Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 4 – Cromwell’s Complete Mercy Letter, 30 June 1540

Final page of Cromwell’s letter, held by Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, at Hatfield House.

The letter written by Cromwell to King Henry on 30 June 1540 is well-known, though usually in the context of Cromwell’s beg for mercy. This letter served primarily to recall the finer points of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Cromwell had been interrogated the day prior by Norfolk, Audley and Fitzwilliam, with Wriothesley writing out a series of questions and answers to be signed by Cromwell and sent to Henry directly (though anyone who has read Heather Darsie’s book on Anna of Cleves knows the details to be false). Also on 29 June, the House of Lords passed the final draft of Cromwell’s Act of Attainder, meaning he had been declared guilty of treason on the false evidence provided primarily by Norfolk, Gardiner, Fitzwilliam and Wriothesley. The initial draft had gone through parliament ten days earlier, passing unanimously, likewise the final draft on 29 June (not that anyone actually had any choice but to vote in favour). Cromwell would have received this information at his interrogation, and being the man who wrote the Treasons Act 1534, knew that the punishment was hanging, drawing and quartering (though even Henry commuted it beheading much of the time).

This long letter survives in two forms, as a heavily mutilated draft (British Museum Otho C. x f.247), and a finished copy (Hatfield House, Cecil Papers, 124-7) , both written on the same date. Below is a modern copy (using modern punctuation, as Cromwell loved extremely long sentences) from my book of Cromwell correspondence, which is available from 5 November. I have added footnotes for the names mentioned, in case you are new to the topic.

 

To the king, my most gracious Sovereign lord, his Royal Majesty.

Most merciful king and most gracious sovereign lord, may it please the same to be advertised that the last time it pleased your benign goodness, to send unto me the right honourable Lord Chancellor,[1] the Right Honourable Duke of Norfolk,[2] and the Lord Admiral[3] to examine, and also to declare to me, diverse things from your Majesty, amongst the which, one special thing they moved and thereupon charged me as I would answer, before God at the dreadful day of Judgement and also upon the extreme danger and damnation of my soul and conscience, to say what I knew in the marriage and concerning the marriage between your highness and the queen, to the which I answered as I knew, declaring to them the particulars as nigh as I then could call to remembrance, which when they had heard, they, in your Majesty’s name, and upon like charge as they had given me, before commanded me to write to your highness the truth as much as I knew in that matter, which now I do, and the very truth as God shall save me, to the uttermost of my knowledge.

First, after your Majesty heard of the lady Anne of Cleves’ arrival at Dover and that her journeys were appointed towards Greenwich, and that she should be at Rochester on New Year’s Eve at night, your highness declared to me that you would privily visit her at Rochester upon New Year’s Day, adding these words “to nourish love,” which accordingly your Grace did upon New Year’s Day as is abovesaid. And the next day being Friday, your Grace returned to Greenwich where I spoke with your Grace and demanded of your Majesty how you liked the lady Anne. Your highness answered, as I thought heavily and not pleasantly, “nothing so well as she was spoken of.” Saying further that if your highness had known as much before as you then knew, she should not have come within this realm, saying as by way of lamentation what remedy, unto the which I answered and said I knew none but was very sorry. Therefore, and so God knows, I thought it a hard beginning, the next day after the receipt of the said lady and her entry made into Greenwich and after your highness had brought her to her chamber, I then waited upon your highness in your privy chamber, and being there, your Grace called me to you, saying to me these words, or the like, “my lord, is it not as I told you, say what they will, she is nothing so fair as she has been reported, howbeit, she is well and seemly.” Whereunto I answered, saying, “by my faith, Sir, you say truth,” adding thereunto that yet I thought she had a queenly manner, and nevertheless was sorry that your Grace was no better content, and thereupon your Grace commanded me to call together your Council, which were these by name: the Archbishop of Canterbury,[4] the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk,[5] my lord Admiral, my lord of Durham[6] and myself, to common of those matters, and to know what commission the Agents of Cleves had brought as well, touching the performance of the covenants sent before from hence to Doctor Wootton[7] to have been concluded in Cleves, as also in the declaration how the matters stood for the covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son[8] and the said lady Anne. Whereupon, Olisleger[9] and Hoghestein[10] were called and the matters purposed, whereby it plainly appeared that they were much astounded and abashed and desired that they might make answer in the next morning, which was Sunday. Upon Sunday in the morning, your said Councillors and they met early, and there again it was proposed unto them, as well touching the omission for the performance of the treaty and articles sent to Master Wootton, and also touching the contracts and covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the lady Anne, and what terms they stood in. To the which things so proposed, they answered as men much perplexed that as touching the commission they had none to treat concerning the articles sent to Mr. Wootton, and as to the contract and covenant of marriage they could say nothing but that a revocation was made, and that they were but spouseless, and finally after much reasoning they offered themselves to remain prisoners until such time as they should have sent unto them from Cleves, the first articles ratified under the Duke,[11] their Master’s, signature and seal, and also the copy of the revocation made between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the lady Anne. Upon the which answers, I was sent to your highness by my lords of your said Council to declare to your highness what answer they had made, and came to your highness by the privy way into your privy chamber and declared to the same all the circumstances, where your Grace was very much displeased, saying I am not well handled, insomuch that I might well perceive that your highness was fully determined not to have gone through with the marriage at that time, saying unto me these word or the like, in effect that, “if it were not that she is come so far into my realm, and the great preparations that my states and people have made for her, and for fear of making of a ruffle in the world, that is to mean to drive her brother into the hands of the Emperor and French king’s hands, being now together, I would never have nor marry her,” so that I might well perceive your Grace was neither content with the person nor yet content with the preceding of the Agents. And after dinner, the said Sunday, your Grace sent for all your said Councillors, and in repeating how your highness was handled as well as touching the said articles and also the said matter of the Duke of Lorraine’s son, it might, and I doubt not, did appear to them how loathe your highness was to have married at that time. And thereupon and upon the considerations aforesaid, your Grace thought that it should be well done that she should make a protestation before your said Councillors, and notaries to be present, that she was free from all contracts which was done accordingly. Thereupon, I repairing to your highness, declaring how that she had made her protestation, whereunto your Grace answered in effect the words, or much like, “there is none other remedy but that I must need against my will, put my neck in the yoke,” and so I departed, leaving your highness in a study or pensiveness. And yet your Grace determined the next morning to go through, and in the morning which was Monday, your Majesty, preparing yourself towards the ceremony, there was some question who should lead here to church and it was appointed that the Earl of Essex[12] desist, and an earl that came with her should lead her to church, and thereupon one came to your highness and said unto you that the Earl of Essex was not yet come, whereupon your Grace appointed me to be the one that should lead here. And so I went unto her chamber to the intent to have done your commandment, and shortly after I came into the chamber, the Earl of Essex had come, whereupon I repaired back again in to your Grace’s privy chamber and showed your highness how he had come, and thereupon your Majesty advanced towards the gallery out of your privy chamber, and your Grace, being in and about the middle of your chamber of presence, called me unto you, saying the words or the like in sentence, “my lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for no earthly thing.” And there, with one brought your Grace’s word that she was coming, and thereupon your Grace repaired into the gallery towards the closet and there paused her coming, being nothing content that she so long tarried as I judged then, and so consequently she came, and your Grace afterwards proceeded to the ceremony, and then being finished travelled the day, as appertained, and the night after the custom. And in the morning on Tuesday, I repairing to your Majesty in to your privy chamber, finding your Grace not so pleasant as I trusted to have done, I was so bold to ask your Grace how you liked the queen, whereunto your Grace soberly answered, saying that I was not all men, surely my lord as you know I liked her before not well but now I like her much worse. For to quote your highness; “I have felt her belly and her breasts and thereby as I can judge she should be not a maid, which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters,” saying, “I have left her as good a maid as I found her,” which me thought then you spoke displeasantly, which I was very sorry to hear. Your highness also, after Candlemas, and before Shrovetide, once or twice said that you were in the same case with her as you were before and that your heart could never consent to meddle with her carnally. Notwithstanding, your highness alleged that you, for the most part, used to lie with her nightly or every second night, and yet your Majesty ever said that she was as good a maid for you as ever her mother bore her, for anything that you had ministered to her. Your highness showed me also in Lent last passed, at such time as your Grace had some communication with her of my lady Mary how that she began to wax stubborn and wilful, ever lamenting your fate and ever verifying that you had never any carnal knowledge with her, and also after Easter your Grace likewise at diverse times. In the Whitsun week. in your Grace’s privy chamber at Greenwich, exceedingly lamented your fate and that your greatest grief was that you should surely never have any more children for the comfort of this realm if you should so continue, assuring me that before God you thought she was never your lawfully wife, at which time your Grace knows what answer I made, which was that I would for my part do my uttermost to comfort and deliver your Grace of your affliction, and how sorry I was, both to see and hear your Grace. God knows your Grace diverse times since Whitsuntide declared the like to me, ever alleging one thing, and also saying that you had as much done to much the consent of your heart and mind as ever did man, and that you took God to witness, but ever you said the obstacle could never out of your mind, and gracious prince, after that you had first seen her at Rochester, I never thought in my heart that you were or would be contented with that marriage, and Sir, I know now in what case I stand in, which is only in the mercy of God and your Grace, if I have not to the uttermost of my remembrance said the truth and the whole truth in this matter, God never help me. I am sure as I think there is no man living in this your realm that knew more in this then I did, your highness only except, and I am sure my lord Admiral, calling to his remembrance, can show your highness and be my witness to what I said unto him after your Grace came from Rochester, and also after your Grace’s marriage, and also now of late since Whitsuntide, and I doubt not but many and diverse of my lords of your Council, both before your manage and since, have right well perceived that your Majesty has not been well pleased with your marriage, and as I shall answer to God I never thought your Grace content after you had once seen her at Rochester, and this is all that I know.

Most gracious and most merciful sovereign lord, beseeching almighty God, whoever in all your causes has ever counselled perceived, opened, maintained, relieved and defended your highness so he now will save to counsel you, preserve you, maintain you, remedy you, relieve and defend you as may be most to your honour, wealth prosperity, health and comfort of your heart’s desires. For the which,  and for the long life and prosperous reign of your most royal Majesty, I shall, during my life and while I am here, pray to almighty God that He of his most abundant goodness, will help aid and comfort you, and after your continuance of Nestor’s[13] years, that that most noble Imp, the prince’s grace, your most dear son, may succeed you to reign long, prosperously and felicitously to God’s pleasure, beseeching most humbly, your Grace to pardon this, my rude writing, and to consider that I am a most woeful prisoner, ready to take the death when it shall please God and your Majesty. Yet the frail flesh incites me continually to call to your Grace for mercy and pardon for my offences and in this, Christ save, preserve, and keep you. Written the Tower, this Wednesday the last of June, with the heavy heart and trembling hand of your highness’ most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave.

Most gracious prince, I cry for mercye, mercye, mercye

THOMAS CRUMWELL

~~~

[1] Thomas Audley, good friend to Cromwell

[2] Thomas Howard, one of Cromwell’s two biggest enemies alongside Stephen Gardiner

[3] William Fitzwilliam, who took the Lord Privy Seal role, only to die two years later

[4] Thomas Cranmer, close friend to Cromwell, created the English bible together

[5] Charles Brandon, sometimes friend to Cromwell, neutral in most matters

[6] Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, staunch Catholic and enemy of Cromwell

[7] Nicholas Wootton, English ambassador to Cleves who arranged the marriage

[8] Francis I of Lorraine, Duke of Lorraine from 1544, died in 1545

[9] Henry Olisleger, Vice-Chancellor of Cleves, and ambassador to England

[10] Wernerus von Hoghestein, Chancellor and Hofmeister (court master) to the Duke of Cleves

[11] Wilhelm, Duke of Cleves, Anna’s elder brother

[12] Henry Bourchier, who died horse-riding on 13 March 1540, the king giving the Essex title to Cromwell on 18 April 1540

[13] Nestor from the Iliad, known for wisdom and generosity, which increased as he aged. The comparison was considered a compliment

Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 2 – Cranmer’s letter, 11 June 1540

Thomas Cromwell

The letters of the 1530s show a true friendship between Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. Even as early as 1528, Cromwell was promoting Cranmer, a priest and diplomat at Cambridge, who had spent years in Spain as England’s ambassador, but who had also gained a huge knowledge and understanding of reform coming out of Germany and Switzerland. Cranmer was one of the men who first looked into annulment for Henry VIII, and Cromwell found his legal arguments aligned well with Cranmer’s theological arguments. Around the same that Cromwell was brought into court by King Henry, Cranmer was a favourite of the Boleyn family. But when the annulment could not be secured in England, Cromwell set to work to dismantle the Catholic Church’s power in England, while Cranmer set off for Germany and Switzerland, to find theological supporters for Henry’s desire to remarry. On the journey, Cranmer made the decision to marry Margarete, niece to Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran in Nuremberg. Cranmer had been tragically widowed before he took holy orders,[1] but married again, firm his belief that King Henry would allow the Reformation (and its lack of clerical celibacy) to flourish in England. Precious few knew of the life of Cranmer and Margarete, Cromwell among them (who received letters talking of Cranmer’s heartbreak at having to exile Margaret and their daughter Anne in 1539).[2] Cranmer was ushered home in 1532 to take up the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, firmly supported by both Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, who both believed he could annul the king’s marriage in that position, supported by Cromwell’s legal changes.

Thomas Cranmer

The friendship of Cromwell and Cranmer remained firm throughout the 1530s, letters frequently going between them on both serious and trivial matters, with social events shared, court events attended together, on the Privy Council and in parliament together, trusted reforms written together, and even heated arguments on many matters,[3] which never shook their friendship, as they deeply respected each other. Their work together culminated in the 1537 English bible being published, and the 1539 English Bible, nicknamed the Cranmer or Cromwell Bible, showing the two of them together, each assisting the king, and sharing the reformed word of God to the people. The 1541 edition showed a blank space where Cromwell’s banner had been, a stranger in his place assisting Cranmer, the hole on the otherwise richly decorated bible cover evident for all to see.

Thomas Cranmer was one of Cromwell’s strongest friends and allies on the Privy Council the day Cromwell was rudely arrested, and Cranmer was the only man in a politically safe position to argue Cromwell’s cause. But even Cranmer could not speak in Cromwell’s defence at his physical arrest, yet he was the man with enough courage to write to the king the very day after Cromwell went to the Tower. Cromwell’s family, friends and allies (of which there were countless) stayed silent throughout his arrest, carrying on faithfully with the positions he had given them, to ensure the wheels of England and Ireland continued turning, as he would have instructed them. Speaking up would not help Cromwell, nor the person who spoke, but Cranmer couldn’t hold back, just as he couldn’t when Anne Boleyn got arrested.[4]

The Great Bible of 1539

Cranmer sent a letter across the Thames from Lambeth to the king, which sadly has not survived, and only a partial fragment remains. But this partial letter shows a heart-breaking plea from a man who sounds helpless over the loss of his friend and ally. The letter was printed originally in Edward Herbert, Baron of Cherbury’s The Life and Raigne of King Henry VIII in 1649, but how Herbert got hold of a copy of the letter written by Cranmer is unknown. Herbert was a colourful court character, from one of the branches of the Earl of Pembroke family tree. The Herberts were connected with the Parr and Dudley families before and after the execution of Cranmer in 1556, so it is possible the fragment was handed down that way. However, it’s impossible to know where Lord Herbert found this record, or what happened to the fragment after its original publication. The letter is also listed in White Kennett’s History of England Volume II 1706, Gilbert Burnet’s History of Reformation Vol. I 1829, John Cox’s Cranmer’s Works 1846, and John Strype’s Ecclesiastical Memorials Volume I 1882, all copied from Herbert’s writings, and not an original document. It is also sometimes dated as 14 June, but is now catalogued as 11 June, 1540.

“I heard yesterday in your Grace’s Council, that he (Crumwell) is a traitor, yet who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your Majesty, he that was so advanced by your Majesty; he whose surety was only by your Majesty; he who loved your Majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forwards whatsoever was your Majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your Majesty; he that was such a servant in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had; he that was so vigilant to preserve your Majesty from all treasons, that few could be so secretly conceived, but he detected the same in the beginning? If the noble princes of memory, King John, Henry the Second, and Richard II had had such a counsellor about them, I suppose that they should never have been so traitorously abandoned, and overthrown as those good princes were: I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be; but I chiefly loved him for the love which I thought I saw him bear ever towards your Grace, singularly above all other. But now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your Grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas! I bewail and lament your Grace’s chance herein, I wot not whom your Grace may trust. But I pray God continually night and day, to send such a counsellor in his place whom your Grace may trust, and who for all his qualities can and will serve your Grace like to him, and that will have so much solicitude and care to preserve your Grace from all dangers as I ever thought he had…[5]

The Great Bible reprint in 1541, with the hole of Cromwell’s missing banner

~~~

Tomorrow – Ralph Sadler delivers Cromwell’s letter to the king…

~~~

[1] Parker, De Antiquiate, p. 387

[2] SP I/152 f. 118, July 1539

[3] Cranmer’s Letters, 311, 12 Oct 1535

[4] Otho, C. x. 226. B. M. Burnet, i. 320, 3 May 1536

[5] Strype’s Eccl. Mem. Vol. I. 1882, p. 561. Burnet’s History of Reformation, Vol. I, 1829, p. 569. Cranmer’s Works, 1846, p.401, Herbert, Life of Henry VIII, 1649, Kennett, History of England Vol. II., 1706.

Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 1 – The Arrest 10 June 1540

A surprising thing happened on the afternoon of 10 June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell was running late. Sure, he had been at Parliament in the morning, and had a Privy Council meeting at 3pm, but Cromwell didn’t need to go far between his two important tasks for the day. Cromwell was never late for anything, and no record exists explaining why Cromwell had to rush into a Privy Council meeting already attended by all members – and William Kingston, Constable of the Tower.

What was not a surprise was the arrest of Thomas Cromwell. Many were stunned by the news that the Lord Privy Seal, the King’s Chief Minister, the most powerful man in England, was suddenly arrested on vague charges, sent to the Tower on the King’s command. But in truth, the clues had been spread out of the course of the previous year, and Cromwell’s chief enemies, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, had slowly tightened the net around their common nemesis.

Parliament had been dissolved in July 1536 and did not sit again until Henry summoned his ministers in March 1539. Cromwell had ensured Parliament sat regularly from 1529, running yearly reformation parliaments, changing the nature of politics under King Henry. But the Pilgrimage of Grace, the death of Jane Seymour, and Henry’s increasing illness and paranoia had got in the way of Cromwell’s changes. Cromwell’s political to-do list was huge by 1539, although his religious reforms had continued without parliament and despite the rebellion of 1536-37.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Cromwell gets unlucky

Just prior to parliament’s opening on 28 April 1539, Cromwell fell ill, which he described by letter to Henry as an ague or tertian fever (possibly malaria).[1] Cromwell suffered a number of near-fatal illnesses throughout his time at court, usually always in spring, managing to beat them every time. Cromwell’s 1539 illness was a brutal one, rendering the Lord Privy Seal bedridden at Austin Friars and then at St James’ Palace, which was kept for his use, through most of April and May. Cromwell was seen outside St James’ when a muster of Henry’s troops, led by Ralph Sadler and included Richard and Gregory Cromwell, marched past the Palace, but the amount of work he completed almost ground to a halt.

While Cromwell lay in his sickbed, Norfolk was ready to pounce. He summoned the Convocation of Canterbury, and invited Convocation of York members as well, and pushed reform through the House of Lords, where Cromwell was too ill to attend. Norfolk was the face of The Six Articles,[2] which rolled back Cromwell’s reformist changes. The Six Articles, mostly dealing with matters of the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, vows of chastity, transubstantiation, private masses and confessions, brought King Henry and England way back to Catholic practises. By the time the first session of parliament closed in June, Cromwell still had not appeared before the House of Lords or House of Commons, and the damage to the Reformation had been done.

Cromwell loses his cool

King Henry wanted religious unity in England before he went on progress, and set up a banquet at Cranmer’s place, Lambeth Palace, but refused to attend himself. Cranmer was already in a poor mood, as he had just sent his wife and daughter from England,[3] as his marriage was deemed illegal by the Six Articles. All sides of religious debate attended the banquet, Cromwell included, on 2 July 1539. After years of backstabbing, rumours and snide comments, Cromwell and Norfolk had the public fight that had long been brewing. Norfolk gleefully slandered Wolsey before the banquet and Cromwell snapped, accusing Norfolk of supporting Rome over England. Norfolk had begged to go to Rome with Wolsey when the cardinal expected to be made Pope in 1523, remembering every detail, down to the money Norfolk made during the negotiations to have Wolsey elected, acting as the ‘protector of the future Pope’ and sailed the Mary Rose, to accompany Emperor Charles’ ship from England.[4] These details enraged Norfolk, essentially being accusing as a traitor to his king and his country.

Duchess Anna, Daughter of Cleves

Cromwell accidentally picks the wrong queen

Cromwell wanted to push harder than ever to secure the Reformation in England. The monasteries were almost dissolved, and the delegation went to the German States to secure a royal bride and alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, with its powerful Lutheran army. Holbein brought home portraits of Anna and Amalia, Duchesses of Cleves in October 1539, and Henry decided to marry Anna in a rush.[5] There are no reports Cromwell ever bragged of Anna’s qualities, nor that Holbein’s over-exaggerated Anna’s beauty. Anna had a powerful Lutheran brother, Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and her sister, Sybilla, Electress of Saxony, wife to the head of Schmalkaldic League. Duchess Anna was perfect for England; young, beautiful, clever and well-connected. The duchess of a Lutheran state, which was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. She was strongly supported by her Lutheran family but was Catholic like her mother.[6] Cleves was the perfect ‘middle-way’ of religion, needed to secure alliances and peace.

By the time that Anna had finally reached England to marry King Henry in January 1540, international movements had ruined everything Cromwell had crafted. Henry was listening to the whispers of Norfolk and Gardiner, turning back to Catholicism. Anna’s brother Wilhelm had all-but declared war against Emperor Charles over the German state of Guelders. Once Henry married Anna, England would be in alliance and could have to fight against Emperor Charles. France swayed back and forth, helping to undo all negotiations of alliances between these formidable powers of Europe. Cromwell couldn’t undo the marriage contract; he had helped to create it, and it was water-tight.

The long-held rumours of Henry calling Anna ugly, “a Flanders mare,” have dogged the tale through the centuries, despite documents telling a very different story. Jousts were held in Anna’s honour; the people spoke of her beauty and kindness.[7] England quickly warmed to Anna, but Henry wanted out of any alliance that could mean war. Emperor Charles was furious that England would align with the reformers, but the Germans were also unhappy with the marriage, with Henry not backing them on matters of war, and not undoing the infuriating Six Articles. Cromwell had promised the German ambassadors he would crush Norfolk and the Six Articles, but had lost the power in parliament and convocations to do so.

Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester

Cromwell makes a mistake

Despite all the troubles with Anna, Henry still believed in Cromwell, confiding in him about his impotence with Anna, and making Cromwell the Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain in April 1540. While the marriage was still sound, Cromwell had completed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and made Henry rich. Cromwell’s enemies, such as Norfolk and Gardiner, were stunned, as were Ambassador Chapuys and Ambassador Marillac. Gardiner and Cromwell had been together at dinner at Austin Friars only weeks before, where Cromwell made a mistake. Cromwell told Gardiner “if the king did turn from the Reformation, I would not turn from it; and if the king turned, and all his people too, I would fight them in the field, with my sword in my hand, against the king and all others.” [8] Cromwell had already lost many allies in parliament and at court as religious changes slowly peeled apart, and this comment would come back to haunt him.

Thomas Wriothesley

Cromwell has a slip of the tongue

In May, Cromwell again made a mistake. He had almost secured an annulment for Henry and Anna, based on a flimsy pre-contract from Anna’s childhood, and was in initial stages of an alliance with France, seen running around the May Day jousts like a crazed man, trying to juggle national and international diplomacy. But he made a rare misstep soon after, admitting aloud of Henry’s impotence to Thomas Wriothesley one tired evening.[9] So many little moments were beginning to add up against Cromwell, just as it had for so many others.

For a long time so many men had sneered at Cromwell’s power. Norfolk had Henry’s ear, as did Gardiner, Bishop Bonner of London, Sir Anthony Browne, and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, all on the Privy Council. Cromwell’s life was still looking up in June 1540 – he had unlimited power in England, his son Gregory was happily married to Elizabeth Seymour and they had three healthy sons, Henry, Edward, and Thomas, at Leeds Castle. Richard Cromwell had just been knighted and called ‘the king’s diamond’ by Henry as he was given a diamond off his own hand. Ralph Sadler, a man so close to Cromwell he was practically a son, was now Principal Secretary to the king, shared with Thomas Wriothesley, one of Cromwell’s most loyal men, in a role Cromwell relinquished to them. Queen Anna’s marriage could be undone, giving Cromwell a chance to secure religious reform alongside Archbishop Cranmer.

Yet, for some unknown reason, Cromwell was late to the Privy Council meeting, where he was quickly called a traitor by most, if not all, of the councillors (though among them was his nephew Richard Cromwell, and close friends Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Audley, who never spoke against him). Even Richard Rich, a long-time colleague, did not defend his master. Sir John Russell, Sir Edward Seymour, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Robert Radcliffe, while not on record as calling for Cromwell’s head, also did not defend the Lord Privy Seal. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and head of the Privy Council, likewise did not speak against Cromwell (Cromwell was godfather to Suffolk’s son Henry[10] and probable godfather to Suffolk’s granddaughter Jane Grey). But Suffolk allowed Kingston to arrest Cromwell, who threw his cap on the table before the Council and cried, “I am no traitor! Your Grace, members of the Council, is this reward for good service done unto His Majesty the king? I put it to your consciences, am I a traitor as your accusations imply? Well, no matter, for I renounce all pardons or grace needed, for I never offended the king, and it matters only if the king himself thinks me a traitor, and he would never have me linger long!”[11]

Norfolk pulled Cromwell’s golden collar from his shoulders, while Fitzwilliam pulled the garter from Cromwell’s leg,[12] as he was still wearing his parliamentary robes, no time to change between meetings. Cromwell was arrested as a traitor, almost eleven years after Reginald Pole had expected to see Cromwell rowed to the Tower alongside Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell’s work on securing a Schmalkaldic alliance showed he was in league with Lutherans and Calvinists across Europe, that he had contacted a marriage that Henry couldn’t remain in, and he had uttered treasonous words to Gardiner over dinner.[13] The Six Articles had got in the way of so many of Cromwell’s reforms, making him appear ineffectual, and Henry knew of Cromwell’s slip-up to Wriothesley about impotence. Cromwell had been betrayed by people close to him, and he left Westminster in a boat to the Tower, where he was housed in the Queen’s rooms – the same rooms Anne Boleyn had stayed in only four years earlier.

Wriothesley himself drafted letters that day to John Wallop, Nicolas Wootton and Christopher Pate in France that very day, talking of Cromwell’s arrest,[14] though letters from Wallop arrived to Cromwell in the following days, having not received the news right away. French Ambassador Charles Marillac wrote to King Francis that very day, writing, “I have just heard that Thomas Cramuel, keeper of the Privy Seal and Vicar-General of the Spirituality, who, since the Cardinal’s death, had the principal management of the affairs of this kingdom, and had been newly made Grand Chamberlain, was an hour ago led prisoner to the Tower and all his goods attached. Although this might be thought a private matter and of little importance, inasmuch as they have only reduced thus a personage to the state from which they raised him and treated him as hitherto everyone said he deserved, yet, considering that public affairs thereby entirely change their course, especially as regards the innovations in religion of which Cramuel was principal author, the news seems of such importance that it ought to be written forthwith. I can add nothing but that no articles of religion are yet concluded, and that the bishops are daily assembled to resolve them, and meanwhile Parliament continues. They were on the point of closing this when a gentleman of this court came to say from the King that I should not be astonished because Cramuel was sent to the Tower, and that, as the common, ignorant people spoke of it variously, the King wished me to know the truth. The substance was that the King, wishing by all possible means to lead back religion to the way of truth, Cramuel was attached to the German Lutherans, had always favoured the doctors who preached such erroneous opinions and hindered those who preached the contrary, and that recently, warned by some of his principal servants to reflect that he was working against the intention of the King and of the Acts of Parliament, he had betrayed himself and said he hoped to suppress the old preachers and have only the new, adding that the affair would soon be brought to such a pass that the King with all his power could not prevent it, but rather his own party would be so strong that Cramuel would make the King descend to the new doctrines even if he had to take arms against him. These plots were told the King by those who heard them and who esteemed their fealty more than the favour of their master. The King also sent word that when he spoke with me that he would tell things which would show how great was the guilt of said Cramuel and that said lord has so long been able to conceal it and the right opportunity now came to give orders.”[15]

Marillac also wrote to Anne Montmorency, Constable of France, saying, “what I wrote last is now verified touching the division among this King’s ministers, who are trying to destroy each other. Cramuel’s party seemed the strongest lately by the taking of the dean of the Chapel, Bishop of Chichester, but it seems quite overthrown by the taking of the said lord Cramuel, who was chief of his group, and there remain only on his side the Archbishop of Canterbury, who dare not open his mouth, and the lord Admiral, who has long learnt to bend to all winds, and they have for open enemies the Duke of Norfolk and the others. The thing is the more marvellous as it was unexpected by everyone.”[16]

Tomorrow – 11 June: Cranmer begs for Cromwell’s life. 

~~~

[1] TNA xiv no. 783, SP 7/I f.53, 16 April 1539

[2] McEntegart, Henry VIII, 152

[3] SP I/152 f. 118, July 1539

[4] Ibid 142-44, SP I/142 f. 105

[5] Foxe 1570, 1399.

[6] See Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather Darsie for full information

[7] See Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather Darsie for full information

[8] TNA xv no. 486, 10 April 1540

[9] BL MS Cotton Titus B/I f.273, 12 June 1540

[10] TNA ix no. 386, 18 September 1535

[11] TNA xv no. 804, 23 June 1540

[12] TNA xv no. 804, 23 June 1540

[13] Foxe 1570, 1399.

[14] TNA xv no. 765, St. P. viii.349, 10 June 1540

[15] TNA xv no. 766, Kaulek, 189, 10 June 1540

[16] TNA xv no. 767, Kaulek, 190, 10 June 1540

Thomas Cromwell’s Downfall: Part 6 – The Scaffold Speech 28 July 1540

An execution at Tower Hill, circa 1550s

‘A true Christian confession of the L. Cromwel at his death.’

July 28 marked a dramatic day at Tower Hill. The most powerful man in England was to die due to forces entirely outside of his control. Cromwell had selected the perfect queen in Anna of Cleves, a beautiful, well-connected duchess, whose brother Duke Wilhelm of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and her sister Electress Sybilla of Saxony, had powerful allies and the Schmalkaldic army on their side. But when Duke Wilhelm threatened war with Emperor Charles over the duchy of Guelders while Anna was travelling to England to her marriage, suddenly the duchess who promised powerful allies now also tied King Henry to enter a war he could not win, and would not benefit from at all. Cromwell’s paperwork on the marriage was as strong and watertight as all his work; it could not just be undone, and Henry wed a woman who tied him to war. Henry believed in Cromwell still, even making him an earl in April 1540, but when sexual humiliation reared its head (excuse the pun), Henry snapped and arrested his most faithful servant. Cromwell undid the marriage contract from his room in the Tower, bolstered by fabricated affidavits, talking of Anna being so ugly that Henry couldn’t consummate.  An annulment would stop Emperor Charles’ anger at England potentially allying against him, but there needed to be proof, there needed to be someone to blame for the marriage to a duchess who linked England to war. With statements about throwaway comments made to his enemies, Cromwell was attainted for heresy and treason, and conspiring to marry Princess Mary (based on literally no evidence). Even though Henry started to realise his mistake on 9 July, a man attainted could not have his sentence wiped; it would set a legal precedent. But as much as Cromwell’s enemies wanted him dragged on a hurdle to Tyburn and hanged, drawn and quartered as a traitor, or burned at the stake as a heretic, Henry granted Cromwell’s cry for mercy and ordered a beheading.

While primary sources of the day offer sketchy  detail, the works Foxe, Hume, Cox, Galter,  Herbert, and Hall all offer insights to the day. It is suggested that Cromwell only learned of his style of execution on the morning from William Laxton and Martin Bowes, two sheriffs at the Tower, who came to him after breakfast, which he had just after dawn on a sunny summer’s day. Hume wrote that one thousand halberdiers were there to flank Cromwell’s short walk from the Tower to the scaffold on the hill, for an unfounded fear that Cromwellians would mount an escape bid. There, Cromwell met Walter Lord Hungerford, who was also destined to die for the crimes of incest, buggery and wife-beating, and had lost his mind by the time of his death. The men knew one another through their work for the king, and Foxe wrote that Cromwell tried to comfort the mad baron:

“There is no cause for you to fear. If you repent and be heartily sorry for what you have done, there is for you mercy enough from the Lord, who for Christ’s sake, will forgive you. Therefore, be not dismayed and though the breakfast which we are going to be sharp, trusting in the mercy of the Lord, we shall have a joyful dinner.”

Final words on the scaffold were not a time to defend oneself, fire anger at your enemies or beg for freedom. Cromwell had to deliver a speech to cement his legacy and save his son Gregory, daughter-in-law Elizabeth and their three sons, as well as Richard and Frances Cromwell and Ralph and Ellen Sadler, their very young children, and Cromwell’s wide extended family. Cromwell, accompanied by Thomas Wyatt on the scaffold for support, gave his final speech.

“I am come hither to die, and not to purge my self, as some think peradventure that I will. For if I should so do, I were a very wretch and a Miser. I am by the Law condemned to die, and thank my Lord God, that hath appointed me this death for mine Offence. For sithence the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived a sinner, and offended my Lord God, for the which I ask him heartily forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you, that I have been a great Traveller in this World, and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithence the time I came thereunto I have offended my Prince, for the which I ask him heartily forgiveness, and beseech you all to pray to God with me, that he will forgive me. And now I pray you that be here, to bear me record, I die in the Catholic Faith, not doubting in any Article of my Faith, no nor doubting in any Sacrament of the Church. Many have slandered me and reported that I have been a bearer of such as have maintained evil Opinions, which is untrue. But I confess, that like as God by his holy Spirit doth instruct us in the Truth, so the Devil is ready to seduce us, and I have been seduced; but bear me witness that I die in the Catholic Faith of the holy Church; and I heartily desire you to pray for the Kings Grace, that he may long live with you in health and prosperity; and that after him his Son Prince Edward that goodly Imp may long Reign over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaineth in this flesh, I waver nothing in my Faith.”

Cromwell then went on to pray:

“O Lord Jesus, which art the only health of all men living, and the everlasting life of them which die in thee; I wretched sinner do submit my self wholly unto thy most blessed will, and being sure that the thing cannot Perish which is committed unto thy mercy, willingly now I leave this frail and wicked flesh, in sure hope that thou wilt in better wise restore it to me again at the last day in the resurrection of the just. I beseech thee most merciful Lord Jesus Christ, that thou wilt by thy grace make strong my Soul against all temptations, and defend me with the Buckler of thy mercy against all the assaults of the Devil. I see and knowledge that there is in my self no hope of Salvation, but all my confidence, hope and trust is in thy most merciful goodness. I have no merits nor good works which I may allege before thee. Of sins and evil works, alas, I see a great heap; but yet through thy mercy I trust to be in the number of them to whom thou wilt not impute their sins; but wilt take and accept me for righteous and just, and to be the inheritor of everlasting life. Thou merciful Lord wert born for my sake, thou didst suffer both hunger and thirst for my sake; thou didst teach, pray, and fast for my sake; all thy holy Actions and Works thou wroughtest for my sake; thou sufferedst most grievous Pains and Torments for my sake; finally, thou gavest thy most precious Body and thy Blood to be shed on the Cross for my sake. Now most merciful Saviour, let all these things profit me, which hast given thy self also for me. Let thy Blood cleanse and wash away the spots and fulness of my sins. Let thy righteousness hide and cover my unrighteousness. Let the merit of thy Passion and blood shedding be satisfaction for my sins. Give me, Lord, thy grace, that the Faith of my salvation in thy Blood waver not in me, but may ever be firm and constant. That the hope of thy mercy and life everlasting never decay in me, that love wax not cold in me. Finally, that the weakness of my flesh be not overcome with the fear of death. Grant me, merciful Saviour, that when death hath shut up the eyes of my Body, yet the eyes of my Soul may still behold and look upon thee, and when death hath taken away the use of my Tongue, yet my heart may cry and say unto thee, Lord into thy hands I commend my Soul, Lord Jesus receive my spirit, Amen.”

Cox wrote that Cromwell then turned to Wyatt and sad “farewell, Wyatt,” and that his friend was deeply upset at this stage, and Cromwell added, “gentle Wyatt, pray for me.” Cromwell removed his gown, gave forgiveness to his executioner and prayed him to take his head with a single blow. Conflicting reports exist of what came next. The news of the execution travelled Europe, changing with every letter. Hume wrote Cromwell’s head came off with a single blow. But Galton wrote that the axeman, a “ragged and butcherly wretch” and that the first blow instead hit Cromwell’s skull, and that it took half and hour to cut through Cromwell’s neck. While that seems like a story built on dramatics and exaggeration, regardless of the number of blows required, Cromwell would have been unconscious or dead within seconds.

Hungerford, however, was quickly killed without fanfare or wise words, and Cromwell’s mangled head went on London Bridge like all the rest, his body buried at St Peter ad Vincula, close to Anne Boleyn, whom the king had ordered killed during an Easter conversation with Cromwell only four years earlier. King Henry married Katheryn Howard at Oatlands the same day, not that any knew that at the time. No one who rose in the English court escaped eventual fates like this; it would be surprising if Cromwell had never considered this as his eventual fate.

Thomas Cromwell was undoubtedly the genius of the English court, a man whose mind far exceeded those about him. While his genius was exploited by King Henry, whose orders Cromwell could not refuse, it meant that many never truly appreciated Cromwell, too busy sneering at the rank of his birth. These people were only in power due to their birth, and should have been grateful to breathe the same air as a man who far exceeded them in intelligence, generosity and charm.

~~~

Cromwell’s final speech: Passages from Foxe’s Ecclesiastical History, Vol. ii. p 433

John Foxe, Acts and Monuments, 1563

Arthur Galton, The Character of Times of Thomas Cromwell, 1887

Edward Hall, The Triumphant Reigne of Kyng Henry the VIII, vol 2, p306-7

Edward Herbert, Life and Raigne of of King Henry the Eighth, Bodleian Library Oxford, Folio 624, 462

Richard Cox, Elizabethan Bishop of Ely, Corpus Christi College Cambridge, Parker Society MS 168 f. 209rv

Martin Hume, The Chronicle of King Henry VIII 1889, p104

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: “Anna, Duchess of Cleves” by Heather R. Darsie

Anna was the ‘last woman standing’ of Henry VIII’s wives ‒ and the only one buried in Westminster Abbey. How did she manage it?

Anna, Duchess of Cleves: The King’s ‘Beloved Sister’ looks at Anna from a new perspective, as a woman from the Holy Roman Empire and not as a woman living almost by accident in England. Starting with what Anna’s life as a child and young woman was like, the author describes the climate of the Cleves court, and the achievements of Anna’s siblings. It looks at the political issues on the Continent that transformed Anna’s native land of Cleves ‒ notably the court of Anna’s brother-in-law, and its influence on Lutheranism ‒ and Anna’s blighted marriage. Finally, Heather Darsie explores ways in which Anna influenced her step-daughters Elizabeth and Mary, and the evidence of their good relationships with her.

Was the Duchess Anna in fact a political refugee, supported by Henry VIII? Was she a role model for Elizabeth I? Why was the marriage doomed from the outset? By returning to the primary sources and visiting archives and museums all over Europe (the author is fluent in German, and proficient in French and Spanish) a very different figure emerges to the ‘Flanders Mare’.

Cover and blurb via Amberley

~~

There is a piece of fiction out right now, which suggests that Henry VIII was right, Anna of Cleves was no virgin. I will not be reviewing that work, as I only publish five-star reviews, and leave the rest in privacy. Instead, I am here to show you THE book on Anna of Cleves, a piece of written beauty.

Anna of Cleves starts out with a look at Anna’s childhood, her family, its history, and life in Germany at the time. The book has researched German life and child-rearing for those in Anna’s rich position. No music, dancing and sewing days for Anna – girls were taught by women to learn finance, in order to run a home worth of a duchy. Yes, Anna could sew, with her fine embroidery and needlework on clothing, but could also read, write, understand money and German customs, values and politics. While all that is great, Anna learnt a German way of life, and the German language, one of her original problems in England.

The book tells us of Anna’s early life, rather than only focusing on her once she was purchased as a queen. The Cleves Court was an intriguing place, with a wholly different look at politics and customs of the time period. Without giving away spoilers, the stark difference between Germany and England shows just how much Anna had to go through upon her marriage and carefully negotiated life.

Germany, of course, was in the process of the Reformation, leaning Protestant, just how my personal beloved Thomas Cromwell wanted for England. Between the changes of Germany and the power still held by the Holy Roman Empire at the time, Anna marrying into England would have massive repercussions, and as someone who had to write the death of Thomas Cromwell, the book was an immense eye-opener on how Anna of Cleves’ marriage brought down England’s greatest minister of all time.  The situation was never as simple as Henry thinking Anna was ugly. No spoilers, but damn!!!

Anna of Cleves is an extraordinary woman. She managed to survive an annulment from Henry after only a few months (and didn’t have to sleep with him), and became the king’s ‘sister.’ Anna made friends with the grandest of women in England, Henry’s daughters Lady Mary and Lady Elizabeth, and also the exciting Catherine Willoughby, Duchess of Suffolk. Anna managed all this in England, living a longer life than any other Henry wife, but never had to let go of who she was.  It has been a long time since I found a book with so much new information; we just needed to wait for Darsie to deliver such brilliance. History has relegated Anna to a role of being the ugly foreign wife Cromwell brought to England. A woman so repulsive Henry became impotent (though, come on, none of us ever believed that was her fault). A woman married for an alliance not wanted or needed, and disposed of for a pretty teenager. Anna was beautiful, educated, kind, clever and resourceful. Thank you for this wonderful book!