It was on this date that the rapid rise to power came to a definite and brutal end for Thomas Cromwell. After being at the side of Henry VIII for ten years, and at the outskirts of the court circles for even longer, the wheel of fortune stopped turning altogether.
There is however no straight forward explanation to the downfall of Thomas Cromwell, to say it was just due to the highly unsuccessful union with Anne of Cleves, which Cromwell had a very distinct hand in brokering, but it still had played a part in undermining the kings confidence in his most trusted servant. Just like his former master, Thomas Wolsey, more than ten years earlier, Cromwell had failed to grant the kings absolute wishes, in this case delivering a wife that lived up to the king´s expectations.
But this maybe could have been just a minor glitch in their relationship, had not those who had a much stronger desire than Henry VIII to see Thomas Cromwell fall; the men in who´s sides it was a thorn that a man of lowly birth had managed to become so close to the king and thereby stolen a position that several no doubt though rightfully belonged to them. Two of the noblemen that would have no problem seeing Thomas Cromwell fall was Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk and Thomas Wriothesley who also obligingly helped removed his badges when he was arrested during a council meeting on July 10th
Another factor that was to be part of the reasons for Thomas Cromwell´s downfall was religion. Some people like to think that Henry was the fore bearer of Protestantism, which in no way was the case, Henry VIII was never anything but catholic, even if he obviously had views on how things were run in the church and, also obviously, had no interest in being told what to do by the Pope. But Thomas Cromwell on the other hand had protestant inclinations, and this is why the foremost accusation against Thomas Cromwell was that of heresy. He was not only accused of being a Sacramentarian – that is to say belonging to a group of Christians that not only rejected the Roman Catholic idea that the blood and wine during communion actually become the blood and flesh of Christ, but also rejected the Lutheran idea of the Sacramental Union, that the bread and wine represents a union with the blood and flesh of Christ – but also of spreading heretical literature as well as not only giving license to heretics to preach, but also of releasing them from prison once they ended up there.
He was also accused of sympathising with Robert Barnes, the reformer who for a while acted as intermediate between Henry and the protestant Germany and was active but in the work for an annulment of the marriage to Katherine of Aragon as well as securing a marriage to Anne of Cleves. In the end, he too was accused of heresy, and only a few days after the execution of Thomas Cromwell, Robert Barnes was burned at the stake.
But back to Thomas Cromwell; what made things complicated for him was that his accusers managed to produce correspondence between him and Lutherans and when the letters were presented to the king, Cromwell did not dispute them. This apparently really set off Henry´s wrath, and made it even easier for the enemies of Cromwell to have the king´s ear. When they suggested Cromwell was guilty of treason he chose to believe them, a result of the lack of faith in Cromwell that was the result of the failed marriage to Anne of Cleves.
Lucy Wooding also suggest that something that shook Henry profoundly was the notion that someone could have a view that differed from his own on, in this case, religious matters. She also states that Cromwell´s fall can only be understood in light of the religious development in London, which had furthered Henry´s fear of religious extremism.
11 years before his execution, on the July 11th 1529, Thomas Cromwell had written his testament in which he made specific gifts and bequest to his servants and his best friend, as well as making provisions for his son Gregory
Item I gyue and bequeth to William brabason my seruaunt xxli sterling A gowne A dublett A Jaquet and my second gelding.
Item I gyue and bequeth to John averey yoman of the bottell with the kynges highnes vjli xiijs iiijd, and doublet of Saten.
Item I bequeth to thurston my Coke vjli xiijs iiijd.
Item I gyue and bequethe to William bodye my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.
Item I gyue and bequeth to Peter mewtes my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.
Item I gyue and bequeth to Rychard Swyft my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.
Item I gyue and bequeth to george Wylkynson my seruauntt vjli xiijs iiijd.
Item I gyue and bequeth to my Frend Thomas alvard xli and my best gelding.
Item I gyue and bequeth to my frend Thomas Russhe xli.
Item I gyue and bequeth to my seruauntt John Hynde my horsekeper iijli vjs viijd.
Item I wyll that myn executors shall Saluelye kepe the patentt of the Manour of Rompney to the vse of my Son gregorye and the money growing therof tyll he shall Cum to his lawfull Age to be yerely Retayned to the vse of my sayd Son and the hole revenew therof Cumyng to be trewlye payd vnto hym at suche tyme as he shall Cum to the age of xxj yeres.
Thomas Cromwell also stated in his will that the rest of his assets that were not bequeted or consumed by the
costs of his funeral, which he wanted performed without any earthly pomp should be distributed to works of charity.
But this was of course not to be, as Cromwell was arrested by an act of attainder, which meant that he lost all of his worldly goods. The act also meant that he never stood trial, but the sentence was passed by the parliament.
On July 30th he wrote to the king, a letter which has survived in a very sketchy shape, but the last words of it say a lot of the spirit in which it was most likely written (even if sent before his actual arrest): s….vppon my knees prostrate…..kyng pardon mercye and……Crist………
The last letter written by Thomas Cromwell was sent on July 24th 1540, four days before his execution, to the Lords of the Council where he strongly rejects the suggestion that he should have had anything to gain from “the affair with M. de Rochepot”. He ends his letter with “Any part thereoff my lordes, assure yourselffes I was not as God shall and may helpe me and this my good lords I pray the eternall Redemer to preserue you all in long lyffe good helthe with long prosperyte at the Towre the xxiiii ti daye of July with the trymblyng hande of your Bedman Thomas Crumwell
Thomas Cromwell was beheaded on Tower Hill, on this day 1540, after which his head was put on a spike on London Bridge. Henry VIII would later deeply regret the execution of his most trusted advisor and maybe even friend and accuse his ministers of bringing about Cromwell´s downfall through false accusations.
But he himself did, at the time, chose to listen to those accusations.
Robert Barnes – Encyclopaedia Britannica
Sacramentarism – Encyclopaedia Britannica
Henry VIII – Lucy Wooding
Life and letters of Thomas Cromwell I & II – Roger Bigelow Merriman
Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of Henry VIII
Images: Bodleian Library, mariordo, Wikimedia Commons