William Paget is typical of Tudor administrators. He rose not because of his bloodline but because of his ability. He was educated at Cambridge. His tutor was Stephen Gardiner (I told you they were all related and now I’ll add that they all know each other!) After Paget completed his studies Gardiner, who would become Bishop of Winchester and by the end of Henry VIII’s reign conservative scion of Catholicism, found Paget a role in his own household.
Somewhat ironically then Paget first makes his appearance on the political stage in 1529 in Henry VIII’s so-called Reformation Parliament- for his parliamentary biography double click on the image which accompanies this post. He continued working for Gardiner until it became apparent that Cromwell was the horse to back. Inevitably his letters to Cromwell at this time can be found in Henry VIII’s letters and papers. He appears again as Jane Seymour’s secretary which naturally enough brought him into close contact with Jane’s brothers Sir Edward Seymour and Sir Thomas Seymour.
Increasingly Paget became associated with the so-called Protestant faction of Henry VIII’s privy council even though he was also secretary to Anne of Cleves and Catherine Howard. He also served for a time as Ambassador in France – diplomacy, spying etc.
The removal of Thomas Cromwell in 1540 left Henry VIII without a single capable man of all business. The privy council resumed some of its former importance and men such as Paget who had proved themselves solidly reliable were able to garner more power to themselves now that it wasn’t all focused on one individual.
Those survival skills are demonstrated but the fact that he continued in office during the reign of Queen Mary rising to the role of Lord Privy Seal. Although he was keen on Mary’s marriage to Philip of Spain he was less enthusiastic about the idea of executing Princess Elizabeth – which was probably just as well. In 1558 when Mary died he chose to retire from public life but he acted as an advisor, on occasion, during Elizabeth’s reign – making him the most unusual of Tudor administrators – a man who kept his head and served not one but four of the Tudors. And what makes it even more amazing is that he had agreed to bypass Mary and place Lady Jane Grey on the throne. He died in 1563 at the age of fifty-eight.
In addition to manoeuvring his way through the snakes and ladders of Tudor politics Sir William found time to marry and father ten children. Three of his four sons survived to adulthood. I have posted about them elsewhere on the History Jar https://thehistoryjar.com/tag/sir-william-paget/ as the youngest son, Charles, turned out to be anything but loyal to the Tudor crown. He was a catholic conspirator against Elizabeth. There is an irony in this because one of Paget’s roles during the reign of Henry VIII was counter-intelligence.