Today marks the anniversary of the arrest of Thomas Cromwell for accusations of High Treason no less. Thomas was Henry VIII’s best pal and chief advisor. I always find the case of Thomas Cromwell really interesting. Its a story full of brown nosing,influence, betrayal and regret, (and of course a sprinkle of sex because lets face it, when is it not when Henry VIII is involved?).
So let me paint you the picture. Thomas Cromwell was Henry VIII’s right hand man. He played a major part in the reformation and the fucking up of the monasteries. He was key to the rise AND the fall of Anne Boleyn, and most impressively he was a self made man from grass roots.
Thomas had a colourful past, (I will keep it brief because I intend to cover him in greater detail another time). He was born in Putney in 1485. His Dad was a blacksmith (among other thing) and a known dick head, so as a boy Thomas decided to run away. He worked as a mercenary for the French, found his way into the service of a wealthy Italian Banker, then onto roles in the Vatican before popping back to England to become a barrister and eventually ending up working in the service of cardinal Woolsey in 1523 because he had pure gold Intel on the Italians (Woolsey was an important man to Henry and the richest man in the country at the time, having more dollar than Henry himself..).
Cromwell married in 1489 and stayed that way until his wife (and two of his kids), died in 1428 of sweating sickness, (a really shitty Tudor disease that first rocked up in 1485 ish and completely disappeared by the reign of Elizabeth 1 in 1551. You would be well one day and dead the next. The disease was rife through Henry VIII’s reign and then disappeared…Im not sure what to take from this fact).
The next year proved crap for Tom too. In 1529 Woolsey failed to get permission from the pope for henry VIII to divorce his first wife Katherine of Aragon (so he could bend it up Anne Boleyn). Because of this Henry went into a sheer rage and demanded Woolsey come to London to face charges of high treason, (which basically is polite for ‘you’re going to be executed’). Thomas wanted to stay loyal to Woolsey (they had became good friends), so arranged for his estate to be divided up in his will, obviously knowing of the Kings appetite for murder and took precautions and thus taking precautions.
Anyway, this didn’t come about because Woolsey died en route. lucky escape or divine intervention? whatever it was he dodged a bullet, (well he still died but it wasn’t by decapitation. Id take dying in bed over an axe to the head by a pissed up masked man in a public arena any day).
All was looking bleak for Cromwell: he had lost his wife, his kids and his master, and escaped execution by sheer luck. However just when things were looking about as low as they could possibly get, Thomas played a blinder. He managed to use his law skills and knowledge of the church to cook up a plan which saw Henry VIII break away form Rome, the pope and ultimately the catholic church, which was preventing him divorce his wife in favour of the concubine (good word isn’t it), Anne Boleyn. By doing this henry was then able to announce himself ‘The head of The Church of England’. Henry then married Anne (who lets face it must’ve been super hot for him to go through all of that trouble), and made Cromwell his right hand man.
Cromwell then cemented his name as number 2 on the ‘don’t mess with me list’ of Henry’s court by seizing power of over 800 religious, (catholic), houses and monasteries and repossessing anything of any worth. This of course went straight to he head of the new church (which was of course Henry -being the fat greedy monarch he was), making him ‘bear pe’ as the kids say, (a shit ton of cash).
That wasn’t it for Cromwell either, he managed to pull a hat trick and in 1536 he secured the downfall of Anne Boleyn, (yes that’s right, the woman he had worked so hard to raise). He managed to make stick charges of treason, adultery and incest and got men to confess to these, thus incriminating Anne (they confessed under torture obviously). She was then sent to the block to clear the way for wife number 3 – in true Henry style.
Henry loved it. Cromwell was a touch of pure Gold. He was the man who got shit done, the man who never said things were impossible and the man who gave henry everything he wanted. Everyone at court was jealous of Tom, the kings right hand man. Henry loved Cromwell so much he awarded him with the Order of the Garter.
And so to his downfall. In 1537 the kings fave wife, Jane Seymour, dies of childbed fever. The king was grief stricken (unlike henry I know, but this time he was). Henry missed Jane greatly but shit was hitting the fan and the Catholics were not impressed with Henry. Cromwell proposed that he remarry. This served the king 2 purposes: 1)to have yet another chance of producing more male heirs and 2) to form allies with other protestant countries.
Cromwell found him a nice little princess in Germany who went by the name of Anne of Cleeves. Henry sent his most trusted painter, Hans Holbein, to paint Anne so he could decide if there was to be a marriage, (all the good portraits of the Tudors are Hans Holbein’s work, you will have seen them before). Henry didn’t like Anne, but Cromwell saw it his duty to persuade Henry that Anne would be a good match. Reluctantly the king agreed and on New years eve in 1539 the pair met. It all went tits up (But I will save that story for an ‘Anne’ day), and the king was left humiliated.
The wedding went ahead anyway, it would’ve been bad form ion the kings part to cancel it and cause offence and break allegiances. Anne was totally out of place at English court. She could barely speak English and was not used to the flirtatious lifestyles of the courtiers. coming from a strict religious upbringing she must’ve thought the English women were nothing but a bunch of floozies with their low cut dresses and extrovert behaviours. Henry did not like her one bit. He likened her to a horse, said she stank and then couldn’t perform his manly duty on their wedding night…Obviously Henry saw this as Anne’s fault, which then in turn made it Cromwell’s fault for suggesting the whole thing.
Henry wanted the whole thing annulled, he asked for her permission and of course she said yes – what was the alternative? Giving the King what he wanted usually bought you your head a little longer at least. The problem then was that henry has to give evidence in order to break off the marriage, that evidence being that he couldn’t get it up on his wedding night. How humiliating. Cromwell was well and truly in the shit now, but despite this in April 1940, the King made Thomas the Earl of Essex – an unusual move.
Meanwhile in court, the vultures ere circling.The Duke of Norfolk (a power hungry dick of a man) and the Bishop Gardiner desperately wanted rid of Cromwell and hated the influence he had over the king.Norfolk has his niece, Katherine Howard put into Anne of Cleeve’s service and being the 17 year old stunner that she was, she immediately caught the Kings eye. He was now more desperate that ever to be rid of Anne of Cleeves but lets be honest, she had done nothing wrong.
By now Henry was annoyed that Thomas had pushed him into the marriage and it had become such a disaster. He was also annoyed that he could not simply behead Anne and have done and would need to essentially buy her out. Norfolk at this point would’ve been whispering in the Kings ears, planting poisonous seeds about Cromwell’s competency and ambitions, fuelling a fire. Well it worked.
On June 10th 1940, Thomas Cromwell attended a small council meeting when the door burst open and in rushed Norfolk (like the massive bastard he was) Norfolk then led the arrest of Cromwell, and took him to the Tower where he faced charges of high treason, heresy and corruption. Cromwell was kept in the tower under a Bill of Attainder (meaning punishment without trial). It was now obvious that Cromwell was facing certain death. The king kept Cromwell alive until the annulment of his marriage had gone through, (possibly keeping him on standby as lawyer extraordinaire in case it all fell flat on its arse).
Thomas was finally executed on 28th July 1540. Some people say his head was boiled and put on a spike on Tower bridge, others say it was quartered. There is no evidence for this but what we do know is that the executioner cocked it up (like a knob end), and it took 3 or more strokes to remove Cromwell head. A really sad end. And the King, what was he doing on the day of Thomas’ execution? well he was marrying wife number 4, Katherine Howard, Norfolk’s niece, (Anne incidentally lived happily ever after).
The King apparently spent the rest of his days regretting Ordering Cromwell’s execution. I don’t think he wanted it to happen at all and got swept away with the Duke of Norfolk’s charm and promises of his 17 year old nieces maidenhead. Henry obviously thought a lot of Cromwell, even at the end, after all he made him Earl of Essex weeks before execution. Without Cromwell around the Duke of Norfolk was about to have his time.