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High Officeholding, Foreign Policy, and the British Dimension in the Tudor Far North, 1525–1563

  • William Palmer


On 4 September 1537, Sir Thomas Wharton wrote Thomas Cromwell triumphantly proclaiming the Tudor triumph in the north of England. “In the late Lord Dacre's day,” Wharton declared, “there was a cry of ‘A Dacre, a Dacre,’ and afterward, ‘A Clifford, a Clifford,’ and even then, ‘A Dacre, a Dacre.’ Now [there is] only ‘A King, a King.’” In addition to proclaiming royal supremacy in the north, Wharton also was noting a pattern of persistent change in officeholding in the far north, from Dacre to Clifford, and back to the Dacres. The shifts of fortune among the northern nobility under the Tudors have received considerable attention from scholars. Most importantly, Mervyn James has argued for a gradual Tudor revolution in the north, in which the government slowly replaced traditional noble elites with royal appointees. In several case studies Richard Hoyle has challenged James's interpretation of the behavior of particular nobles, and George Bernard has mounted an often persuasive jeremiad against James and others who have seen an essential conflict during the Tudor period between Crown and nobility. Both Hoyle and Bernard question James' assumption of a natural hostility between king and nobility, arguing, in Hoyle's words, for a relationship that “operated to their mutual and reciprocal benefits.



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1 I am pleased to express my gratitude to Richard Hoyle, Steven Ellis, Maureen Meikle, Jane Dawson, and Dale Hoak for reading and commenting on earlier drafts of this paper, much to my advantage, for many discussions of the themes developed here, and for other kinds of specialist assistance. I am also grateful for the assistance of the editor and two anonymous readers of Albion. The standard disclaimers, of course, apply. I also would like to thank the West Virginia Humanities Council for awarding me a grant during which most of the research for this paper was carried out. For Wharton's comment, see Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII, ed. Brewer, J. S., Gairdner, J., Brodie, R. H., et. al., 21 vols, and Addenda (London, 1862-1932), 12ii: 235 (642) (hereafter cited as LP).

2 For studies of the north, see James, M. E., Society, Politics, and Culture: Studies in Early Modern England (Cambridge, 1986), pp. 3, 1011. For an extended criticism of James and others who see an antagonistic relationship between king and noble, see Bernard's, George introduction, The Tudor Nobility, ed. Bernard, (Manchester, 1991), pp. 147. See also Richard Hoyle's articles, “Henry Percy, Sixth Earl of Northumberland, and the fall of the House of Percy, 1527-37,” in ibid., pp. 180-211, and “The First Earl of Cumberland: A Reputation Reassessed,” Northern History 22 (1986): 63-94.

3 Bush, Michael, “The Problem of the Far North: A Study of the Crisis of 1537 and its Consequences,” Northern History 6 (1971): 4445.

4 James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, p. 126.

5 Maureen Meikle, “The Rise of the Eastern Border Gentry,” a chapter in her forthcoming work, “Lairds and Gentlemen: Landed Society on the Eastern Borders, 1540-1603.” I am grateful to Dr. Meikle for allowing me to see her work in advance of publication and for several stimulating electronic mail discussions.

6 James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, p. 127.

7 Taylor, S. E., “The Crown and the North of England, 1559-70: A Study of the Rebellion of the Northern Earls,” (Ph.D. thesis, Manchester University, 1981), p. 12.

8 Wharton was replaced as warden of the West March in 1549 by Dacre. In 1554 he was appointed deputy warden of all three marches, but following 1557, with the restoration of the seventh earl of Northumberland, Wharton was forced to share offices with the earl, who took over the wardenship of the East March in 1559. Moreover, in the early 1560s, he, like several other prominent gentry, were excluded from the Council of the North.

9 For Forster generally, see Meikle, Maureen, “A Godly Rogue: The Career of Sir John Forster, an Elizabethan Border Rogue,” Northern History 28 (1992): 126–63; for discussion of his shortcomings as warden, see Taylor, , “Crown and the North of England,” pp. 2834, and James, , Society, Politics and Culture, pp. 278307.

10 Tudor foreign policy before 1563 is best approached through the following studies: Wernham, R. B., Before the Armada: The Growth of English Foreign Policy, 1485–1588 (London, 1966); Potter, David, “Diplomacy in the Mid-Sixteenth Century, England and France, 1536–1559,” (Ph.D. thesis, Cambridge University, 1973); and Potter, David, “Foreign Policy,” in the Reign of Henry VIII: Politics, Policy and Piety, ed. MacCulloch, Diarmaid (New York, 1995), pp. 101–33.

11 This similarity has been developed at length in the work of Steven Ellis. See especially his Crown, Community, and Government in the English Territories, 1475-1575,” History 71 (1986): 187204; Not Mere English: The British Perspective, 1400-1650,” History Today 38 (1988): 4148; and his recent book, Tudor Frontiers and Noble Power: The Making of the British State (Oxford, 1995).

12 Background on the relations between England and Scotland may be found in Mackie, J. D., “Henry VIII and Scotland,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 4th ser., 29 (1947): 93114; Donaldson, Gordon, Scotland, James V to James VII (London, 1965); and Head, David M., “Henry VIII's Scottish Policy: A Reassessment,” The Scottish Historical Review 16 (1982): 124.

13 Ellis, Steven G., “A Border Baron and the Tudor State: The Rise and Fall of Lord Dacre of the North,” Historical Journal 35 (1992): 254.

14 There is a good discussion of this point in Harrison, S. M., The Pilgrimage of Grace in the Lake Counties (London, 1981), pp. 2442. For the rivalry between the Cliffords and the Dacres, see LP, 4: 1935 (4419); 1935 (4420); 1965 (4790) 2089: (4835); and 12i: 294 (667). For the rivalry between Dacre and Northumberland, see LP, 5: 559 (1286). In addition to using the legal system to protect and extend their authority within their own lands, northern elites used it against each other. The fourth lord Dacre repeatedly sued William Musgrave, his tormentor in 1534. See Public Record Office (hereafter cited as PRO), Star Chamber (hereafter cited as STAC) 2/18/269, 2/19/127, 2/20/52). Northumberland also sued the Musgraves to oust them from a manor in Newburn (See PRO, STAC 2/27/181). Henry, earl of Cumberland, sued Wharton and others over an unlawful assembly (See PRO, STAC 3/6/46). The Dacres even sued each other (see PRO STAC 5/D.20/29 and 5/35/21).

15 James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, pp. 118–19.

16 James, M. E., Family, Lineage, and Civil Society: A Study of Society, Politics, and Mentality in the Durham Region (Oxford, 1974), pp. 46, 204.

17 LP, 12i: 294 (667).

18 For Forster, see Taylor, , “Crown and the North of England,” pp. 2834. Complaints about Eure surfaced in Acts of Privy Council of England, 32 vols. (London, 1890-1907), 1: 302, 394 (hereafter cited as APC). See the discussion of Wharton and Eure in Bush, “The Problem of the Far North,” pp. 57-63.

19 For details on Anglo-Scottish relations in the early years of Henry VIII's reign, see two books by Eaves, R. G., Henry VIII's Scottish Diplomacy, 1513-1524, England's Relations with the Regency Government of James V (New York, 1971), and Henry VIII and James V's Regency, 1524-1528: A Study in Anglo-Scottish Diplomacy (Lanham, Maryland, 1987). See also Bernard, George, War, Taxation and Rebellion in Early Tudor England: Henry VIII, Wolsey, and Amicable Grant (Sussex, 1986), pp. 352; and Wernham, R. B., Before the Armada: The Growth of English Foreign Policy, 1485–1588 (London, 1966).

20 Ellis, , “A Border Baron and the Tudor State,” p. 262.

21 Ibid., p. 269. In 1529 as he tried to save his life, Wolsey, somewhat surprisingly, cited his attempts to nourish faction in Scotland as one of his achievements (see PRO, SP 1/54/215-16; LP 4:2558 [5750].

22 Ellis, , “A Border Baron and the Tudor State,” pp. 267–70.

23 James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, pp. 5662; for Dacre's indenture for the wardenry of the West March, see PRO, E 101/72/7.

24 Ellis, , “A Border Baron and the Tudor State,” p. 267. For a different interpretation see Guy, J. A., The Cardinal's Court: The Impact of Thomas Wolsey in Star Chamber (Hassocks, 1977), pp. 122–23.

25 Ellis, , “A Border Baron and the Tudor State,” pp. 272–73.

26 LP, 6: 85 (190).

27 LP, 6: 103-04 (230).

28 LP, 12i: 586(1286); 12i: 592-93 (1307).

29 LP, 12i: 294: (667).

30 For examples of feuds among the gentry, see James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, p. 49; Meikle, MaureenNorthumberland Divided: Anatomy of a Sixteenth-Century Bloodfeud,” Archaeotogia Aeliana, 5th ser., 30 (1992): 7989.

31 Wharton had a reputation as a harsh landlord and had been involved in a tenant uprising, along with his fellow gentryman, Thomas Curwen, in the Galtres forest in 1536. See LP, 12ii: 205 (548); LP, 10: 310 (733).

32 James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, p. 123.

33 Bush, , “Problem of the Far North,” pp. 4246.

34 LP, 17: 550 (987); Bush, , “Problem of the Far North,” p. 50.

35 Bush, , “Problem of the Far North,” p. 51.

36 APC, 2: 8; Bush, , “Problem of the Far North,” pp. 5863.

37 Bush, , “Problem of the Far North,” pp. 6162.

38 Calendar of Patent Rolls Preserved in the P R O., Edward VI, 9 vols. (London, 1937-1966), 2: 401. (hereafter cited as CPR).

39 APC, 2: 7-8, 9, 11, 381, 475.

40 There also was in the 1520s a limited “British,” or multiple borders component, to northern crises. In the mid-1520s, while the English were engaged with Scotland, there were also fears about Ireland, including several warnings of Spanish ships being sent to Ireland. See LP, 3: 1080 (2543), 3: 1102 (2591). Moreover, in 1523 Francis I negotiated a treaty with the Irish earl of Desmond, in which Despond promised to make war on Henry VIII. State Papers during the Reign of Henry VIII, 11 vols. (London, 1830-1852), 2: 198, n.3. The object of the attack was to place Richard de la Pole, the strongest of the Yorkist claimants on the English throne. For more detail, see Palmer, W. G., The Problem of Ireland in Tudor Foreign Policy, 1485–1603 (Woodbridge, 1994), pp. 3637.

41 On Anglo-Scottish relations during the 1540s, see Merriman, Marcus, The Rough Wooing: Anglo-Scottish Relations in the 1540s (John Donald, 1992); on warfare, see especially Gunn, S. J., “The French Wars of Henry VIII,” in The Origins of War in Early Modern Europe, ed. Black, J. (Edinburgh, 1987). For another angle, see Lowe, Ben, “Peace Discourse and mid-Tudor Foreign Policy,” in Political Thought and the Tudor Commonwealth: Deep Structure, Discourse, and Disguise, ed., Mayer, Thomas and Fideler, Paul (London, 1992), pp. 108–39.

42 Scarisbrick, J. J., Henry VIII (Berkeley, 1968), p. 454, 455–56.

43 LP, 20i: 115 (273).

44 PRO, State Papers (hereafter cited as SP) 60/12/15. On Gerald's activities in France see Hogan, James, Ireland in the European System (London, 1920), pp. 3539.

45 Potter, David, “French Intrigue in Ireland during the Reign of Henri II,” International History Review 5, 2 (May, 1983): 159–80. See also Knecht, R. J., Francis I (Cambridge, 1982), and Potter, David, History of France, 1460-1560: The Emergence of a Nation State (London, 1995).

46 Ellis, Steven G., Tudor Ireland: Crown, Community and the Conflict of Cultures, 1470–1603 (London, 1985), p. 229.

47 Hogan, , Ireland in the European System, pp. 8182.

48 PRO, SP 15/2/100; PRO, SP 15/3/5.

49 Potter, , “French Intrigue in Ireland,” p. 161. See also Hoak, Dale E., The King's Council in the Reign of Edward VI (Cambridge, 1976), pp. 186–90.

50 Smith, Philip, “Hebridean Settlement and Activity in Ireland, c. 1470-1565” (Queen's University of Belfast, M.A. thesis, 1993), pp. 5759. I am grateful to Philip Smith for sending me a copy of his thesis.

51 Somerset's failings are discussed at length in Bush, M. L., The Government Policy of the Protector Somerset (London, 1975). For a discussion of royal finances at the end of Henry VIII's reign and during Edward's, see Loades, David, The Mid-Tudor Crisis, 1545–1565 (New York, 1992), pp. 5762; and Guy, John, Tudor England (Oxford, 1989), pp. 202–03.

52 For Dacre's appointment see CPR, Edward VI, 2: 401. James, , in Society, Politics, and Culture, p. 135, suggests that Wharton's downfall had to do with the fall of Somerset. This is hard to accept. Dacre was appointed in April, while Somerset was not arrested until October. Wharton's reappointment to high office may owe something to the ascendancy of Northumberland, when in July of 1552, he became deputy warden of all three marches. The problem with this, however, is that Dacre, clearly linked to Somerset, survived the palace coup, and he remained warden of the West March until 1562. This makes it look more like Wharton was a scapegoat for Somerset as failure in Scotland than the victim of a power struggle. It should also be noted that Dacre's tenure in the West March lasted until 1551, although he was reappointed in 1554, remaining in office until 1563 (see CPR, 5: 140, 177; APC, 4: 382).

53 APC, 3: 6, 96, 237, 249. See also Potter, , “French Intrigue in Ireland,” pp. 172–76.

54 PRO, SP 10/14/161, 162.

55 James, , Society, Politics, and Culture, p. 135; Taylor, , “Crown and the North of England,” p. 10.

56 Bernard, G. W., The Power Of the Tudor Nobility: A Study of the Fourth and Fifth Earls of Shrewsbury (Sussex, 1985), pp. 117, 128.

57 For details on the war, see Davies, C. S. L., “England and the French War, 1557-9,” in The Mid-Tudor Polity, c. 1540–1560, ed. Tittler, Robert and Loach, Jennifer (Totowa, N.J., 1980).

58 APC, 6: 132.

59 Ibid., p. 159.

60 PRO, SP 70/1/21; Calendar of State Papers, Foreign, Elizabeth, 23 vols., eds. Stevenson, Joseph, et. al, (London, 1863-1950), 1: 10 (23) [hereafter cited as CSPF).

61 British Library, Cottonian Mss., Julius VI, fol. 168.

62 PRO, SP 70/2/32; CSPF, Elizabeth, 1: 85 (221).

63 PRO, SP 12/1/66. Cited in MacCaffrey, Wallace, The Shading of the Elizabethan Regime (Princeton, 1968), p. 89.

64 CSPF, Elizabeth, 2: 105 (243); Silke, J. J., Ireland and Europe, 1559–1607 (Dublin, 1966), p. 5.

65 Silke, , Ireland and Europe, p. 5.

66 CSPF, 2: 361-62.

67 Historical Manuscripts Commission, Calendar of Manuscripts of the Marquis of Salisbury, Preserved at Hatfield House, 24 vols., (London, 1883-1976), 1: 181 (616).

68 Hughes, P. L. and Larkin, J. F., eds., Tudor Royal Proclamations, 3 vols. (New Haven, 1969), 2: 142.

69 PRO, SP 63/2/27; CSPF, Elizabeth, 1: 159(12).

70 PRO, SP 63/2/27. In two important articles, Jane E. A. Dawson has drawn attention to the connections between Scotland and Ireland in border policy and the “British” nature of the crisis of 1559-60 (see Dawson, Jane E. A., “Two Kingdoms or One? Ireland in Anglo-Scottish Relations in the Middle of the Sixteenth Century,” in Scotland and England, 1286–1815, ed. Mason, Roger [Edinburgh, 1987]: 113–38; and Sir William Cecil and the British Dimension of early Elizabethan Foreign Policy,” History 74 [1989]: 196216). I think the interconnectedness of Irish and Scottish affairs is apparent earlier, in 1547-49.

71 APC, 6: 221, 264, 365; CSPF, Elizabeth, 1: 174 (412); 1: 251 (670); 1: 90 (230).

72 CSPF, Elizabeth, 1: 508 (1272). Sadler State Papers, 1: 391-92, 409-10, 441-44, 449, 452-53, 460.

73 Meikle, , “A Godly Rogue,” p. 132.

74 Taylor, , “The Crown and the North of England,” pp. 1418.

75 Meikle, , “A Godly Rogue,” pp. 129162.

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High Officeholding, Foreign Policy, and the British Dimension in the Tudor Far North, 1525–1563

  • William Palmer


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