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Thomas Wriothesley

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Episode9a

Chancellor Thomas Wriothesley

Thomas Wriothesley, Earl of Southhampton and Baron of Titchfield, becomes one of King Henry's strongest advisors in Season Four of The Tudors.  Thomas Cromwell initially appoints him as the King's new secretary late in Season Three, but in Season Four with Cromwell dead, Wriothesley becomes powerful in his own right, receiving Cromwell's former position as Lord Chancellor in episode 4.09.  By this point, he is more or less Henry's de facto Chief Minister, though this is checked by Edward Seymour's position of Lord Privy Seal.  Like Wolsey and Cromwell before him, Wriothesley maintains a powerful spy network throughout the country. Despite his loyalty to the pro-Catholic faction during Cromwell's downfall, unlike the other members of the coalition Wriothesley didn't seem to take pleasure in Cromwell's death (as Cromwell had been his political mentor, just as Wolsey had been Cromwell's).

Unlike the Protestant, common-born Cromwell, Wriothesley comes from noble stock, and is privately an unbending Catholic who seeks to weaken the hold of the Reformation as well as expand his own power- to the point that he is willing to torture 'heretics' personally, as seen in episode 4.09.  Although shrewd, smooth-talking and careful never to question the King's instructions, Wriothesley doesn't have Cromwell's brilliant and assertive mind, and often defers to the instructions of his more aggressive ally Bishop Gardiner- though he is (at least initially) uneasy with Gardiner's plot to charge Queen Catherine Parr with heresy, knowing it may enrage the King.  Wriothesley is somewhat more diplomatic than Gardiner, being willing to form a temporary alliance with their rivals the Seymour brothers in order to target their mutual enemy, the Earl of Surrey; he also helps form an alliance with the Solicitor-General, Sir Richard Riche.  Wriothesley also shows sympathy for some of the people imprisoned- and later executed- in the Tower on Henry's orders for minor crimes.  However, like Sir Thomas More, he shows a darker side when it comes to religious heresy.  In episode 4.09, Riche and Wriothesley lead the prosecution against both Anne Askew (a noted Protestant speaker who is later burned at the stake) and later Surrey, who is executed for treason.

Near the end of Season Four, Gardiner and Wriothesley attempt to destroy the most powerful Protestants at court- Edward Seymour and Queen Catherine Parr- but, as Wriothesley was concerned, they fail.  Gardiner draws up an arrest warrant for Queen Catherine Parr after having a conversation with the King, and in the Series Finale Wriothesley- assuming it has Royal approval- presents it to the royal couple while they are on the grounds of Hampton Court Palace.  Henry, however, set up the entire situation so that he could remove Gardiner from the picture, since his is growing angry with the Bishop's fanaticism; he bellows furiously at the shocked Wriothesley, calling him a knave and a cur and telling him to get out of his sight.  Wriothesley has no choice but to concede defeat and report back to Gardiner, who is equally startled.  After Gardiner is banished from court a short while later after quarreling with Edward Seymour at a Privy Council meeting, Wriothesley- unwilling to risk his position and possibly his life- abruptly defects from Gardiner's pro-Catholic faction and humbly joins Seymour, accepting that the Protestants have won the battle for now.  

Wriothesley is played by Northern Irish actor Frank McCusker.

Historical role:Edit

Although Wriothesley is shown to despise more radical strains of Protestantism in The Tudors, his religious loyalties (like those of his colleague Sir Richard Riche) were much more fluid in real life. Wriothesley served as a protege, lawyer and spy for both Thomas Cromwell and Bishop Stephen Gardiner. Initially taking Cromwell's side during the break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries (for which both he and Cromwell were richly rewarded) he later switched his loyalties to Gardiner and the Duke of Norfolk when Cromwell fell from favor and was executed in 1540. Although not as personally powerful as Cromwell or Wolsey had been, Wriothesley was, in effect, Henry's next "First Minister"; his positions as Chancellor and Secretary of State gave Gardiner and Norfolk great influence at court, threatening the position of Wriothesley's rival Edward Seymour. Yet when Wriothesley- prompted by Gardiner- tried to arrest Catherine Parr for heresy, he provoked Henry's wrath and the Catholic faction quickly lost influence, giving Seymour the initiative.

During the reign of Henry's successor and son Edward VI, Wriothesley- in accordance with Henry's will- was put on the Regency council, though his opposition to the Duke of Sommerset(Seymour)'s policies soon had him dismissed from court. He played a minor role in Somerset's downfall, although he was not restored to Court. Wriothesley died in 1550, and his Earldom was inherited by his eldest son.

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