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Sir Ralph Sadler

The Right Honourable
Sir Ralph Sadler
Knight banneret, PC
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
In office
16 May 1568 – 15 June 1587
Monarch Henry VIII
Preceded by Sir Ambrose Cave
Succeeded by Sir Francis Walsingham
Personal details
Born Ralph Sadler
Hackney, Middlesex
Died 31 March 1587 (aged 79–80)
Standon, Hertfordshire
Resting place St. Mary's Church, Standon, Hertfordshire
Spouse(s) Ellen Barre
Children Thomas
Parents Henry Sadler

Sir Ralph Sadler, (also Sadleir, Sadlier) PC, Knight banneret (1507 – 31 March 1587) was an English statesman of the 16th century, and served as a Secretary of State for King Henry VIII.


Sadler was possibly born in Hackney, Middlesex, the elder son of Henry Sadler. Roger Ascham compared Sadler's appearance in terms of complexion, countenance and beard to Duke Maurice, although the Duke was taller.[1] Sadler is also represented by his tomb effigy at Standon,[2][3] and he may have been painted by Hans Holbein the Younger.[4] Sir Ralph's father was originally from Warwickshire, but later settled in Hackney. He was a minor official in the service of the Marquess of Dorset and Sir Edward Belknap.


At a young age, Ralph Sadler was taken into the household of Thomas Cromwell. Ralph's name appears in the list of administrators named for Catherine of Aragon's will.[5] Around 1536, he was made a gentleman of the King's privy chamber, became M.P. for Hindon, Wiltshire.

During his long career in royal service, Sadler was to hold many offices, including:[6]

In January, 1537, Sadler was sent to Scotland to investigate complaints made by Margaret Tudor, the King's sister, against her third husband, Henry Stewart, 1st Lord Methven, and to improve Anglo-Scottish relations. He succeeded in both respects. On 1 April 1537, Ralph met James V of Scotland, newly married to Madeleine of Valois, at Rouen.[7]

The King was pleased with Sadler's work, and sent him again to Scotland, this time to discourage the King of Scotland, James V, from accepting Cardinal Beaton's proposed Franco-Scottish alliance. Sadler failed in that respect, but the King was nonetheless impressed with his work. In 1538 he was knighted and in 1539 elected knight of the shire (MP) for Middlesex. In 1540, he became one of the two Secretaries of State, made a privy councillor, and began more than 30 year of service representing Hertfordshire in Parliament. He later (1545) represented Preston.[8]

After the Battle of Solway Moss, Sadler was sent to Scotland again, this time to arrange a marriage between the infant Mary, Queen of Scots, and Edward, Prince of Wales; he was again successful, although the marriage was not concluded. On 10 August 1543 he wrote to Henry VIII describing a visit to Mary of Guise and the infant Queen at Stirling Castle;
"(Mary of Guise) is very glad that she is at Stirling, and much she praised there about the house, and told me, "That her daughter did grow apace; and soon," she said, "she would be a woman, if she took of her mother;" who indeed, is of the largest stature of women. And therefore she caused also the child to be brought to me, to the intent I might see her, assuring your majesty, that she is a right fair and goodly child, as any that I have seen for her age."[9]

By November Sadler moved from Edinburgh to Tantallon Castle, which belonged to the Earl of Angus and with his commission to Scotland revoked, the Earl's kinsmen conveyed Sadler to Berwick upon Tweed on 11 December 1543.[10] All of his work in solidifying Anglo-Scottish relations, was for naught because war broke out, after the Scots rejected the marriage treaty made at Greenwich in December 1543.

Sadler accompanied the Earl of Hertford on his campaign as treasurer of the army, then filled that position again in 1545. Sadler had been replaced by William Paget as Secretary of State, owing to his frequent absences on diplomatic missions, but was appointed Master of the Great Wardrobe in 1543. When Henry VIII died in 1547, he had already appointed Sadler onto the council of regency that would rule England during Edward VI's minority and left him £200 in his will.

Sadler again accompanied Lord Hertford, this time at the Battle of Pinkie Cleugh as High Treasurer of the Army. In recognition of his services during the fighting, Sadler was made a knight banneret, a position "above a knight and next to a baron". Sadler was present when Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, was arrested, and he also accompanied the force that put down Robert Kett's Norfolk Rebellion. He was one of the signatories of Edward's will, but remained in semi-retirement during Queen Mary of England's reign.

During Elizabeth's reign Sadler was sent to Scotland 8 August 1559 to arrange an alliance with the Scottish Protestants, and forward the cause of the Lords of the Congregation and Duke of Chatelherault.[11] After the English became directly involved in the fighting at the Battle of Leith, he was one of the architects of the Treaty of Edinburgh. In 1568 he was appointed Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and when Mary, Queen of Scots, fled to England, Sadler was unwillingly appointed to meet with the Scottish commissioners regarding that problem. He was sent to arrest the Duke of Norfolk during the Rising of the Northern Earls, and was unwillingly appointed gaoler of Mary, Queen of Scots. After the Babington Plot, Sadler was also on the council that sentenced Mary to death.

Marriage and issue

Ralph Sadler married Ellen Barre, or Barrow, (née Mitchell) in 1533,[12] and by her, had three sons and four daughters:[13]

  • Thomas, named after Thomas Cromwell, who succeeded him.[14]
  • Edward of Temple Dinsley, Hertfordshire
  • Henry of Everley, Wiltshire;
  • Anne
  • Mary
  • Jane
  • Dorothy

Ellen had been married to Matthew Barre of Sevenoaks in Kent, and in 1545 it was discovered that Barre was still alive.[15][16][17][18][19] A version of Ellen's story was given by an Elizabethan writer, Nicolas Sander, and cast doubt on her character. Sander claimed that Ellen was related to Thomas Cromwell, and she had worked for him as a laundress.[20] The 17th-century historian Gilbert Burnet considered that Sander's story was a fiction.[21][22] Sander was a Jesuit, a Catholic recusant writing with an agenda. He took delight in attempting to discredit leading public figures in England. It is significant that there was no scandal surrounding the marriage between Ellen and Ralph when it took place in 1533.

Ellen Mitchell and Matthew Barre had been legally married in 1526, in Dunmow in Essex. Ellen had two daughters by him, however Barre had abandoned her and their children and gone abroad. Ellen stayed in Dunmow for about a year making extensive enquiries about her husband's whereabouts. She then became a servant of the prioress at the nunnery of Clerkenwell. Determined to find her husband, she then went to her husband's place of birth where together with her brothers-in-law made further enquiries which were again fruitless. Finding herself in despair, she returned to Clerkenwell. 'Soon after which, a man belonging to the city of Salisbury, positively assured her that her husband was dead.' [23] By the recommendation of the Prioress of Clerkenwell, Ellen entered the service of Thomas Cromwell's mother-in-law, Mercy Pryor, and was residing in his house when Ralph Sadler became enamoured of her.[23] Ralph Sadler and Ellen married, believing that Matthew Barre was dead.

More than eleven years later, much to the devoted couple's dismay, Matthew Barre returned to claim his wife. Since their marriage, Ralph and Ellen had seven surviving children, and Ralph was now a very wealthy and influential man at court whose reputation was at stake. In October 1545, Sadler returned from his work negotiating in Scotland.[24] 'Master Sadler took his matter very heavily,' Wriothesley reported to Secretary Paget.[25]

Sadler was therefore obliged to have his children legitimized by a private Act of Parliament. In 1546, this Act of Parliament (37 Hen. VIII, c.30)[26][27] was passed on Sir Ralph Sadler's behalf.[25][28][27] The Act set aside Ellen's marriage to Matthew Barre and made her marriage to Ralph Sadler a true and proper union. Sadler managed to prevent the publication of the Act and its details never appeared with the statutes of the period. The only contemporary reference to the Act appears in a document entitled 'The Unprecedented Case of Sir Ralph Sadleir' found among obscure manuscripts in the Public Record Office.[29] Matthew Barre disappeared from the scene.[30]

This episode had damaged Sadler's reputation but not irretrievably. His marriage to Ellen was saved and couple lived on happily for many years.


Ellen was still alive in 1569,[31] however there is no record of her after that and there is no surviving tomb for her. Sir Ralph died on 31 March 1587. His tomb is in St. Mary's Church, Standon, Hertfordshire.[32]


Sadler is one of the few Renaissance statesmen for whom we have extant Parliamentary orations, including a speech on succession in 1563 and one on subsidy in 1566. Copies of these orations appear the three volume 1809 publication of his letters, which includes a biography by Walter Scott.

Fictional portrayals

Sadler is one of the major characters in Hilary Mantel's 2009 novel Wolf Hall, which gives a fictional portrayal of Sadler's youth and early manhood in the household of Thomas Cromwell. Sadler also appears prominently in Bring Up the Bodies, Ms. Mantel's 2012 sequel to Wolf Hall. He is also a minor character in Philippa Gregory's book The Other Queen, with an account given of the time he spent as the Queen of Scots' gaoler.




External links

  • , vol. 1, Edinburgh (1809)
  • , vol. 2, Edinburgh (1809)
  • National Register of Archives, holdings indexed as relating to Sir Ralph Sadler
  • , Longman (1877)
  • SADLER, Ralph (1507-87), of Hackney, Mdx., Standon, Herts. and Lesnes, Kent. History of Parliament Online
  • Sir Ralph Sadleir Find A Grave
  • The Sadleir Web A repository of historical information for the Sadleir family history
  • Salter, Colin, Sir Ralph Sadleir (1507-1587) and the Gossips
Honorary titles
Preceded by
Sir Thomas Parry
Custos Rotulorum of Hertfordshire
bef. 1562 – 1587
Succeeded by
Sir John Brograve
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Ambrose Cave
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by
Sir Francis Walsingham

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