Monday, 24 October 2011

The chameleon Lord.

The resilience of mid-Tudor statesmen, their chameleon-like loyalties and their survival skills are a credit to any 'realpolitik' or Machiavellian prophet. William Paget, Ist Baron Paget of Beaudesert (1506-1563), was a statesman and accountant, who held prominent positions during the reign of Henry VIII, Edward VI and Mary I.

Under Henry, Paget was friends with the man who was to become his arch-rival under Mary's reign, Stephen Gardiner.  Paget rose very fast to occupy several important positions culminating in his appointment of secretary of state. This lead to his appointment as a member of the council under the Protectorate of Somerset during the minority reign of Edward. Paget showed characteristic allegiance  to the man in power, and supported Somerset, while benefiting tremendously from the dissolution of the monasteries and all the advantages gained from conversion to the new religion under a Protestant monarch. His priorities of survival and self-advancement meant that he could not be the progressive reformer that was Somerset. This did not stop his advancement and promotion. These are all the benefits gained after England's divorce from the papal see:

In 1547 he was made comptroller of the king's household, Chancellor of the Dutchy of Lancaster, elected knight of the shire (MP) for Staffordshire and made a knight of the Garter; and in 1549 he was summoned by writ to the House of Lords as Baron Paget de Beaudesert. About the same time he obtained extensive grants of lands, including Cannock Chace and Burton Abbey in Staffordshire [the Abbey was dissolved in 1545 and granted to Lord Paget], and in London the residence of the bishops of Exeter, afterwards known successively as Lincoln House and Essex House, on the site now occupied by the Outer Temple in the London. He obtained Beaudesert in Staffordshire [ this was probably a Cistercian monestery from 1135-1154 until it became the hunting lodge of the Bishops of Lichfield and Coventry; Henry gave this to Paget as reward for his services to the crown] which remained the chief seat of the Paget family.

By Paget's example and many others like him, it is quite clear that being Protestant and a member of the aristocracy was an advantageous position to be in after the dissolution of monasteries, initially dissolved under the pretext of using their revenues to fund education and help the poor. However, when Somerset was overthrown in a coup d'etat by Northumberland, Paget suffered disgrace and was committed to the Tower for his allegiance  to Somerset. This experience taught him a valuable lesson. When the Catholic queen, Mary, ascended the throne, Paget did his utmost to gain her favour by supporting her and ensuring a smooth course to her marriage to the Spanish king Phillip; leading the forces that ended Wyatt's rebellion and, when he did fall out of her favour, he begged and pleaded on his hands and knees for her forgiveness. On the accession of Elizabeth I in 1558 Paget retired from public life.

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