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Wriothesley, Charleslocked

  • Gordon Kipling

Wriothesley, Charles (1508–1562), herald and chronicler, was born on 8 May 1508 into a heraldic dynasty founded by his grandfather John Writhe, Garter king of arms. A younger son of Sir Thomas Wriothesley (d. 1534), also Garter, and his first wife, Jane Hall (d. after 1510), he was also the nephew of William Wriothesley, York herald. He was born in London, and from around 1511 lived at Garter House, a mansion built by his father in Barbican Street in Cripplegate ward, as a material embodiment of the family's rise to prominence. Perhaps because a training in civil law was useful to heralds, his father sent him to Cambridge. A tax roll of 1522 records both his presence and that of his cousin Thomas Wriothesley, the future lord chancellor, among the scholastici of Trinity Hall, Cambridge, the civil lawyers' college. A London tax roll of the same date improbably assesses the fourteen-year-old ‘Charles Wreothesle’ of 'St Giles's without Crepulgate' for a loan at £38 6s. 8d. in lands and fees and £40 in goods, but this almost certainly refers to a levy upon his father as master of Garter House, and merely serves to show that Charles was still legally resident there (LP Henry VIII 3/2, no. 2486).

Two years later, in October 1524, the death of a senior herald, followed by the promotion of a pursuivant, gave the Wriothesleys an opportunity to extend their dynasty into a third generation. Although only sixteen, Charles was appointed Rouge Croix pursuivant, filling the vacancy left by Thomas Wall's promotion to Windsor herald. His appointment, at an annual salary of £10, was formalized by patent on 29 May 1525. About this time he may also have entered the service of Thomas Audley, later Baron Audley, whom he repeatedly refers to as his 'lorde and master' in his Chronicle. Perhaps under the influence of Audley, who had recently come down from Cambridge to become autumn reader at the Inner Temple, Charles resumed his interrupted legal training. In 1529 he became a gentleman of Gray's Inn.

The early 1530s marked the zenith of Wriothesley's career as a herald. He attended the creation of Anne Boleyn as marquess of Pembroke in 1532, and then her coronation the following year. His master Audley succeeded Sir Thomas More as lord chancellor in 1533, and his own father's death on 24 November 1534 initiated a series of promotions in the College of Arms—Thomas Wall to Garter the day following, himself to Windsor a month later—which must have seemed to portend even greater future advancement. It seems to have been his promotion to major heraldic dignity, coinciding as it did with the drama of the new queen's succession, which inspired Wriothesley to begin his Chronicle; the first event that he records in extensive detail is the coronation of Anne Boleyn. Conceiving of his narrative not just as a personal document, but also as a record of the dynasty he served as perceived from the viewpoint of the city of London, he chose to begin his history with the accession of Henry VII, a decision that left him with a considerable chronological gap to fill. He therefore prefaced his own narration with material drawn from the Chronicle of Richard Arnold, a relative of the Wriothesleys (Arnold's sister was John Writhe's second wife). He mostly copied Arnold's work verbatim, sometimes paraphrasing and occasionally adding details, until shortly before that work ended in 1520. He then eked out the next thirteen years with accounts of important events as he remembered them or as he gleaned them from other chronicles, until he reached 1533, at which point his work becomes more detailed, personal, and circumstantial. Always conscious of his position as a herald and member of the king's household, Wriothesley strove to create a chronicle at once loyal and carefully observant. The events he describes are almost always seen from the point of view of a well-connected London citizen, albeit one inhabiting the margins of royal power. Wriothesley records the progress of the Reformation, for instance, as it was debated in sermons at Paul's Cross and dramatized in executions at Smithfield and Tyburn. Only occasionally is he allowed in to witness a coronation. Particularly in the earlier portions of his Chronicle, he endeavours to present a sympathetic account of Henry VIII's religious reforms. Thus he approvingly describes the execution of Friar Forrest as that of 'a false traitor to his Praynce, an heretiacke, and a seditious person to the Kinges leighe people', and delights that the obdurate heretic was burned along with a wooden idol which the 'people of North Walles honored as a sainct' (Wriothesley, 1.80).

However interesting his Chronicle, Wriothesley's work as a herald seems to have been undistinguished, and he plainly did not prosper. When Thomas Wall died in 1536, after only two years' tenure as Garter, Wriothesley found himself overlooked for the promotion to his father's and grandfather's office. His patron Audley died in 1544, and even the succession of his cousin Thomas, now Baron Wriothesley, to the lord chancellorship does not seem to have improved his prospects. In that same year Charles Wriothesley was appointed to attend on the middle ward of the king's army during Henry VIII's expedition against France, and he accordingly describes both the capture of Boulogne and the consequent rejoicing in London in his Chronicle. His cousin's disgrace and fall in 1547 may well have doomed his chances of further advancement, for when Christopher Barker died in 1550 Wriothesley was again passed over for promotion to Garter. In the latter year he was remembered in the will of his cousin, who had died as earl of Southampton, with a bequest of £20. His name appears in the charter of 1554 whereby King Philip and Queen Mary established the heralds and their successors as a corporation with perpetual succession and granted them the house called Derby Place in which to keep safe their records and rolls and all things touching their faculty.

Some time after his father's death Wriothesley left Garter House and took up lodgings in the house of Sampson Camden, a painter–stainer who was father of the future scholar and herald William Camden. He may have married twice; a manuscript pedigree in the College of Arms says that his wife was the daughter of a Mr Mallory, but in narrating the suppression of Barking Abbey in 1539 Wriothesley himself mentions 'Alis my wife that now is', a phrase that suggests that she may have been a second wife (Wriothesley, 1.198). When he died at his lodgings in Camden's house on 25 January 1562, however, there was no mention made of a wife or children in his funeral certificate. His fellow heralds paid for a splendid funeral. He was buried not in St Giles Cripplegate, along with all the other members of his family, but in the middle aisle of St Sepulchre's, Holborn. He left no will, and the great library of books that he had inherited from his father was sold after his death, many of its contents to Sir Gilbert Dethick and his son William, the founders of a new heraldic dynasty. Wriothesley's Chronicle, which survives only in a transcript made early in the seventeenth century for the third earl of Southampton, was edited in two volumes for the Camden Society by W. D. Hamilton (1875–7).


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, 63 vols. (1885–1900), suppl., 3 vols. (1901); repr. in 22 vols. (1908–9); 10 further suppls. (1912–96); (1993)
Camden Society
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