Edward North – the skill of survival in turbulent times

Edward North is an intriguing, and perhaps the most politically shrewd character in the Charterhouse story.

Born around 1496, he was sent off as a young lad to the newly opened St Paul’s School, after which there is some debate about whether he did or did not go to Cambridge.  He certainly never obtained a degree, but still managed to get accepted at Lincoln’s Inn in 1522 and was later called to the bar. He was soon to prove himself adept at currying favour with useful people – starting with his brother-in-law Alderman Wilkinson, who was probably influential in North being made Counsel for the City of London.

From then on his career is a litany of new titles and promotions, ultimately placing him high up in royal circles.  Being of use to Thomas Cromwell is thought to have helped secure his position in 1541 as Treasurer of the Court of Augmentations – the court set up by Henry VIII to manage and dispose of assets confiscated during the dissolution of the monasteries.  He was knighted that same year.  In 1545 he was promoted to Chancellor of the Court of Augmentations and then a year later was appointed to the Privy Council of England.  All this despite being hauled up for financial irregularities, and possibly even neglect of duty.  It seems his route to the top was certainly very financially advantageous (and made secure by two propitious marriages) without being overly conscientious, his focus being on helping the right people at the right time.

It is the dissolution of the monasteries that brings Edward North to the Charterhouse – following the grim fate of the Carthusian monks who lived there, his close connection with managing the confiscated estates was probably not unrelated to his securing the Charterhouse as his London residence in 1545. North was responsible for the house we see today, tearing down the monastic church and cloisters and reusing the stone to create an imposing courtyard mansion.

He was made an executor of the King’s will and received a legacy of £300 on his death.  North then had to make some strategic decisions. When Edward VI succeeded the throne, North was pressured to give up his Chancellor role, but he hung on to his position on the Privy Council. As Edward became terminally ill, North’s initial choice for his support as Edward’s successor was Lady Jane Grey – but seeing her popularity dwindle he quickly changed his allegiance to Mary (presumably also with an equally speedy return to ‘traditional religion’).

When in 1553 Mary was announced queen, she forgave North his support of Lady Jane Grey, while his former close associate John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland was beheaded despite renouncing Protestantism. The following year North was made Baron, Lord North of Kirtling and given a position on her commission to investigate heresies. This was a body which sought to counter the spread of protestant beliefs and return England to the Roman Catholic faith, by force if necessary. In effect, he was involved with the interrogation and torture of Protestants, despite the fact that his career to date had been aligned with many who professed the new faith.

Mary died in 1558, and, from 23rd to 29th November, her half-sister Elizabeth enjoyed the hospitality of North at the Charterhouse as she prepared for her coronation. However, perhaps in recognition of North’s previous loyalty to Mary, she did not keep him on as a Privy Councillor.  One may assume that he once again became Protestant.

Elizabeth viewed the Charterhouse as a safe haven and is known to have stayed there, effectively using the Great Chamber as her alternative throne room on at least one other occasion from 10th to 13th July 1561.  These visits were known to make a very serious dent in North’s fortunes.

It is then perhaps no surprise that he directed that, when he died (which he did of old age – avoiding the fate of so many of his contemporaries – on December 31st 1564), the Charterhouse should be sold to pay for his funeral.



The History of Parliament: www.histparl.ac.uk

The London Charterhouse (Stephen Porter)

Thomas Sutton Lecture 2019 (Sir Mark Warby)




Recent comments

  • As a lifelong student of medieval and renaissance history I found this article fascinating. Thank you so much for sharing.

  • Thank you Sheila – it was very interesting researching and writing it too. Charlotte

  • A very interesting article, thank you. The one point I’d make is that Dudley was beheaded because he led the rebellion against Mary. Also his son Guildford was married to Jane, and therefore “changing religions” was never going to save him. He was a real threat to Mary, whereas North wasn’t. North was easily bendable to protect his own survival.

  • An illuminating insight on how to survive, indeed to prosper, in ‘ interesting times’. Thank you

  • Hello
    Thank you very much for your message and comment – much appreciated! I am alone while all my colleagues are on furlough so unable to gather all their much greater knowledge… Charlotte

  • Thank you Michael.

  • Edward North is one of my ancestors! So interesting to read about his life!

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