralph called on his host who warned him that these men were beyond the control of the town elders, and one rash move would have 1,000 armed men on the street. Eventually the rowdy crowd was persuaded that Sir Ralph was not in town to visit some new terror upon them, and they returned to their homes. Sir Ralph wrote: "The people here be very fickle and, methinketh, in a marvellous strange case and perplexity, for they stare and look for things, and fayne would have they cannot tell what".

Portrait of a Man (Sir Ralph Sadler?), 1535,
Workshop of Hans Holbein the Younger

He succeeded in helping Margaret, and alter a visit to James V, who was in France, he improved Anglo-Scottish relations. Until bis death, Sadler was to be the foremost expert in English political lile on the Scots.

So pleased was Henry VIII with Sadler's work that in 1540 he sent him again to Scotland to try to separate the King from the advice and policies of Cardinal Beaton, who was wedded to a Franco-Scottish alliance. Sadler was to advise James V to take to himself the wealth of the Scottish church, as Henry had done in England. He tried to embarrass and undermine the authority of Cardinal Beaton with letters captured from his messenger Alexander Crichton of Brunstane whose ship had been forced by a storm to put into England. However, James V of Scotland refused to accept that the letters were compromising, and argued in favour of the Cardinal that he had a separate spiritual authority in Scotland apart from the King's own temporal powers. Later, when the Cardinal was present, James and Sadler compared the captured letters with Beaton's copies and found a discrepancy. James V said he was thankful to Sadler and his uncle Henry VIII but still would not find fault in the Cardinal's actions.

The mission was a failure, but Sadler had done bis best. Henry was so satisfied with Sadler's work that in Apr 1540 he made him one of bis two secretaries, a position he held jointly with Thomas Wriothesley. He was also knighted and made a privy councillor and he entered parliament as Member for Hertford (1541).

Sadler survived the fall from power and subsequent execution of his friend and mentor in 1540; however, during the power struggle following Cromwell's demise, he was arrested and sent to the Tower. On the evening of 17 Jan 1541, the Imperial ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, and the French ambassador, Charles de Marillac, reported to their masters that Sir Ralph Sadler and Thomas Wyatt had been arrested, as had another courtier Sir John Wallop. The following morning they were taken from Hampton Court, with their hands bound, accompanied by 24 archers, to the Tower. Marillac noted that it "must be some great matter" for Wyatt "has for enemies all who leagued against Cromwell, whose minion he was".

Sadler was able to clear himself and was released in a few days, returning to the council chamber. He played a leading role in the examination of Catherine Howard and her relatives in Nov 1541, regained the King's trust, and was knighted for his part in holding matters of state while the court went on a summer progress of the North in a tripartite ministry with Lords Audley and Hertford. Together with his allies in the council, notably Thomas Cranmer, Sadler gathered evidence in an unsuccessful attempt to discredit Norfolk and Gardiner, the men who had orchestrated Thomas Cromwell's downfall.

After the battle of Solway Moss, which was immediately followed by the death of James V, Sadler was sent to Scotland again, in Mar 1543. He was specially charged to arrange a marriage alliance between the new Queen, the baby Mary, and Henry's son, Edward, Prince of Wales, in arder to prevent any recovery of influence by the Cardinal Beaton, who had been imprisoned by the Protestant regent, Arran. The treaty was made, one clause of which provided that the Queen should be brought up in Scotland under the care of 'an honourable knight and lady of England'. On 22 Mar 1543 he rode from Edinburgh to Linlithgow Palace to see the queen for the first time. Mary of Guise asked the nurse Jean Sinclair to show him the queen out of her swaddling clothes. Sadler wrote that the infant was "as goodly a child I have seen, and like to live". Mary reminded him that in turn Regent Arran wanted his son James Hamilton to marry Princess Elizabeth. Mary tried to work on him to intercede for Regent Arran to release Cardinal Beaton from imprisonment, alleging the Cardinal's political expertise could be employed to mutual benefit. Henry VIII wanted English servants in Mary's household, and Sadler recommended "Lady Edongcomb" for this role, his friend, Catherine Edgcumbe the widow of Peter Edgecumbe of Cotehele. Henry proposed that Sadler and his wife should undertake this charge, but Sadler succeeded in avoiding this task.

On 10 Aug 1543 Sadler wrote to Henry VIII describing another visit to Mary of Guise and the infant Queen, this time at Stirling Castle:

"(Mary of Guise) is very glad that she is at Stirling, and much she praised there about the house, and told me, "That her daughter did grow apace; and soon," she said, "she would be a woman, if she took of her mother;" who indeed, is of the largest stature of women. And therefore she caused also the child to be brought to me, to the intent I might see her, assuring your majesty, that she is a right fair and goodly child, as any that I have seen for her age."

Party feelings broke out again in Scotland, and at one point Sadler's house in Edinburgh was besieged by the mob, and he narrowly escaped death from a musket bullet as he was walking in the garden. By Nov Sadler, fearing for his safety as the mood in Edinburgh turned against England, moved to Tantallon Castle, which belonged to the Earl of Angus, an episode which Sir Walter Scott commemorated in Marmion, Canto V. . Regent Arran sent the Rothesay Herald to Tantallon, ordering him to return Sadler to England, having "seen daily his great practices made to seduce and corrupt true faithful subjects of this realm to the opinion of England". The Earl's kinsmen conveyed him to Berwick upon Tweed on 11 Dec 1543. All of his work in solidifying Anglo-Scottish relations came to nothing, and war followed after the Scottish rejection of Treaty of Greenwich in Dec 1543.

He was treasurer for the war against Scotland with the Earl of Hertford during his punitive expedition to Edinburgh in May 1544. Sadler accompanied Hertford into Scotland, in the same role in Sep 1545. He accompanied Lord Hertford again, this time at the Battle of Pinkie in the post of High Treasurer of the Army. On 10 Sep 1547, in recognition of his services during the fighting, Sadler was made a knight banneret, a dignity which Holinshed calls 'above a knight and next to a baron'.

Owing to his frequent absences on diplomatic missions, Sadler was not able to carry out bis duties as Secretary of State and he was replaced by Paget (1543), but he himself was given the post of Master of the Great Wardrobe.

Sadler was present when Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, was arrested, and he also accompanied the force that put down Robert Kett's Norfolk Rebellion. When Henry VIII was preparing his will on Boxing Day 1546, he had already appointed Sadler onto the Council of Regency that was to rule England during Edward VI's minority and left him £200 in his will.

In 1550 Sadler sold his mansion at Hackney. He was one of the signatories of Edward VI's will in 1553, proving one of the radicals in a Protestant government. He signed the device settling the crown on the Protestant Jane Grey, and was noted by William Cecil as one of those expected to act on her behalf.

On the accession of Mary I to the throne, after the resolution of the succession crisis, Sadler lost most of his offices, including master of the great wardrobe, he was removed from the commissions of the peace and excluded from the Privy Council. He was briefly under house arrest from 25 to 30 Jul 1553 before being granted a pardon on 6 Oct. For the rest of Mary's reign he did not sit in any parliament, remaining in semi-retirement at Standon, near Ware, Hertfordshire.

In Elizabeth's reign Sadler, as a sound Protestant restored to royal favour, became one of Cecil's most trusted servants. He was sent once more to Scotland 8 Aug 1559 with secret orders to arrange an alliance with the Protestant party, and forward the cause of the Lords of the Congregation and Duke of Chatelherault. When hostilities broke out at Leith, he was at the camp and had a chief share in making the treaty of Leith (1560). In 1568 he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, a highly lucrative office. When Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England, Sadler, very much against his will, was one of the commissioners appointed to meet the Scotch commissioners to deal with the problem of the Scots' Queen. He it was who made the precis of the Casket Letters for Cecil. He it was also who was sent to arrest the Duke of Norfolk at the time of the Rising of the Northern Earls. And Sadler it was who twice found himself warder over the Queen of Scots, at Sheffield in 1572 and at Wingfield in 1584. Sadler was instructed to restrict Mary's freedom. Francis Walsingham chided Sadler for taking Mary "hawkyng" and for giving her "more lybertye now then at any tyme when she was in the E of Shrewsbury chardge". Sadler was required to post guards round the castle and to search the grounds "once or twice a moneth". He hated these appointments and never ceased applying for release, but before it came he had had to transfer the Queen from Wingfield to Tutbury. He was relieved in 1585 and replaced by Sir Amyas Paulet. The next year, after the Babington Plot, Sadler was one of the commission which condemned Mary to death.

Marriage and issue

Around 1534, Ralph Sadler married Margaret, daughter of John Mitchell, of Much Hadham, Hertfordshire, who at the time of their marriage was believed to be the widow of Matthew Barre (or Barrow) of Sevenoaks in Kent. The couple had three sons and four daughters.

Margaret Mitchell (called Ellen or Helen by the Oxford DNB) had married first one Ralph (or Matthew) Barré, a London tradesman who abandoned her and their two children. More than eleven years after Ralph and Margaret had married, Matthew Barre returned alive and well from Ireland and was overheard in a London tavern claiming to be the lawful husband of Sadler's wife. Ralph and Margaret had seven surviving children, and he was now a very wealthy and influential person at court whose reputation was at stake. Sadler, a man devoted to his wife and children, was informed of the matter in Oct 1545 while on a diplomatic mission in Scotland. "Master Sadler took his matter very heavily", the Lord Chancellor Wriothesley reported to Secretary Paget.

Margaret Mitchell and Matthew Barre had been legally married in 1526, in Dunmow in Essex. They had two daughters before Barre abandoned them and went to Ireland. Margaret stayed in Dunmow for about a year trying to find out where he had gone. She then became a servant of the prioress at the nunnery of Clerkenwell. Determined to find Matthew, she visited his birthplace and with his brothers made further enquiries, but without success. Despairing of an answer she returned to Clerkenwell. Not long afterwards a man belonging to the city of Salisbury positively assured her that her husband was dead. Recommended by the Prioress of Clerkenwell, Margaret entered the service of Thomas Cromwell's mother-in-law, Mercy Pryor, and was dwelling in his house when Ralph Sadler became enamoured of her. Sadler and Margaret married believing that Matthew Barre was dead.

A version of Margaret's story was given by an Elizabethan writer, Nicolas Sander, and attempted to cast doubt on her character, without success. Sander claimed that Margaret (née Mitchell) was related to Thomas Cromwell, and that she had worked for him in his household. Given that Cromwell was known to take pity on widows, this is not unlikely. The 17th-century historian Gilbert Burnet considered that Sander's story was a fiction. Sander was a Jesuit, a Catholic recusant writing with an agenda. He took delight in attempting to discredit leading public figures in England. There was no scandal surrounding the marriage between Margaret and Ralph when it took place. Cromwell's paternal aunt was Margaret Mitchell, and Margaret Sadler may have been a relative of Margaret and her husband William, or William's brother Thomas, all of whom once lived with and worked for Walter Cromwell. Rather than slandering Margaret and Ralph, this shows a friendly familial beginning.

An investigation found that Margaret's first marriage was valid, and Sadler was therefore obliged to have his children legitimised by a private Act of Parliament. In 1546, this Act of Parliament 37 Hen. VIII, was passed on his behalf. The Act set aside Margaret's marriage to Matthew Barre and made her marriage to Ralph Sadler a true and proper union. Sadler managed to prevent the publication of the Act and its details never appeared among the statutes of the period. The only known contemporary reference to the Act appears in a transcript entitled The Unprecedented Case of Sir Ralph Sadleir in the Library of the Inner Temple. Matthew Barre disappeared from the scene.

This episode damaged Sadler's reputation, but not irretrievably. His marriage to Margaret was saved and the couple lived on, without further incident, for many years.

Sadler's wife was still living in 1569; however, there is no further record of her and there is no surviving tomb for her. Sadler was a man of much importance in his own day. He was loyal, courageous and shrewd; his abilities were indeed greater than the offices which he held suggest. Everybody trusted him and he was well rewarded by the sovereigns whom he served. Sir Ralph died 30 Mar 1587, reputedly, "the richest commoner in England". His tomb lies beneath a magnificent wall monument in St. Mary's Church, Standon, Hertfordshire. He left the majority of his vast landholdings, including Standon and Buntingford, Hertfordshire, to his eldest son and heir, Thomas Sadler. Henry Sadler received the manors of Hungerford, Berkshire, and Everley, Wiltshire, Jane Bash received a diamond ring and an annuity was provided for Richard Sadler.

Sadler is one of the few Renaissance statesmen for whom extant Parliamentary orations survive, including a speech on succession in 1563 and one on subsidy in 1566. He had sat in eight parliaments; he was a privy councillor under three sovereigns for close on fifty years; he knew more about Scotland than any other Englishman; he was a brave soldier; he was also 'a most exquisite writer' (Lloyd, State of Worthies), and his state papers are now invaluable historical sources. He was a little man, devoted to field sports, especially to hawking.

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