- The Life and Career of William Paulet (c. 1475-1572): Lord Treasurer and First Marquis of Winchester
Biographical subjects often provoke passionate responses among contemporaries and modern readers, and shaped history. Instead, William Paulet, an "elusive" quarry avoided serious trouble and tried, as we might say, to get along (171). The man may not have been well-liked, but "he never inspired the kind of hatred which helped to destroy [Cardinal] Wolsey, [Thomas] Cromwell, Anne Boleyn or Edward Seymour" (176). Paulet was a "civil servant; politically a part of the furniture" (176). People caught up in explosive events inspire competing biographies, while the Nicodemites of the political and religious worlds pass quietly through our historical narratives. David Loades gives us a man repeatedly "glimpsed" (41) on the "margins" (1) to reveal how a civil servant survived the Reformation and the processes of state formation in England.
Paulet's career spanned the reigns of Henry VIII and his children and the critical events of the century. "His very durability has, in a sense, made him uninteresting, because he has never been associated with any of the dramatic twists and turns, religious or political, which have captured the imaginations of historians of the period" (1). With no legal proceedings against him, the historian must guess at his opinions and look for his actions in "fingerprints" (129). Paulet left few letters of a personal nature and no family archive. Given his wife's brush with the "art of invocation" (115) and John Dee, one might wonder what secrets and personal stories the family's reticence hid. What Loades can trace are titles, favors, and land accrued over his long life. In the absence of contrary information, one might assume that material and honorific benefits fueled Paulet's service to the crown, whatever its religious faith or political goals.
Loades organizes the book by Paulet's offices and titles, not personal markers. A good marriage, service in the Court of Wards, and a relationship with Thomas Cromwell helped his fortunes to rise. Paulet became the Comptroller of the Household and began to navigate treacherous waters. His service obscured allegiances or ideology: he attended to young Mary Tudor; sat on the commissions trying Thomas More, John Fisher, and the Carthusian Friars; mourned at Catherine of Aragon's funeral; and was described by the doomed Anne Boleyn as a "very gentleman" (36). A religious conservative, Paulet nevertheless acquired dissolved monastic property. His position may have helped the Paulet family survive close association with the religiously-suspect Poles. [End Page 1360]
Through Henry's tumultuous later reign, the rise and fall of the Lord Protector in Edward's reign, the short rule of Queen Jane, and the eventual coronation of Mary, Loades finds Paulet to be "very close to the action" while playing a "shadowy" role (53). Paulet survived his friend Cromwell's downfall, attaining the Order of the Garter and gaining title to the Austin Friars property coveted by his friend before his attainder. While the servant may have been sidelined by his religious conservatism, his house was the setting for a meeting that led to Somerset giving up his office. Later, he unmasked the plot to execute Somerset. Paulet became Lord Treasurer, bringing his financial expertise and his ties to the City of London to the office. Rewards followed, notably his elevation to Marquis of Winchester. Through successive crises Paulet remained "virtually invisible" and "scrupulous in the performance of his duties" (136). Thus Elizabeth I's young court welcomed the elderly marquis. His useful service, combined with Elizabeth's "relaxed" attitude about "catholic sympathies" (145), may explain his survival. Paulet's lasting contribution to the sixteenth-century state was his financial administration.
In a time of religious zealotry and dramatic fluctuations in political fortunes, Paulet was neither zealot nor ideologue. Loades argues that he exhibited an "unreflective faith, typical of a man who held no coherent theory of anything, but who was extremely...