Bishop of Winchester and lord chancellor of England; b. Bury-St.-Edmund's, West Suffolk, England, between 1483 and 1493; d. Whitehall, London, Nov. 12, 1555. He was educated in canon and civil law at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he later became master. From Cambridge he passed into Cardinal Thomas wolsey's household and in 1528 was sent to the papal court on an embassy (concerning henry viii's divorce) with which he made his mark. He survived Wolsey's fall, became the King's secretary, and in November 1531 became bishop of Winchester. In the spring of the next year he temporarily lost favor by upholding the cause of the clergy against the combined attack of Commons and King, but he was soon back in royal service, being present the next year at the court in which Thomas cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, declared Henry's marriage to Catherine null.
Despite some hesitation, which cost him the secretaryship in 1534, Gardiner became an enthusiast not only for the divorce but also for Henrician caesaropapism. It was such bishops as he who made Henry's theological revolution so easy, and his De vera obedientia (1535) was an important piece of propaganda for the Royal Supremacy. From then onward, though a keen rival of Cromwell, he served Henry unquestioningly, above all as a diplomat, without, however, acquiring high office, probably because he was a bishop.
Gardiner was a typical Henrician, convinced that the King was, by God's law, his spiritual and temporal overlord, to whom he owed all obedience; but otherwise he was theologically conservative. He was one of those behind the swing back to orthodoxy in 1539, and he took a leading part in the unsuccessful attempt to unseat Cranmer with a charge of heresy in 1543. For the rest of Henry's reign he was a major figure in the conservative party and was keenly engaged in the jockeying for power that filled the last months of Henry's reign. Shortly before Henry died, Gardiner had been worsted, and the new reign finally brought him down. Gardiner opposed the Protestant reforms of Cranmer (particularly his Book of Homilies ) and was promptly imprisoned. He was released in early 1548 but was arrested again a few months later and sent to the Tower. He had then taken a firm stand on behalf of the Real Presence and the Mass against the reformers. Not till late 1550 was he brought to trial, then, being found guilty of opposing "godly reformations of abuses in religion," he was deprived of his bishopric. Had Edward VI lived, Gardiner might have ended his days in the Tower. But in 1553 mary tudor came to the throne, and he was released, restored to his see, and created lord chancellor. Despite his past, he was the sort of man upon whom Mary had to rely to carry out the restoration of Catholicism. Whether he had any real grasp of the size or nature of the problem confronting him and his fellow bishops, whether he had become more than the ecclesiastical politician of old is not easy to say. But he gave Mary good advice when he boldly opposed the Spanish marriage and, though his hand was behind the restoration of the heresy laws, he was not particularly active as a persecutor, even trying to soften the blows against Cranmer and John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Furthermore, his own conversion seems to have been sincere. The former Henrician and trimmer seems to have declared his true self when in 1554 he made his peace with Rome. Late the next year he died at Whitehall with the following words on his lips: "I have denied with Peter, I have gone out with Peter, but I have not wept with Peter"; we may accept this as his epitaph.
Bibliography: s. gardiner, Obedience in Church and State, ed. and tr. p. janelle (Cambridge, Eng. 1930); Letters, ed. j. a. muller (New York 1933). j. a. muller, Stephen Gardiner and the Tudor Reaction (New York 1926). h. m. smith, Henry VIII and the Reformation (New York 1962). l. b. smith, Tudor Prelates and Politics, 1536–1558 (Princeton 1953). p. hughes, The Reformation in England (New York 1963) v.2. h. o. evenett, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 1957–65) 4:518. a. gatard, Dictionnaire de théologie catholique, ed. a. vacant, 15 v. (Paris 1903–50; Tables générales 1951–) 6.1:1156–58. j. b. mullinger, The Dictionary of National Biography from the Earliest Times to 1900, 63 v. (London 1885–1900) 7:859–865.
[j. j. scarisbrick]