Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 3 – Cromwell’s letter, 12 June 1540

This is my own transcription of Cromwell’s first letter to the king, as published in my upcoming book of Cromwell’s letters. Cromwell addresses the charges against him, that he had spoken with Michael Throgmorton, servant to  the ‘heretic’ Reginald Pole, in the company of Sir Richard Rich, who would lie about anything or anyone, regardless of the outcome. Then Cromwell addresses that he did not speak of Henry’s impotence with anyone but William Fitzwilliam, who Henry had given permission to know about the problem. The fact that Henry believed Cromwell had spoken about it was because Wriothesley had opened his big mouth about Cromwell’s slip of the tongue the month previous, where he almost told Wriothesley the secret. Cromwell also mentioned Thomas Audley, to be sure that he knows the truth about Cromwell and doesn’t want him implicated. Cromwell then discusses how he spoke with Thomas Manners, on ways to make Queen Anna more agreeable to Henry, and that is was done in confidence.

None of the charges laid against Cromwell are directly mentioned in the letter, which suggests that the charges had no been fully formed at the time of the arrest, and the hasty drafts that were soon to go through parliament were still being formed.

~~~

CROMWELL TO HENRY VIII, 12 June 1540

(B.M. Titus B. i, 273, TNA xv no. 776)

Most gracious King and most merciful sovereign, your most humble most obedient and most bounden subject and most lamentable servant and prisoner, prostrates at the feet of your most excellent majesty. I have heard your pleasure by the mouth of your Comptroller[1] which was that I should write to your most excellent highness, such things as I thought mete[2] to be written concerning my most miserable state and condition, for the which your most abundant goodness, benignity and license the immortal God there and on reward, Your Majesty. And now, most gracious Prince, to the matter. First whereas I have been accused to your Majesty of treason, to that I say I never in all my life thought willingly to do that thing that might or should displease your Majesty and much less to do or say that thing which of itself is so high and abominable offence, as God knows who I doubt not shall reveal the truth to your Highness. My accusers your Grace knows God forgive them. For as I ever have had love to your honour, person life, prosperity, health, wealth, joy, and comfort, and also your most dear and most entirely beloved son, the Prince his Grace, and your proceeding. God so help me in this my adversity and confound me if ever I thought the contrary. What labours, pains and travails I have taken according to my most bounden duty, God also knows, for if it were in my power as it is God’s to make your Majesty to live ever young and prosperous, God knows I would, if it had been or were in my power to make you so rich, as you might enrich all men. God help me, as I would do it if it had been, or were, in my power to make your Majesty so puissant as all the world should be compelled to obey you. Christ, he knows I would for so am I of all other most bound for your Majesty who has been the most bountiful prince to me that ever was king to his subject. You are more like a dear father, your Majesty, not offended then a master. Such has been your most grave and godly counsels towards me at sundry times in that I have offended I ask your mercy. Should I now, for such exceeding goodness, benignity, liberality, and bounty be your traitor, nay then the greatest pains were too little for me. Should any faction or any affection to any point make me a traitor to your Majesty then all the devils in hell confound me and the vengeance of God light upon me if I should once have thought it. Most gracious sovereign lord, to my remembrance I never spoke with the Chancellor of the Augmentations[3] and Throgmorton[4] together at one time. But if I did, I am sure I spoke never of any such matter and your Grace knows what manner of man Throgmorton has ever been towards your Grace and your preceding. And what Master Chancellor[5] has been towards me, God and he best knows I will never accuse him. What I have been towards him, your Majesty, right well knows I would to Christ I had obeyed your often most gracious, grave counsels and advertisements, then it had not been with me as now it is. Yet our lord, if it be his will, can do with me as he did with Susan[6] who was falsely accused, unto the which God I have only committed my soul, my body and goods at your Majesty’s pleasure, in whose mercy and piety I do holy repose me for other hope then in God and your Majesty I have not. Sir, as to your Commonwealth, I have after my wit, power and knowledge travailed therein having had no respect to persons (your Majesty only except) and my duty to the same but that I have done any injustice or wrong wilfully, I trust God shall bear my witness and the world not able justly to accuse me, and yet I have not done my duty in all things as I was bound wherefore I ask mercy. If I have heard of any combinations, conventicles or such as were offenders of your laws, I have though not as I should have done for the most part revealed them and also caused them to be punished not of malice as God shall judge me. Nevertheless, Sir, I have meddled in so many matters under your Highness that I am not able to answer them all, but one thing I am well assured of that, wittingly and willingly. I have not had will to offend your Highness, but hard as it is for me or any other meddling as I have done to live under your Grace and your laws, but we must daily offend and where I have offended, I most humbly ask mercy and pardon at your gracious will and pleasure. Amongst other things, most gracious sovereign, Master Comptroller showed me that your Grace showed him that within these 14 days you committed a matter of great secret,[7] which I did reveal contrary to your expectation. Sir, I do remember well the matter which I never revealed to any creature, but this I did, Sir, after your grace had opened the matter first to me in your chamber and declared your lamentable fate declaring the thing which your Highness misliked in the Queen, at which time I showed your Grace that she often desired to speak with me but I dared not and you said why should I not, alleging that I might do much good in going to her and to be playing with her in declaring my mind. I thereupon, lacking opportunity, not being a little grieved spoke privily with her Lord Chamberlain,[8] for the which I ask your Grace mercy, desiring him not naming your Grace to him to find some means that the Queen might be induced to order your Grace pleasantly in her behaviour towards your thinking, thereby for to have had some faults amended, to your Majesty’s comfort. And after that, by general word of the said Lord Chamberlain and others of the Queen’s Council, being with me in my chamber at Westminster for license for the departure of the strange maidens. I then required them to counsel their masters to use all pleasantness to your Highness, the which things undoubtedly warn both spoken before your Majesty committed the secret matter unto me only of purpose that she might have been induced to such pleasant and honourable fashions as might have been to your Grace’s comfort which above all things as God knows I did most court and desire, but that I opened my mouth to any creature after your Majesty committed the secret thereof to me, other then only to my Lord Admiral, which I did by your Grace’s commandment which was upon Sunday last in the morning, whom I then found as willing and glad to ask remedy for your comfort and consolation, and saw by him that he did as much lament your Highness’ fate as ever did a man, and was wonderfully grieved to see your Highness so troubled, wishing greatly your comfort. For the attaining whereof, he said for your honour saved, he would spend the best blood in his body, and if I would not do the like and willingly die for your comfort I would I were in hell, and I would I should receive a thousand deaths. Sir, this is all that I have done in that matter and if I have offended your Majesty, therein prostrate at your Majesty’s feet. I most lowly aske mercy and pardon of your Highness. Sir, there was also laid unto my charge at my examination that I had retained, contrary to your laws, Sir. What exposition may be made upon retainers I know not, but this will I say, if ever I retained any man but such only as were my household servants but against my will God confound me, but, most gracious sovereign, I have been so called on and sought by them that said they were my friend that constrained thereunto. I received their children and friends, not as retainers, for their fathers and parents did promise me to friend them and so took I them not as retainers to my great charge and for none evil as God best knows interpret to the contrary who will most humbly beseeching your Majesty of pardon if I have offended therein. Sir, I do acknowledge myself to have been a most miserable and wretched sinner and that I have not towards God and your Highness behaved myself as I ought and should have done. For the which, my offence to God while I live I shall continually call for his mercy and for my offences to your Grace which God knows were never malicious nor wilful, and that I never thought treason to your Highness your realm or posterity. So God, help me in word or deed, nevertheless I prostrate at your Majesty’s feet in what thing soever I have offended I appeal to your Highness for mercy, grace and pardon in such ways as shall be your pleasure beseeching the almighty maker and redeemer of this world to send your Majesty continual and long health, wealth and prosperity with Nestor’s[9] years to reign, and your most dear son, the prince’s grace, to prosper reign and continue long after you, and they that would contrary, a short life, shame, and confusion. Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject and most humble servant and prisoner, this Saturday at your Tower of London.

THOMAS CRUMWELL

~~~

 

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[1] William Kingston

[2] measured

[3] Sir Richard Rich

[4] Michael Throgmorton, associate to Reginald Pole

[5] Thomas Audley

[6] The Book of Daniel – a Hebrew wife named Susanna was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs.

[7] The impotence, which was only known by Cromwell and Lord Admiral Fitzwilliam

[8] Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland

[9] Nestor from the Iliad, known for wisdom and generosity, which increased as he aged.

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

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

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[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.

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The House of Grey’ by Melita Thomas

The Grey family was one of medieval England’s most important dynasties. They were were on intimate terms with the monarchs and interwoven with royalty by marriage. They served the kings of England as sheriffs, barons and military leaders. In Henry IV’s reign the rivalry between Owain Glyndwr and Lord Grey of Rhuthun was behind the Welsh bid to throw off English dominance. His successor Edmund Grey played a decisive role at the Battle of Northampton when he changed allegiance from Lancaster to York. He was rewarded with the disputed lands and the earldom of Kent. By contrast his cousin, Sir John Grey, died at the second battle of St Albans, leaving a widow, Elizabeth née Woodville, and two young sons, Thomas and Richard. Astonishingly, the widowed Elizabeth caught the eye of Edward IV and was catapulted to the throne as his wife. This gave her sons an important role after Edward s death. The Greys were considered rapacious, even by the standards of the time and the competing power grabs of the Greys with Richard, Duke of Gloucester led to Richard Greys summary execution when Gloucester became king. His brother, Thomas, vowed revenge and joined Henry Tudor in exile.

When Thomas Grey’s niece, Elizabeth of York, became queen, the family returned to court, but Henry VII was wary enough of Thomas to imprison him for short time. Thomas married the greatest heiress in England, Cicely Bonville, their numerous children gained positions in the court of their cousin, Henry VIII, and his daughter, Mary. The 2nd Marquis was probably taught by Cardinal Wolsey but was a vigorous supporter of Henry VIII s divorce from Katharine of Aragon. But his son’s reckless involvement in Wyatt s rebellion ended in his own execution and that of his daughter, Lady Jane Grey, the ‘Nine Days Queen’. Weaving the lives of these men and women from a single family, often different allegiances, into a single narrative, provides a vivid picture of the English mediaeval and Tudor court, reflecting how the personal was always political as individual relationships and rivalries for land, power and money drove national events.

cover and text via Amberley Publishing

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I jumped with joy when Amberley kindly sent me a copy of this book. Thomas Cromwell was beloved by the Greys, and they are a big theme in my next Cromwell novel out next year. The Grey family has not been given enough of the spotlight, and yet they are always there, close beside the better-known members of the royal court, ready for their time to shine.

While the Grey family began in the late 1100s, it was Lord Reginald Grey of Rhuthun who rose to prominence under Henry IV, and is famous for his battles with the Welsh, and being held hostage due to failed plans. His son, Edmund Grey fought during the Wars of the Roses, splitting from his family, who supported the Lancasterians, and supported the Yorkist cause instead. His son John Grey continued to fight for the Lancastrian cause, but was killed at the Battle of St Albans in 1461, leaving his wife Elizabeth Woodville a young widow with two sons, Thomas and Richard. When she secretly remarried to King Edward IV, the Grey family became full Yorkist supporters. It is these sons Thomas and Richard the world already knows. As with many noble houses of the time period, divided loyalties were a major problem when making the wrong choice could mean death.

Richard, younger of the brothers, did well from his mother’s remarrriage, elevated at the royal court, and half-brother to the heir to the throne. But when Edward IV died in 1483, Richard Grey was executed beside his uncle Anthony Woodville, on Richard of Gloucester’s (Richard III’s) orders, aged only about 26. These killings sparked an already deeply divided power battle between the newly widowed queen and Richard III, her brother-in-law.

Elder brother Thomas Grey was a loyal Yorkist, and the Marquess of Dorset, and watched Richard III be crowned in London as his brother died, and soon after heard of the disappearance of the Princes of the Tower, his two young half-brothers. Thomas joined the Duke of Buckingham’s rebellion against Richard III, but when that rapidly failed, Thomas changed loyalties fled to Brittany to join Henry Tudor, who pledged to marry Thomas’ half sister Elizabeth of York, and rule England. Thomas was ready to invade England alongside Henry Tudor in 1485, only to hear that his mother had come to terms with Richard III, and he tried to desert the Lancastrian cause. Instead, he was captured by the French and held in Paris while the Battle of Bosworth saw Henry Tudor crowned Henry VII and step-uncle Richard III slain. Thomas was only released when Henry was on the throne and the new king could pay his French supporters.

Thomas Grey never recovered his influence in England after flipping between York and Lancaster, and was imprisoned during the Lambert Simnel uprising and the Battle of Stoke Field. Despite being the new queen’s brother, the cloud of treason hung over Thomas, and he enjoyed little favour until his death in 1501, aged only about 48. But Thomas had 14 children, including his heir and namesake, the 2nd Marquess of Dorset.

While his father suffered for his divided loyalties, the young Thomas Grey did well as the ward of Henry VII, only encountering trouble towards the end of the king’s life, when suspicion of treason was rife. But with the accession of Henry VIII, Thomas Grey sat comfortably for another twenty years as one of the few Marquess’ in England, until the King’s Great Matter started to divide the royal court. Grey, along with his brothers and their wives, were loyal to the king, and their Queen Katherine. The Grey family were again forced to take sides and divide their loyalties between Henry and Katherine, to their great disadvantage. But the Grey family, from Dowager Cecily Grey downwards, had the love and friendship of Thomas Cromwell, who gave them money, patronage and preference in the royal court. Thomas Grey died in 1530, leaving behind his  siblings, and also four sons and four daughters, among them Henry and Elizabeth.

While Elizabeth would go on to marry a friend of Cromwell’s, Lord Chancellor Thomas Audley, and live a happy life, Henry Grey was not the smartest man. (His grandmother Cecily asked Thomas Cromwell to watch out for him at court, guide him, possibly godfather his children, etc.) Henry married Frances Brandon, daughter to Charles Brandon and Henry VIII’s sister Mary, Queen of France; quite the coup. (Cromwell continued to favour the Grey family,and the Dudleys due to their connection in marriage to the Greys). Henry and Frances had the famous Grey three daughters – Jane, Katherine and Mary. Henry rose to the title of Duke of Suffolk after the death of his brother-in-law in 1551 (rather than earning a title), but it was Frances Brandon who was the brains of the pair, and their daughters, Jane especially, became the heirs of King Edward VI. Henry Grey saw his daughter Jane become queen for nine days in 1553, only for he and poor Jane to be overthrown, and beheaded a year after their imprisonment. After 150+ years serving high in the royal court, constant divided loyalties saw the Grey family finally slip from favour.

The story of the Grey family at court is one of huge ups and downs from family upheavals all the way up to executions from kings and queens. The Greys were an integral part of the royal court alongside Henry IV, Henry V, Henry VI, Edward IV, Richard III (and the cause of Edward V), Henry VII, Henry VIII, Edward VI, Queen Mary I, and Grey family members still had claims to the throne during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I and succession of King James VI/I.  The story of this family takes place in a tumultuous time, and I greatly enjoyed reading this book.  As someone who prefers the players in the shadows to the stars of the royal court, the tale of the Grey family shows a new side to old tales in history. I truly love having this book in my library.

See also ‘The King’s Pearl’ by Melita Thomas

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Stephen and Matilda’s Civil War: Cousins of Anarchy’ by Matthew Lewis

The Anarchy was the first civil war in post-Conquest England, enduring throughout the reign of King Stephen between 1135 and 1154. It ultimately brought about the end of the Norman dynasty and the birth of the mighty Plantagenet kings. When Henry I died having lost his only legitimate son in a shipwreck, he had caused all of his barons to swear to recognize his daughter Matilda, widow of the Holy Roman Emperor, as his heir and remarried her to Geoffrey, Count of Anjou. When she was slow to move to England on her father’s death, Henry’s favourite nephew Stephen of Blois rushed to have himself crowned, much as Henry himself had done on the death of his brother William Rufus.

Supported by his brother Henry, Bishop of Winchester, Stephen made a promising start, but Matilda would not give up her birthright and tried to hold the English barons to their oaths. The result was more than a decade of civil war that saw England split apart. Empress Matilda is often remembered as aloof and high-handed, Stephen as ineffective and indecisive. By following both sides of the dispute and seeking to understand their actions and motivations, Matthew Lewis aims to reach a more rounded understanding of this crucial period of English history and asks to what extent there really was anarchy.

cover and text via Pen & Sword

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I must admit that the civil war of the 12th century is definitely not in my time period of expertise, but this book jumped out for two reasons – 1) that a kick-ass woman was trying to be a king, and 2) Matthew Lewis wrote it. I thought there was no way this book could fail.

In 1120, King Henry I lost his only legitimate male heir, William, in the disaster of the White Ship. The sole heir to the throne was being a moron, and drunkenly sank his ship off the coast of Normandy, killing hundreds. While the king had two dozen bastard children (though one bastard son also died aboard the White Ship), all Henry had to inherit his throne was William, and his older sister, Matilda. With the loss of William, Henry I had what all kings fear – the possibility to handing power to a woman.

Matilda was married to the Holy Roman Emperor, only to have him die in 1125, when Matilda was still young. Henry moved his daughter back to Normandy, and set about making her the heir to the English throne. Matilda married Geoffrey Plantagenet of Anjou, and the nobles of England and English-controlled France swore fealty to Matilda and Geoffrey. Matilda didn’t seem to like her husband, but in 1135, when King Henry died in Normandy, she was pregnant with her third child, and ready to march on cities and put down rebellions.

Enter Stephen of Blois, Matilda’s cousin, the Count of Boulogne and new Duke of Normandy. Stephen hastily made his way to England, and claimed the English throne for himself while Matilda battled Anglo-Norman nobles. This problem of multiple claimants to the throne started The Anarchy, which would last for almost 20 years. Both Matilda and Stephen were descendants of William the Conqueror, and Stephen had the backing of the church, developed ways to raise money, and was prepared to fight the Scottish, the Welsh and Geoffrey of Anjou for Normandy. While several years of fighting had moderate success, by 1138, the tide was turning on all fronts, and supporters were withdrawing support for Stephen in favour of Matilda.

Lewis’ book tells the story from both points of view. Stephen seems to have been a well-liked man, with his wife, Queen Matilda, a powerful ally at his side. On the other side, Matilda is also a strong woman, her half-brother Robert a loyal supporter, and her husband Geoffrey a tough man. Matilda landed in England in 1139, but Stephen was hesitant to lay siege on a castle harbouring a female enemy. But he had underestimated his cousin, for Matilda, alongside Robert, was ready to fight for the throne. By 1141, Matilda had captured Stephen.

Matilda was an incredible woman. She lived in a time where men simply couldn’t comprehend a woman in power. She couldn’t be a woman who ruled, she needed to be a king. The fine line Matilda needed to walk was one almost impossible; she was expected to be a woman, but act like a king. She needed to rule and control as a king, but all her nobles and commoners saw was a woman. Empress Matilda, Lady of England and Normandy, set forth to London to be coronated, only to have the population revolt against her just days before she wore the crown as king of England.

Matilda soon had to face another battle, from Stephen’s wife Queen Matilda, who overthrew Matilda and forced her into hiding. Matilda was forced to let Stephen go from prison, in return for her brother Robert, who was caught by Queen Matilda in battle (phew!).

Battles continued for several years with Stephen still the king, and Matilda on her own with husband Geoffrey taking Normandy across the channel. In 1147, Matilda’s brother Robert died, and her son Henry, aged only 14, took up the battle in his mother’s name. But the fresh fighting produced no winners, and young Henry wanted to bail out, but was broke. King Stephen paid for his enemy to leave the fighting, a strange gesture indeed, paying his cousin and enemy to safely leave. This left the people of England to make truces and find some peace at last, but Matilda wasn’t done yet.

By 1153, Henry was at it again, fighting Stephen for the crown. But instead of battles to the death, Stephen and Henry made peace, and decided Henry would be Stephen’s heir, in place of Stephen’s own son who was ruling in France. Stephen died only one year later, and Henry became King Henry II, leaving his mother Matilda to never rule England.

This book goes into fine detail about the battles that raged over this bloody period in English history, which gives The Anarchy context and fleshes out the realities of what happened to the country, and how the people suffered over the period of 1135 – 1154. With the book covering both Stephen and Matilda, it makes it hard to decide who you want to win. Matilda was an extraordinary woman in English history, so to hate Stephen for taking her throne should be an easy task. Instead, Stephen is a liked and capable man  who makes the right decision at crucial moments. Despite the 19 years in which the civil war spanned, there were times of peace in all areas of the country.  Neither Stephen nor Matilda made the battle for the crown personal, neither wished to kill the other, or at least it seemed. When it fell to Henry II to rebuild after the fighting, rebuilding the country and her finances took only around a decade, and went on to rule much of France, Scotland, Wales and Ireland. To suggest England was in anarchy under Stephen isn’t the full picture, which Lewis details meticulously. However, with the coinage debased and law and order a mess, the battle had done much harm to the general population in the south, while northern areas were largely untouched. The fortunes of England raised and fell with every move Matilda and Stephen made.

I expected to read this book, cheering for Matilda’s success, despite knowing the ultimate outcome already, and yet that didn’t happen. Lewis has written the book in a way that the reader can see the battle from both points of view and I liked Stephen more than I wanted to. There is much to cover in The Anarchy, and yet the author fits it all in without wasting any time. While I was already a very big Matthew Lewis fan, this book has left me better for reading it, learning about a period I probably wouldn’t have bothered with if not for him.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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[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