Honor Grenville: Life Story

Chapter 17 : The Calais Commission

In January 1540, three men from Lisle’s household, Gregory Botolf, one of his chaplains, Clement Philpot, a gentleman-servant, and John Woller, another member of the household all requested leave to visit England. On 5th February they left the walled town of Calais and went to one of the inns at the port to catch the 2am tide. They spent the evening gambling and generally drawing attention to themselves. When the three left, two proceeded to the ship (Philpot and Woller) but Botolf slipped away into the night.

Lisle was completely unaware of Botolf’s action at the time. He had more pressing things to worry about than renegade servants. His relationship with Cromwell had more or less broken down by this time. It was apparent that Cromwell was blocking Lisle’s every attempt to organise the garrison as he saw fit, and that he was responsible for much of Lisle’s difficulty in getting his financial affairs in order.

Then, in February 1540, it seemed that Lisle might have a new ally in the Duke of Norfolk, who spent two days in Calais following an embassy to the French. Norfolk hated Cromwell with a vengeance, and it appears that Lisle poured his heart out to the Duke, which resulted in a new Commission of Enquiry being commenced within two weeks.

The Commission, which took place in Calais, was set up to examine Lisle’s own administration, but in a sign that he was trusted by the King, or that Norfolk was prepared to vouch for him, he had a seat on the Commission, together with various other councillors, lawyers and ecclesiastics, the latter group including Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, another of Cromwell’s rivals.

One of the issues that Henry wanted looked into was religion. He was concerned that Lutherans, and other heretics, as he saw it, were being given succour. After a thorough investigation lasting about six weeks (Ed. Rather different from modern commissions that take 10 years!) the Commissioners, with the exception of Lisle, reported.

All of their findings vindicated Lisle entirely – they upheld the dismissal of men he had tried to remove from post, but who had been reinstated by Cromwell, and ordered various arrests to be made of ‘Sacramentaries’ (extreme Protestants) who were associated with Cromwell. Cromwell had been fatally weakened by the Cleves marriage which he had promoted, but which Henry hated. The King was very ready to listen to criticism and Norfolk and Gardiner were just the men to wield the knife.

Lisle must have been heartily relieved. Unfortunately, the chaplain Botolf was creating, either in reality or in his fantasies, a plot in which the Pope and Cardinal Reginald Pole (son of the Countess of Salisbury, and the man whom Henry had once loved, but now hated, for his opposition to the annulment) were to be give control of Calais. He claimed that when he had left Calais in early February, he had been to Rome to garner support.

The plot, which seems to have involved Botolf running backwards and forwards between Calais and Bruges, pretending to be heading for the University of Louvain, whilst dropping large hints of important matters to Philpott and Woller, is so lacking in any kind of realistic basis that it is hard to believe that the Commissioners could have found it in any way credible. It came to their attention when Philpott, perhaps nervous about what he might be getting involved in, reported it to them.

The Commissioners began taking depositions on 8th April, but they did not take any military action that suggested they believed the plot had any real substance. Nevertheless, all of those involved in the matter were members of the Lord Deputy’s household. They reported the matter to the King, who summoned Lisle to attend him, saying that he had heard several times from Lisle and Norfolk that Lisle wanted to report in person. The Earl of Sussex (married to Honor’s niece, Mary Arundell) was to take charge of Calais in Lisle’s absence.