The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal of England, has enjoyed a revival as a popular Tudor character in recent years after being reshaped into a hero. But was Thomas Cromwell ever a villain? After his execution in 1540, all mention of Cromwell falls away, only to be plucked from the archives in the 1950s and made in the villain who brought about all the Protestant changes made by Henry VIII. Did Cromwell really do all this work on his own? Was he a religious fanatic? How does a common-born man come out of nowhere to rise to the top of English society in one decade? Simply, Cromwell didn’t; he had a remarkable tale before he was noticed by Henry VIII.

A child born in Putney, to common parents, suffering poverty and violence?

Much of Cromwell’s childhood has been imagined or created from basic details, as there hasn’t been a lot of information available until now. It’s nice to think of a boy shrugging off his low-born life and escaping to Europe. But the story is more complex.

Born in around 1485, Cromwell’s father was an Irishman named Walter Cromwell alias Smith, a yeoman of many trades, particularly running an alehouse, and before the court 47 times in fifteen years for breaking the assize of ale (other words, selling ale overpriced, poor quality, etc). Cromwell’s mother was Katherine Meverell, and the Meverells of Throwley were a gentry family, making Cromwell little higher in life than assumed. Throughout this life Cromwell did favours for the Meverells and their relatives, giving them plum positions wherever they lived. Cromwell’s parents were kindly people, not cruel as sometimes portrayed.

Cromwell never forgot where he came from, or who he knew. A local boy named Thomas Megges grew up to be one of Cromwell’s many proteges, as did Thomas Mundy, all Putney boys who were of school age together. When Cromwell got elevated to the peerage in 1536, he was made Baron of Wimbledon, and his wealth and lands grew right through the very area where he was born. His wife was a Putney girl, his sisters and their families paramount throughout Cromwell’s life.

The ruffian’s “lost years’ in Italy?

The word ruffian gets used far too often when describing Cromwell, but it’s the only word Cromwell himself used to describe his childhood behaviour, and Eustace Chapuys wrote that Cromwell admitted to time in prison before leaving Putney. In approximately 1500, young Cromwell did leave Putney in search of adventure, but his time in Italy is documented through records, business transactions and by an Italian novelist named Matteo Bandello. Rather than fleeing his father, Cromwell took a place as a mercenary in the French army, who were sent to fight the Battle of Gagliano, Naples, on 29 December 1503. The French lost, as were France’s hopes forever in Naples, but Cromwell survived the killing and made his way to Florence. Cromwell was found on the streets of Florence, starving and homeless by Francesco Frescobaldi, head of a wealthy mercantile family, who was amazed to find a fluent English speaker on the streets. The novelist tells a great tale of how Cromwell is taken into the Frescobaldi family.

Cromwell had found a home with Frescobaldi, who smuggled goods from Egypt and the Ottomans into northern Europe, making huge sums in the process, even in league with King Henry VII, making England wealthy. Cromwell learned the art of trading wool and wine and had the chance to travel to the Low Countries to attend trade fairs. Francesco’s brother Leonardo traded out of Southampton, giving Cromwell valuable contacts for a new life back in England. Cromwell made many friends and business allies for the next 30 years. Cromwell also met John Hacket in Calais in 1505, and George Elyot in 1512, both in the Low Countries, giving him access to a wide range of people. By this time, the men were all corresponding as close friends in fluent French. After ten years in the Frescobaldi’s employ, Cromwell lived in Florence and Antwerp, learned Italian, Spanish and “self-consciously elegant” Latin, learned how to defraud the Pope by smuggling goods, learned to chase down debtors in the Low Countries, became at ease with the snobbery of the cloth trade, and created a huge web of friends and colleagues, none of whom he ever forgot. Cromwell started vast libraries of books, with many of the greatest Italian and humanist works of the era in his collections. He was the Italianate-Englishman and determined to be the best Italian in England in 1514. But records also show Cromwell back in Rome in 1514, working as a London-based lawyer in a dispute, and for the next five years, made himself a tidy sum working as a lawyer between London and Rome, despite having undertaken no legal training.

In his time in England between Roman visits, Cromwell married Elizabeth Wykes in around 1519, with their son Gregory born in about 1520. Cromwell also had a ward, Ralph Sadler, living in his house as his own son, and nurtured his sister’s son Richard, who took on Cromwell’s surname. By 1523, Cromwell had leased Austin Friars, a manor in the heart of the Italian community of London, had two more children, Anne and Grace. He could live a wealthy life as a lawyer and merchant. But more lay ahead – Cromwell got himself elected into parliament in 1523, at a time when parliament rarely opened, his first speech advising against Henry VIII’s possible war with France.

A sulking, unknown fixer and monastery-destroyer for Cardinal Wolsey?

In 1524, Cromwell was admitted to the bar, recognised as a lawyer by Gary’s Inn in London. He had worked for noblemen, clergymen and merchants in his time, so to be recommended to Cardinal Wolsey was no surprise. But Wolsey needed someone special; he needed money and he needed a man who could fight his way through prolonged legal issues. Failing monasteries needed to be inspected and closed, to finance Wolsey’s vanity projects – large colleges built in his name, the completion of Hampton Court Palace, and the finishing of a giant tomb made by revered Italian tradesmen. Cromwell could well deal with Italians, but closing monasteries brought him into physical and legal battles with the gentry and the locals alike. Yet Cromwell emerged with even more people to add to his ever-widening group of friends who wrote to him throughout the rest of his life.

During this time, Cromwell met many men interested in evangelical reform. While he worked for a cardinal and kept his religious affiliations quiet, Cromwell aided Reformation leaders and had them installed the new Cambridge College, helping reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Robert Barnes and Miles Coverdale, all men who would feature in Cromwell’s rise and downfall.

Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Wolsey grew in the short five years they worked side by side, this brought Cromwell into contact with many noblemen such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and met his friend-turned-nemesis Stephen Gardiner, a friendship that would spiral out of control in later years.

Abandoning his closest friend for personal gain?

Did Cromwell step over Wolsey’s body to take his place beside the king? Absolutely not. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s closest friend and Lord Chancellor of England. When Henry decided he needed a marriage annulment, it was Wolsey’s job to procure the desired legal and ecclesiastical paperwork. Anne Boleyn would take Katherine of Aragon’s place, but Anne was only single because Wolsey forbade her marriage to Henry Percy of Northumberland years before. Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey and vice versa.

A legatine court needed to be set up, the judges Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio from Italy. Here Cromwell could again be helpful. But 1529 would not be a kind year, as Cromwell had lost his wife and daughters to sweating sickness and Gregory was sent away for his education. Anne Boleyn was ready to be queen, Henry wanted Katherine ousted, and Wolsey and Campeggio simply couldn’t make the charges against Katherine stick. Cromwell stood by and watch Wolsey fail in the most public arena the 16th century had witnessed. When Henry denounced Wolsey and banished him 200 miles north to York, Cromwell had to stay in London. But he did not advance himself, rather Cromwell dared to face the king and beg for Wolsey’s return to power and favour. Crowmell did a good job too, softening Henry’s angry heart, but Wolsey’s greed got the better of him, and even Cromwell’s brilliant mind could not save him, nor could he be with Wolsey when he died of illness in Leicester in November 1529. But King Henry had seen Cromwell now, saw what he could do. Cromwell also put his contacts to work, and got himself into parliament in late 1529, the first sitting in almost seven years, and tried to build a new life out of grief. All he had worked for had gone; his family was dead, Wolsey was disgraced and dead, and his own legal practice had dried up due to busy times with the cardinal. In this time, Cromwell had a brief affair with an unknown woman, resulting in the birth of his daughter Jane, While illegitimate, Cromwell paid for Jane’s quality care and upbringing for the rest of his life.

Cromwell made being gay illegal?

In 1533, Cromwell did write the Buggery Act, a law designed to hurt men accused of the crime of sodomy. The law was created as an easy way to arrest men, primarily priests, as there was never any evidence to submit, and those arrested could not defend themselves. It was used to destroy men who would not submit to Henry’s new church, rather than what happened in bedrooms around England. Buggery was an immoral sin, but now also a legal crime, punishable by death.

A meteoric rise to power as Anne Boleyn’s “man?”

Suddenly the king needed a new man at his side, and he called on Thomas Cromwell. But he was not an unknown to many; the Attorney-General sang his praises, his friend Stephen Gardiner was to be the king’s secretary, and ambassadors across Europe had already worked with him in the past. Cromwell was 45 years old when he caught the king’s eye and was no stranger, but a well-travelled and well-skilled man of many trades.

The Pope would never allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s plans were simple; bypass the Church completely and start a Royal Supremacy over religion. He had his friend Thomas Cranmer elevated to be the archbishop, declared Henry the Leader of the Church in England, and ruled that the clergymen of England had to swear allegiance to Henry instead of the Pope or risk losing their heads. It was a pragmatic solution to a problem Henry could not solve in usual channels. Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England and Henry was sold on Cromwell’s unorthodox plan. This allowed the Reformation to take hold in England, and by having Catholic men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher killed, the Pope’s voice began to lose its power. To everyone who already knew Thomas Cromwell, none of this came as a surprise. But the nobles, in places of power due to birth and ancient customs were stunned by this new man.

Cromwell and Cranmer worked together, creating Henry as the Head of the Church, able to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Cromwell wanted the Reformation in England; he could even recite much of the New Testament by heart. Anne Boleyn wanted the Reformation so she could be queen, and yet Cromwell was not “Queen Anne’s man,” not in truth. For Cromwell loathed Anne and her family but had her married to Henry in 1533 anyway, Queen Katherine banished to the country. When Anne produced a daughter and then miscarriages, Henry wanted out and Cromwell had no qualms about destroying another queen. Over the course of 1530 – 1536, Cromwell did not hesitate in doing the king’s bidding. It was business, it was a pragmatic approach to issues that arose. Now the King’s Chief Minister, the Principal Secretary, Vicegerent of Religious Matters and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cromwell had England in his grip. But not all his new laws were terrible; many helped cities with water, sewage, and food for the poor. Cromwell fed 200 people twice daily from his own kitchens. He passed laws making sure churches helped the homeless and jobless, he changed tax laws meaning the noblemen and merchants paid to fund alms-houses. Cromwell walked a tightrope like no one else.

Cromwell made up lies about Anne Boleyn to kill her?

In 1536, Henry wanted a new wife and Cromwell had the task of destroying Queen Anne. Queen Katherine had just died of cancer, and Queen Anne had lost another child; Henry could wait no more. No man called to sit in judgement of Anne for crimes could go against the king, and Cromwell’s best friend Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell had allies all over court and country, and Anne did not. It is unknown who suggested Anne was unfaithful, Henry or Cromwell. But Henry did show genuine shock when he heard Anne was found guilty of seducing four men, plus the extra charge of incest with her brother. The plan could have been a possible slander of adulterous rumours which blew out of control when people got nervous. A legal mind like Cromwell could easily spin any testimony to sound like Anne Boleyn was a witch. Did Cromwell orchestrate Anne’s death? He did. Did he show remorse? Not in any outward sense, though to go through the whole process could not have been easy for any man to bear. Once Anne was buried, Cromwell assumed her father’s role in as Lord Privy Seal of England, giving him wide-ranging powers in every respect.

The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was all Cromwell’s fault?

In late 1536, as Henry basked in the glow of his new wife Queen Jane, upwards of 40,000 men marched toward London, demanding to be a Catholic nation again. Their enemy? Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s had been back to his old tricks – closing monasteries in order to reap the financial gain, albeit the money went in Henry’s pocket, not his own. Henry loved destroying the Catholic Church’s power and taking their lands and wealth. Cromwell’s inspectors raided monasteries, abbeys and convents across England and Wales, calling them houses of sin, fraud and debauchery. Relics and shrine were pulled down, unnecessary under Reformation prayer. Cromwell’s new laws were the cause of the rebellion, and he wore the blood of the over 200 clergymen, nobles and commoners executed when the rebellion got quashed during sporadic fighting between October 1536 and March 1537.

But 1537 wasn’t a total loss for Cromwell. His investment in Jane Seymour’s womb paid dividends when she gave birth to Prince Edward. Sadly, Jane’s death was as hard on Cromwell as anyone. Just three months before Queen Jane’s death, Cromwell married his son Gregory to Jane’s sister, Lady Elizabeth. Gregory’s sons were first cousins to the prince, but after Queen Jane died, all the glory the Cromwell’s could have won also died away.

Gregory Cromwell – rapist?

A tricky truth/myth to dispel. In autumn 1538, Cromwell was busy with the White Rose trials, having the final men of Plantagenet blood arrested and executed. But in Lewes, where Gregory Cromwell lived with his wife Elizabeth, their new-born son, and another son on the way, a scandal emerged, and Gregory’s father stepped in when the situation became grave. Bishop Sampson of Chichester wrote a letter stating that Gregory could go to church for punishment for a serious offence. Bishops could only demand punishment for heresy and sexual crimes. Gregory was no religious man and heresy was not in his nature. That only led to one other cause. Having sex with maids was considered a routine sin in Tudor times, but a sexual charge requiring clerical punishment was considered serious, such as rape or buggery. Gregory angrily refused a light punishment and refused to accept what happened. What did happen? The crime is not recorded, but in doing this very simple acknowledgement in church, it meant Gregory could avoid “the possibility of further business.” Gregory’s “honesty” was affected, and so ruined his wife’s “reputation.” At the same time, Lady Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell in London and said she would no longer live under the same roof as Gregory, and she moved away. Gregory and Elizabeth did not reunite for more than six months. After spending a fortune to set up Gregory in Lewes Priory, Cromwell had to forfeit the lot and move Gregory and Elizabeth to Leeds Castle, where they patched up their marriage.

Cromwell brought about his own downfall when picking Anna of Cleves?

When Cromwell’s downfall came, it did not come from a gradual decline in power or a bolt from the blue, rather a strange mix. In April 1539, Cromwell fell ill and wrote to Henry of suffering an ague (malaria) and tertian fever (malaria fever that comes in waves every two/three days). This illness really struck a knife in the heart of Cromwell’s hard work. He had not long released the latest version of the bible, nicknamed the Cranmer Bible, though it was Cromwell’s bible; he and Cranmer were even on the cover. But when Cromwell fell ill, the Duke of Norfolk and many traditionalist clergymen in power got together and wrote the Six Articles, six points of clarification needed in religion, mostly around transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. While Cromwell was unable to move for a month, Cranmer watched hopelessly as the king took on board this Catholic doctrine and tried to mix them with the Reformation ideals. Religion was still a mess, and the Reformation took a big step backwards in a short time. Cromwell spent the rest of his life trying to undo the Six Articles. Archbishop Cranmer was forced to send away his German wife and daughter and never saw them again, lest they all be punished, possibly executed.

The King wanted a new wife, and Europe was low on princesses and duchesses available and/or willing. The best was Anna von mark, Duchess of Cleves. Anna’s brother, Duke Wilhelm of Julich-Cleves-Berg was like Henry; he was not strictly Catholic or a Lutheran, he was a middle way. But Anna’s sister Sybylla was married to the Elector of Saxony, a Lutheran German state with the powerful Schmalkalden (Protestant) League and an army. England needed allies and the Schmalkaldic League looked were perfect. But negotiations frequently stalled, and when Henry liked the look of Anna’s painting and agreed to marry her, the countries still had no alliance.

It took Anna two months to travel to England, and in that time, all hell broke loose. Duke Wilhelm laid claim to the duchy of Guelders, held by Emperor Charles V. Charles travelled to his lands in the Low Countries, and threatened war with Julich-Cleves-Berg if Wilhelm did not step back from Guelders. France, bordering these two, urged peace and wanted an alliance with the Emperor. Suddenly Europe’s largest Catholic nations were aligning, and Henry was aligned to Cleves by his marriage. Poor Anna had nothing to do with this, but by marrying her, and bedding her, Henry would be aligned to Anna’s brother and must be dragged into war. England would be decimated. To top it off, the Elector of Saxony still hadn’t aligned with Henry, so even the Schmalkaldic League would not necessarily be England’s ally.

By selecting Anna, Cromwell had accidentally brought England to the brink of war while Christendom hung in the balance. Cromwell was a brilliant legal mind, so Henry and Anna’s marriage contract was so tight nothing could be done. Henry was forced to marry Anna, or Cleves would turn against England, possibly alongside the Schmalkaldic army and all of Germany. But marrying Anna meant England became the enemy of the Holy Roman Empire and possibly France.

Henry’s dislike to Anna was obvious, but it was not all about her looks, rather she was the anchor to a war England couldn’t win. The men of Europe postured and moved troops around for months, by which time, Henry was totally infuriated, disgusted by Anna, and trapped in a scenario where no one would even write to England about the impending war. Henry needed to be free, he needed an annulment, and he needed someone to take the fall. But Henry had just given Cromwell the honour he always dressed of; Cromwell was now Earl of Essex and owner of lands that encompassed his beloved home town. Cromwell was a high-ranking nobleman, the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Vicegerent of England and Ireland, Chancellor of the Exchequer, head statesman in the House of Lords and much more. But to show the Emperor that England was not a threat, someone needed to suffer.

Thomas Cromwell, traitor?

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, for being a traitor. He had said to Stephen Gardiner, one night at home at Austin Friars, that he would not turn from the Reformation, even if Henry did, Cromwell would fight the king if necessary. Angry words from a man who never seemed to recover from malaria. Was it treason? Technically yes, by Cromwell’s own laws of never speaking against the king. Cromwell’s long-time servant Thomas Wriothesley betrayed him and told the king that Cromwell was talking about Henry’s impotence, sending the king into a rage. More rumours were thrown on the pile – that Cromwell wanted to marry Princess Mary and become king, that Cromwell was colluding with extreme Lutherans in Zurich, and was a heretic by failing to enforce the Six Articles of religion. By laws Cromwell wrote in the early 1530s, a subject could be attainted without trial and sentenced to death. Cromwell was stripped of all titles, but Henry still allowed him to be beheaded, rather than more horrific penalties. In his prison cell, Cromwell wrote out all the paperwork needed to prove that Henry was not truly married to Anna due to her pre-contract in childhood, plus lack of consummation and lack of inward consent. Once the paperwork was done, Cromwell lost his head on July 28; all he worked for scattered to the wind as Henry married Katherine Howard. Gregory and Elizabeth, plus Richard Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wyatt, and countless more mourned the loss of Cromwell, but many rejoiced.

It was said Henry regretted the loss of Cromwell within a month of the arrest; Cromwell was still in the Tower when the king realised how much Cromwell did every day (while putting up with Henry’s atrocious leg smell), but it was too late to back down. By Christmas, Henry was angry at his councillors for lying about Cromwell’s crimes. Henry nor England really saw any kind of success after that, and no man could hold Cromwell’s position, instead, dozens were brought in to fill the void. Henry died a fat old man and Cromwell was forgotten, all except for one portrait of him, hidden away and saved for us today.

To commemorate the anniversary of Cromwell’s unjust execution, I am having a free kindle promo on Amazon worldwide from July 27 – July 31. Both novels in the Queenmaker Series, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, all about Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi, will be free to download. Book three, the final chapter of Cromwell’s life, No Armour Against Fate, will be available from November 1.

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Celebrate Thomas Cromwell’s fictional birthday with half-price novels

While Thomas Cromwell’s birthdate is unknown, we do know he was born in circa. 1485. So, for the purposes of writing Cromwell fiction, I placed his birthday in November. Which means, for November, you can buy Queenmaker Book One, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, and Queenmaker Book Two, SHAKING THE THRONE, for half price on Kindle all month! Here is all you need to know –

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.

Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.

Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the king on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, while Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

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A Cromwell Adventure – Part 7: Author Q+A1 – The Classic FAQ’s

Ten days from now, SHAKING THE THRONE will be available! Today is part one of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.

Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533,  SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.

Let’s jump right in, with answers to the most commonly asked questions about the adventures of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, in order of most common FAQ’s, but first, the synopsis –

November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.

But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.

England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.

Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.

ISN’T “NICOLA” A FEMALE NAME?

In short? No.

The long story? When people read or hear about the story of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, they read/hear “Nicola.” But Frescobaldi, being Italian, is “Nicòla,” which is a traditional Italian name for men of the nobility (ending in “a” gave English speakers the wrong impression it was feminine, but never was). The Frescobaldi family, which has suffered from war and illness, is down to only two people, Nicòla Frescobaldi and his sister, Nicòletta Frescobaldi. But, given the storyline, I chose the character name of Nicòla so a reader can identify with either male or female when reading the name, as Nicòla’s sexuality and orientation is a prime part of the storyline.

WHO IS THOMAS CROMWELL?

I am surprised anyone still asks this question, though go back ten years and plenty of people wouldn’t have a clue. Thomas Cromwell was low-born man born in around 1485, who ran away from home in Putney, England, at around 15. Cromwell went on a long and undocumented adventure through Italy, before returning to England around 10-15 years later, to work for a cardinal. Cromwell was an extraordinary man for any time period; he amassed a thorough education for a man of no means, and caught the eye of King Henry VIII, who was in need of a legal mind to secure his annulment to Queen Katherine. The ability to dismiss Katherine and install Anne Boleyn as queen made Cromwell one of the most powerful men in England’s political history. Click here to read all about Thomas Cromwell –  A Cromwell Adventure – Part 2 (opens new tab)

THOMAS CROMWELL IS A REAL HISTORICAL FIGURE, SO IS FRESCOBALDI A REAL HISTORICAL FIGURE TOO?

No, Frescobaldi is a fictional character in the series. All the characters in the book are real, and the timeline follows the real life events of the 1530’s, with the exception of Frescobaldi. When Cromwell was in Florence in the early 1500’s, he was begging in the streets, and caught the eye of Francesco Frescobaldi, a wealthy merchant who could speak English. The Frescobaldi family took young Cromwell in, and Nicòla Frescobaldi is the fictional son of the real man who saved  Cromwell. There is no historical record of Frescobaldi’s real-life children, though the family was a central figure in merchant Florence for several hundred years.

WHAT IS THE QUEENMAKER SERIES ALL ABOUT?

The Queenmaker series is based on Cromwell and Frescobaldi’s relationship. Frescobaldi arrives in England in May 1529, as an attendant to powerful Cardinal Campeggio. But Frescobaldi is no humble servant, for Frescobaldi is the favourite of Pope Clement VII, and is sent to spy on, and manipulate, Thomas Cromwell, the secretary of England’s powerful Cardinal Wolsey. Frescobaldi believes that Thomas Cromwell, who once lived in the Frescobaldi manor, was Niccolò Machiavelli’s muse when he wrote “The Prince” in the early 1510’s. Cromwell denies this, and yet displays all of Machiavelli’s traits and beliefs. Cromwell and Frescobaldi are bound together by their love and admiration for patriarch Francesco Frescobaldi, and soon find they are two similar minds – Cromwell, a common man placed in a position far higher than he should be, and Frescobaldi, an astute mind trapped in a ‘weak’ body. Between the pair, they can create any queen, destroy a religion, change any laws, and behead any enemy.

WHY READ ANOTHER BOOK ABOUT THOMAS CROMWELL?

This work of fiction is unique in that the books alternate between the POV of Cromwell and Frescobaldi. What Cromwell did to England – destroying the Catholic faith, implementing Protestantism, destroying the monasteries, removing Queen Katherine for Anne Boleyn, beheading Anne Boleyn for Jane Seymour, and replacing Jane Seymour with Anne of Cleves – is well known. But little of what Cromwell was thinking is known when he did all these things. Cromwell sat in obscurity for four hundred years, only to be dug from the archives as a villain, and recently has been rewritten as a hero. The Queenmaker Series does neither, as Cromwell can be compassionate, but he can also be cold. Ultimately, he serves his king and himself.

The book also tells the story from Frescobaldi’s POV, the “Waif”, Cromwell’s creature, who scurries about court in silence, always following Cromwell and doing his bidding. Frescobaldi is incredibly tough, intelligent  and well-connected. While Frescobaldi is mocked at court for being an effeminate creature, Frescobaldi has connections to Henry, Katherine, Anne, Cranmer, Fitzroy, More, Wyatt, Smeaton, Chapuys and plenty more central figures in Europe in the 1530’s.

HOW ACCURATE IS THE FICTIONAL SERIES IN TERMS OF HISTORICAL EVENTS?

I have battled to make sure the events, details, people involved,  locations, facts and the outcomes are as accurate as possible, based on all the research I have done, the result of many different sources. While the relationship between Cromwell and Frescobaldi is different from reality (obviously), Cromwell’s life, family, work, creations, and the changes to England’s landscape are all carefully laid out. There are 1001 books on Anne Boleyn and her demise, a central theme in this book (SHAKING THE THRONE is based on England 1533-1536), so this book tells the story through the eyes of Cromwell and Frescobaldi, rather than Anne.

Tomorrow – Part 2: more truth v reality in the 1530’s, what order to read the Queenmaker series,  Cromwell’s relationship with Wolsey and Henry, Frescobaldi’s sister, historical source used,  and more…

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, the first edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle now.

FROM NOW UNTIL OCTOBER 1ST, GET BOOK ONE FOR 50% off ON KINDLE.

The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom. That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.

Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.

Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

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The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.

That man needs to be the Queenmaker.

London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave Queen Katherine, his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place.

Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment. Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience.

Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.

Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.

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Not sure? Click here and you can read the first chapter of FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS right now without having to download a single thing. Merry Christmas!

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 6: Anne Boleyn

a copy of an Anne Boleyn painting, thought to be from about 1534

Everyone knows Anne Boleyn; home wrecker, whore, poisoner, birther of the vicious redheaded queen, married to a vicious redheaded king. But as we all know, history is not kind to women, thus most of what is known is a lie, and most basic details about Anne’s life are not known by the wider public. Here is a neat round-up if you are new.

Anne was the daughter of Lady Elizabeth Howard, daughter of the second Duke of Norfolk (and brother of the 3rd, obviously), and Thomas Boleyn, a courtier and diplomat (who married up in my opinion). Anne’s birthdate is unknown, and is either accepted as 1501 or 1507. It has been suggested Anne was born anywhere from 1499 to 1512, but as a daughter, the date was not considered worth recording. Based on research and writings, it is generally believed Anne’s sister Mary was born 1499, and her brother George was born about 1504, putting Anne around 1501 (as Eric Ives claims; he’s my personal Anne historian of choice). There is also evidence of further Boleyn sons, Thomas and Henry, but we will leave that for another post.

Anne was born to parents with a rich family history in the  Howards and their Norfolk dukedom, though the Boleyn family also boasted Earls, knights and one Lord Mayor. The Howard family could be traced right back to King Edward I, and Anne’s family were well-respected and noble by the time of her birth.

Anne Boleyn moved across to Europe in 1513, aged either 12 or 6 (depending on your preference) to study while her father worked for the ruler of the Netherlands, Margarete of Austria (daughter to the Holy Roman Emperor). Anne learned the traditional subjects of dancing, sewing, manners, music, singing, along with more useful skills such as math, history, grammar, reading and writing, etc. Anne’s mind would have quickly flourished with all this, along with more social subjects like chess, dice, falconry and hawking, horseriding and hunting. Anne sent a year in her studies and serving at the court until her father arranged for her to go to France, to serve King Henry’s sister Mary, who was due to marry the King of France.

Princess Mary’s marriage to the French king lasted three months before he died, but Anne stayed in France, serving the new Queen Claude for seven years. The life and education Anne would have received is unclear, but would have been the best a girl could have hoped for. The French court would have taught her French culture, along with their games, dances, literature music and poetry, and the ever-present flirting and courtly love. The French court would have also influenced Anne’s religious beliefs, where the traditional Catholic learnings were being questioned by many reformers and writers.

Anne was a pretty girl, with dark hair and black eyes, and olive-coloured skin, rather than the more pasty English and French girls. But her personality was what shined, setting her apart from others. Anne was also known as educated, witty, funny and sophisticated. She could gossip and flirt as well as any, then also hunt, gamble and play with the best of them. Anne’s lack of beauty (or what was considered a beauty standard of the era) was noted, yet her charm made up for it (that’s not my view, it’s the sexist opinion of the time). Much has been made of her appearance, such as her sixth finger (could have been nothing, could have been little more than a sixth nail, no one knows), to moles on her neck, crooked teeth, jaundice skin, but much of it is considered a 16th century way of blackening her reputation over time. King’s don’t leave their queens for monster-like women, do they?

Anne’s family had been busy while she lived it up in France. Her older sister Mary had also been in France, but was called home in 1519, and much was made her whoreish behaviour at the court, even with the new French king. Mary was married off to William Carey in 1520, but then became King Henry’s mistress, up until around 1525. One or both of her children may have been Henry’s. Again, that’s another post.

Anne’s father Thomas had been locked in a dispute for the title of Earl of Ormond in Ireland, as the eldest son of one of the women who had inherited the title from their father. With many family members battling for the prize, it was decided Anne had to leave France in 1522. She came home to England, with plans to marry into Ireland, to James Butler, a cousin also with a claim to the title. Anne had no desire for the plan, and Thomas Boleyn kept negotiations slow, so slow that James Butler married someone else in the family for the inheritance.

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Holbein style painting of (probably) Anne, date unknown

Anne went to the English court in 1522, bursting on the scene in a masque for King Henry, alongside her sister Mary, and the king’s sister (also a Mary). It wasn’t long before Englishmen were falling over themselves for Anne, though King Henry was still bedding her sister. Despite loving the attentions and affections, Anne fell in love with Henry Percy, future Duke of Northumberland. Only, his father, the current duke, hated the idea, and Anne’s and Henry private betrothal was cut off by Percy’s family and Percy’s boss Cardinal Wolsey, the most powerful man in the country and right hand of the king.

Anne continued in the service of Queen Katherine, and spent much time with her friend Thomas Wyatt, whose love for Anne grew with their friendship. Wyatt’s wife had been charged with adultery, but there was one bigger obstacle. Anne’s sister Mary had fallen pregnant again during her affair with the King, and his eye needed a new girl to bed, and it fell on Anne in late 1525/early 1526. Poor Wyatt had to stand back, and Anne spent time away from court at Hever Castle, to avoid Henry. But he was a persistent man, and a king, so eventually Anne came around to being a mistress, but a celibate one. Anne was smarter than her sister.

King Henry wanted out of his marriage to Katherine. Now he had met a woman worthy of being a new queen. Anne was young and had a womb that might give Henry and England a son and heir. By 1527, Henry was petitioning the Pope for annulment, to no avail. Everything was tried (see my great matter post if you aren’t aware).  But in 1528, Anne, along with much of England, caught the sweating sickness, a now-ancient illness which killed within days. Anne managed to survive the illness, a rare occasion, though her sister’s husband (and cuckold) did not. Henry sent his best doctor to care for Anne (though went nowhere near her himself, a real germophobe) and she became his obsession; Henry had to marry her at any cost.

Long story short, Henry could not gain an annulment and solve the great matter, not from the Pope, nor the legatine court set up in London to decide on his marriage’s validity. This is when Anne’s influence as a woman educated in reformation and Protestant teaching came in useful. She had Henry turn on the leader of England, Cardinal Wolsey, and along with Thomas Cromwell, Anne had moves made to extract the Catholic faith from laws around marriage. Queen Katherine was banished from court and Anne and Cromwell was at Henry’s side in all matters (but Anne still wouldn’t get in bed with Henry).

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imagined painting of Anne and Elizabeth by Gustaf Wappers 1838

In late 1532, Anne went with Henry  to the French court, and Anne, now Marquess of Pembroke in her own right (yet another post), was presented as future queen of England. It is suggested this is when Anne gave in to Henry’s sexual demands, and they married in secret in London in January 1533, or even more secretly in France months earlier (yet another post). Together with Cromwell’s law changes, and a reformer placed as Archbishop of Canterbury saw Henry and Anne allowed to be legally married and Anne crowned in June 1533.
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Anne gave birth in September 1533, to Princess Elizabeth, not the son she had promised the king. Laws were sent out, making sure only Elizabeth could inherit the throne, not Henry’s daughter Mary, Queen Katherine’s daughter. Heads rolled as influential men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher refused to agree to Henry’s rule over the church and baby Elizabeth’s inheritance. Anne was lavished as the new queen; she had 250 servants in her household and spent much time on the love and attention of her daughter. Historians state Anne lost a child in late 1534 and Henry was tiring of his new wife. His first wife was still alive, tucked away in poverty, and Anne, his pet project, wouldn’t give him a son as promised. Henry didn’t want to go back to Katherine, and made up with Anne, who got pregnant again by spring 1535.
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19th century imagined sketch of Henry and Anne by George Cruikshank

1536 had a bumpy start, but Queen Katherine died of cancer, causing joy for Henry and Anne. Finally Anne was out from Katherine’s shade and she could be recognised as a queen, not a whore. Everyone believed Katherine was poisoned by Anne, but there was no proof, but Princess Mary, Katherine’s daughter, was not forgiving to Anne. But Henry was tired of his second wife, and with her pregnant, as his eye found Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies-in-waiting (one of sixty!). In late January, King Henry’s famous accident occurred, when he fell during a joust and was unconscious for two hours. Anne was in a panic, and miscarried her son five days later.
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Henry had a blonde in his sights, and Anne’s son was dead. Anne was forced to see Henry lavish love on Jane Seymour as the Boleyns were put aside. Anne then fell out over confiscated monasteries with Thomas Cromwell, the man who had got her the crown, and without Cromwell or Henry, Anne was doomed. Henry and Cromwell came up with a plan; charge Anne as adultery with courtiers and incest with her brother, and she could no longer be queen.
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Archbishop Thomas Cranmer, who had made the marriage of Anne and Henry could unmake it; Thomas Cromwell had George Boleyn, Mark Smeaton, Francis Weston, William Brereton and Henry Norris (all whom worked for Henry) charged with adultery. With a false charge, false evidence and a corrupt jury, Anne and her fake accomplices were found guilty. The men were all promptly beheaded.

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imagined execution image from Matthäus Merian 1629

Anne’s day came on May 19, and executed by an expert French swordsman (again, the whole event is for another post). She was dumped in an unmarked grave at St Peter ad Vincula chapel until 1876, when workers identified her (and perfectly formed hands), and is now marked there. Anne’s daughter of course went on to be Elizabeth I and reigned England for 40 years, also never gaining a son.  Anne may have wielded power for a time, but never really stood a chance as a woman up against King Henry and Thomas Cromwell. All images of Anne were destroyed, any and all paintings are now recreations of her likeness.
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The way I write Anne in my first Cromwell book is of a quiet woman, intelligent and charming, but very much eclipsed by the situation around her. In the second book she shall become more of a power, more of the strong Anne many portray her as.