By Yicen Liu (@YicenLiu0927)
Just as a magnificent royal court was integral to strong kingship, so too did powerful Tudor bishops strive to preside over large households to demonstrate their power and prestige. Household account books detail how these episcopal households looked and functioned, and in the Hampshire Record Office we have Stephen Gardiner’s household account book from 1546 to 1552.
On the page pictured above, the weekly account records not only the expenses of Gardiner’s household on daily necessities such as food, drinks, fuels, and clothes but also details some ‘extraordinary’ charges. The latter is particularly intriguing as it sometimes reveals the bishop’s connections with other politicians. According to the account of 16th to 23rd November 1546, for example, twenty pence were given as ‘a rewarde to my lorde chancelars [Thomas Wriothesley’s] servant for the bringinge of storks’. This suggests a close relationship between Gardiner and Wriothesley, both then religious conservatives, in the last months of Henry VIII’s reign.
The account book also hints at Gardiner’s relationship with his servants, from whom the prelate was able to foster deep loyalty. The accounts of July 1548 record how the bishop’s servants strove to intercede for their master, who had been imprisoned for his supposedly ‘defiant and seditious’ St Peter’s Day sermon. Francis Allen and Thomas Skerne claimed expenses for riding ‘twyce to my lord chancelars [William Paulet]’, while Robert Massie and James Basset travelled to meet ‘my lorde protectors iiij tymes’. Since Gardiner’s imprisonment in 1548, the bishop’s servants continued to serve him, both in and outside the Tower, busying themselves with ‘my lord’s businesses’ up to his deprivation in 1552.
Therefore, apart from documenting the weekly consumption of episcopal households, household account books offer us a glimpse into the personal relationships of the bishops with their peers and clients. Considering the deeply personal and informal nature of Tudor high politics, household account books have great potentials for doing political history.
Felicity Heal, Of Prelates and Princes: A Study of the Economic and Social Position of the Tudor Episcopate (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980).
Steven Gunn, ‘The Structures of Politics in Early Tudor England’, Transactions of the Royal Historical Society 5 (1995): 59–90.
Image credit: Hampshire Record Office, 252M87/1 fol. 4, author’s own photo.
All references are from HRO 252M87/1.