Audley was born in Earls Colne, Essex, the son of Geoffrey Audley, and is believed to have studied at Buckingham College, Cambridge, now known as Magdalene College. He was educated for the law, entered the Inner Temple, was named town clerk of Colchester in 1514, and became Justice of the Peace for Essex in November 1520.
In 1523 Audley was returned to Parliament for Essex, and represented this constituency in subsequent Parliaments. In 1527 he was Groom of the Chamber, and became a member of Wolsey’s household. On the fall of the latter in 1529, he was made Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and the same year Speaker of the House of Commons, presiding over the famous assembly styled the Reformation Parliament, which abolished the papal jurisdiction. The same year he headed a deputation of the Commons to the king to complain of Bishop Fisher’s speech against their proceedings. He interpreted the King’s “moral” scruples to parliament concerning his marriage with Catherine of Aragon, and made himself the instrument of the King in the attack upon the clergy and the preparation of the Act of Supremacy.
In 1531 he had been made a serjeant-at-law and king’s serjeant; and on 20 May 1532 he was knighted, and succeeded Sir Thomas More as Lord Keeper of the Great Seal, being appointed Lord Chancellor on 26 January 1533. He supported the king’s divorce from Catherine and the marriage with Anne Boleyn; and presided at the trials of Fisher and More in 1535, at which his conduct and evident intention to secure a conviction has been criticised by some. Next year he was part of the trial of Anne Boleyn and her “lovers” for treason and adultery. The execution of the king’s wife left him free to declare the king’s daughter Princess Elizabeth a bastard, and for Henry to marry Anne’s maid, Jane Seymour. Audley was a witness to the queen’s execution, and recommended to Parliament the new Act of Succession, which made Jane Seymour‘s issue legitimate.
In 1537 he condemned to death as traitors the rebels of the Pilgrimage of Grace. On 29 November 1538 he was created Baron Audley of Walden; and soon afterwards presided as Lord Steward at the trials of Henry Pole, Lord Montacute, and of the Marquess of Exeter. In 1539, inclining to the Protestant Reformation, he made himself the King’s instrument in enforcing religious conformity, and in the passing of the Six Articles Act.