1915: 167 Haitian political prisoners 1600: The Pappenheimer Family

1540: Thomas Cromwell

July 28th, 2009 Headsman

“Who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your majesty? He that was so advanced by your majesty, he whose surety was only by your majesty, he who loved your majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forward whatsoever was your majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your majesty; he that was such a servant, in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had …

If he be a Traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him, or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas!”

-Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, writing to King Henry VIII upon news of the arrest of Thomas Cromwell

It was on this date in 1540 that the Machiavellian minister of Henry VIII fell by the instrument he had wielded so ably against so many others.

While Henry strove to get his end away, Thomas Cromwell made the Reformation, setting his energetic hand to the needfully violent reordering of England.

In almost a decade as the king’s chief minister, he had dissolved so many monasteries, annulled so many noble prerogatives, backstabbed so many courtiers, and sent so many of every class to the scaffold that most at court had some reason to hate him. (Cranmer was the only one to (cautiously) object to his old partner’s arrest.)

Every matter of importance in 1530′s England concerned Cromwell. He raised and then destroyed Anne Boleyn; he managed the realm’s religious turmoil so fearsomely that his ouster was one of the demands of the Pilgrimage of Grace; he did what he had to do in the matter of Sir Thomas More.

Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed Man-Booker Prize-winning 2009 novel Wolf Hall humanizes Cromwell’s side of his clash with Thomas More. (Review)

Though it may be, as Edward Hall recorded, that “many lamented but more rejoiced” at Cromwell’s fall from the very height of his power — “and specially such as either had been religious men, or favoured religious persons; for they banqueted and triumphed together that night [of his execution], many wishing that that day had been seven year before” — the reasons for it are murky enough to invite recourse to the royal person’s irrationality.

The bedroom politics get all the press: Cromwell’s bit of marital statecraft arranging Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was a famous dud, but negotiations to end it were well on their way by the time of Cromwell’s arrest.

Why, too, should the minister have been ennobled Duke of Essex in April 1540, months after the disastrous union? That Cromwell, whose own security rested upon the stability of the realm, was a radical Protestant promulgating inflammatory religious ideas — and he was condemned for both treason and heresy, incidentally giving the king wide latitude for just how painfully to kill his former servant — seems to beggar belief.

Once fallen, Cromwell was kept alive long enough to add testimony to the Cleves divorce; that much is clear. But then why keep him alive still three weeks more?

In the end, maybe it was inevitable that one in his position, at his time and place, had to follow to the scaffold the many he had sent thither, just the Tudor version of that familiar “bad advisors” trope: it were not treason to murmur against the aide whose ill counsel did wrong by His Majesty, and so Cromwell stood to accumulate the share of hostility that properly belonged to his sovereign. As an expert practitioner of the game of power politics, Thomas Cromwell could hardly be in a position to complain.

Oh, and by the by: with the German princess on the outs, the king’s wandering eye had fallen upon a niece of Cromwell’s enemy. On the day that Cromwell lost his head, Henry married Catherine Howard. No matter your brilliance, in Henrican England you only had to lose at court politics once, even if the king would be lamenting this injudicious trade within months.

Henry gave his loyal servant the easiest death, beheading on Tower Hill (although it turned out to be a botched job) — alongside a distinctly undercard attraction, Walter Hungerford, the first person executed under the Buggery Act.

Hall records Cromwell playing ball with a fine entry in the scaffold-speech genre that kept his son in the peerage.

I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should do so, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I have had yeres of discrecion, I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And it is not unknowne to many of you, that I have been a great traveler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the tyme I came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me. O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe, not doubtyng in any article of my faith, no nor doubtyng in any Sacrament of the Churche.* Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe of the holy Churche. And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long live with you, maie long reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe.

And then made he his praier, whiche was long, but not so long, as bothe Godly and learned, and after committed his soule, into the handes of God, and so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office.

If Cromwell’s dying sentiment concealed any lasting bitterness for the crown, maybe his spirit would take some satisfaction a century later when another of his name and family rose high enough to behead a king.

* Cromwell’s bit about the “Catholic faith” in his dying confession is to be carefully handled; it’s sometimes rendered “the traditional faith,” and occasionally treated by later Protestant polemicists as a phony addition made by Roman apologists. It’s not, appearances aside, walking back the Reformation; according to Charles Carlton’s “Thomas Cromwell: A Study in Interrogation” (Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies, Vol. 5, No. 2 (Summer, 1973)) our day’s victim “did not see himself as a Catholic separate from the Church, but as a Christian, who, with his King, had escaped the Pope’s usurped authority.” Cromwell is also explicit in this passage about rejecting sacramentarianism, which was part of the heresy accusation against him.

Also on this date

Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Arts and Literature,Beheaded,Botched Executions,Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,England,Execution,Famous,God,Heresy,History,Homosexuals,Infamous,Lawyers,Milestones,Nobility,Notably Survived By,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Religious Figures,The Worm Turns,Treason,Wrongful Executions

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14 Responses to “1540: Thomas Cromwell”

  1. 1
    ExecutedToday.com » 1537: Robert Aske, for the Pilgrimage of Grace Says:

    [...] the conservative and Catholic-leaning north, Thomas Cromwell’s reforms (combined with various political and economic grievances) triggered an uprising [...]

  2. 2
    ExecutedToday.com » 1661: Oliver Cromwell, posthumously Says:

    [...] great-great-grandnephew of ruthless Tudor pol Thomas Cromwell rose higher than any English commoner, high enough to be offered the very crown he had struck off [...]

  3. 3
    ExecutedToday.com » 1540: Three Papists and Three Anti-Papists Says:

    [...] Headsman On this date in 1540, two days after disposing of his former Vicegerent of Spirituals Thomas Cromwell, the just-wedded Henry VIII wrote a terrifying message of religious conformity in blood and smoke [...]

  4. 4
    ExecutedToday.com » 1536: William Tyndale, English Bible translator Says:

    [...] drawn from Tyndale’s version (revised by former Tyndale assistant Myles Coverdale under Thomas Cromwell’s direction; prefaced by Thomas Cranmer) was by regal authority placed in every parish of the [...]

  5. 5
    ExecutedToday.com » 1539: Richard Whiting, the last Abbot of Glastonbury Says:

    [...] 15th, 2009 Headsman Letter to Thomas Cromwell from his man in Somerset,* Richard Pollard, a local gentry type making out well under the [...]

  6. 6
    ExecutedToday.com » 1554: Thomas Wyatt the Younger, with the Queen’s life in his hands Says:

    [...] In Henry’s snakepit, youthful frolics could come back to bite you; Wyatt the elder was actually imprisoned for adultery with the queen, only ducking the fatal charge thanks to some pull with Thomas Cromwell. [...]

  7. 7
    Conejo Says:

    What are the links for the Youtube videos? Are they actual films?

  8. 8
    ExecutedToday.com » 1541: Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre Says:

    [...] sense of entitlement about the forests of the next lord over. In any event, a 1537 letter to Thomas Cromwell testifies to the young Fiennes’ vice. I have received your lordship’s letters wherein I [...]

  9. 9
    ExecutedToday.com » 1586: Anthony Babington and fellow plotters, Walsingham’d Says:

    [...] completed papal visit to England has summoned many a recollection of that country’s traumatic break from the Church. (As well as more recent [...]

  10. 10
    ExecutedToday.com » Executed Today’s Third Annual Report: Third Time Lucky Says:

    [...] 6. July 28, 1540: Thomas Cromwell [...]

  11. 11
    ExecutedToday.com » 1793: Philippe Egalite, hoisted on his own petard Says:

    [...] * Hilary Mantel is the same author who penned the acclaimed historical novel Wolf Hall, about Thomas Cromwell. [...]

  12. 12
    Steve Wise Says:

    Very informative, having just read two of C.J.Samsoms accounts of Tudor England I find the record almost as written. Was Cromwell a loyal servant of the crown or merely an opportunist charlatan? We may never know, but will always be intrigued.

  13. 13
    ExecutedToday.com » 1534: Elizabeth Barton, the Holy Maid of Kent Says:

    [...] with a circle of supporters, Barton was forced into a public recantation in November 1533 by her persecutors. One supposes such a recantation was in any event obtained under some duress; undoubtedly it was, [...]

  14. 14
    ExecutedToday.com » 1835: John Smith and James Pratt, the last hanged for sodomy in Great Britain Says:

    [...] The first executed under the Buggery Act shared his scaffold with Thomas Cromwell almost 300 years before. Although there were no further executions for sodomy after Smith and Pratt [...]

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