Thomas Cromwell’s Downfall: Part 5 – Cromwell’s Final Letter, 24 July 1540

Cromwell is directly to Henry’s right, receiving the English bible from Henry, with Cranmer on the left. Ironic considering Cromwell and Cranmer created the bible.

On 24 July, Thomas Cromwell wrote his final letter from the Tower, and discussed none of the issues you would expect. Those in the Tower who were awaiting execution generally knew their time was coming, and set about making sure their debts were paid. If found guilty of heresy and/or treason, or attainted (declared guilty without a trial), all possessions were forfeit to the crown, and so no will was required. Even so, many wrote notes asking for help for others, to pay bills or pass on messages. Sadly, nothing remains of Cromwell making preparations at the end of his life, or even how far in advance Cromwell knew of the end of his days. While Henry nicely planned his wedding to  Katheryn Howard to coincide with Cromwell’s execution, precious few knew of the alignment, and  certainly not Cromwell himself.

So the final letter written by Cromwell is one that centres on none of his situation. Rather, his letter to the Privy Council instead is over what is now called The Rochepot Affair. To cut a long story short and to simplify (I do explain it properly in my book), François de Montmorency, Sieur de la Rochepot (brother to the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency) had a ship confiscated in London, on Cromwell’s orders in 1538. A year earlier, the ship of one of three which attacked and robbed German merchants (Easterlings). While the ship could be held for the crime of attacking the Germans, a second incident had occurred. The French were withholding Cromwell’s precious English bibles, which were printed in Paris, and Rochepot’s ship could be exchanged for the bibles. But after the French released the captive bibles and they went to England in 1539, Cromwell never released the ship, and it sat idle. Jurisdiction on the case, which would see the ship released, took time. Cromwell had no interest in Rochepot’s ship; it was merely a pawn. But the king of France argued that Cromwell kept the ship in order to plunder its valuable goods. There is no proof of this, and nor did even Cromwell’s biggest enemies, all also on the panel to oversee the ship’s release, accuse him, only the French. But as Cromwell was attainted, he became a good scapegoat in the saga ofthe ongoing litigation, and Cromwell’s final letter attempts to clear his name of any wrongdoing over the “prize” aboard the Rochepot ship.

~~~

CROMWELL TO THE LORDS OF THE COUNCIL, 24 July 1540 ( LP xv  no. 910)

It pleases your good lordships to understand that I have read the letter sent to the king’s Majesty, sent from the French king, touching Monsieur de Rochepot, in which it appears that the French king supposes that, by my means, the said matter has not been ordered, and that I should have a great part of that prize. My lords, first, as I shall answer to God, I never bore favour in the matter otherwise than to justice appertaining, which was that Easterlings, who said they were, being in league with the French king, robbed by his subjects, desiring that forasmuch as their goods were safe within the king’s ports that they might have justice here. Whereupon, the matter was committed to the hearing of the Judge of the Admiralty, and the Proctor of Monsieur de Rochepot agreed and consented to the jurisdiction of the court, and so the French party as well as the Easterlings contended upon the matter as to whether it should be tried in France or England. Thereupon, as I remember a sentence was given that the matter should be tried in England, whereupon the French party departed and after sent hither an advocate of France, who took himself to be satisfied with the order taken, and also departed. After the ambassador, now present here, made suit to the king to have the matter remitted to be determined in France, at which time a consultation of learned men before the king’s honourable council was had at Gilford, and there it was thought that the king’s Majesty might, with his honour, remit the matter into France. But it was agreed on the king’s part that if the French king would send his commissary to a place indifferent, then his Majesty would the like and whatsoever should be determined there should be performed. My Lord of Norfolk, me Lord Privy Seal, my Lord of Durham and my Lord of Winchester were at that Council, and my Lord of London was at that time, being the king’s ambassador, fully instructed of the whole matter, but that ever I had any part of that prize or that I were promised any part thereof, my lords, assure yourselves I was not, as God shall and may help me. This, my good lords, I pray the eternal Redeemer to preserve you all in long life good health with long prosperity. At the Tower the 24th day of July with the trembling hand of your bedesman.

THOMAS CRUMWELL

~~~

By this time, all that was left was for the execution, and Cromwell’s great final speech on the scaffold four days later.

THE PRESENT TESTAMENT AND WILL OF THOMAS CROMWELL, 12 July 1529

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

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

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

THE WILL OF THOMAS CROMWELL, 12 July 1529

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.

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.

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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