Manuscript journal of Bishop Thomas Thirlby’s journey to Rome

Item date: 1555
Grant Value: £10,000
Item cost: £31,700
Item date acquired: 2015
Item institution: Lambeth Palace Library
Town/City: London
London borough: LB Lambeth

Thomas Thirlby (circa 1500-1570) was the one of the last generation of Tudor bishops who were also diplomats in the service of the state. As bishop, successively, of Westminster, Norwich and Ely, Thirlby represented Henry VIII at the court of the Emperor Charles V, negotiated with the Scots on behalf of Edward VI and led an embassy to Rome following on from the accession of Mary I. The purpose of this mission, in 1555, was to gain papal confirmation for Cardinal Pole’s plans to reunite the English church with Rome. Bishop Thirlby and his entourage, which included Viscount Montagu and Sir Edward Carne, set off from Calais in February, arriving in Rome in June. Their three months on the road saw the death not only of Pope Julius III, who had sent Pole to England as papal legate a year earlier, but also of his successor, Pope Marcellus II. By the time Thirlby arrived, he found instead the newly elected and pro-French Pope Paul IV. In spite of this, the negotiations were completed successfully.

This manuscript seems to have been written by Thirlby’s secretary. It gives a lively account, full of interesting detail, of the journey across Europe, travelling through France and northern Italy, their stay in Rome, and the return journey, over the Alps via Innsbruck and through Germany and the Low Countries, reaching London on 25 August.

On returning to England, Thirlby narrowly missed appointment by Mary as Lord Chancellor of England, in succession to Stephen Gardiner. In 1559, having refused to swear the oath of supremacy, he was deprived and imprisoned, but he was later released under house arrest as a member of Archbishop Parker’s household. In this capacity, he spent the last seven years of his life at Lambeth Palace and is buried in the parish church outside the gate.

Through the generosity of FNL, and with additional support from the Arts Council England/V&A Purchase Grant Fund, this manuscript has now been added to Lambeth Palace Library’s extensive collections relating to the history of the English reformation and the troubled reign of Mary Tudor.