Thomas Cromwell, whose name has risen to fame in this century not least due to the books by Hilary Mantel and later adaptation for TV of the same, became a most powerful man during the latter reign of Henry VIII.
Born in Putney, London, as the son of a blacksmith, fuller and clothes merchant, it must be said that Thomas Cromwell made a remarkable rise to power, no doubt as a result of his own intelligence and skills, but also with the help of a few useful patrons along the way, not least Thomas Wolsey, whose household he belonged to for a number of years.
There exist both contradictory and curious information about Cromwell´s early years, in the latter category one find both that he should have been a mercenary marching with the French army as well as an agent of the archbishop of York in Rome.
But it was in the 1520´s he began his rise to power. In 1517 and 1518 he had been leading an embassy to Rome to obtain a Papal Bull of Indulgence from the Pope for the town of Boston in Lincolnshire.
This was followed, in matter of career, by a seat in the House of Commons and 1524 he was elected member of Grey´s Inn.
His period in the household of Thomas Wolsey stretched from 1516 to 1530 and by 1529 his secretary. He aided the dissolution of monasteries to collect money for the war coffer in the 1520´s and towards the end of his time with Wolsey´s, Cromwell was one of Wolsey´s most trusted advisors. But at the end of 1529 Wolsey had fallen from grace with his master, just like Cromwell one day would.
Thomas Cromwell was instrumental in bringing about the annulment of Henry VIII´s marriage from Catherine of Aragon, and was at one point an ally of Anne Boleyn but has in many quarters gone down in history as the man guilty of her destruction. Whether this is true, we will most likely not entirely know.
During the 1530´s, Henry showered Cromwell in titles and appointments and in 1536 he was made Knight of the Garter, the honour expected to befall George Boleyn who instead was about to meet his death.
Among the offices bestowed on Cromwell was Master of King´s Jewel House, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Rolls, Steward of the Duchy of Lancaster, Essex, Hertfordshire and Middlesex, Lord Privy Seal, Dean of Wells, Governor of the Isle of Wight and Great Chamberlain to mention but a few. Ironically, the last office, as well as the title Earl of Essex, he received only months before his arrest and execution.
There has been much speculation about what it was that brought about Cromwell´s downfall, whether it was that he went to far in his religious convictions – while Henry was all for religious reform, he was never a protestant, something it is widely believed that Thomas Cromwell was, or that it was by him the arranged disastrous marriage between Henry and Anne of Cleves. Most likely it was a number of reasons that his adversaries used to topple him.
On this day, June 10th 1540, Thomas Cromwell was arrested on charges of high treason.
The Tudor Revolution in Government: Administrative Changes in the Reign of Henry VIII – G R Elton
Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister – Robert Hutchinson