John Foxe’s account of the life of Thomas Cromwell, Lord Chancellor to King Henry VIII, includes an episode which, ‘though it be somewhat long, with the circumstances and all’, Foxe deems worth our attention. It is the story of how Cromwell helped Cranmer’s secretary. In 1540, the twenty-first year of his reign, King Henry pushed the so-called Six Articles through Parliament, ‘much agaynst the mind and contrary to the consent of the Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer, who had disputed three daies agaynst the same in the Parliament house, with great reasons and authorities’. Henry asked to see Cranmer’s objections in writing, presumably without the slightest intention of being swayed by the Archbishop’s opinion but because of ‘the singular favour which he ever bare to Cranmer, and reverence to his learning’. Whereupon Cranmer ‘collecting both his arguments, authorities of Scriptures, and Doctors together, caused his Secretary to write a fayre booke thereof for the king, after his order’ (1185).
Complications ensued, and with them the story proper begins. Due to a series of trivial mishaps involving a locked closet, a missing key and a visiting father from the country, the secretary, instead of having deposited the book in a safe place, finds himself in a wherry on the Thames with his precious and, of course, highly incendiary parcel ‘thrust [. . .] under his girdle’. With him in the boat, bound from Westminster Bridge to St Paul’s Wharf, are four yeomen of the guard. As it happens, the King himself is in his barge on the river as well, ‘with a great number of Barges and boates about him’ (1185), watching a bear being baited in the water. The guardsmen, overriding the secretary’s wish to make directly for St Paul’s Wharf, decide to stop and watch. Using their poleaxes, they manoeuvre the wherry so far into the throng, ‘that being compassed with many other whirryes and boates, there was no refuge if the Beare should break loose and come upon them; as in very deede within one pater-noster’ the bear does.