Potted History of the Prominent Tudor Advisors


Edmund Dudley & Richard Empson = Edmund Dudley and Richard Empson were servants under Henry VII. Empson sat on Henry VIII’s Council when he was Prince of Wales, and Dudley was the president of Henry VII’s Council. Both were executed in the first couple of months of Henry VIII’s reign. They were unpopular because of their miserliness and support of Henry VII over raising taxes and the like.

Cardinal Wolsey by an unknown artist c.1520 from the National Portrait Gallery.
Cardinal Wolsey by an unknown artist c.1520 from the National Portrait Gallery.

Thomas Wolsey = Cardinal Thomas Wolsey was Henry VIII’s Chief Minister, inherited from his father Henry VII as his almoner. He was responsible for obtaining Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon so he could marry Anne Boleyn. However, when he failed in this task, he was deprived of his office and accused of praemunire, but he died on his way to London for a treason trial, though he had been ill for a while.

Thomas More = Sir Thomas More was a close friend and confidante of Henry VIII and Cardinal Wolsey. He became Henry VIII’s Lord Chancellor after the fall of Thomas Wolsey, but never really agreed with the divorce. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London in 1534 for refusing to take the oath recognising the Acts of Supremacy and Succession. He was later executed along with Bishop John Fisher in 1535.

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

Thomas Cromwell = Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII’s Chief Minister from the fall of Thomas Wolsey in 1529 to his own execution in 1540. He was in charge of the religious changes across England, including the dissolution of the monasteries, but he made a serious enemy in the English nobility. He had risen above his station, as Wolsey had, and the nobility thought they should be in charge and wanted to bring him down.

Thomas Wriothesley = Sir Thomas Wriothesley was one of Henry VIII’s principal secretaries and became Lord Chancellor in 1544. He carried out many foreign diplomatic missions. During the final years of Henry VIII’s reign he was a part of the more conservative faction and was a part of the group who attempted to, on Henry VIII’s order, arrest Katherine Parr. He was later created the Earl of Southampton.

Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich
Richard Rich, 1st Baron Rich

Richard Rich = Richard Rich was Solicitor-General under Henry VIII, and became Lord Chancellor under Edward VI in 1547. He was also prominent in torturing Protestants under Mary I. He and Thomas Wriothesley were responsible for the torture of Anne Askew in 1546. Rich had also been responsible for cataloguing and advising Katherine of Aragon’s assets after her death in 1536. He found a way around the law to allow Henry VIII to claim them.

Edward Seymour = Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, was the first Lord Protector of Edward VI, as well as being his uncle and the brother of Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour. He pushed for the execution of his own brother, Thomas Seymour, and supposedly pushed his sister into the king’s sights. He was overthrown in 1549, restored and then re-arrested in 1551, only to be executed the following year.

John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland
John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland

John Dudley = John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland, replaced the Duke of Somerset as Lord Protector of Edward VI in 1551. He was the son of the executed Edmund Dudley, advisor to Henry VII. He himself would be executed in 1553 after his plot failed to put his daughter-in-law, Lady Jane Grey, on the English throne instead of Mary I. His favourite son, Guildford Dudley, was married to Jane Grey.

William Cecil = William Cecil, Lord Burghley, was one of the closest advisors of Elizabeth I, being her Principal Secretary. He had supported Elizabeth through the difficult times in the reign of her half-sister; Mary I. Cecil was very involved in the events surrounding Mary Queen of Scots and may even have persuaded Elizabeth I to sign her death warrant. Cecil was in constant competition with Robert Dudley for Elizabeth’s attention.

Sir Francis Walsingham by John De Critz the Elder c.1585.
Sir Francis Walsingham by John De Critz the Elder c.1585.

Francis Walsingham = Francis Walsingham, like William Cecil, was also involved in the eventual fate of Mary Queen of Scots. He was supposed to find evidence of Mary’s treason. Walsingham appears to have been too Puritan for Elizabeth, and she was never particularly close to him, but he was devoted to her. However, Walsingham is most commonly known as Elizabeth’s spymaster and foiled several conspiracies.

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