|Death Date:||28 July 1540 (aged 54–55)
Tower Hill, London
|Birth Place:||Putney, British|
As per our current Database, Thomas Cromwell died on 28 July 1540 (aged 54–55)
Tower Hill, London.
|Height||Weight||Hair Colour||Eye Colour||Blood Type||Tattoo(s)|
Cromwell declared to Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer that he had been a "ruffian [...] in his young days". In his youth he left his family in Putney and crossed the Channel to the Continent. Accounts of his activities in France, Italy and the Low Countries are sketchy and contradictory. The tale that he first became a mercenary and marched with the French army to Italy, where in 1503 he fought in the Battle of Garigliano, originally stems from a short story by the contemporary Italian novelist Matteo Bandello (in which Cromwell is a page to a foot-soldier, carrying his pike and helmet, rather than a soldier himself).
This tale was later taken up as fact by many writers, notably John Foxe in his Actes and Monuments of 1563. Diarmaid MacCulloch accepts that the specifics in Bandello's narrative suggest that it is more than an invented account, but James Gairdner, while acknowledging that Cromwell's year of birth is uncertain, points out that he could have been as young as 13 on the day of the battle. While in Italy, he entered service in the household of the Florentine banker Francesco Frescobaldi, who rescued him off the Florentine streets, where he was starving after leaving the French mercenaries. Later, he visited leading mercantile centres in the Low Countries, living among the English merchants and developing a network of contacts while learning several languages. At some point he returned to Italy. The records of the English Hospital in Rome indicate that he stayed there in June 1514, while documents in the Vatican Archives suggest that he was an agent for the Archbishop of York, Cardinal Christopher Bainbridge, and handled English ecclesiastical issues before the Roman Rota.
In 1517, and again in 1518, Cromwell led an embassy to Rome to obtain from Pope Leo X a papal bull for the reinstatement of Indulgences for the town of Boston, Lincolnshire.
By 1520, Cromwell was firmly established in London mercantile and legal circles. In 1523, he obtained a seat in the House of Commons as a Burgess, though the constituency he represented has not been identified. After Parliament had been dissolved, Cromwell wrote a letter to a friend, jesting about the session's lack of productivity:
For a short while in 1523 Cromwell became a trusted adviser to Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset before, early in 1524, becoming a member of the household of Lord Chancellor Cardinal Wolsey, although initially he maintained his private legal practice; in that year he was elected a member of Gray's Inn, a lawyers' guild. Cromwell assisted in the dissolution of nearly thirty monasteries to raise funds for Wolsey to found The King's School, Ipswich (1528), and Cardinal College, in Oxford (1529). In 1529 Wolsey appointed Cromwell a member of his council, as one of his most senior and trusted advisers. By the end of October of that year, however, Wolsey had fallen from power. Cromwell had made enemies by aiding Wolsey to suppress the monasteries, but was determined not to fall with his master, as he told George Cavendish, then a Gentleman Usher and later Wolsey's biographer:
From 1527, Henry VIII had sought to have his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon annulled, so that he could lawfully marry Anne Boleyn. At the centre of the campaign to secure the annulment was the emerging doctrine of royal supremacy over the church. By the autumn of 1531, Cromwell had taken control of the supervision of the king's legal and parliamentary affairs, working closely with Thomas Audley, and had joined the inner circle of the Council. By the following spring, he had begun to exert influence over elections to the House of Commons.
Cromwell's wife died early in 1529 and his daughters, Anne and Grace, are believed to have died not long after their mother. Their death may have been due to sweating sickness. Provisions made for Anne and Grace in Cromwell's will, dated 12 July 1529, were crossed out at some later date. Gregory outlived his father by only 11 years, succumbing to sweating sickness in 1551.
The third session of what is now known as the Reformation Parliament had been scheduled for October 1531, but was postponed until 15 January 1532 because of government indecision as to the best way to proceed. Cromwell now favoured the assertion of royal supremacy, and manipulated the Commons by resurrecting anti-clerical grievances expressed earlier in the session of 1529. On 18 March 1532, the Commons delivered a supplication to the king, denouncing clerical abuses and the power of the ecclesiastical courts, and describing Henry as "the only head, sovereign lord, protector and defender" of the Church. The clergy capitulated when faced with the threat of parliamentary reprisal. On 14 May 1532, Parliament was prorogued. Two days later, Sir Thomas More resigned as Lord Chancellor, realising that the battle to save the marriage was lost. More's resignation from the Council represented a triumph for Cromwell and the pro-Reformation faction at court.
The king's gratitude to Cromwell was expressed in a grant of the lordship of the manor of Romney in the Welsh Marches (recently confiscated from the family of the executed Edward Stafford, 3rd Duke of Buckingham) and appointment to three relatively minor offices: Master of the Jewels on 14 April 1532, Clerk of the Hanaper on 16 July, and Chancellor of the Exchequer on 12 April 1533. None of these offices afforded much income, but the appointments were an indication of royal favour, and gave Cromwell a position in three major institutions of government: the royal household, the Chancery, and the Exchequer.
Henry and Anne married on 25 January 1533, after a secret marriage on 14 November 1532 that historians believe took place in Calais. On 23 May 1533, newly appointed Archbishop of Canterbury Thomas Cranmer declared Henry and Catherine's marriage null and void; five days later, he declared Henry and Anne's marriage valid.
On 26 January 1533 Audley was appointed Lord Chancellor and his replacement as Speaker of the House of Commons was Cromwell's old friend (and former lawyer to Cardinal Wolsey) Humphrey Wingfield. Cromwell further increased his control over parliament through his management of by-elections: since the previous summer, assisted by Thomas Wriothesley, then Clerk of the Signet, he had prepared a list of suitably amenable "burgesses, knights and citizens" for the vacant parliamentary seats.
The parliamentary session began on 4 February, and Cromwell introduced a new bill restricting the right to make appeals to Rome, reasserting the long-standing historical fiction that England was an "empire" and thus not subject to external jurisdiction. On 30 March, Cranmer was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury, and Convocation immediately declared the king's marriage to Catherine unlawful. In the first week of April 1533, Parliament passed Cromwell's bill into law, as the Act in Restraint of Appeals, ensuring that any adjudication concerning the king's marriage could not be challenged in Rome. On 11 April, Archbishop Cranmer sent the King formal notice that the validity of his marriage to Catherine was to be the subject of an ecclesiastical court hearing. The trial began on 10 May 1533 at Dunstable Priory (near to where Catherine was staying at Ampthill Castle) and on 23 May the Archbishop pronounced the court's verdict, declaring the marriage "null and invalid…contrary to the law of God". Five days later he pronounced the King's marriage to Anne to be lawful, and on 1 June, she was crowned queen.
In December, the King authorised Cromwell to discredit the papacy and the Pope was attacked throughout the nation in sermons and pamphlets. In 1534 a new Parliament was summoned, again under Cromwell's supervision, to enact the legislation necessary to make a formal break of England's remaining ties with Rome. Archbishop Cranmer's verdict took statutory form as the Act of Succession, the Dispensations Act reiterated royal supremacy and the Act for the Submission of the Clergy incorporated into law the clergy's surrender in 1532. On 30 March 1534, Audley gave royal assent to the legislation in the presence of the King.
In April 1534, Henry confirmed Cromwell as his principal secretary and chief minister, a position which he had held for some time in all but name. Cromwell immediately took steps to enforce the legislation just passed by Parliament. Before the members of both houses returned home on 30 March, they were required to swear an oath accepting the Act of Succession, and all the King's subjects were now required to swear to the legitimacy of the marriage and, by implication, to accept the King's new powers and the break from Rome. On 13 April, the London clergy accepted the oath. On the same day, the commissioners offered it to Sir Thomas More and John Fisher, Bishop of Rochester, both of whom refused it. More was taken into custody on the same day and was moved to the Tower of London on 17 April. Fisher joined him there four days later. On 7 May Cromwell led a deputation from the commissioners to Fisher and More, to persuade them to accept the Act and save themselves. This failed and, within a month, both prisoners were executed.
On 18 April, an order was issued that all citizens of London were to swear their acceptance of the Oath of Succession. Similar orders were issued throughout the country. When Parliament reconvened in November, Cromwell brought in the most significant revision of the treason laws since 1352, making it treasonous to speak rebellious words against the Royal Family, to deny their titles, or to call the King a heretic, tyrant, infidel, or usurper. The Act of Supremacy also clarified the King's position as head of the church and the Act for Payment of First Fruits and Tenths substantially increased clerical taxes. Cromwell also strengthened his own control over the Church. On 21 January 1535, the King appointed him Royal Vicegerent and Vicar-General, and commissioned him to organise visitations of all the country's churches, monasteries, and clergy. In this capacity, Cromwell conducted a census in 1535 to enable the government to tax church property more effectively.
Cromwell orchestrated the Dissolution of the Monasteries and visitations to the universities and colleges in 1535, which had strong links to the church. This resulted in the dispersal and destruction of many books deemed "popish" and "superstitious". This has been described as "easily the greatest single disaster in English literary history". Oxford University was left without a library collection until Sir Thomas Bodley's donation in 1602.
In 1535 Cromwell succeeded in having clearly identified reformers, such as Hugh Latimer, Edward Foxe and Nicholas Shaxton, appointed to the episcopacy. He encouraged and supported the work of reformers, such as Robert Barnes; and he obtained the licence to publish the Matthew's Bible, providing significant funding for the printing of this English translation of the Bible and sending one to every parish in England. By 1538, it was compulsory for all churches to own a Bible, in accordance with Cromwell's injunctions. The revised version, the Great Bible, was widely available by 1539 and included a picture of Henry VIII, Thomas Cranmer and Cromwell on the title page.
The final session of the Reformation Parliament began on 4 February 1536. By 18 March, an Act for the Suppression of the Lesser Monasteries, those with a gross income of less than £200 per annum, had passed both houses. This caused a clash with Anne Boleyn, formerly one of Cromwell's strongest allies, who wanted the proceeds of the dissolution used for educational and charitable purposes, not paid into the King's coffers.
The Queen and her brother stood trial on Monday 15 May, while the four others accused with them were condemned on the Friday beforehand. The men were executed on 17 May 1536 and, on the same day, Cranmer declared Henry's marriage to Anne invalid, a ruling that illegitimised their daughter, Princess Elizabeth. Two days later, Anne herself was executed. On 30 May, the King married Jane Seymour. On 8 June, a new Parliament passed the second Act of Succession, securing the rights of Queen Jane's heirs to the throne.
Cromwell's position was now stronger than ever. He succeeded Anne Boleyn's father, Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire, as Lord Privy Seal on 2 July 1536, resigning the office of Master of the Rolls, which he had held since 8 October 1534. On 8 July 1536, he was raised to the peerage as Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon.
In July 1536, the first attempt was made to clarify religious doctrine after the break with Rome. Bishop Edward Foxe tabled proposals in Convocation, with strong backing from Cromwell and Cranmer, which the King later endorsed as the Ten Articles and which were printed in August 1536. Cromwell circulated injunctions for their enforcement that went beyond the Articles themselves, provoking opposition in September and October in Lincolnshire and then throughout the six northern counties. These widespread popular and clerical uprisings, collectively known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, found support among the gentry and even the nobility.
During 1536 Cromwell had proven himself an adept political survivor. However, the gradual slide towards Protestantism at home and the King's ill-starred marriage to Anne of Cleves, which Cromwell engineered in January 1540, proved costly. Some historians believe that Hans Holbein the Younger was partly responsible for Cromwell's downfall because he had provided a very flattering portrait of Anne which may have deceived the king. The 65 cm × 48 cm (26 in × 19 in) painting is now displayed at the Louvre in Paris. When Henry finally met her, the king was reportedly shocked by her plain appearance. Cromwell had passed on to Henry some exaggerated claims of Anne's beauty.
During Cromwell's years in power, he skilfully managed Crown finances and extended royal authority. In 1536, he established the Court of Augmentations to handle the massive windfall to the royal coffers from the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Two other important financial institutions, the Court of Wards and the Court of First Fruits and Tenths, owed their existence to him, although they were not set up until after his death. He strengthened royal authority in the north of England, through reform of the Council of the North, extended royal power and introduced Protestantism in Ireland, and was the architect of the Laws in Wales Acts 1535 and 1542, which promoted stability and gained acceptance for the royal supremacy in Wales. He also introduced important social and economic reforms in England in the 1530s, including action against enclosures, the promotion of English cloth exports and the poor relief legislation of 1536.
The suppression of the risings spurred further Reformation measures. In February 1537, Cromwell convened a vicegerential synod of bishops and academics. The synod was co-ordinated by Cranmer and Foxe, and they prepared a draft document by July: The Institution of a Christian Man, more commonly known as the Bishops' Book. By October, it was in circulation, although the King had not yet given it his full assent. However, Cromwell's success in Church politics was offset by the fact that his political influence had been weakened by the emergence of a Privy Council, a body of nobles and office-holders that first came together to suppress the Pilgrimage of Grace. The King confirmed his support of Cromwell by appointing him to the Order of the Garter on 5 August 1537, but Cromwell was nonetheless forced to accept the existence of an executive body dominated by his conservative opponents.
Queen Jane had died in 1537, less than two weeks after the birth of her only child, the future Edward VI. In early October 1539, the King finally accepted Cromwell's suggestion that he should marry Anne of Cleves, the sister of Duke Wilhelm of Cleves, partly on the basis of a portrait which Hans Holbein had painted of her. On 27 December, Anne of Cleves arrived at Dover. On New Year's Day 1540, the King met her at Rochester and was immediately repelled by her physically: "I like her not!". The wedding ceremony took place on 6 January at Greenwich, but the marriage was not consummated. Henry said that he found it impossible to enjoy conjugal relations with a woman whom he found so unattractive.
In January 1538, Cromwell pursued an extensive campaign against what the opponents of the old religion termed "idolatry": statues, rood screens, and images were attacked, culminating in September with the dismantling of the shrine of St. Thomas Becket at Canterbury. Early in September, Cromwell also completed a new set of vicegerential injunctions declaring open war on "pilgrimages, feigned relics or images, or any such superstitions" and commanding that "one book of the whole Bible in English" be set up in every church. Moreover, following the "voluntary" surrender of the remaining smaller monasteries during the previous year, the larger monasteries were now also "invited" to surrender throughout 1538, a process legitimised in the 1539 session of Parliament and completed in the following year.
The King was becoming increasingly unhappy about the extent of religious changes, and the conservative faction was gaining strength at court. Cromwell took the initiative against his enemies. He imprisoned the Marquess of Exeter, Sir Edward Neville, and Sir Nicholas Carew on charges of treason in November 1538 (the "Exeter Conspiracy"), using evidence acquired from Sir Geoffrey Pole under interrogation in the Tower. Sir Geoffrey, "broken in spirit", was pardoned but the others were executed.
On 17 December 1538, the Inquisitor-General of France forbade the printing of Miles Coverdale's Great Bible. Then, Cromwell persuaded the King of France to release the unfinished books so that printing could continue in England. The first edition was finally available in April 1539. The publication of the Great Bible was one of Cromwell's principal achievements, being the first authoritative version in English.
Cromwell also had an illegitimate daughter, Jane (c. 1530/5–1580), whose early life is a complete mystery. According to novelist Hilary Mantel, "Cromwell had an illegitimate daughter, and beyond the fact that she existed, we know very little about her. She comes briefly into the records, in an incredibly obscure way—she's in the archives of the county of Chester." Jane was born to an unknown mother while Cromwell mourned the loss of his wife and daughters. Jane presumably resided in Cromwell's homes, was educated, and spent time living with Gregory Cromwell at Leeds Castle in 1539. Cromwell's records show him paying for clothing and expenses for Jane. It is unknown what became of Jane's mother. Cromwell was known to be one of the few men at court without mistresses, and tried to keep this indiscretion secret.
The King, however, continued to resist further Reformation measures. A Parliamentary committee was established to examine doctrine, and the Duke of Norfolk presented six questions on 16 May 1539 for the House to consider, which were duly passed as the Act of Six Articles shortly before the session ended on 28 June. The Six Articles reaffirmed a traditional view of the Mass, the Sacraments, and the priesthood.
On 18 April 1540, Henry granted Cromwell the earldom of Essex and the senior Court office of Lord Great Chamberlain. Despite these signs of royal favour, Cromwell's tenure as the King's chief minister was almost over. The King's anger at being forced to marry Anne of Cleves was the opportunity Cromwell's conservative opponents, most notably the Duke of Norfolk, needed to topple him.
Early in 1540 Cromwell's religiously conservative, aristocratic enemies, headed by the Duke of Norfolk and assisted by Bishop Gardiner (colloquially known as "Wily Winchester"), decided that the country's decline towards "doctrinal radicalism" in religion, as expressed in a series of parliamentary debates held throughout that Spring, had gone too far. They saw in Catherine Howard, Norfolk's niece, "considerately put in the king's way by that pander, her uncle of Norfolk", an opportunity to displace their foe. Catherine's assignations with the king were openly facilitated by the duke and the bishop and as she "[strode] towards the throne" the two conspirators found themselves edging once more into political power. It would have been a simple matter for Cromwell to arrange an annulment of Henry's marriage to the tractable Anne, but this would have put him in greater jeopardy as it would clear the way for Catherine to marry the king. At this point, however, cynical self-interest may have made Henry hesitate to act immediately against Cromwell, as the minister was guiding two important revenue bills (the Subsidy Bill and a bill to confiscate the assets of the Order of St John) through parliament.
Cromwell was arrested at a Council meeting on 10 June 1540 and accused of various charges. He was imprisoned in the Tower. His enemies took every opportunity to humiliate him: they even tore off his Order of the Garter, remarking that "A traitor must not wear it." His initial reaction was defiance: "This then is my reward for faithful service!" he cried out, and angrily defied his fellow Councillors to call him a traitor. A Bill of Attainder containing a long list of indictments, including supporting Anabaptists, corrupt practices, leniency in matters of justice, acting for personal gain, protecting Protestants accused of heresy and thus failing to enforce the Act of Six Articles, and plotting to marry Lady Mary Tudor, was introduced into the House of Lords a week later and passed on 29 June 1540.
Cromwell was condemned to death without trial, lost all his titles and property and was publicly beheaded on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540, on the same day as the King's marriage to Catherine Howard. Cromwell made a prayer and speech on the scaffold, professing to die, "in the traditional faith" [Catholic] and denying that he had aided heretics. This was a necessary disavowal, to protect his family. The circumstances of his execution are a source of debate: whilst some accounts state that the executioner had great difficulty severing the head, others claim that this is apocryphal and that it took only one blow. Afterwards, his head was set on a spike on London Bridge.
There remains an element of what G. R. Elton describes as "mystery" about Cromwell's demise. In April 1540, just three months before he went to the block, he was created Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain. The arbitrary and unpredictable streak in the King's personality, which more than once exercised influence during his reign, had surfaced again and washed Cromwell away in its wake.
When Cromwell fell from favour in 1540, his alleged support for Anabaptism was cited. Although the charge was spurious, the fact that it was levelled at all demonstrates the reputation for evangelical sympathies Cromwell had developed.
Henry came to regret Cromwell's killing and later accused his ministers of bringing about Cromwell's downfall by "pretexts" and "false accusations". On 3 March 1541, the French Ambassador, Charles de Marillac, reported in a letter that the King was now said to be lamenting that,
Little is known about Cromwell's early life. It is believed that he was born at the top of Putney Hill, on the edge of Putney Heath. In 1878, his birthplace was still of note: