Thursday, 5 February 2015

A Wolf At The Fold

To return to the BBC TV series "Wolf Hall".  Necessarily, there is a great deal left out of the story let alone the many people who had crucial roles in the Court of King Henry VIII.  One aspect which is very complicated and difficult is the finances of monarchy etc. at the time and how the Exchequer was run.

King Henry 7 had imposed a strict regime which meant his key men became very unpopular and got rid of when his son came to the throne.  But between the way the Exchequer was run and Henry 8's huge spending (how many palaces?) it wasn't too long before the finances were in serious disorder.  The continuing chronic financial crisis is a key to understanding his reign.

Sir William Cavendish came to be a key man at the centre of affairs for some time, the link is to Wikipedia.  The extract below is from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography which says a lot more.


Cavendish, Sir William (1508–1557), administrator, was born on 1 May 1508, a younger son of Sir Thomas Cavendish (c.1480–1524) of Cavendish, Suffolk, and his wife, Alice, daughter of John Smith or Smyth of Padbrook Hall, Cavendish.

Historians of his family like White Kennett and Edmund Lodge were ill-informed about this progenitor of the great Cavendish dynasties, surmising that it was he, rather than his brother George Cavendish, who was gentleman usher (and biographer) to Wolsey, and that William was sworn of the privy council when he became treasurer of the chamber.

In fact the latter's career was based upon his work as an agent of crown finance. Thomas Cavendish had been a senior clerk in the clerk of the pipe's office in the exchequer, and William followed in his father's footsteps, making his fortune as an auditor. By the early 1530s he was an accepted financial expert.

In December 1530 he was authorized to receive the surrender of Sheen Priory. Having become one of Thomas Cromwell's trusted clerks he was empowered in 1532 to deal with Holy Trinity Priory, Aldgate, and in 1533 with the temporalities of Ely sede vacante. He already had the confidence to face down opponents, but he took risks, and his reputation was far from spotless.

He was one of Cromwell's principal agents in the dissolution of the monasteries, which gave him additional bargaining power at a time when he had recently set up house in Hertfordshire and was starting to acquire leases.

But he was accused of adding to the rewards allocated to commissioners like himself without the knowledge of his clerks, prompting an expensive but ultimately inconclusive inquiry into his conduct. It was not until January 1546, moreover, that he obtained a discharge for Ely revenues totalling £2033 0s. 6d. which he was said to have paid to Cromwell for the king's use.

By 1534 Cavendish had married Margaret, daughter of Edward Bostock of Cheshire, with whom he had five children; only two daughters survived infancy. He was desperately anxious at this time to accumulate offices in order to improve his ‘poor living’.

In 1536 he was touting to become auditor to the earl of Shrewsbury and to the hospital of St John of Jerusalem, persisting in pursuit of the latter office even when it was granted elsewhere: ‘It would be high advancement for him for he would have continually meat and drink for himself and his two servants with their liveries and chamber’ (LP Henry VIII, 10, no. 425).

From 28 April 1536 he held the desirable auditorship of the home counties circuit of the court of augmentations, which did not prevent his becoming auditor of Lord Beauchamp, and therefore having to cope with conflicting demands upon his energies, later in the year. In February 1540 he bought the manor of Northaw, Hertfordshire, formerly leased by him from St Albans Abbey. On 9 June his wife died.

Cavendish enhanced his reputation by his performance as a commissioner in Ireland, where he arrived on 8 September 1540, appointed to investigate the administration of Lord Deputy Grey, along with the vice-treasurer's accounts and the surveys for the dissolution of the Irish monasteries.

He won praise for his painstaking (he journeyed as far as Limerick, where no English commissioners have been this many years, and that in such frost and snow as the writer never rode in) and for being a man that little feareth the displeasure of any man, in the King's service. (LP Henry VIII, 17, no. 304).

Cavendish paid £1000 for the position of treasurer of the chamber, granted to him on 19 February 1546. A month later he was in trouble with the privy council for failing to bring the declaration of his accounts before the chancellor, but he was still knighted on 23 April.

He may have owed this promotion to Sir William Paget, or to Edward Seymour, earl of Hertford, whose auditor he was, but he had clearly been acquiring a wide range of patronage, for his marriage to Elizabeth Barley,  née  Hardwick (d. 1608), which took place secretly at 2 a.m. on 20 August 1547 at the Greys' manor house at Bradgate, Leicestershire, seems to have been promoted both by the Greys and the Brandons.

They had three sons and five daughters. Cavendish had arrived. In 1547 he sat in parliament for Thirsk, was a JP for Hertfordshire, and furnished great horses, light horses, and demi-lances for the wars, under an assessment of £100.

Cavendish had also been appointed treasurer of the court of general surveyors, but he lost this position in 1547. The office of treasurer of the chamber was losing importance, moreover. He received it in a state of disorder, and complained that after the death of Henry VIII he had lost 5000 marks through the earl of Warwick's withholding his dues.

He struggled through Edward VI's reign without much regular income. His receipts in his first year were £46,555 0s. 5d., but there had been a sharp drop by 1549, and by 1553 they came to only £9924 12s. 1d., insufficient to meet the fixed payments.

He supported Mary in 1553 at a cost to himself of 1000 marks, so he claimed, and she reappointed him to the office. But the receipts continued to decline and had to be supplemented from other treasuries. In 1555 he also became deputy chamberlain of the exchequer. By 1557 his accounts were under examination. As always with unexpected audits, utter confusion was alleged but not really substantiated.

The report on Cavendish's debts submitted to Lord Treasurer Winchester on 12 October 1557 shows an initial assessment of his debt as £5237 0s. 0½d., but he put forward various counter-claims, including the dishonesty of his clerk Thomas Knot, who ran away leaving him £12,031 1s. 8d. in debt.

Cavendish wrote a grovelling appeal for clemency, describing himself as ‘a humble pore man standing without her highnes great mercy’ (TNA: PRO, E101/424/10), and listing his resources as 500 marks in land and £440 in fees and life annuities.

He died on 25 October 1557 and was buried on the 30th. By 14 December following his widow had married Sir William Saintloe, captain of the queen's guard.

They were duly pursued for Cavendish's debts, in proceedings which became a cause célèbre, with a major debate at the bar of the exchequer over the liability of his lands. Warned that the law was against him and his wife, Saintloe compounded with the queen for £1000 and had a release and pardon for the residue.


At least they were better organised and more efficient than those we have today at the Exchequer and The Treasury.


  1. "At least they were better organised and more efficient than those we have today at the Exchequer and The Treasury."

    One advantage was that money could be counted.

  2. Fascinating stuff and a good read with my morning coffee. Thank you.