(Bishop of Winchester)


Born: 1483, Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk, England

Died: 12 Nov 1555, Whitehall Palace, Westminster, Middlesex, England

Father: William (John) GARDINER

Mother: Helen ?

A native of Bury St Edmunds. The date of his birth as commonly given, 1483, seems to be about ten years too early. Said, though doubtfully, to have been the illegitimate son of Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury, brother of Edward IV's Queen. More likely, he was the son of a Bury clothmaker of the town where he was born (see his will, printed in Proceedings of the Suffolk Archaeological Institute, i. 329), William or John Gardiner, by his wife, Helen.

In 1511 he, being then a lad, met Erasmus at Paris (Nicholss Epistles of Erasmus, ii. 12, 13). But he had probably already been to Cambridge, where he studied at Trinity Hall and 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. After his education at Cambridge, he passed from the family of the Duke of Norfolk into that of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, by whom he was greatly favoured.

Wolsey 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 probability, that this was the occasion on which he was first introduced to the Kings notice, but he does not appear to have been actively engaged in Henry's service till three years later. In that of Wolsey be 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 particularly anxious to cement his alliance with Francois I, and gain his co-operation as far as possible in the object on which he had secretly set his hearta divorce from Catalina 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 Kings secret matter. Next year Gardiner, still in the service of Wolsey, was sent by him to Italy along with Edward Fox, provost of Kings College, Cambridge, to promote the same business with the Pope. His despatches on this occasion are still extant, and whatever we may think of the cause on which he was engaged, they certainly 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 a great advantage. He was instructed to procure from the Pope a decretal commission, laying down principles of law by which Wolsey and Campeggio might hear and determine the cause without appeal. The demand, though supported by plausible pretexts, was not only unusual but clearly inadmissible. Clement VII was then at Orvieto, and had just recently escaped from captivity at St Angelo at the hands of the imperialists. But fear of offending the Emperor could not have induced him to refuse a really legitimate request from a king like Henry. He naturally referred the question to the cardinals about him; with whom Gardiner held long arguments, enforced, it would seem, by not a little browbeating of the College. What was to be thought, be said, of a spiritual guide, who either could not or would not show the wanderer his way? 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 committed to the flames.

This ingenious pleading, however, did not serve, and he was obliged to be content with a general commission for Campeggio and Wolsey to try the cause in England. This, as Wolsey saw, was quite inadequate for the purpose in view; and he again instructed Gardiner, while thanking the Pope for the commission actually granted, to press him once more by very urgent pleas, to send the desired decretal on, even if the latter was only to be shown to the King and himself and then destroyed. Otherwise, he wrote, he would lose his credit with the King, who might even be tempted to throw off his allegiance to Rome altogether. At last the popeto his own bitter regret afterwardsgave what was desired on the express conditions named, that Campeggio was to show it to the King and Wolsey and no one else, and then destroy it, the two legates holding their court under the general commission. After obtaining this Gardiner returned home; but early in the following year, 1529, when proceedings were delayed on information of the brief in Spain, he was sent once more to Rome. This time, however, his efforts were unavailing. The Pope would make no further concessions, and would not even promise not to revoke the cause to Rome, as he did very shortly after.

Gardiner services, however, were fully appreciated. He was appointed the King secretary. He had been already some years archdeacon of Taunton, and the archdeaconry of Norfolk was added to it in Mar 1529, which two years later he resigned 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 brothers wife, in accordance with the new plan devised for settling the question without the Popes intervention. In this he succeeded, though not without a good deal of artifice, more creditable to his ingenuity than to his virtue. In Nov 1531 the King rewarded him for his services with the bishopric of Winchester, vacant by Wolseys death. The promotion was unexpected, and was accompanied by expressions from the King which made it still more honorable, as showing that if he had been in some things too subservient, it was from no abject, selfseeking 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, but I love you never the worse, as the bishopric I give will convince you'

In 1532, nevertheless, he excited some displeasure in the King by the part he took in the preparation of the famous Answer of the Ordinaries to the complaints brought against them in the House of Commons. On this subject he wrote a very manly letter to the King in his own defence.

His next important action was not so creditable; for he was, not exactly, as is often said, one of Cranmer assessors, but, according to Cranmer own expression, assistant to him as counsel for the King, when the Archbishop, in the absence of Queen Catalina, pronounced her marriage with Henry null and void on the 23rd of May 1533. Immediately afterwards he was sent over to Marseilles, where an interview between the Pope and Francois I took place in Sep, of which event Henry stood in great suspicion, as Francois was ostensibly his most cordial ally, and had hitherto maintained the justice of his cause in the matter of the divorce. It was at this interview that Bonner intimated the appeal of Henry VIII to a general council in case the Pope should venture to proceed to sentence against him. This appeal, and also one on behalf of Cranmer presented with it, were of Gardiners drawing up. In 1535 he and other bishops were called upon to vindicate the King new title of Supreme Head of the Church of England. The result was his celebrated treatise 'De vera obedientia', the ablest, certainly, of all the vindications of royal supremacy. In the same year he had an unpleasant dispute with Cranmer about the visitation of his diocese. He was also employed to answer the Pope brief threatening to deprive Henry of his kingdom.

During the next few years he was engaged in various embassies in France and Germany. When Winchester arrived at Paris in Sep 1535, he worked with Sir John Wallop, already there as the English resident. It was the duty of Wallop, also a member of Henry's privy chamber, to acquaint Winchester with recent events in the kingdom and to instruct him concerning matters of protocol that were relevant to his mission. In the spring of 1537 when Wallop returned home, Winchester carried on alone as resident but was later joined by Sir Francis Bryan of the privy chamber and Thomas Thirlby, future Bishop of Westminster. In 1538 Edmund Bonner, future Bishop of London, and a series of ad hoc diplomats replaced him and his two colleagues.

He was indeed so much abroad that he had little influence upon the King councils. But in 1539 he took part in the enactment of the severe statute of the Six Articles, which led to the resignation of Bishops Latimer and Shaxton and the persecution of the Protestant party. In 1540, on the death of Cromwell, 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 connection 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 Reformation in a doctrinal point of view, and it was suspected that he even repented his advocacy of the royal supremacy. He certainly had not approved of Henry general treatment of the church, especially during the ascendancy 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 supremacy, and his enemies insinuated to the King that he himself was of his secretarys way of thinking. But in truth the King had need of him quite as much as he had of Cranmer; for it was Gardiner, who even under royal supremacy, was anxious to prove that England had not fallen away from the faith, while Cranmer authority as primate was necessary to upholding that supremacy. Thus Gardiner and the Archbishop maintained opposite sides of the King church policy; and though Gardiner was encouraged by the King to put up articles against the Archbishop himself for heresy, Cranmer could always rely on the King protection in the end. Heresy was gaining ground in high places, especially after the King marriage with Catherine Parr; and there seems to be some truth in the story that the queen herself was nearly committed for it at one time, when Gardiner, with the King approbation, censured some of her expressions in conversation. In fact, just after her marriage, four men of the Court were condemned at Windsor and three of them were burned. The fourth, who was the musician Marbeck, was pardoned by Gardiners procurement.

Great as Gardiner influence had been with Henry VIII, his name was omitted at the last in the King will, though Henry was believed to have intended making him one of his executors. Under Edward VI he 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 Kings minority, and he resisted Cranmer 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. Ponet, a chaplain of Cranmer who had not long before been made Bishop of Rochester. In the Tower, he became the improvised guard of the young Edward Courtenay, son of the executed Marquiss of Exeter and Gertrude Blount, one of the best friends of Princess Mary Tudor. 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 head at her coronation. He also opened her first parliament and for some time was her leading councillor.

He was now called upon, in advanced life, 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 birth and the lawfulness of her mothers marriage, to restore the old religion, and to recant what he himself had written touching the royal supremacy. It is said that he wrote a formal Palinodia or retractation of his book 'De vera obedientia', but it does not seem to be now extant; and the reference is probably to his sermon on Advent Sunday 1554, after Cardinal Pole had absolved the kingdom from schism.

As chancellor he had the onerous task of negotiating the Queen marriage treaty with Felipe, to which he shared the general repugnance, though he could not oppose her will. In executing it, however, he took care to make the terms as advantageous for England as possible, with 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, he still remained in high favor. Great ill-will existed between Gardiner and Cardinal Pole, to which it is said that Cranmer owed the preservation of his life for some months. His execution did not, at all events, take place until after Gardiner's death, which occurred at Westminster in 1555. "I have sinned with Peter", he is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, "but I have not wept with him".

How far he was responsible for the persecutions which afterwards arose is a debated question. He no doubt approved of the act, which passed the House of Lords while he presided there as Chancellor, for the revival of the heresy laws. Neither is there any doubt that he sat in judgment on Bishop Hooper, and on several other preachers whom he condemned, not exactly to the flames, but to be degraded from the priesthood. The natural consequence of this, indeed, was that when they declined, even as laymen, to be reconciled to the Church, they were handed over to the secular power to be burned. Gardiner, however, undoubtedly did his best to persuade them to save themselves by a course which he conscientiously followed himself; nor does it appear that, when placed on a commission along with a number of other bishops to administer a severe law, he could very well have acted otherwise than he did. In his own diocese no victim of the persecution is known to have suffered till after his death; and, much as he was already maligned by opponents, there are strong evidences that his natural disposition was humane and generous. Although it is probable that the number of victims has been greatly exaggerated and that the personal cruelty of Gardiner and Edmund Bonner was less ferocious than is usually the fashion to represent it, there can be little doubt but that the former, at least, deserves much of the odium which popular hatred has cast upon his name. "His malice", says Fuller, "was like what is commonly said of white powder, which surely discharged the bullet, yet made no report, being secret in all his acts of cruelty. This made him often chide Bonner, calling him "ass," though not so much for killing poor people, as for not doing it more cunningly". The story told by Richard Fox, that Gardiner refused to dine on the day of the burning of Ridley and Latimer, until he heard from his servants posted along the road, that the faggots were kindled about them, and that whilst at table he was seized with mortal illness, has been effectively disproved. After lying in state at Southwark, he was conveyed to Winchester in a cart, hung with black and having his effigy in episcopal robes placed without it.

In May 1553 he went over to Calais as one of the English commissioners to promote peace with France; but their efforts were ineffectual. In Oct 1555 he again opened parliament as Lord Chancellor, but towards the end of the month he fell ill and grew rapidly worse till the 12 Nov, when he died over sixty years of age. His chantry chapel may still be seen on the north side of the altar at Winchester Cathedral.

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 thus 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.

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