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, 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). 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.
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, 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.
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 hehad…
Tomorrow – Ralph Sadler delivers Cromwell’s letter to the king…
 Otho, C. x. 226. B. M. Burnet, i. 320, 3 May 1536
 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.
A surprising thing happened on the afternoon of 10 June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell was running late. Sure, he had been at Parliament in the morning, and had a Privy Council meeting at 3pm, but Cromwell didn’t need to go far between his two important tasks for the day. Cromwell was never late for anything, and no record exists explaining why Cromwell had to rush into a Privy Council meeting already attended by all members – and William Kingston, Constable of the Tower.
What was not a surprise was the arrest of Thomas Cromwell. Many were stunned by the news that the Lord Privy Seal, the King’s Chief Minister, the most powerful man in England, was suddenly arrested on vague charges, sent to the Tower on the King’s command. But in truth, the clues had been spread out of the course of the previous year, and Cromwell’s chief enemies, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, had slowly tightened the net around their common nemesis.
Parliament had been dissolved in July 1536 and did not sit again until Henry summoned his ministers in March 1539. Cromwell had ensured Parliament sat regularly from 1529, running yearly reformation parliaments, changing the nature of politics under King Henry. But the Pilgrimage of Grace, the death of Jane Seymour, and Henry’s increasing illness and paranoia had got in the way of Cromwell’s changes. Cromwell’s political to-do list was huge by 1539, although his religious reforms had continued without parliament and despite the rebellion of 1536-37.
Cromwell gets unlucky
Just prior to parliament’s opening on 28 April 1539, Cromwell fell ill, which he described by letter to Henry as an ague or tertian fever (possibly malaria). Cromwell suffered a number of near-fatal illnesses throughout his time at court, usually always in spring, managing to beat them every time. Cromwell’s 1539 illness was a brutal one, rendering the Lord Privy Seal bedridden at Austin Friars and then at St James’ Palace, which was kept for his use, through most of April and May. Cromwell was seen outside St James’ when a muster of Henry’s troops, led by Ralph Sadler and included Richard and Gregory Cromwell, marched past the Palace, but the amount of work he completed almost ground to a halt.
While Cromwell lay in his sickbed, Norfolk was ready to pounce. He summoned the Convocation of Canterbury, and invited Convocation of York members as well, and pushed reform through the House of Lords, where Cromwell was too ill to attend. Norfolk was the face of The Six Articles, which rolled back Cromwell’s reformist changes. The Six Articles, mostly dealing with matters of the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, vows of chastity, transubstantiation, private masses and confessions, brought King Henry and England way back to Catholic practises. By the time the first session of parliament closed in June, Cromwell still had not appeared before the House of Lords or House of Commons, and the damage to the Reformation had been done.
Cromwell loses his cool
King Henry wanted religious unity in England before he went on progress, and set up a banquet at Cranmer’s place, Lambeth Palace, but refused to attend himself. Cranmer was already in a poor mood, as he had just sent his wife and daughter from England, as his marriage was deemed illegal by the Six Articles. All sides of religious debate attended the banquet, Cromwell included, on 2 July 1539. After years of backstabbing, rumours and snide comments, Cromwell and Norfolk had the public fight that had long been brewing. Norfolk gleefully slandered Wolsey before the banquet and Cromwell snapped, accusing Norfolk of supporting Rome over England. Norfolk had begged to go to Rome with Wolsey when the cardinal expected to be made Pope in 1523, remembering every detail, down to the money Norfolk made during the negotiations to have Wolsey elected, acting as the ‘protector of the future Pope’ and sailed the Mary Rose, to accompany Emperor Charles’ ship from England. These details enraged Norfolk, essentially being accusing as a traitor to his king and his country.
Cromwell accidentally picks the wrong queen
Cromwell wanted to push harder than ever to secure the Reformation in England. The monasteries were almost dissolved, and the delegation went to the German States to secure a royal bride and alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, with its powerful Lutheran army. Holbein brought home portraits of Anna and Amalia, Duchesses of Cleves in October 1539, and Henry decided to marry Anna in a rush. There are no reports Cromwell ever bragged of Anna’s qualities, nor that Holbein’s over-exaggerated Anna’s beauty. Anna had a powerful Lutheran brother, Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and her sister, Sybilla, Electress of Saxony, wife to the head of Schmalkaldic League. Duchess Anna was perfect for England; young, beautiful, clever and well-connected. The duchess of a Lutheran state, which was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. She was strongly supported by her Lutheran family but was Catholic like her mother. Cleves was the perfect ‘middle-way’ of religion, needed to secure alliances and peace.
By the time that Anna had finally reached England to marry King Henry in January 1540, international movements had ruined everything Cromwell had crafted. Henry was listening to the whispers of Norfolk and Gardiner, turning back to Catholicism. Anna’s brother Wilhelm had all-but declared war against Emperor Charles over the German state of Guelders. Once Henry married Anna, England would be in alliance and could have to fight against Emperor Charles. France swayed back and forth, helping to undo all negotiations of alliances between these formidable powers of Europe. Cromwell couldn’t undo the marriage contract; he had helped to create it, and it was water-tight.
The long-held rumours of Henry calling Anna ugly, “a Flanders mare,” have dogged the tale through the centuries, despite documents telling a very different story. Jousts were held in Anna’s honour; the people spoke of her beauty and kindness. England quickly warmed to Anna, but Henry wanted out of any alliance that could mean war. Emperor Charles was furious that England would align with the reformers, but the Germans were also unhappy with the marriage, with Henry not backing them on matters of war, and not undoing the infuriating Six Articles. Cromwell had promised the German ambassadors he would crush Norfolk and the Six Articles, but had lost the power in parliament and convocations to do so.
Cromwell makes a mistake
Despite all the troubles with Anna, Henry still believed in Cromwell, confiding in him about his impotence with Anna, and making Cromwell the Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain in April 1540. While the marriage was still sound, Cromwell had completed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and made Henry rich. Cromwell’s enemies, such as Norfolk and Gardiner, were stunned, as were Ambassador Chapuys and Ambassador Marillac. Gardiner and Cromwell had been together at dinner at Austin Friars only weeks before, where Cromwell made a mistake. Cromwell told Gardiner “if the king did turn from the Reformation, I would not turn from it; and if the king turned, and all his people too, I would fight them in the field, with my sword in my hand, against the king and all others.” Cromwell had already lost many allies in parliament and at court as religious changes slowly peeled apart, and this comment would come back to haunt him.
Cromwell has a slip of the tongue
In May, Cromwell again made a mistake. He had almost secured an annulment for Henry and Anna, based on a flimsy pre-contract from Anna’s childhood, and was in initial stages of an alliance with France, seen running around the May Day jousts like a crazed man, trying to juggle national and international diplomacy. But he made a rare misstep soon after, admitting aloud of Henry’s impotence to Thomas Wriothesley one tired evening. So many little moments were beginning to add up against Cromwell, just as it had for so many others.
For a long time so many men had sneered at Cromwell’s power. Norfolk had Henry’s ear, as did Gardiner, Bishop Bonner of London, Sir Anthony Browne, and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, all on the Privy Council. Cromwell’s life was still looking up in June 1540 – he had unlimited power in England, his son Gregory was happily married to Elizabeth Seymour and they had three healthy sons, Henry, Edward, and Thomas, at Leeds Castle. Richard Cromwell had just been knighted and called ‘the king’s diamond’ by Henry as he was given a diamond off his own hand. Ralph Sadler, a man so close to Cromwell he was practically a son, was now Principal Secretary to the king, shared with Thomas Wriothesley, one of Cromwell’s most loyal men, in a role Cromwell relinquished to them. Queen Anna’s marriage could be undone, giving Cromwell a chance to secure religious reform alongside Archbishop Cranmer.
Yet, for some unknown reason, Cromwell was late to the Privy Council meeting, where he was quickly called a traitor by most, if not all, of the councillors (though among them was his nephew Richard Cromwell, and close friends Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Audley, who never spoke against him). Even Richard Rich, a long-time colleague, did not defend his master. Sir John Russell, Sir Edward Seymour, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Robert Radcliffe, while not on record as calling for Cromwell’s head, also did not defend the Lord Privy Seal. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and head of the Privy Council, likewise did not speak against Cromwell (Cromwell was godfather to Suffolk’s son Henry and probable godfather to Suffolk’s granddaughter Jane Grey). But Suffolk allowed Kingston to arrest Cromwell, who threw his cap on the table before the Council and cried, “I am no traitor! Your Grace, members of the Council, is this reward for good service done unto His Majesty the king? I put it to your consciences, am I a traitor as your accusations imply? Well, no matter, for I renounce all pardons or grace needed, for I never offended the king, and it matters only if the king himself thinks me a traitor, and he would never have me linger long!”
Norfolk pulled Cromwell’s golden collar from his shoulders, while Fitzwilliam pulled the garter from Cromwell’s leg, as he was still wearing his parliamentary robes, no time to change between meetings. Cromwell was arrested as a traitor, almost eleven years after Reginald Pole had expected to see Cromwell rowed to the Tower alongside Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell’s work on securing a Schmalkaldic alliance showed he was in league with Lutherans and Calvinists across Europe, that he had contacted a marriage that Henry couldn’t remain in, and he had uttered treasonous words to Gardiner over dinner. The Six Articles had got in the way of so many of Cromwell’s reforms, making him appear ineffectual, and Henry knew of Cromwell’s slip-up to Wriothesley about impotence. Cromwell had been betrayed by people close to him, and he left Westminster in a boat to the Tower, where he was housed in the Queen’s rooms – the same rooms Anne Boleyn had stayed in only four years earlier.
Wriothesley himself drafted letters that day to John Wallop, Nicolas Wootton and Christopher Pate in France that very day, talking of Cromwell’s arrest, though letters from Wallop arrived to Cromwell in the following days, having not received the news right away. French Ambassador Charles Marillac wrote to King Francis that very day, writing, “I have just heard that Thomas Cramuel, keeper of the Privy Seal and Vicar-General of the Spirituality, who, since the Cardinal’s death, had the principal management of the affairs of this kingdom, and had been newly made Grand Chamberlain, was an hour ago led prisoner to the Tower and all his goods attached. Although this might be thought a private matter and of little importance, inasmuch as they have only reduced thus a personage to the state from which they raised him and treated him as hitherto everyone said he deserved, yet, considering that public affairs thereby entirely change their course, especially as regards the innovations in religion of which Cramuel was principal author, the news seems of such importance that it ought to be written forthwith. I can add nothing but that no articles of religion are yet concluded, and that the bishops are daily assembled to resolve them, and meanwhile Parliament continues. They were on the point of closing this when a gentleman of this court came to say from the King that I should not be astonished because Cramuel was sent to the Tower, and that, as the common, ignorant people spoke of it variously, the King wished me to know the truth. The substance was that the King, wishing by all possible means to lead back religion to the way of truth, Cramuel was attached to the German Lutherans, had always favoured the doctors who preached such erroneous opinions and hindered those who preached the contrary, and that recently, warned by some of his principal servants to reflect that he was working against the intention of the King and of the Acts of Parliament, he had betrayed himself and said he hoped to suppress the old preachers and have only the new, adding that the affair would soon be brought to such a pass that the King with all his power could not prevent it, but rather his own party would be so strong that Cramuel would make the King descend to the new doctrines even if he had to take arms against him. These plots were told the King by those who heard them and who esteemed their fealty more than the favour of their master. The King also sent word that when he spoke with me that he would tell things which would show how great was the guilt of said Cramuel and that said lord has so long been able to conceal it and the right opportunity now came to give orders.”
Marillac also wrote to Anne Montmorency, Constable of France, saying, “what I wrote last is now verified touching the division among this King’s ministers, who are trying to destroy each other. Cramuel’s party seemed the strongest lately by the taking of the dean of the Chapel, Bishop of Chichester, but it seems quite overthrown by the taking of the said lord Cramuel, who was chief of his group, and there remain only on his side the Archbishop of Canterbury, who dare not open his mouth, and the lord Admiral, who has long learnt to bend to all winds, and they have for open enemies the Duke of Norfolk and the others. The thing is the more marvellous as it was unexpected by everyone.”
Tomorrow – 11 June: Cranmer begs for Cromwell’s life.
Yesterday, I received a message asking about Thomas Cromwell. I was waiting to collect my sons from college, and my phone buzzed. A Tom Crumel chat? Of course! But instead, the messenger was asking about a link she had just seen, claiming that Anne Boleyn wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536, and because of this, Cromwell concocted lies to destroy her.
Readers, I laughed out loud when I read this. I probably looked crazy with my windows down on a hot summery afternoon, laughing to myself. Then I remembered why my messenger was confused, because this assertion comes from a recently released book. It has been a long week, and I have been frantic to get stock into my bookstores for Christmas, and the publishers are sending books by the thousands (the book in question is not one of them). I did not watch the video that came with this claim, but I did read the link, discussing the need to promote women in government. (It is a worthy claim, for Britain’s current political state is grotesque. I live in a country run by a woman, and we are better for it.) I know the book in question which makes these claims, and I have checked the book’s sources, and these claims do not match up with what I have read about Thomas Cromwell creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. That is not unusual in itself, for this story is interesting and is based on difficult evidence. The trouble is, the suggestion that new evidence has surfaced does not ring true, only that evidence has been interpreted… differently.
So, who wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536?
Tudor Poor Law is not a fun read. Essentially, it was believed the poor were idle, lazy beggars and vagabonds who were poor due to their own behaviour. Many in (conservative) government tend to think the same way today, but in 1535, thoughts on better ways to deal with the poor were coming to life in England. Cromwell had been in parliament when the law last changed – the Vagabonds Act of 1531 (22 Henry VIII c.12). The law was a harsh one; rather than helping the poor, they were to continue to be punished. But this law change, the first in almost 150 years, saw the chance for beggars to become licensed by their local Justice of the Peace. Licensed beggars could to appeal to the JPs of their district for relief. However, punishments for vagrancy stayed in place.
The Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 (27 Hen VIII c. 25) is unique for a number of reasons. Cromwell passed the law in the House of Commons that stated that “sturdy vagabonds” had to be put to work. The constables, mayors, JPs, sheriffs and anyone in control of a district/parish had to look after their own poor. The poor were not simply punished for being poor, and the men in power would be punished if they did not aid beggars. Taxes were not levied to cover these costs, as taxes were always unpopular, and a number other important changes in England were already causing disharmony. Collections were organised through a common box, to pay for people to be put to work, for the sick to be helped so they could recover and find work, and those who could not work were not left to beg. The poor were to stay within their own district/parish, and in return, they could receive help. There were still harsh punishments in place for those who refused to abide by these rules, but this was the birth of real aid for the poor.
But this is not the real point of the claim that Anne Boleyn actually wrote up this law. What passed through parliament was Cromwell’s work. But, what Cromwell initially presented to parliament in February 1536 was far from what the law became. Cromwell presented a far more ambitious plan, a law that would tackle poverty right to the root. This plan suggested that the poor were not idle, instead, they had come to their circumstances by more than simply bad choices. Sadly, precious little of Cromwell’s work survived his attainder, so what was specifically said in parliament is not known. What is known is that Cromwell strongly believed in the law he presented to parliament; he made certain King Henry attended the Commons when he put forth the law to the House, as a way of displaying the support he had from the king for this legislation. Parliament’s nine-week session had been delayed by almost six months, so when Cromwell presented this law change, it was already underway in terms of firm planning. But the Act that passed in the House of Commons was a watered-down, rewritten version of the initial plan. Even Henry’s appearance could not get the law to pass, as the Act was so costly. Cromwell essentially pushed for what he could get from the House of Commons. King Henry and Cromwell were not simply tyrants doing their own bidding; the government had the right to push back on law changes and did so at their discretion.
It is the original plan, just a draft, which causes the question of who wrote this revolutionary plan.
The draft, BL MS Royal 18 CVI (which took me forever to view on this side of the planet), is a curiosity forgotten by time. As a draft, it is not listed in the official Letters of Papers of the Royal Manuscripts in the British Library, but it does exist. It was first uncovered by German Georg Schanz and mentioned in his book Englische Handelspolitik (English Trade Policy) in 1881. Draft 18CVI is a 66-page document, written in basic handwriting, double-sided. The handwriting does not look like the fine handwriting of a clerk of the period, and the draft suggests it was written by one individual, but not in a formal setting. Whoever wrote 18CVI had an intimate knowledge of the needs of the people, the needs of the country, the possibilities for job creation, the numbers of staff required, the costs, everything. It was not a plan of forming a utopian suggestion – this was a draft written up by someone who understood the needs of the poor and how to help them. Bringing a draft like this to Cromwell was a wise move, for he had grown up in a common home (though not the poor blacksmith’s son that fiction gives us), had been to prison very young, and fell upon the hardest of times when he left the French army in Italy in the early 1500s. Cromwell was a man who had been to the bottom and now sat at the top.
Draft 18CVI goes into fine detail – those who could, had to report for work starting Easter 1537, though to Michelmas 1540, the first period that Cromwell set out for works to begin. Those who could work had jobs planned out, works Cromwell knew needed to be done in England, as seen in his list of remembrances that still survive. Jobs would be created, such as making roads, digging sewers, repairing ports, jobs whose results would benefit the population. The workers would be paid a fair wage, along with meat and drink, and a clothing allowance they would earn. Salaries were already set out for those overseeing the projects. The costs of this new welfare state were set out as well; six forms of tax would cover the costs; ecclesiastical dignitaries would be taxed, then the temporal lords and laymen, taxed on different rates depending on their land values and moveables. Doctors would be arranged for the sick and injured; medicine, beds, food and warm fires would be provided for those who needed them. Children between 5 -14 could be taken and apprenticed in jobs, but only those over 12 would be whipped for failure to work. All people had the chance to reform, with a three-strike system in place for those who failed to live up to expectations. One punishment for failure to work was to burn the ball of a man’s right hand in public. Others included whipping and jail time for those unable to provide a good reason for not working.
Draft 18CVI broke down the costs involved, the men needed, the dates, the figures, the projects, everything for such an enormous plan. Whoever wrote 18CVI had a huge amount of official paperwork at their disposal. My general opinion is that someone working for Cromwell wrote this, as they would have access to his paperwork in his royal apartments as Secretary of State, the king’s chief minister, Vicegerent of Spirituals (head of the church under the king), along with his papers in his capacity as Master of the Rolls (keeper of England’s records). Cromwell believed in the reform of the Poor Law, could see how it would work, and how much it would cost. The problem was that this parliamentary session, finally free of the King’s Great Matter, had much work to do. The immense Dissolution of the Monasteries was underway, and 10 years of experience with sporadic dissolutions gave Cromwell an insight into what was going to happen; many more people were about to become homeless, jobless, begging to survive when their monastic house closed. Also, the dissolutions meant that land previously unavailable would suddenly belong to the king, which was about to upset the feudal system in which land was still owned, bought and sold. Tensions were already high among the rich and noble men passing laws in parliament. It was the right policy put to the wrong session. The 1536 parliament oversaw the new Act of Succession, the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act, the See of Rome Act and the Tithe Act (which was only repealed in 2018). An enormous change such as creating genuine care for the poor of England was a costly plan. This plan did not benefit the men voting for the Act and it was put to the vote at a time where nothing was certain, while the upheaval of religion affected everyone.
But who wrote draft 18CVI?
Enter William Marshall as the lead suspect. One of Cromwell’s agents, Marshall was an extreme reformist with an interest in the regulation of the monasteries. Marshall was a translator with a licence to print. He is not a well-known man, but his works between 1533 – 1537 leave a detailed story. In April 1534, Marshall sent Cromwell books on destroying Rome’s authority, and begging for money, as he often had none to live on or to print his books. Cromwell must have paid him, for Marshall printed three books in 1534. But in 1535, Marshall printed a book entitled The Forme and maner of subuention of helpyng of pore people, deuysed and practyced in the cytie of Hypres in Flaunders, whiche forme is autorised by the Emperour, and approued by the facultie of diuinite in Paris. The book is dedicated to Anne Boleyn, and it is suggested that Marshall had met with Anne, probably through Cromwell. The book is a translation of work in Ypres, of the systems planned and being implemented in the Low Countries in the late 1520s. Many of the initial ideas which appear in draft 18CVI also appear in this translation. Cromwell must have been fond of Marshall’s work, as he then paid £34, the highest sum of the time for printing, for Marshall to translate and print The Defense of Peace, and scholars have argued Bishop Fisher himself had a copy for several days before burning it prior to his execution. Marshall also printed several translations of Erasmus, Joye, Luther, and a book on idolatry and destroying relics, a book which caused much alarm in 1535, just as draft 18CVI was being created. The Images of a verye Chrysten bysshop, and of a counterfayte bysshop shocked many, including Thomas Audley, the country’s new Lord Chancellor and dear ally to Cromwell. Cromwell allowed the book to be published and did not seek to have Marshall punished for it, despite the book’s extreme Lutheran views.
It is possible that Marshall wrote 18CVI, for he made the translation of the Flanders plan for Poor Laws. It is possible that Cromwell had Marshall write out the draft based on the Marshall’s translation work, and had another agent provide the relevant figures. It is unlikely that Cromwell wrote the draft himself; Cromwell had largely given up writing in a neat style by 1534, as he didn’t have the time. It is possible that a group of Cromwell agents got together to discuss and create 18CVI. Anyone of Cromwell’s army of clerks could have written the repetitive draft for his master, or for another man on their master’s behalf.
Back to one detail – Marshall’s translation of Poor Laws was dedicated to Anne Boleyn. It was common to dedicate a book to the monarchs reigning at the date of printing. Had Anne talked with Marshall about his translations? Maybe. Had Anne read these translations about Poor Laws or idolatry? Maybe. Anne had access to anything she wanted, and with several dozen of Marshall’s books in existence in London, maybe Anne Boleyn discussed these issues with Marshall.
What is known is that Cromwell and Anne loathed one another. They had an equal enthusiasm for the Reformation, which kept their mutual distaste peaceful until 1535.Anne is known to have expressed her dislike of the dissolutions to Cromwell, both to his face and behind his back, and it is recorded that Anne mentioned helping the poor with proceeds of dissolutions. I suppose it was easier to yell at the “commoner” than the king about such issues. There is no doubt Anne was well educated on the issues she discussed. There is no doubt that Anne mounted a challenge in April 1536, to wrestle power over the Reformation away from Cromwell and his allies. Anne did have her chaplain preach at the king and Cromwell, denouncing their behaviour before the entire congregation. Anne’s champions Latimer and Alenius both told Elizabeth I of how her mother was angry the dissolutions of the monasteries. Anne was said to have harassed men who came to see her, men who ran monastic houses, to make them pay for education. After Anne’s death, there was an increase in monks with university degrees. Thomas Cranmer was away from court at the time of Anne’s power play after the parliament session, and wrote to Cromwell, asking what was going on, as Anne had seemed to jump into action in early 1536. Anne certainly did have powerful allies, a comfortable position that allowed her to advance her opinions, and access to information to help her make her case.
What is also known was that Marshall did not need anyone to give him ideas of Poor Laws. Marshall had read extensively, had travelled and met many Lutherans. Cromwellhad unique access to all the fine details held in draft 18CVI, and personal knowledge of the realities of being poor. After Cromwell had Valor Ecclesiasticus completed in January 1535 (though some papers didn’t arrive until as late as September), Cromwell knew exactly the state of England’s people, he knew his population and how many were suffering.Cromwell had already been planningValor Ecclesiasticus and what might be done about England’s people for a year before the papers were finished by his inspectors. The Marshall translations came to Cromwell at the same time as Valor Ecclesiasticus, and draft 18CVI appears to have been ready to go through parliament by October 1535, only to suffer the parliamentary delay. William Marshall certainly didn’t do the math required to get the Act into parliament, and he had no access to the figures needed without Cromwell’s express permission. Marshall had no place in parliament, couldn’t present anything, and nor did he play any role in what eventually came into law, which was the creation of votes and debates in the House of Commons. In fact, there is nothing but suggestions made by Georg Schanz in 1881 that William Marshall was a strong candidate as the author, followed by a more cautious suggestion by Geoffrey Elton in The Economic History Review in 1953.
So to suggest Anne wrote draft 18CVI, and either tried to present it or have Marshall present her work to Cromwell or parliament on her behalf, has no basis. Also, Anne creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 as a result of her ideas doesn’t have any basis. The law that was pushed through was a compromise made by the all-male parliament (God, progress on that score has been very slow indeed).
What is a certainty is that Cromwell didn’t make up lies and kill Anne as a result of this legislation. In truth, Cromwell had seemed to run out of patience with Anne a year earlier. Anne’s marriage to King Henry had taken a huge toll on England, and the work levels Cromwell faced were so vast, he slept very rarely and worked himself into a life-threatening illness by 1534. Crucially, by the time that draft 18CVI was completed in autumn of 1535, Cromwell was already receiving letters from Stephen Gardiner in France, talking about rumours that Anne was an adulterer. Lutheran and pro-Anne supporter Alexander Alenius heard of these rumours and letters, and was in London as a guest of Cromwell and Cranmer when the rumours started to circle the English court. Cromwell, claims Alenius, had told the king of these French rumours before Christmas 1535, and the barrage of rumours and slander soon began behind Anne’s back. By February 1536, Chapuys was already writing to Lady Mary, assuring her that her position would soon improve. Jane Seymour had been slid in place, now under the advisement of Sir Nicholas Carew, and Anne’s ladies-in-waiting were waiting and listening. Anne had argued with many men at court over their greed and their cash-grab of the dissolution of the monasteries. By the time Cromwell and Anne were openly arguing, her downfall was already months in the planning. While Anne’s downfall can appear swift, the gossipers and the cowardly underminers of the court seemed to have already pounced on Anne’s position after her miscarriage in January 1536. While the tales of the what/where/when/how/why of Anne’s downfall timeline can vary between reports, Cromwell’s dislike of Anne began long before the Parliament sitting in 1536. (If you want solid information about Anne Boleyn’s life, read anything by Claire Ridgway and Eric Ives).
Thomas Cromwell almost certainly engineered Anne Boleyn’s downfall. Whether Henry knew her adultery charges were false remains largely unknown, and there is little to suggest he cared too much about the truth when it came to trials. While Anne Boleyn sat on the throne, Cromwell had been working hard to justify her as the queen, and to make her daughter a legitimate royal heir. Cromwell became the chief minister to the king, had much control in parliament and he was the Vicegerent, controlling the church in its entirety. But Cromwell was still a commoner; not even Sir Thomas Cromwell for all his work. Anne arguing over the monastery funds (which Henry wanted, not Cromwell) needed to stop so Cromwell could continue the cause. An important fact to note is the monastery dissolutions were not required for a country following the Reformation. That was Henry’s grab for power.
Cromwell was no saint, and even I, as an ardent Cromwell lover, will say what he did to Anne was wrong. But I definitely don’t see any evidence that Cromwell killed Anne because she wrote the legislation of the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. While Anne was doing all she could with weakened power in 1536, this law was not one of hers. No time period in history has been kind to women, and the 1530s wasn’t kind to anyone at all. As it was, the 1536 Act didn’t work, it fell over swiftly, and no aid was rolled out, with the country split into the Pilgrimage of Grace by October 1536. It was not until the late 1590s that any real Poor Laws came into effect, and they too were weak.
I would gladly be corrected to say Anne Boleyn wrote draft 18CVI if the evidence proved it. It would be wonderful to see women’s plans and ideas being implemented in powerful ways. The time period was not filled with stupid women; women had plans of their own, but men weren’t listening (they still aren’t). I would support the idea that Anne was trying to push parliamentary reform if there was any proof of this, but I haven’t seen it. What has been offered in the book that inspired this whole question did not offer me a new source to check. I would gladly update this if that changed, and I could read primary sources showing the truth. Anne had power, but not in parliament, and by the time the Poor Laws went through parliament, Anne was already losing favour. Anne Boleyn did not die because she tried to push Poor Laws through the government. Anne was killed for a lot of unjustified reasons; she died unfairly, needlessly, callously, but it wasn’t because she wrote 18CVI.
PS – I have no desire to argue, denigrate other work, or have a point to prove. I am always happy to accept corrections, as I only care about facts, because it makes fiction writing far more interesting. I also didn’t write this to promote my own books, as I have a firm character in my books who writes Cromwell’s drafts for him. This article pushes no agenda on my behalf.
 Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1948
While Thomas Cromwell’s birthdate is unknown, we do know he was born in circa. 1485. So, for the purposes of writing Cromwell fiction, I placed his birthday in November. Which means, for November, you can buy Queenmaker Book One, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, and Queenmaker Book Two, SHAKING THE THRONE, for half price on Kindle all month! Here is all you need to know –
The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
London 1529 – Cardinal Wolsey has ruled England in King Henry VIII’s name for most of his reign. Now Henry wants to leave his extraordinary Spanish wife of twenty years, Queen Katherine, to marry Anne Boleyn and secure a male heir for the kingdom. Only God can end a marriage, through his appointed voices on Earth, the powerful Cardinal Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio sent from Rome in the Pope’s place. Wolsey’s faithful attendant, commoner Thomas Cromwell, has the mind, the skills and the ambition to secure a royal annulment.
Cromwell’s forgotten past in Italy reappears with Campeggio’s new attendant, Nicóla Frescobaldi, the peculiar son of Cromwell’s former Italian master. While the great Cardinals of Christendom fight the King, the Pope and their God for an annulment, Cromwell and Frescobaldi hold the power over a country at war with its own conscience. Cromwell is called the double-minded man, whose golden eyes make money appear. Now Cromwell wants the power to destroy the Catholic Church in England. Frescobaldi is known as the waif-like creature, the Pope’s favourite companion, but Frescobaldi wants freedom from Pope Clement and his Medici family in Italy.
Cromwell and Frescobaldi will place themselves into the heart of religious and political influence as they strive to create an English queen, or lose their heads for their crimes and sinful secrets.
The moderate man shall inherit the kingdom.
That man needs to be the Queenmaker.
November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the king’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.
England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the king on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.
Kings will rise, queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, while Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
SHAKING THE THRONE is available today! Today is part five of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.
Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533, SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.
Up first, the synopsis –
November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.
England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.
Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
‘Catholic, Protestant, all makes no matter; for I shall die a sinner for the justice I administer.’
Nicòla’s rose-gold eyelashes fluttered, such was the strength in which she held her green eyes closed. Tears perched upon her lashes, waiting to ripple down her dark olive cheeks.
‘God gives us the power of His spirit, and the sword of His word. True contrition shall deliver souls to heaven.’
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, knelt opposite to Nicòla, his purple robes flowing around the carpets beneath their knees. His hands closed over Nicòla’s clasped in prayer. Behind the altar was Nicòla’s bedroom, or more precisely, the bedroom of Thomas Cromwell, her master. Before them; William Tyndale’s English Bible, handwritten by the man himself. Also, Martin Luther’s German translation, and, for Nicòla’s comfort, a Catholic Latin bible. Cromwell may have yearned for Protestant reform, yet Nicòla’s soul, away from the ears of her master, struggled with reformation.
Cranmer and Nicòla were firm friends, yet in times of prayer, in times of struggle, Cranmer also proved himself a man of true piety, patient with Nicòla’s fear for her soul.
‘Can contrition and repentance truly come to me?’ Nicòla whispered, one tear making its defiant roll down her cheek.
‘At the heart of the Christian faith, contrition shows that a soul is ready for repentance. The old religion and the new; it makes no matter, my child. Absolution will come through the regret you now feel.’
‘Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I know you came yesterday for my need to confess and repent, but again I feel burdened with my deeds.’
Nicòla felt Cranmer’s hands move against hers, a gentle gesture. She opened her eyes a little to see him before her, his eyes closed, his dark hair over his face a touch. While Cranmer preached to king and country about the virtue of reformation in England, in private, Cranmer allowed Nicòla her need to adapt from Catholic idolatry and into the light of God.
‘Oh, Thomas,’ she whispered as she closed her eyes again, forgetting to address him formally. ‘I walked into the Tower of London, my stride strong, my will determined. I walked into the cell of Elizabeth Barton and I struck her across the face. Not a word. I watched as others hurt her, beat her, kicked her. I watched as others tortured her accomplices. I interrogated them; I screamed in their faces. The power I feel, disguised as a man, the favourite man of Thomas Cromwella, the most powerful man in this realm, makes me a monster. I watched as men were put to the rack, I heard their screams and yet I did nothing. How can God want me to do this?’
‘Elizabeth Barton is a heretic, a traitor. She is a traitor to her faith. Those men who stand accused beside her represent all the corruption and abuse of the Church itself.’
Cranmer’s hands shook over Nicòla’s, and she opened her eyes again. Cranmer stared back at her. ‘God gave Barton and her men the chance to repent, Nicòla. She claims to speak with God, to hear His words. Barton claims Mary Magdalene writes letters to her. She claims God tells her the future. Barton sins so deeply that there can be no salvation for her soul. They have forced you to torture Barton. Someone must do God’s will.’
‘What if Barton is like me?’ Nicòla asked. ‘I am a fantastical creature. The mind of a man trapped in a woman’s body. That is how I am explained. But I am a woman! You know well the frailty of my affairs. What if Barton is the same? A woman, confused by her calling in life, used by that heretical Friar Bocking and the others in Canterbury?’
‘Whatever the cause, Barton speaks. She spoke to the King himself, prophesying his death. That is treason on its own. She taints the minds of influential men. Perchance she is ill in the mind; perchance we shall never know. But what Elizabeth Barton has done is use God’s word against the King, against many of us. That is treason. That is heresy. She calls for us to be Catholic and to stop religious reform. She wants to keep England in the darkness.’
‘And for that, I must sin, abuse bodies, harm others, alongside Cromwella, alongside Ralph Sadler, Thomas Wriothesley, Richard Rich. We cloak ourselves under Cromwella’s name and commit sins.’
‘Let us pray. Mighty Lord, you have fashioned the universe, and brought order out of chaos. We thank you for bringing order to our lives. Help us respect the authorities you have established, for the sake of the world and for the Church. Guide us by your Spirit to serve Your will, and give us the courage needed by early reformers, so that in our time we may confess our faith in your Son Jesus Christ, in whose gracious name we pray. Amen.’
‘Amen.’ Nicòla made to cross herself, but stopped; for that was a Catholic gesture, not Protestant. But after years by Cromwell’s side, it remained a habit.
The pair wandered away from the corner of the enormous bedroom, past the bed where she and Cromwell slept in sin many nights, to the fire burning in silence beside two plush chairs and a table for wine. Nicòla leaned on the back of one chair and sighed.
‘Thank you, Thomas,’ she said, her Italian accent rolling the letters of his name. ‘I fear the truth of my sex makes me weak.’
‘Even the strongest man can be averse to torture,’ Cranmer replied, folding his hands together. ‘There is no need to feel ashamed after committing violence. We broke a country away from the Catholic faith. Violence happens all over Europe for this reason.’
‘King Henry looks to you as archbishop, to Cromwella as chief minister, to bring these changes.’
‘It is Cromwell who broke the Catholic Church in England. All must bow to Henry now. I owe my position in this country solely to Cromwell. I owe my life to Cromwell.’
Poor Thomas Cranmer. The Lutheran faith of the German States stated clergy did not need to be celibate, so he married Margarete in Nuremberg and shipped her to England in a crate. Now they had a son, also named Thomas, and both mother and son still lived in fear for their safety, hidden from the King until Henry decided if English priests could marry. Margarete moved often, so no one knew much of her. She lived in the Austin Friars nursery with her son at present, along with Jane, Nicòla’s daughter by Cromwell, already three years old. But Margarete could tarry nowhere long, lest be arrested, the archbishop likewise.
‘As long as we have the favour of Master Cromwella, we are safe,’ Nicòla replied. ‘Have you been at the King’s side recently?’
‘Yes, just yesterday,’ Cranmer said and invited himself to sit down in Cromwell’s private room. Few got into Cromwell’s huge bedroom; even the maids scurried with fear. ‘There is an anger in Henry, I must confess. His new daughter vexes him with anger, but also much confusion. His marriage to Queen Anne is sound, in both God’s eyes and the law. We defeated the Pope. Yet God gave Henry and Anne a daughter, not a son for the throne.’
‘Henry believes that God has given him the Princess Elizabeth to punish him for his sins against the former Queen Katherine.’
Cranmer nodded as he watched the fire. ‘Queen Anne has been out of confinement after the birth for a month now, yet the King barely goes to her. She wishes to make a son as fast as God can deliver another pregnancy.’
‘Surely Henry loves his new daughter. One of the ugliest babies I have laid my eyes on, God forgive me, but still Henry’s child.’
Cranmer stifled a laugh. ‘You have visited with Her Majesty?’
‘I have, a few days past. Cromwella suggests I call on the Queen often now she is back in London instead of Greenwich. Anne delights in her daughter; they even keep the child in Anne’s rooms, not the royal nursery! What the child lacks in looks she makes up for in her mother’s love. Cromwell spends much time in private with Henry, while Henry urges for further legislation, to make the Act of Supremacy legal and binding. Soon we shall all have to swear an oath that the King rules the Church, not the Pope.’
‘And we shall be better for it.’
‘We need no more of the Pope.’ Nicòla remembered Pope Clement in the Apostolic Palace in Rome. Gone was the handsome man of his youth who inspired her lust. He had forsaken her now, thought her a heretic. The Pope’s bastard son, Nicòla’s husband, had also ceased in demanding her to return home to Florence. At age three and thirty years, Nicòla had more than destroyed her Catholic soul. It was almost twenty years since her love affair with Pope Clement, then only Cardinal Giulio de’Medici, and even four years since she married his depraved Moorish son. Without God giving Nicòla a home, Cromwell allowed her to live safe in England.
‘How is Thomas?’ Cranmer asked after Cromwell. ‘For I have barely seen him.’
‘We are much busy at court. Master Cromwella is working on the Act of Succession, so Princess Elizabeth can be heir to the throne, and the Act of Supremacy, recognising Henry’s religious authority. Not only is Cromwella the King’s Chief Minister, set above all others, he runs the Exchequer, the Jewel House, the Hanaper, he sits in Parliament, and now Henry has made him the Steward at Westminster Abbey, now also Surveyor of the King’s Woods! One man can only do so much. We have only so many clerks, messengers, attendants…’
‘And spies.’ Cranmer smiled. Everyone knew of Cromwell’s creatures. Nicòla, “the Waif” was the chief creature of the English court.
‘There are rumours of rumblings in Ireland. The Dublin councillors are not happy with the Catholic Church’s destruction. Many northern lords are also complaining. Cromwella must see to quelling both factions. He seeks the head of Elizabeth Barton on a spike. Cromwella seeks the heads of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. He seeks to push Bishop Gardiner from court for good. Cromwella is the King’s Chief Minister and Secretary of State. And every nobleman at court hates him for it.’
‘I am the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church in England, under His Majesty, of course. There are bishops, archdeacons, priests, all who wish to defy me. I know what it is to be a common man raised so high all hate him. I lack Cromwell’s political knowledge, his deftness in his choices and movements, his ability to take on so many tasks at once. You and he have that art of memory skill. You speak Greek do you not, Nicòla?’
‘Yes, Master Cromwella taught me Greek last month while we were away from court.’
‘The whole language, in one month?’
‘That is Ioci, Archbishop. It is the powerful skill of remembering all. That is how Master Cromwella can recite the New Testament from memory alone.’
Cranmer shook his head. No one in England studied Ioci, the ancient Greek method of remembering everything. ‘You know of the Greek expression, “polymath.” It means to have the ability in many subjects, having the complex knowledge to solve many complicated issues, using many bodies of work all learned by one man.’
‘You believe Master Cromwella is a polymath?’
‘With no doubt. Cromwell can think of parliamentary legislation and religious reform, but be…’
‘Torturing heretics in the Tower, despite being a man of almost fifty years,’ Nicòla finished the sentence.
‘I have passed forty years and I could not sustain such a life. There are no exciting soldier-of-fortune stories in my history,’ Cranmer smiled inwardly. ‘I worry for Cromwell, Nicòla,’ he continued. ‘He rises so high; he works so often.’
‘Master Cromwella believes his reforms to England are a legal matter, using religion as a cover to change a country. He leaves the religious needs of the realm in your good hands. His soul seems at ease, despite all he handles.’
‘Yet, he hides you in his life. A woman, dressed as a man, works in the royal court as Cromwell’s master secretary. A woman married to another man. You violate this country’s social conduct laws, Nicòla. They should remove you to your husband in Florence. You, by right, should be Duchess of Florence, yet are a lowborn man’s attendant.’
‘You, sir, are Archbishop of Canterbury yet your wife serves in my daughter’s nursery, along with your son. King Henry could topple you with one word. I could be toppled also, but while Cromwella does whatever Henry wishes, then I feel safe. I know, every morning when I wake, that they could throw me back in the Tower where I was years ago. This is the world we have created, Archbishop Cranmer; a dangerous world, even for ourselves. As Machiavelli once wrote, “there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second.” But we must pay a hefty price for owning such power.’
‘Now I have annulled Henry’s marriage to Katherine and the Boleyns have their queen…’
‘Anne is the Cromwella queen, not the Boleyn queen. They may think they have power with Anne on the throne, her father as the Lord Privy Seal, but we know Master Cromwella holds the power.’
‘Well indeed. Now that marriage is real in law and before God, what of your marriage? Will there be an inquiry into that?’
‘And risk telling the world I am hidden as a man?’ Nicòla brushed her newly trimmed rose-gold hair behind her ears. She wore her all-black Cromwell livery, even a black overgown lined with black fur to stay warm in the brisk late autumn. Her brighter clothes, which gave away hints of her feminine nature, had disappeared away again at Cromwell’s instance.
‘I can, as Archbishop of Canterbury, rule that Thomas Cromwell may take a foreign wife, one in need of an annulment. As the new marriage would be in England, with an English man, I can rule on the wife’s annulment. What the Pope of Rome says matters none.’
‘I married in the eyes of God, in the Apostolic Palace, before the Pope himself. I said the words before God.’
‘Did you not swear before God to marry Cromwell too, before King Henry and his Anne?’
‘And you consummated your marriage to Alessandro de’Medici?’
‘No. Alessandro is living in Florence happily with his head mistress, and the other girls. To gain an annulment, Alessandro would be the one to ask. A wife cannot petition for an annulment from a marriage.’
‘If your husband were to ask for an annulment, then your marriage would fall short and be ended.’
‘But Alessandro needs to apply to the Pope. The Pope will not grant his son an annulment.’
‘I can try to help you, Nicòla,’ Cranmer continued. ‘We can canvas the scholars of Europe… as we did for Henry and Anne.’
‘Henry is a king. I am a whore.’
‘Cromwell wants your marriage annulled, or at least ruled invalid.’
‘I had carnal relations with the Pope, my father-in-law, when Alessandro was still in the nursery. Surely that rules the marriage invalid.’
‘Yes, but it would also be spoken of, in front of the Convocation of Canterbury, before I could rule the marriage invalid.’
‘And we cannot see the King’s Chief Minister in the company of the Pope’s whore,’ Nicòla sighed.
‘I do not think I can help you without revealing your nature to the world, Nicòla, no matter how much Cromwell wants it done. We could try a secret ruling of the Convocation…’
‘But there are no secrets in the English court, parliament or convocation,’ Nicòla scoffed. ‘There are so many spies, so it would never work.’
‘If Cromwell’s Act of Supremacy laws are in effect, perchance all we shall need is the King’s consent. He knows of your fantastical nature and could rule in your favour.’
‘Mayhap once we have a legitimate son in the cradle we can ask,’ Nicòla suggested.
The sound of a distant tolling bell echoed through the private chambers. Master Cromwell had returned to Austin Friars; a rare event at present.
‘I shall retire to my private rooms,’ Cranmer said and eased himself from the warm chair. ‘Please, thank Cromwell again for letting me tarry at Austin Friars to visit my wife. If they found Margarete and baby Thomas, we would all be in grave danger.’
‘Margarete is welcome hither until after Christmas, then we shall move her out to Cromwell’s new house in Dewhurst for a few months. We shall keep your new family safe.’
Cranmer allowed Nicòla to kiss his ring and he shuffled along the darkened hallway, his purple robes smooth on the bare floor.
Nicòla knew Cromwell would go to his library and offices, where Ralph, who ran Austin Friars, would probably still be working. Ralph had been in Cromwell’s care since the age of seven and now had a baby with his new wife Ellen. Both Ralph and Cranmer had sons named Thomas. Had Nicòla’s last baby not been stillborn, there would have been three babies named Thomas in the nursery with baby Jane.
Nicòla sat before the fire and waited; they would flood Cromwell with papers from the lawyers and clerks still working in the offices on the ground floor. But it was not long before someone rushed into the private rooms with wine and cheese on a silver tray. Rather than a maid, it was Ellen, Ralph’s wife. She was one of the rare few who knew of Nicòla’s truth and thus allowed in the private bedroom.
‘Master Frescobaldi.’ Ellen bobbed in a curtsy as she placed the tray on the small table before Nicòla. Despite knowing of her sex, and after time to get used to the notion, Ellen still choked a little when calling Nicòla “Master.”
‘Mrs. Sadler,’ Nicòla said with a smile. ‘Cromwella and Ralph are in the library, I assume?’
‘Yes, Master Cromwell and Mr. Sadler appear to be in much cheer. I thought to bring this tray, as Master Cromwell will retire shortly. I shall tell him you are hither.’
‘Tell them to take their time,’ Nicòla smiled. ‘Archbishop Cranmer has retired for the night.’
Ellen curtsied again and rushed from the room. Nicòla sipped the sweet red wine and closed her eyes. The image of kicking Elizabeth Barton in the face flashed before her and she quickly opened her eyes.
The door to the chambers opened and Cromwell appeared in the bedroom moments later. He tossed his black bag and hat on the Turkish carpets and dashed over to Nicòla, and he pulled her into his embrace the moment she stood up to him. Only when he finally ended their kiss, could she see how tired he appeared. ‘Tomassito…’ she began.
‘I know, they forced you to interrogate Barton and her heretic bastards without me today, and I thank you for your pains. Ralph has already told me Barton gave away no news?’
‘No, she maintains she speaks with God,’ Nicòla replied, still in his embrace.
‘I could not leave the King today. He greatly needs every detail about his son’s wedding.’
‘Well indeed, but I shall not be the one to remind the King of his son’s illegitimacy,’ Cromwell said, and guided his love back to her seat. He sat down across from her and grabbed the wine. ‘Henry loves that boy, named for him,’ Cromwell sighed. ‘A young son, just fourteen years and now marrying a noble girl. If only we could make him legitimate.’
‘If any person can, you can,’ Nicòla replied.
Cromwell raised his eyebrows in agreement as he gulped the wine, most unlike him. The silver streaks in his dark curls caught the light of the fire. ‘I have thought to make a law, designed so they need no heir of the English throne to be born legitimate, and then Henry could choose his successor.’
‘That could spark civil war!’
‘And I know it, Nicò. Still, I must keep all options open. The wedding at Westminster shall be grand indeed. Lady Mary Howard may not wish to marry Henry Fitzroy, but it pleases her father, old Norfolk. It pleases Lady Mary’s brother, for he and Fitzroy are close friends. Fitzroy may be a bastard son, but he is the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. Henry loves his son. Even the King of Scotland speaks highly of Fitzroy. Naturally, our new queen hates the wedding plans. Fitzroy, and Katherine’s daughter, the former Princess Mary, are equally hated by Anne.’
‘But we draft laws so baby Princess Elizabeth can rule over Henry’s other children,’ Nicòla argued.
‘That does not stop Anne from complaining,’ Cromwell said and gulped his wine again. ‘She has been queen but six months and already finds fault in the role, and in her own world. I do loathe that woman.’
‘Pray to God we get a legitimate son in the royal cradle and all will not matter,’ Nicòla replied.
‘But what of you, my love. What of Jane?’
‘Our daughter is well. It has only been a week since I last saw you, Tomassito.’
‘I hate when we must work apart. A week is too long to be apart from my most wonderful and adored wife.’
‘I am glad you are so assured in our marriage.’ Nicòla swore to marry Cromwell before God and the King, but that did not overrule her lawful marriage in Italy.
‘And I also am assured in the abilities of you, my master secretary. After the Fitzroy-Howard wedding, we shall travel to Greenwich Palace to prepare for the royal Christmas.’
‘We prepare The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London banquet on your behalf. All have replied they will attend, except the governor.’
‘John Hutton is most ill. Stephen Vaughan shall take his place as governor of the Company when Hutton is dead. Tis a shame Vaughan shall not return to England this year.’
‘I know he is your closest friend, but Vaughan is safe in Antwerp. He need not get burned as a heretic for his Protestant views.’
‘England is my country now. They shall burn no more Protestants. Those days are gone.’
‘Now we shall burn Catholics,’ Nicòla replied, unable make eye contact with Cromwell.
‘No, I shall burn no one. I shall take the heads of heretics and traitors though.’
Now Nicòla raised her gaze to meet the double-minded man’s golden eyes. Cromwell softened in his position in the chair and took her hand. ‘I received word from Gregory today.’
‘Is he well?’ Nicòla thought often of Cromwell’s only son; a boy of female favour and not as intelligent as his father.
‘Very well, and happy to move to Dewhurst after Christmas. He shall enjoy being tutored there, and Cranmer’s wife and son shall be there for months. Gregory shall be fourteen in a few months. I shall soon need to find him a wife.’
‘Must you, Tomassito?’
‘A pre-contract only. Do you wish to hear scandalous talk?’
Nicòla noticed a twinkle in Cromwell’s beautiful golden gaze. ‘What have the creatures heard?’
‘An affair at Wulf Hall, one of the Seymour households. Catherine, wife of the eldest son Edward, has been sleeping with her father-in-law, old Sir John Seymour. Such disgrace! Two of the Seymour girls, Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth, have been called home from Anne’s court. Now Edward’s two sons may not be his heirs, but perchance his own half-brothers!’
‘Idle talk, surely.’
‘It harms Edward’s chances of rising at court, with Sir John out of royal favour. A decent man, by all accounts. But no longer.’
‘As if King Henry cares for men being faithful,’ Nicòla scoffed.
‘We need Queen Anne pregnant before Henry finds himself a mistress. That is all we need to worry about for now.’
‘Such is the glory of ruling England,’ Nicòla replied.
Cromwell took Nicòla’s hand again, and she looked at his reddened knuckles, a sign of interrogating people in the Tower. ‘We shall rule together, you shall see.’
SHAKING THE THRONE, the second edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is now available in paperback and Kindle