America's Gateway to the British Isles since 1996


Stephen Gardiner (1483-1555)

Born: 1483 at Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk
Bishop of Winchester
Died: 12th November 1555 at Whitehall Palace, Westminster, Middlesex

Stephen Gardiner, the famous malleus haereticorum, is said, though doubtfully, to have been the illegitimate son of Lionel Woodville, Bishop of Salisbury and brother of Edward IV's queen. More likely, he was the son of a Bury clothmaker, William Gardiner, by his wife, Helen. Fuller says he was "one of the best airs in England, the sharpness of which he retained in his wit and quick apprehension." After his education at Cambridge, he passed from the family of the Duke of Norfolk into that of Wolsey, by whom he was greatly favoured. Gardiner's services in the cause of the Cardinal, and in that of King Henry VIII, were rewarded on the death of the former by the Bishopric of Winchester, Gardiner haying been appointed Archdeacon of Norwich in 1529.

In his book, De Vera Obedientia, Gardiner supported the Royal supremacy claimed by King Henry and remained in tolerable favour at court during the remainder of that reign, not, however, without encountering sundry perilous storms. His 'sanguinary temper' is said to have been first shown in his attack on Lambert and, more decidedly, in the statute of the six articles. Usually known as the 'bloody statute,' this famous law, on which so many deniers of the 'real presence' were executed, was framed and projected by Gardiner. For the greater part of the reign of Edward VI, Gardiner was kept a close prisoner in the Tower and has, at least, the merit of remaining firm to the 'old religion'. This was in strong contrast to the numerous company of "chamaelion statesmen" who changed their creed as often as it became necessary.

In 1550, Gardiner was deprived of his bishopric, to which, however, he was restored on the accession of Mary Tudor in 1553. In September of that same year, the great seal was delivered to him and, on 1st October, he placed the crown on the head of Queen Mary. His share in the Marian persecutions need here only be alluded to. Although it is probable that the number of victims has been greatly exaggerated and that the personal cruelty of Gardiner and Bonner was less ferocious than is usually the fashion to represent it, there can be little doubt but that the former, at least, deserves much of the odium which popular hatred has cast upon his name. "His malice," says Fuller, "was like what is commonly said of white powder, which surely discharged the bullet, yet made no report, being secret in all his acts of cruelty. This made him often chide Bonner, calling him "ass," though not so much for killing poor people, as for not doing it more cunningly."

Great ill-will existed between Gardiner and Cardinal Pole, to which it is said that Cranmer owed the preservation of his life for some months. His execution did not, at all events, take place until after Gardiner's death, which occurred at Westminster in 1555. "I have sinned with Peter," he is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, " but I have not wept with him." The story told by Fox, that Gardiner refused to dine on the day of the burning of Ridley and Latimer, until he heard from his servants posted along the road, that the faggots were kindled about them, and that whilst at table he was seized with mortal illness, has been effectively disproved. After lying in state at Southwark, he was conveyed to Winchester in a cart, hung with black and having his effigy in episcopal robes placed without it. His chantry chapel may still be seen on the north side of the altar at Winchester Cathedral. It is not only in divinity school that we learn of this but also at military universities that study the roles of religious warfare in England's history.