AUDLEY, Thomas I (1487/88-1544), of Berechurch and Audley End, Saffron Walden, Essex.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982
Available from Boydell and Brewer




Family and Education

b. 1487/88, s. of Thomas Audley of Berechurch. educ.?Buckingham Hall (Magdalene College), Camb.; I. Temple, adm. 7 July 1510. m. (1) Christina, da. of Sir Thomas Barnardiston of Kedington, Suff. and Great Coates, Lincs. s.p.; (2) 1538, Elizabeth, da. of Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, 2da. Kntd. 20 May 1532; cr. Baron Audley of Walden 29 Nov. 1538; KG nom. 23 Apr., inst. 19 May 1540.3

Offices Held

Autumn reader, I. Temple 1526, Lent 1531.

Jt. town clerk, Colchester 1514-15, sole 1515-32; j.p. Essex 1520-d.; commr. subsidy, Essex and Colchester 1523, Colchester 1524; attorney-gen. duchy of Lancaster Dec. 1526-Sept. 1531; groom of chamber 1527; member, household of Thomas Wolsey by 1527-9; serjeant-at-law and King’s serjeant Nov. 1531; keeper of the great seal 20 May 1532; ld. chancellor Jan. 1533-d.; constable, Hertford castle 1540-d.; steward, duchy of Lancaster, Essex, Herts. and Mdx. July 1540-d.4

Speaker of House of Commons 1529.


‘If I had done nothing I had not been seen; if I had done much I had not been suffered’. A 17th-century collection of aphorisms of Tudor notables includes this among Audley’s sayings, and whether genuine or not it epitomizes his attitude, as manifested in the record of his public life, better than the motto Garde ta foy which he chose for his crest. Audley was born at Earls Colne, Essex. His father is said to have been a yeoman of moderate means and he is thought to have studied at Buckingham Hall afterwards Magdalene College, Cambridge without graduating; he endowed the college generously in his will. He had at least one brother, also named Thomas, with whom he lived when young at Berechurch just outside Colchester: the statement in his will that he had ‘no goods nor old inheritance’ makes it likely that the future chancellor was the younger of the two. Among his contemporaries at the Inner Temple was Thomas Bonham, who may have promoted Audley’s admission and was perhaps responsible for his appointment in 1514 as town clerk of Colchester. At first Audley held the post jointly with one of Bonham’s servants, but this arrangement lasted only a year, and from 1515 until 1532 Audley was sole incumbent.5

Audley had other namesakes besides his brother. The Thomas Audley who captained footmen in the Tournai campaign of 1513 is less likely to have been the budding lawyer than Thomas Audley II, even though another captain at Tournai was John Raynsford, whose father Audley was to serve as manorial steward and executor. It was doubtless another namesake, perhaps a kinsman of the bishop, who in 1523 belonged to the household of Edmund Audley, bishop of Salisbury, with whose noble family Audley’s had no known connexion. Audley’s progress can be charted, however, from his home county to the capital and beyond. In February 1525 he was one of the commissioners for searches in the Charing Cross area and by July of that year his legal standing led to his appointment, at a fee of £13 6s.8d. a year, as one of the counsel learned in the law in the newly-formed council of the Princess Mary, a post which probably entailed trying cases before the King’s court in the marches of Wales. In 1526 he gave the autumn vacation readings in the Inner Temple and in November stood unsuccessfully for the office of common serjeant to the corporation of London: of the six candidates for the office William Walsingham, who obtained it, and Richard Rich were short-listed. Audley had already been appointed king’s attorney for the duchy of Lancaster, his friend Bonham being at the time receiver-general, and in the following March he was assessed for subsidy as one of the 275 members of Wolsey’s household so recorded: he was still a member of it in the summer of 1529, when he gave the cardinal some fish, and he was to be one of the commissioners appointed in July 1530 to inquire into Wolsey’s possessions in Essex.6

Audley’s election to the Parliament of 1523 is notable as having followed the receipt at Colchester, the borough which returned him, of a letter from the King presumably nominating him: this display of royal interest may have been procured by the 14th Earl of Oxford, the local magnate, or even perhaps by Wolsey, if Audley had already come to the cardinal’s notice. When he did so, the intermediary could well have been Cromwell, to whom Audley was certainly to owe his later advancement: but for that magnetic attraction he would doubtless have pursued his career at the bar and in all likelihood have attained the bench, a steady progression better suited to his temperament than the vagaries of high politics. There were lawyers of equal competence available to make the legislation of the 1530s impervious, and it is easier to assert than to prove that Audley was singled out because he was conspicuously devoid of scruple; more to the point perhaps were his comparative poverty, his indifferent health and his total lack of political ambition. His custody of the great seal was characteristically anomalous. When in May 1532 he replaced More it was as keeper, and although in the following January he was made chancellor he remained a commoner for nearly five years. Meanwhile as late as November 1535 Cromwell, who as master of the rolls was Audley’s second-in-command on the equity side of the court, was said to be open to persuasion to take the office himself, which he had earlier declined to do: Audley’s implied readiness to vacate it on demand had presumably counted in his favour as the man to hold it, and his ennoblement in 1538 came only after Cromwell had abandoned any thought of supplanting him.7

Audley’s election as a knight of the shire for Essex in 1529 must have followed the decision to make him Speaker, and this in turn may have owed something to Chancellor More, his chief in the duchy of Lancaster as well as his precursor as Speaker. Audley’s return with his friend Bonham made Essex one of the few counties to have as its knights in this Parliament two men neither of whom had been knighted and only one of whom belonged, and then only through marriage, to the ranks of its gentry. Chosen Speaker, Audley made the customary disabling speech on 6 Nov., praising the King for his tempering of justice with mercy; he was answered by More, who countered Audley’s disclaimer of the qualities called for in a Speaker with the assurance that the King knew him to possess them. Audley was to preside over the Commons for four sessions, but there are only occasional glimpses of him in action. He was summoned by the King a number of times, either alone or with other Members, to hear the royal will and to convey it to the Commons. On other occasions the House itself took the initiative. Thus during the first session, after Bishop Fisher had attacked the Commons over its bill for limiting probate fees, Audley led a delegation of 30 Members to the King and protested against the aspersions on the House. The following session saw a similar occasion with Audley voicing the Commons’ dismay that the laity were not included in the Pardon of the Clergy: although the King, bridling at the implication that a pardon was something which could be demanded of him, sent the Members away ‘very sorrowful and pensive’, the remonstrance bore fruit in his subsequent offer of a pardon to his lay subjects. Audley was also present in Convocation during its discussion of the King’s proposed additions to the clerical subsidy, which included an acknowledgement of his headship of the Church, and he has even been mentioned with Cromwell as a possible author of the phrase ‘so far as the law of God allows’ which reconciled Fisher and others to that declaration. When the third session had been in progress for more than two months Audley seized the opportunity of a delegation to the King to convey the Commons’ restiveness at the growing length of the Parliament and their hope of its speedy dissolution: the King appeared unimpressed, and all that the House was given was a two-week break before the fourth session began in April 1532. On 30 Apr. Audley received on behalf of the Commons the clergy’s answer to the bill of grievances exhibited against them in the previous year, the King promising to be an impartial judge between the disputants and protesting at a speech by Thomas Temys. Audley attended upon the King for the last time as Speaker on 11 May 1532, when he received copies of the oaths sworn by the bishops to the Pope and the King in which the King purported to see a division of clerical allegiance; Audley caused the oaths to be read out in the Commons, presumably at the King’s behest and with the object of reinforcing this impression and preparing the way for the Act of Supremacy (26 Hen. VIII, c.1). In 1542 Audley recalled that ‘he being Speaker of the Parliament the cook of the Temple was arrested in London, and in execution upon a statute of the staple. And for as much as the said cook during the Parliament served the Speaker in that office, he was taken out of execution by privilege of the Parliament’. The King referred to this in his summing up of Ferrers’s case.8

Whether or not the Speakers of this time ‘were invariably men who had commended themselves by loyal service to the King’, there can be no doubt that Audley was such a man; but he was presumably acceptable to the Commons, for he had few traits, good or bad, likely to have antagonized them. As with the chancellorship, there were doubtless many men as well qualified as Audley: the quality that must have commended him to the King and Cromwell was an attitude on matters of conscience which could survive and justify any change of policy, and which was the more valuable to his masters as springing not from crafty calculations of self-interest but from a sincere belief that the loyal subject’s conscience could be nothing but a mirror to the sovereign’s. Audley has incurred the contempt of posterity in respect of the contrast between his outlook and More’s. Yet Audley’s attitude, if unheroic, was at least consistent.9

The initial withholding of the office and title of chancellor from Audley, when he was named keeper of the great seal in May 1532, has yet to be explained. On 26 Jan. 1533, however, with the new parliamentary session only ten days away, he was made chancellor, and as soon as it opened he was succeeded as Speaker by Humphrey Wingfield. From then until the end of this Parliament, and at its successor of June 1536, Audley conducted business in the Lords, as More had done before him, without being a peer or having a vote. The most important Acts which passed the Upper House under his presidency also owed not a little to his legal skill: thus in the seventh session, the second to be held in 1534, the Act for first fruits and tenths (26 Hen. VIII, c.3) and that on murder and felonies in Wales (26 Hen. VIII, c.6) may have been largely his, and he polished, if he did not draft, the Treason Act (26 Hen. VIII, c.13). He was, however, not impeccable as is shown by the shortcomings in the bill he drafted for the suspension of Poynings’ Law, which required amendment shortly after its enactment in 1536 by the Irish Parliament; it may also have been through his negligence that the same Parliament had to pass a second subsidy Act. In 1539 he introduced, among others, bills for the law reform which, although rejected or allowed to lapse then, were to pass a year later as the Acts for wills (32 Hen. VIII, c.1), limiting prescriptions (32 Hen. VIII, c.2) and for shortening of the Trinity term (32 Hen. VIII, c.21). He also presented a memorial to the Lords in 1540 outlining several reforms, from which emerged Acts for lessees of lands (32 Hen. VIII, c.28) and against wrongful disseisin (32 Hen. VIII, c.33). After Cromwell’s fall the devising of government legislation became Audley’s undivided responsibility. In 1542 he ruled that the arrest of George Ferrers was a contempt of Parliament and referred the punishment to the Commons. Who had replaced Audley in the Commons as knight of the shire for Essex is not known, but late in 1532 or early in 1533 Cromwell considered three candidates for the vacancy and the one following the death of Thomas Bonham.10

If his knightly status exempted Audley from the trial of Anne Boleyn in 1536 (it was not he but John, 8th Lord Audley, who took part in this), he was involved in all the other state trials of these years. His conduct in these trials, and especially in More’s, has been much criticized but it deserves to be judged in the light of Audley’s own beliefs concerning the rights of the sovereign and the duties of the subject. No such criticism, despite occasional and clearly prejudiced charges of favouritism and corruption, can be levelled against his conduct as an equity judge, and even in cases of treason his attitude is illustrated by his advice in 1536 that the Duke of Suffolk should be armed against the Lincolnshire rebels with a commission to try cases of treason, showing that he took for granted, even in such circumstances, the necessity of a trial at common law.11

Audley’s religious position is difficult to assess. A correspondent of Melanchthon named him with Cromwell and Cranmer as friends to Protestantism but, if he was, the friendship was always qualified by his allegiance to the King whose policies he faithfully carried out, a course which in general gives an impression of conservatism. Thus an anonymous enthusiast for the Act of Six Articles (31 Hen. VIII, c.14) again linked Audley with Cromwell as two men who, this time in contrast to Cranmer and to other bishops, had been ‘as good as we can desire’ in the furtherance of the measure. Audley was equally content to follow Cromwell’s lead and what few clashes there were between them arose largely out of minor questions of patronage.12

In 1524 Audley had been assessed at £40 in goods. No doubt he prospered at the bar, but there is reason to believe his own statement that ‘the best of his time’ was still to come when he embarked on a political career. Apart from the rewards of practice his fees included those as attorney for the duchy of Lancaster and counsel in Princess Mary’s household. As Speaker of the Commons he received £100 for each session. In November 1531 Audley was called to the degree of serjeant-at-law, an honour which, as he frequently reminded Cromwell, cost him £400; in the same month he was appointed King’s serjeant and in that capacity was one of the law officers who advised the crown on, and helped to draft, its parliamentary bills besides representing it in actions in the royal courts. The loss of fees involved by his appointment as keeper of the great seal in May 1532 must have been heavy, but his salary as keeper, and later as chancellor, was £800 a year, and about six months after beginning to draw it, he assured Cromwell that ‘since I had the seal I have no cause to complain for loss that I have had thereby’, although he had incurred heavy expenses in setting up an establishment in London commensurate with the dignity of his position and his salary enabled him to pay his way but not to discharge earlier debts. He was then suing to the King through Cromwell for the lands, goods and buildings of the priory of Holy Trinity, Aldgate. He had presumably begun to work for a grant of this property when in October 1531 the city of London made him a present of 10 marks ‘for his benevolence and loving mind that he bears the City’, perhaps to persuade him to bear in mind the City’s interest when the priory came to be dissolved and its lands distributed. Between March 1534 and June 1535 Audley was to receive four separate grants of priory lands, their annual value being about £250 and the capital value of the site, buildings and goods nearly £2,000. He had been urging his suit for the best part of two years before achieving anything, and the tardiness and piecemeal character of the result may well have been intended to encourage him and, through him, the Commons to go on doing the crown’s bidding.13

Audley also asked for and received numerous grants of monastic property in Essex, notably Walden in May 1538, although not all his requests were granted. It was Fuller who wrote of Audley’s receipt of Holy Trinity that ‘in the feast of abbey lands, King Henry the Eighth carved unto him the first cut’, and added that he afterwards received ‘a large partage’. Yet against Audley’s alleged rapacity must be set his plea for the continuance of St. John’s and St. Osyth’s as collegiate churches so that the poor who enjoyed their relief should not suffer, and his care to secure pensions for the dispossessed religious. It is also true that some of the monastic lands which he received had been granted to him by the houses concerned before their dissolution: this was the case with the manors of Abberton and Abbots, which St. Osyth’s gave him in return for lands worth £40 a year in July 1538, and with the manor of Rye in Layer de la Haye and Gosbecks in Stanway, exchanged for the rectory and advowson of Long Compton, Warwickshire, by St. John’s two months earlier. The last abbot of Walden, William More may have owed his suffragan bishopric of Colchester to Audley’s influence, as he certainly did the archdeaconry of Leicester.14

Audley made his will on 19 Apr. 1544 and it was proved on 18 Feb. 1545. After thanking God ‘for his great benefits’, he exhorted his relatives not to quarrel over his dispositions. He was to be buried wherever he died, but later his remains should be conveyed to Walden ‘in as secret wise as may be’. The chief beneficiaries under the will were his wife Elizabeth and his daughters Mary and Margaret: both of these were under 15 and Margaret was to marry first Lord Henry Dudley and then Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Audley also remembered his brother Thomas, his nephews and his ‘cousins’ John Christmas of Colchester and George Christmas. To Henry VIII, ‘of whom I have received all my reputations and benefits’, Audley left £100, and to Magdalene College, Cambridge, he gave the money and lands which have caused him to be reckoned its founder. He died on 30 Apr. 1544.15

Ref Volumes: 1509-1558

Authors: D. F. Coros / Alan Davidson


  • 1. Colchester Red Ppr. Bk. ed. Benham, 26.
  • 2. Did not serve for the full duration of the Parliament.
  • 3. Aged 56 at death according to MI, F. Chancellor, Essex Mons. 284-6. Vis. Essex (Harl. Soc. xiii), 139-40; Morant, Essex, i. 138; ii. 548-9; DNB; CP. Colchester town hall, Benham mss 20, f. 2; 21, ff. 1 et passim; xxii, passim; LP Hen. VIII, iii-v; Somerville, Duchy, i. 407, 604, 606.
  • 4. Colchester town hall, Benham mss 20, f. 2; 21, ff. 1 et passim; xxii, passim; LP Hen. VIII, iii-v; Somerville, Duchy, i. 407, 604, 606.
  • 5. Sloane 1523, f. 26; Colchester Oath Bk. ed. Benham, 147; PCC 1 Alen.
  • 6. C. G. Cruickshank, Army Royal, 106-7; LP Hen. VIII, ii-iv; HMC Ancaster, 498; PCC 21 Maynwaryng; Lloyd, State Worthies, 72; Biog. Britannica (2nd ed.), i. 353; Harl. 6068, f. 32v; 6807, f. 3v; City of London RO, Guildhall, jnl. 12, f. 364v.
  • 7. Colchester Red. Ppr. Bk. 26; S. E. Lehmberg, Ref. Parlt. 12; LP Hen. VIII, vi.
  • 8. Lehmberg, 80, 113-14, 119; Hall, Chron. 765, 775, 788, 825-6.
  • 9. J. D. Mackie, Earlier Tudors, 349.
  • 10. Elton, Policy and Police, 265n, 267, 269, 283-6, 297; Reform and Renewal, 88-89, 118-20, 142, 152-3; LJ, i. passim; S. E. Lehmberg, Later Parlts. of Hen. VIII, passim; Tudor Men and Institutions, ed. Slavin, 3-31; Hist. Studies, vi. 65, 69, 81-82; LP Hen. VIII, vii. 56 citing SP1/82, ff. 59-62.
  • 11. LP Hen. VIII, v, ix, xi, xv, xix; More Corresp. ed. Rogers, 513 and n.
  • 12. Tudor Men and Institutions, 11-14, 27-29; LP Hen. VIII, ix, xiv.
  • 13. M. C. Rosenfield, ‘The disposal of the property of London monastic houses’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1961), 71, 73, 77, 82 seq.; LP Hen. VIII, vi, xiii; SP1/74/1; E. W. Ives, ‘Some aspects of the legal profession in the late 15th and early 16th centuries’ (London Univ. Ph.D. thesis, 1955), 227 seq.; City of London RO, rep. 8, f. 183v.
  • 14. Fuller, Worthies (1840), i. 508; J. E. Oxley, Ref. in Essex, 80, 97, 100, 101, 105, 106, 117-19, 122-4, 133, 249, 252, 265.
  • 15. PCC 1 Alen; VCH Cambs. iii. 450 seq.