Thursday, May 21, 2009

Question from Danny - Term of appointments

So after watching the whole new season of the tudors show I have one simple question.

Are the appointments for life? For example Cromwell knew the end is near, can't he just retire or leave instead of chop chop?


PhD Historian said...

The vast majority of appointments to offices of state and government were at the pleasure of the monarch, meaning they had no fixed term. Generally, a person lost an office only when the monarch removed them for some reason, such as promotion to another higher office, equal trade to a similar office, or if the holder was "sacked" or "fired." Most officeholders also lost their office when the monarch died (all appointments had to be confirmed or renewed by a new moanrch).

But officeholders did sometimes resign or "retire," if the monarch agreed to let them do so, usually due to reasons of age or health. Resignation or retirement from a major office, e.g., Lord Chancellor, might carry with it the loss of properties and incomes attached to that office. In other words, resignation or retirement usually meant a significant loss of social and economic status. Few people other than the aged or infirm could afford to lose the benefits of holding an office, especially in a society in which wealth and social status carried such critical importance.

In Cromwell's case, though he could perhaps have simply resigned, it is unlikely that resignation would have ended his downfall. In all likelihood, Cromwell would have faced the "chop chop" regardless of whether or not he attempted to resign.

Foose said...

There are cases of Henry's servants resigning, although the examples wouldn't have been very comforting to Cromwell. Wolsey was basically forced to resign, and his enemies were tireless thereafter trying to find occasion to get him denounced for treason. He died on the way to London, where he was being brought to be lodged in the Tower. Eventually he himself furnished the cause, but even if he had really just dedicated himself meekly to his flock, I still think some sort of pretext would have been found to get rid of him permanently.

Sir Thomas More resigned as Chancellor, and much the same process of scrutiny and harassment went on. He was eventually executed, possibly as a result of perjured evidence.

On the other hand, you have someone like William Cecil, who served Queen Elizabeth for nearly all of her reign, retained her confidence despite their differences on some sensitive issues, and was able to pass on much of his power to his son.

In between you might have someone like William Paulet, Marquess of Winchester, who was enormously long-lived (thought by his contemporaries to be more than 100 years old when he died), serving in key offices, including Treasurer, for Henry, Edward, Jane Grey, Mary and Elizabeth. David Loades attributes his longevity in office to being "always at his desk and always available" for whatever disagreeable task was in the offing, whether it was bullying Catherine, bullying Mary, offering the crown to Jane, escorting Elizabeth to the Tower, etc., yet without seriously offending the royal involved.