By 1529, Thomas Cromwell was already wealthy man, a man who had no need to work for the royal court. He had the beautiful home at Austin Friars, a successful career, loyal friends and allies at home and abroad, and a close immediate and extended family. But 1528 had been the peak of the sweating sickness outbreak, and records indicate that  Cromwell’s wife Elizabeth died in October 1528, while Cromwell managed to survive the outbreak (if you want the specifics, you will need to wait for my next book).  Cromwell fell behind on his work, and had to push himself to catch up over the New Year. Cromwell wasn’t in good place; he started calling him his debts in February 1529, (more than  £2,000,000 in today’s money) and in July made his will. 

Cromwell left most of his items to family, primarily to his young son Gregory, and his daughters Anne and Grace, who are crossed out after their deaths in October 1530 (again, you will need to wait for the book for the specifics). Cromwell listed many members of his family; his late sister Katherine Williams had three sons – Richard, Walter and Gregory (Richard changed his name to Cromwell around mid-1529, as did Walter, though Gregory remained as Williams). Cromwell’s other sister Elizabeth Wellyfed (d.1533) had Christopher, William and Alice, all of whom Cromwell educated and cared for. Also mentioned in Joan Williamson, Elizabeth Cromwell’s sister, along with her husband John, their daughter Joan, and other very young children. The couple, along with Elizabeth’s mother Mercy, all lived and worked at Austin Friars until 1540. Another curious mention is Elizabeth Gregory, servant to Elizabeth Cromwell, but again, you shall need to wait for the book. 

Cromwell lands and possession change markedly year on year, and there must have been many revisions to his will, especially around his life threatening illnesses in 1532, 34, 35 and 1539. he had manors in Stepney, Mortlake, Hackney, Wimbledon, lands around London, Sussex, much of Essex, even lands in Wales, all of which would have been shared between his son, nephews, Ralph Sadler  and many loyal servants. Sadly, no copies survive, meaning we lose so much information about Cromwell’s life. The inventory of Austin Friars made after Cromwell’s execution is only partial.


(British National Archives, Letter and Papers of Henry VIII, iv.5772)

In the name of God Amen, the 11th day of July in the year of our lord God 1528 1529 and in the 21st year of the reign of our Sovereign Lord King Henry the 8th. I, Thomas Cromwell of London, gentleman, being whole in body and in good and perfect memory. Lauded be the Holy Trinity make ordain and declare this my present testament containing my last will in manner and form following.

FIRST I bequeath my soul to the great God of heaven my maker Creator and Redeemer, beseeching the most glorious virgin our blessed lady Saint Mary the virgin and Mother with all the holy company of heaven to be Mediators and Intercessors for me to the Holy Trinity, so that I may be able when it shall please Almighty God to call me out of this miserable world and transitory life to inherit the kingdom of heaven amongst the number of good Christian people. And when so ever I shall depart this present life, I bequeath my body to be buried where it shall please God to ordain me to die and to be ordered after the discretion of my executors under-named. And for my goods, which our lord has lent me in this world, I will shall be ordered and disposed in manner and form as hereafter shall ensue. First, I give and bequeath to my son Gregory Cromwell, six hundred threescore six (666) pounds, thirteen shillings, four pence of lawful money of England. With the six hundred threescore six pounds, thirteen shillings, four pence, I will my executors under-named immediately or as some as they conveniently may after my decease shall purchase lands, tenements and hereditaments to the clear yearly value of 20 33l 6s 8d by the year above, all charges and reprises to those of my son Gregory for term of his life. And after the decease of the said Gregory, to the male heirs of his body lawfully to be begotten. And for lack of male heirs of the body of Gregory lawfully to be begotten to the heirs general of his body lawfully begotten. And for lack of such heirs to the right heirs of me, the said Thomas Cromwell in fee. I will also that immediately and as one as the lands, tenements and hereditaments shall be so purchased after my death as is aforesaid by my executors that the yearly profits thereof shall be holy spent and employed in and about the education and finding honestly of my said son Gregory in virtue, good learning, and manner until such time as he shall come to the full age of 22 years. During which time I heartily desire and require my said executors to be good to my son Gregory and to see he loses no time but see him virtuously ordered and brought up according to my trust.

Item: I give and bequeath to my said son Gregory, when he shall come to his full age of 21 22, 200 pounds of lawful English money. To order then as our lord shall give him grace and discretion, which 200 pounds shall be put in surety to the intent the same may come to his hands at his said age of 24 years.

Item: I give and bequeath to my son Gregory of such household stuff as God has lent me. Two Three of my best Featherbeds a Bolster the best with their bolsters and the two best pairs of blankets of Fustian (twill cloth) my best coverlet  of Tapestry and my Quilt of yellow turquoise satin, 10 pairs of my best sheets two four pillows of down with 4 pairs of the best pillow cases, two four of my best table clothes, four of my best towels, one dozen two dozen of my finest napkins and two dozen of my other napkins, a two garnish of my best vessel, three of my best brass pots, three of my best brass pans, two of my best kettles, two of my best spits, my best joined bed of Flanders work with the best sparver (canopy) and tester, and other the appurtenances thereto belonging. My best press carving of Flanders work and my best Cupboard carving of Flanders work, with also six joined stoles of Flanders work and six of my best cushions.

Item: I give and bequeath to my son Gregory, a (raised) basin parcel (partly) gilt, my best salt gilt, my best cup gilt, three three of my best goblets gilt, three other of my best goblets parcel gilt, six twelve of my best silver spoons, and my three of my best drinking ale pots gilt. All the which parcels of plate and household stuff I will shall be safely kept to those of my son Gregory till he shall come to his full age of 22 years, and all the which plate household stuff Napery and other the premises I will my executors do put in safekeeping until my son shall come to the said years or age of 22. And if he die before the age of 24 22, then I will all the said plate vessels and household stuff shall be sold by my executors, and the money thereof coming to be given and equally divided amongst my poor kinsfolk. That is to say amongst the children as well of my sister Elizabeth and Katheryn, and of my late wife’s sister, Joan, wife to John Williamson. And if it happen that all the children of my said sisters and sister-in-law die before the partition and division be made, and none of them to be living, then I will that all the said plate, vessels and household stuff shall be sold and given to other my poor kinsfolk, then being on live (alive) and other poor and indigent (needy)  people in need of charity, for my soul, my Father and Mother their souls, and all Christian souls.

Item: I give and bequeath to my daughter Anne, one hundred marks of lawful money of England when she shall come to her lawful age, or happen to be married, and 40 pounds towards her finding  until the time that she shall be of lawful age or be married. Which 40 pounds I will shall be delivered to my friend John Croke, one of the six clerks of the king’s Chancery, to the intent he may order the same and cause the same to be employed in the best ways he can devise about the virtuous education and bringing up of my daughter till she shall come to her lawful age or marriage. And if it happen my daughter to die before she comes to her lawful age or be married, then I will that the said one hundred marks and the said 40 pounds, then unspent and unemployed at the day of the death of my said daughter Anne, I will it shall remain (return) to Gregory my son if he then be on live, and if he be dead, the same 100 marks and also the said 40 pounds, then unspent, to be departed amongst my sisters’ children in manner and form foresaid. And if it happens my sisters’ children then to be all dead, then I will the 100 marks and 40 pounds, then unspent, shall be divided amongst my kinsfolk such as then shall be on live.

Item: I give and bequeath to my sister Elizabeth Wellyfed, wife to William Wellyfed, 30 pounds which she owes me, twenty pounds sterling, 40 pounds, three goblets without a cover, a maser (wooden drinking bowl) and a nut (coconut bowl).

Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew Richard Williams, servant with my lord Marquess Dorset, 40 pounds  66 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence sterling, my fourth best gown, doublet and jacket.

Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew Christopher Wellyfed 20 40 pounds, my fifth best gown, doublet and jacket.

Item: I give and bequeath to my nephew William Wellyfed the younger, 10 20 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to my niece Alice Wellyfed to her marriage 20 pounds. And if it she were to die before marriage then I will the 20 pounds shall remain to her brother Christopher, and if he were to die, the same 20 pounds shall remain to William Wellyfed the younger his brother. And if they all were to die before their lawful age or marriage, then I will that their parts shall remain to Gregory my son. And if he were to die before them, then I will all the parts shall remain to Anne and Grace my daughters Richard Williams and Walter Williams my nephews. And if they were to die, then I will that all the said parts shall be distributed in deeds of charity for my soul, my Father and Mother’s souls, and all Christian souls.

Item: I give and bequeath to my mother-in-law Mercy Prior, 40 pounds of lawful English money and her chamber with certain household stuff. That is to say, a featherbed, a bolster (bed-length cylinder cushion), two pillows with their bearers (cases), six pairs of sheets, a pair of blankets, a garnished vessel, two pots, two pans, two spits, with such other of my household stuff as shall be thought for her by the discretion of my executors, and such as she will reasonably desire not being bequeathed to others in this, my present testament and last will.

Item: I give and bequeath to my said mother-in-law a little Salt of silver, a maser (wooden drinking bowl), six silver spoons, and a drinking pot of silver. And also, I charge my executors to be good to her during her life.

Item: I give and bequeath to my brother-in-law William Wellyfed 20 pounds, my third gown, jacket and doublet.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Williamson my brother-in-law 20 pounds 40 pounds 100 marks (66 pounds), a gown, a doublet and a jacket. A featherbed, a bolster, six pairs of sheets, two tablecloths, two dozen napkins, two towels, two brass pots, two bras pans, a silver pot, a nut parcel gilt, and to Joan his wife 6 pounds, 13 shillings 4 pence ten pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to Joan Williamson their daughter, to her marriage 20 pounds and to every other of their children 3 pounds 6 shillings 8 pence 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence.

Item: I bequeath to Walter Williams my cousin nephew, 20 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to Ralph Sadler my servant, 100 marks 200 marks (132 pounds) of lawful English money, my best second gown, jacket and doublet and all my books.

Item: I give and bequeath to Hugh Whalley my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to Stephen Vaughan, sometimes my servant, 10 pounds 100 marks (66 pounds), a gown, jacket and doublet.

Item: I give and bequeath to (John) Page my servant, otherwise called John du Pount, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence and also to Thomas Avery my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to Elizabeth Gregory, sometime my servant, 20 pounds, six pairs of sheets, a featherbed, a pair of blankets, a coverlet, tablecloths, one dozen napkins, two brass pots, two brass pans, two spits.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Croke, one of the six clerks of the Chancery, 10 pounds, my second gown, doublet and jacket.

Item: I give and bequeath to Roger More, servant of the king’s bakehouse, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence, 3 yards of satin, and to Maudelyn his wife, 3 pounds 6 shillings and 8 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Horwood, 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence.

‘Item: I give and bequeath to my little daughter Grace 100 marks (66 pounds) of lawful English money when she shall come to her lawful age or marriage, and also 40 pounds towards her exhibition and finding until such time she be of lawful age or be married. Which 40 pounds I will shall be delivered to my brother in law John Williamson to the intent he may order and cause the same to be employed in and about the virtuous education and bringing up of my daughter till she shall come to her lawful age or marriage. And if it happens my daughter dies before she comes to her lawful age or marriage, then I will that the 100 marks (66 pounds) and so much of the said 40 pounds, as then shall be unspent and unemployed on the finding of my daughter at the day of the death of my daughter, shall remain and be delivered to Gregory my son, and if he happen to be on live. And if he be dead, then the 100 marks and residue of the 40 pounds shall be departed amongst my pour kinsfolk, that is to say, my sisters’ children foresaid.

Item: that the rest of my apparel, before not given and bequeathed in this my testament and last will, shall be given and equally departed amongst my servants after the order and discretion of my executors.

Item: I will also that my executors shall take the yearly profits above the charges of my lease of Sutton at Hone and Temple Dartford in the County of Kent And shall take the profit of my ferme (lease) of the parsonage of Sutton Lease of Canonbury, and all other things contended within my said lease of Canonbury in the County of Middlesex, and with the profits thereof coming shall yearly pay to my brother in law William Wellyfed and Elizabeth his wife my only sister, 20 pounds, during their lives, and the longer of them and after the death of William and Elizabeth, the profits of the said ferme (lease) over and above the yearly rent to be kept to the use of my son Gregory till he come to the age of 22, and at the year of 22, the said lease and rent of Canonbury, I do give and bequeath to my said son Gregory to have the same to him his executors and assignees in deeds of charity over and above charges and reparations, give and distribute for my soul quarterly 40 shillings amongst poor people until my son Gregory shall come to the age of 35 years if he so long do live. And then my son to have my lease during the years contained within my leases. And if by fortune Gregory my son dies before he shall com to the age of 35 22 years, my brother-in-law and sister being dead, then I will my cousin Richard Williams shall take the lease with the appurtenances to him and his executors and assignees. And if it happen my brother-in-law, my sister and my son Gregory and my cousin Richard are to die before the accomplishment of this my will, touching the lease, then I will my executors shall sell the lease and the money to the most profit and advantage thereof, coming to employ in deeds of charity upon my poor kinsfolk and other charitable deeds to pray for my soul and all Christian souls.

Item: I will that my executors shall conduct and hire a priest, being an honest person of content and good living, to sing for my soul by the space of three seven years next after my death and to give him for the same, 20 pounds 46 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence, that is to say 6 pounds, 13 shillings and 4 pence yearly for his stipend.

Item: I give and bequeath towards the making of highways in this realm where it shall be thought by the discretion of my executors most necessary, 20 pounds, to be disposed by the discretion of my executors.

Item: I give and bequeath to every of the five orders of friars within the city of London to pray for my soul 13 shillings 4 pence 20 shillings.

Item I give and bequeath to 60 poor maidens marriages 20 pounds 40 pounds. That is to say, 6 shillings 8 pence 13 shillings 4 pence to every of the poor maidens to be given and distributed by the discretion of my executors. Item: I will that there shall be dealt and given after my death, amongst poor people householders to pray for my soul, 10 pounds 20 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to the poor parishioners, such as by my executors shall think it most needful of the parish, where God shall ordain me to have my dwelling place at the time of my death, 5 pounds 10 pounds, to be truly distributed amongst them by the discretion of my executors.

Item: I give and bequeath to my parish church, for my tithes forgotten 20 shillings.

Item: I give and bequeath to the poor prisoners of Newgate Ludgate King’s bench and Marshall See, to be equally distributed amongst them, 10 pounds, willing, charging and desiring my executors underwritten that they shall see this my will performed in every point, according to my true meaning and intent, as they will answer to God and discharge their consciences. 

(Cromwell then personally wrote out extra bequeaths to be added to the will)

Item: I give and bequeath to William Brabazon my servant, 20 pounds sterling, a gown, doublet, a jacket and my second gelding.

Item: I give and bequeath to John Avery, yeoman of the bottle with the king’s highness, 6 pounds, 13 shillings 4 pence, and doublet of satin.

Item: I bequeath to Thurston my cook, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to William Body my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item I give and bequeath to Peter Mewtes my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to Richard Swift my servant,  6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to George Wilkinson my servant, 6 pounds 13 shillings and 4 pence.

Item: I give and bequeath to my friend Thomas Alvard, 10 pounds and my best gelding.

Item: I give and bequeath to my friend Thomas Rush 10 pounds.

Item: I give and bequeath to my servant John Hynde my horse keeper, 3 pounds 6 shillings 8 pence.

Item: I will that my executors shall solely keep the patent of the Manor of Rumney, to the use of my son Gregory and the money growing thereof till he shall come to his lawful age, to be yearly retained to the use of my son, and the whole revenue thereof coming to be truly paid to him at such time as he shall come to the age of 21 years.

The residue of all my goods, chattels, and debts not bequeathed, my funeral and burial performed, which I will shall be done without any earthly pomp and my debts paid, I will shall be sold and the money thereof coming to be distributed in works of charity and pity after the good discretion of my executors undernamed, whom I make and ordain John Croke, one of the six clerks of the king’s Chancery, Stephen Vaughan and Ralph Sadler, my servants, John Smyth and John Williamson my brother-in-law. Praying and desiring the same my executors to be good to my son Gregory and to my little daughters Anne and Grace, and to all other my friends, poor kinsfolk and servants before named in this my testament. And of this, my present testament and last will, I make Roger More my overseer, unto whom and also to every of the other my executors I give and bequeath 6 pounds 13 shillings 4 pence for their pains to be taken in the execution of this my last will and testament, over and above such legacies as here before I have bequeathed them in this same my testament and last will. In witness to this, my present testament and last will, I have set my hand in every leaf contained in this book the day and year before limited.

per me, Thomas Cromwell (signed, likewise all other pages)


A Cromwell Adventure: Part 14 – Did Thomas Cromwell Even Want Wolsey’s Position?

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell, and Paul Jesson as Wolsey, in RSC’s Wolf Hall. MARILYN KINGWILL

November 30 marked the 489th anniversary of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s death. I considered writing an article on the fate of Wolsey, but there are already wonderful pieces on Wolsey’s demise (such as this by The Tudor Travel Guide), so I decided to go in a different direction.

The common belief prevails that Cardinal Wolsey fell out of favour hard and fast with King Henry over the legatine court debacle of May-July 1529. As Wolsey fell from grace, his lawyer Thomas Cromwell swiftly moved in and took his master’s place at the King’s side. Soon, Wolsey was dead at Leicester Abbey, dying onroute to his own execution. On the face of it, that is the story, but when you break it down, there are far more factors at play. Hilary Mantel’s version shows Cromwell saddened by his master’s fall, and then promoting himself at court. The Tudors showed a more ruthless Cromwell; a man who ignored his master in favour of the glitter of the royal court. But did Cromwell even want to work for the king?

Thanks to the work of Diarmaid MacCulloch, the details of Cromwell’s life prior to his time with Wolsey is no longer a mystery. From fighting in the French army, a decade living in Florence as a merchant and lawyer, a short stint working in Antwerp, followed by another decade of legal work split between London and Rome, Cromwell was well-known, well-liked and respected, and as a consequence of his travels and language skills, well-connected. By 1520, Cromwell had become fluent in Italian, French, Latin, and even a smattering of Flemish, Spanish, Greek and German. The early 1520s saw him going into service for Thomas Grey, 2nd Marquess of Dorset, and within a year, was so beloved by the family that some referred to him in letters as a ‘dear brother.’[1] When Cromwell entered parliament for its sole sitting in almost a decade, it is likely that Thomas Grey got Cromwell elected, as Cromwell still did not work for Cardinal Wolsey. Only after this, through a mixture of mutual friends and allies, did Wolsey learn of the ‘finest Italian in England’, Thomas Cromwell, and how his skills could be valuable.

Wolsey was a man burdened by the role as cardinal as well as Lord Chancellor to King Henry. He had overseen much of England’s workings throughout Henry’s reign, and by the mid-20s, had total control, hence the restricted parliament sittings (no one can argue if no one can speak). But Wolsey’s grip on power, as a lowborn man, meant he had a good collection of noble enemies. Henry continued to favour Wolsey, meaning these enemies could do little. Wolsey continued his vanity projects, his colleges at Ipswich and Oxford, and the building of his magnificent tomb at his new palace, Hampton Court. Italians were the master artists of the period, and Wolsey needed someone who could work on his tomb and colleges and speak fluent Italian. Enter Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell had little to nothing to do with Wolsey’s work for the king or government. The colleges were huge undertakings for Cromwell, because, in order to pay for these projects, monasteries needed to be dissolved to pay for the works, and building materials gathered from the bones of these houses. From 1525, Cromwell was in charge of dissolving these small, and either corrupted or collapsing, religious houses. While this task made Cromwell plenty of enemies, it made him a surprising amount of friends, both papist and evangelical. A great many religious men wrote to Cromwell to beg for the safety of their houses, their people, even offering bribes to remain open. Cromwell, now a man writing with humanist and reformist tones, had friendships which crossed the divide between religious factions, friendships that lasted long into his reign over England. In overseeing the grand impending completions of the colleges in Oxford and Ipswich, Cromwell gained a huge understanding of religious houses and found where his own religious feelings lay within the quiet creep of the Reformation in England, all under the nose of a Catholic cardinal.

But 1525 was a hard year for Wolsey. Before the introduction of Anne Boleyn and her affair with the king, Wolsey set out to impose the Amicable Grant, a tax or benevolence on the people. It was a tax of between 1/6 to 1/10 on laity goods, and 1/3 on clergy goods.  Henry wanted war with France, and Wolsey needed to fund it. Henry needed £800,000 to take France while the French king was captured by the Holy Roman Emperor, but no parliament would ratify such a heavy toll, and the whole idea had been shot down two years earlier. Loans taken out in 1522 and 1523 for a French invasion had not been paid, and the tax as far from amicable as the name suggested. The people opposed the tax and rebelled, with the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk having to ride out against their own people.[2] Wolsey had to concede defeat and sought peace with the rebels, and Henry sought peace with France instead. A back down, a humiliation, for Henry translated to humiliation for Wolsey. He had ruled England for a decade without question, and now people had learned they could stand up to him. Henry suddenly saw weakness, and thus, doubted his affection to Wolsey.

Soon after, Anne Boleyn beguiled the king. Already bearing a grudge against Wolsey for his refusal of her marriage to Henry Percy, Wolsey accidentally made a powerful enemy. The king wanted a new wife and a son, and sadly for Wolsey, Henry’s eyes fell on Anne, possibly the only woman who wouldn’t do as Henry pleased, or would listen to Wolsey. But by 1527, when Henry asked Wolsey to seek an annulment from the Pope, all seemed still fairly content between the king and his chancellor.  But the Pope refused to give a simple answer and was soon captured by the Holy Roman Emperor, meaning no answer on annulment would come. By late 1527, it was time to get serious; the Italians would need to come to Wolsey instead.

Through 1528, Cromwell was still working on dissolutions and Wolsey’s Italian artworks being made in a studio at Westminster. The year saw Cromwell lose this wife, and soon after, both his daughters. Cardinal Campeggio, sent from Rome to settle an annulment with Wolsey, didn’t arrive in England until October 1528 and face-to-face with Wolsey in London until May 1529, due to illness on both sides. Cromwell had little to do with Wolsey’s dealings on the marriage issues, though his writing is seen in some more international issues, possibly stepping in for his busy master.[3] Wolsey could smell the change in the air – he began making ever grander plans, elevating his idiot son higher than he ever deserved and kept pushing his expensive vanity projects, all while the king kept getting more impatient. The ground between Henry and Wolsey perhaps never truly settled after the mess of the Amicable Grant of 1525. By the time the legatine court sat at Blackfriars in May 1529, Anne Boleyn had spent months trying to gain a  faction of courtiers to come over to her side to oust Wolsey and his delaying tactics, but all came to little. Wolsey needed to trip up once more.

The case in the court of the King’s Great Matter (another post on its own), came to a close just under two months later, with Cardinal Campeggio ruling that the court could not make a decision based on lack of authority. This sabotage angered everyone, and threw Wolsey under the bus (donkey cart, perhaps?). Years of legal battles, theology debates, time wasted, lies told, trust broken, and probably a fair amount of sexual frustration, Henry was furious. Yet even then, Wolsey still wasn’t toppled.

Henry and Anne went on progress for the summer, giving Henry and Wolsey some time apart, as much as Wolsey tried to edge himself into the trip. It was not until September when the polarising Anne and her comrades finally managed to convince the king of Wolsey’s alleged premunire (usurping the king’s authority). Cromwell was working for his master as usual in London at this time, and but could not help but fall into the annulment’s shadow. Wolsey kept making choices that were clear to his servants that things were falling apart, and the rats started abandoning ship. Many hoped that when Wolsey went to the Tower, his servant Cromwell would too, for his crimes against the monasteries. The Duke of Norfolk already disliked Cromwell for monasteries closed, and Anne had similar thoughts.[4] In July 1529, Cromwell had started calling in his debts and wrote his will, not a man looking for a new post, or to climb over the corpse of his master. His reformist and humanist ideals were ignored as he wrote out the most traditional papist wishes for his death and included none of his noble or rich friends in his will, not even Wolsey himself. Long-time friends, lower men like himself, graced the pages that would see to the care of young Gregory and the Cromwell finances.[5] The country was in turmoil, and Cromwell painted the picture of a man with little will to go on at all, let alone a desire to meddle the king’s affairs.

By autumn 1529, Cromwell sat in conversation with Reginald Pole, two totally opposed men, and Pole recorded that Cromwell seemed a man confused, repeating Wolsey’s worries.[6] Soon after, Wolsey’s continued failure the find peace with France was the final straw and Henry had Wolsey arrested. Anne Boleyn and her accomplices had all the ammunition ready, and spectators lined up to see Wolsey’s barge leave York Place (soon to be Whitehall Palace), but turn not east to the Tower, but west to Esher instead. Reginald Pole left England at the same time, convinced Cromwell had also been arrested that day and would be soon be executed.[7]

The famous scene written by George Cavendish, of Cromwell crying while reciting from a primer, happened soon after, a continuation of this pattern of a man who did not think himself in the running to rise in the king’s favour. His wife had died, both his daughters, the projects he had worked so hard on were suddenly taken from him, he was hated by more powerful men, and was reduced to crying while reading the Our Lady Mattins at Esher Place.[8] But Cromwell had one thing on his side; he was not a nobleman, thus didn’t think like a nobleman. He sat with Wolsey, who lamented all his losses, a man complaining while sitting in relative comfort in a newly renovated manor house, with a retinue of servants to attend him. Cromwell noted that Wolsey owed his lay staff money and prayers, and from his own pocket and by guilt-tripping Wolsey’s clergy staff,[9] paid the innocent men and women of the household, those most likely to suffer first over Wolsey’s demise. Cromwell wiped his tears and decided to head back to London. Wolsey was down but not out.

On November 1, Cromwell left Esher, and through his friends made in his years working quietly, Cromwell got himself a place in parliament by November 3. Between Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Sir John Gage, Thomas Rush, Thomas Alvard and William Paulet, negotiations with the Duke of Norfolk prevailed and Cromwell was admitted into parliament. Cromwell had a say in what came next for Wolsey and England. Alvard gave up his seat for Taunton to his friend Cromwell, a helpful friend indeed, as Cromwell was a hated man for his connection to Wolsey. Many were abandoning Wolsey and looking for other roles with noble masters, something Cromwell refused to do, as he was already widely hated at court for his dissolution projects and thought no place existed for him anyway. Bishop Fisher already calling the dissolution project heresy in parliament.[10]

Cromwell had an idea to help Wolsey and appeal to the man angry at the cardinal: King Henry. More dissolutions (as he was already hated, so there was no point in worrying about that) would enrich the king while proving Wolsey wasn’t a heretic, not if the king approved of such dissolutions. Cromwell stood in open parliament and defended Wolsey, gaining him the attention he didn’t want or need at such a time, in front of the king and all who had just signed a petition against Wolsey for premunire. Contemporary writers wrote of how this risky choice gave Cromwell a good reputation and an honest beginning for him before those ranked far above him.[11] One can only assume these men were annoyed that Cromwell’s speech was good, honest and legally sound. By mid-December, Thomas More closed parliament and Cromwell set out to make sure he could continue to bankroll Wolsey and his small household, in the hope Wolsey could return to the king’s side. Cromwell also tried to keep the cardinal’s colleges open after Wolsey’s premuniure charges and had to deal with losing the Italian masters who had been working on Wolsey’s tomb, as they no longer wanted the association with Wolsey’s immortality.

By this time, Stephen Gardiner, Wolsey’s secretary, was now the king’s secretary instead, harshly abandoning the man whom he owed so much. Cromwell and Gardiner, once on the same side, had suddenly become enemies. But while Gardiner was happy to turn his back on Wolsey in return for favour, Cromwell was receiving more favour in a totally different way. Cromwell had shown unwavering loyalty to Wolsey, and loyalty was something King Henry struggled to find (at least in his own mind).[12] Cromwell attracted the king’s attention due to his loyalty, his patience, and his studious behaviour in a time where many were crying out for sentences that carried a death penalty for Wolsey.

Wolsey was sidelined, with Cromwell left behind to argue his cause. By February 1530, Cromwell was before the king, being tasked with overseeing all Wolsey-related affairs, renewing the Italian masters, the colleges, and Henry was keen to hear more of destroying church power through dissolution.[13] Cromwell was a reformist; Wolsey was a Catholic cardinal. Cromwell openly favoured neither in his work or letters, and defended Wolsey while denying papal authority. He spoke of dissolving monasteries but did not ally with Anne Boleyn and her evangelical accomplices, even though they shared a good friend in Thomas Cranmer. Rather, Queen Katherine was no enemy, and Anne Boleyn was left out of the equation. Cromwell told Henry to continue petitioning the Pope for an annulment, but not to worry too much if the Pope denied him, as Pope Clement’s supremacy might not matter; a thought Henry would have considered for years. The court was divided into three; Anne supporters, Katherine supporters, and Henry supporters, those who supported neither Katherine or Anne, and silent on the annulment. Cromwell fought for only Wolsey, and Henry relented and pardoned Wolsey of his perceived crimes and moved him to luxury at Richmond, angering Anne and her uncle the Duke of Norfolk. Norfolk fought back, and Wolsey was sent north as Archbishop of York at Easter. The 200 miles between them made no difference; Cromwell did not seek a place at court, instead, he wrote to Wolsey constantly, and lived at Austin Friars and not closer to the king, who put Cromwell to work upgrading York Place into Whitehall Palace.

Cromwell spent the rest of 1530 working again as a private lawyer and renewing his merchant work with his friend Stephen Vaughan in the Low Countries, as if ready to prepare for a life post-Wolsey.[14] He also wrote to Wolsey, talking of the Lutheran sect around Henry (aka Anne), not favouring Luther himself, yet also not favouring papist beliefs. Around this time, his daughter Jane was born (the Jane in my books) to an unknown mother; a illegitimate baby, a mistake made by a careful man, a mistake he turned into a kindness by raising the girl. Cromwell sat quietly, floating in no  real direction at all.

Wolsey continued to make mistakes in the north; living beloved and lavishly, writing to Queen Katherine, the French king and the Holy Roman Emperor, in an attempt to be the saviour of England once all came crashing down when Anne Boleyn got ousted. When the king decided to dismantle Wolsey’s precious colleges in August 1530, Wolsey upped his attempts to blacken Anne, and wrote to the Holy Roman Emperor, suggesting an invasion. A rare Cromwell letter survives, where Cromwell urges his master to be more careful, as King Henry had lost the last of his patience .[15] Wolsey began to question Cromwell’s unwavering loyalty, and planned a ceremony for himself in York, to be enthroned before his sympathetic northern people. Henry snapped and had Wolsey arrested, but the cardinal died onroute at Leicester Abbey on November 30, after a number of serious health problems (and definitely not suicide as we saw on tv). Wolsey had become an international embarrassment, and Cromwell fought for an audience with the king and promised to make him the richest man in England. Cromwell’s seven years of service were suddenly over, and he needed to come out of it safely, not entangled in Wolsey’s poor choices. Henry instead rewarded Cromwell with a seat in parliament, a far higher position than the previous year, making  Cromwell a fresh round of enemies in the process. Trying to tie up the mess surrounding Wolsey had instead thrust Cromwell back into public view.[16]

Cromwell had ideas: raising funds for Henry, reducing clerical power, and resisting the Pope’s behaviour over the whole Katherine v Anne debacle.  By New Year 1531, rather than only sitting in parliament to preach his ideas, Henry made Cromwell a royal councillor as well. His friendships, his language skills, his precious experience with Wolsey, all alongside his unquestionable loyalty, made Cromwell perfect for Henry. While Cromwell had run up his fair share of enemies with monastery dissolution, he had a firm cast of friends and allies, and could finally speak openly without risking his dear cardinal. Cromwell may not have wanted Wolsey’s position or power, but he got it precisely by not scrambling for favour alongside everyone else. The rest is history.


[1] LP 4i no.1881 1526

[2] Guy, Tudor England p103

[3] LP 4ii no.4441, Capon to Cromwell 1 July 1528

[4] LP 4iii no. 5458, Capon to Wolsey 12 April 1529

[5] LP 4iii no. 5772

[6] Mayer,Correspondence of Pole vol 1 p212

[7] ERP I, 127 xxviii

[8] Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p260

[9] Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p275

[10] Scarsbrick, Fisher, Henry VIII and the Reformation Crisis p158

[11] Herbert, Life and Raigne of King Henry Eighth p266

[12] Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p274

[13] LP 5 no. 11799 December 1530

[14] LP 4iii no. 6744 Vaughan to Cromwell 30 November 1530

[15] LP 4iii no. 6571 Cromwell to Wolsey 18 August 1530

[16] Spanish Calendar 5i no.228 21 November 1535