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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

________________

[1] LP 4i no.1881 1526

[2] Guy, Tudor England p103

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

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

[5] LP 4iii no. 5772

[6] Mayer,Correspondence of Pole vol 1 p212

[7] ERP I, 127 xxviii

[8] Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p260

[9] Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p275

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

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

[12] Cavendish, Life of Wolsey p274

[13] LP 5 no. 11799 December 1530

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

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

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

Celebrate the release of Thomas Cromwell Part three with two free Kindle books this week only

NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE is officially available worldwide in paperback and on Kindle/Kindle app on all devices. To celebrate release day, the first two installments of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS and SHAKING THE THRONE are free to download on Amazon from October 28 to November 1, inclusive.* No need to have a Kindle or be a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, as long as you download the free Kindle app, you can read for free on any device you like.

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS covers the story of Thomas Cromwell and Nicòla Frescobaldi through the early Reformation and the King’s Great Matter between 1529 – 1533.

Click here to read more about FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS

Click here to download Book One for free

SHAKING THE THRONE covers the bloody change in fortunes for Anne Boleyn as Thomas Cromwell and Nicòla Frescobaldi plot a queen’s downfall, killing many in the process from 1533 – 1536.

Click here to read more about SHAKING THE THRONE

Click here to download Book Two for free

NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE covers the final years of Thomas Cromwell’s reign in England as he and Nicòletta Frescobaldi try to find a new wife for King Henry between 1537 – 1540. Follow Cromwell, Frescobaldi, Cranmer, Wyatt, the Seymour brother, the dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, Bishop Gardiner,  Sadler, Wriothesley, Rich and more as they race to either end, or save, Cromwell’s life.

Check out links to major characters on this site, and more Cromwell Adventure posts will be popping up here in the coming days.

*all links are for Amazon US, but promo is running on all Amazon sites worldwide. Sale runs 00:01 October 28 until 23:59 November 1, PST.

A Cromwell Adventure – Part 11: The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

The Truth and Myths of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal of England, has enjoyed a revival as a popular Tudor character in recent years after being reshaped into a hero. But was Thomas Cromwell ever a villain? After his execution in 1540, all mention of Cromwell falls away, only to be plucked from the archives in the 1930s and made into the villain who brought about all the Protestant changes made by Henry VIII. Did Cromwell really do all this work on his own? Was he a religious fanatic? How does a common-born man come out of nowhere to rise to the top of English society in one decade? Simply, Cromwell didn’t; he had a remarkable tale before he was noticed by Henry VIII.

A child born in Putney, to common parents, suffering poverty and violence?

Much of Cromwell’s childhood has been imagined or created from basic details, as there hasn’t been a lot of information available until now. It’s nice to think of a boy shrugging off his low-born life and escaping to Europe. But the story is more complex.

Born in around 1485, Cromwell’s father was an Irishman named Walter Cromwell alias Smith, a yeoman of many trades, particularly running an alehouse, and before the court 47 times in fifteen years for breaking the assize of ale (other words, selling ale overpriced, poor quality, etc). Cromwell’s mother was Katherine Meverell, and the Meverells of Throwley were a gentry family, making Cromwell a little higher in life than assumed. Throughout this life Cromwell did favours for the Meverells and their relatives, giving them plum positions wherever they lived. Cromwell’s parents were kindly people, not cruel as sometimes portrayed.

Cromwell never forgot where he came from, or who he knew. A local boy named Thomas Megges grew up to be one of Cromwell’s many proteges, as did Thomas Mundy, all Putney boys who were of school age together. When Cromwell got elevated to the peerage in 1536, he was made Baron of Wimbledon, and his wealth and lands grew right through the very area where he was born. His wife was a Putney girl, and his sisters and their families were paramount throughout Cromwell’s life.

The ruffian’s “lost years’ in Italy?

The word ruffian gets used far too often when describing Cromwell, but it’s the only word Cromwell himself used to describe his childhood behaviour, and Eustace Chapuys wrote that Cromwell admitted to time in prison before leaving Putney. In approximately 1500, young Cromwell did leave Putney in search of adventure, but his time in Italy is documented through records, business transactions and by an Italian novelist named Matteo Bandello. Rather than fleeing his father, Cromwell instead left for an adventure, and ended up taking a place as a mercenary in the French army, who were sent to fight the Battle of Gagliano, Naples, on 29 December 1503. The French lost, as were France’s hopes forever in Naples, but Cromwell survived the killing and made his way to Florence. Cromwell was found on the streets of Florence, starving and homeless, by Francesco Frescobaldi, head of a wealthy mercantile family, who was amazed to find a fluent English speaker on the streets. The novelist Bandello tells a great tale of how Cromwell is taken into the Frescobaldi family.

Cromwell had found a home with Frescobaldi, who smuggled goods from Egypt and the Ottomans into northern Europe, making huge sums in the process, even in league with King Henry VII, making England wealthy. Cromwell learned the art of trading wool and wine and had the chance to travel to the Low Countries to attend trade fairs. Francesco’s brother Leonardo traded out of Southampton, giving Cromwell valuable contacts for a new life back in England. Cromwell made many friends and business allies for the next 30 years. Cromwell also met John Hacket in Calais in 1505, and George Elyot in 1512, both living in the Low Countries, giving him access to a wide range of people. By this time, the men were all corresponding as close friends in fluent French. During the ten years in Frescobaldi’s employ, Cromwell lived in Florence and Antwerp, learned Italian, Spanish and “self-consciously elegant” Latin, learned how to defraud the Pope by smuggling goods, learned to chase down debtors in the Low Countries, became at ease with the snobbery of the cloth trade, and created a huge web of friends and colleagues, none of whom he ever forgot. Cromwell started vast libraries of books, with many of the greatest Italian and humanist works of the era in his collections. He was the Italianate-Englishman and determined to be the best Italian in England when he returned home in 1514. But records also show Cromwell back in Rome in 1514, working as a London-based lawyer in a dispute. For the next five years, Cromwell made himself a tidy sum working as a lawyer, living six months of the year in London, the other six months in Rome, despite having undertaken no legal training.

In his time in England between Roman visits, Cromwell married Elizabeth Wyckes in around 1519, with their son Gregory born in about 1520. Cromwell also had a ward, Ralph Sadler, living in his house as his own son, and also nurtured his sister’s son Richard, who took on Cromwell’s surname. By 1523, Cromwell had leased Austin Friars, a manor in the heart of the Italian community of London, and had two more children, Anne and Grace. He could live a wealthy life as a lawyer and merchant, but also gained a place working for the powerful and noble Grey family. But more lay ahead – Cromwell got himself elected into parliament in 1523, thanks to Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, at a time when parliament rarely opened. Cromwell gave his first speech advising against Henry VIII’s possible war with France.

A sulking, unknown fixer and monastery-destroyer for Cardinal Wolsey?

In 1524, Cromwell was admitted to the bar, recognised as a lawyer by Gary’s Inn in London. He had worked for noblemen, clergymen and merchants in his time, so to be recommended to Cardinal Wolsey was no surprise. But Wolsey needed someone special; he needed someone fluent in Italian, a keen eye on money, and he needed a man who could fight his way through prolonged legal issues. Failing monasteries needed to be inspected and closed, to finance Wolsey’s vanity projects – large colleges built in his name, the completion of Hampton Court Palace, and the finishing of a giant tomb made by revered Italian tradesmen. Cromwell could well deal with Italians, but closing monasteries brought him into physical and legal battles with the gentry and the locals alike. Yet Cromwell emerged with even more people to add to his ever-widening group of friends who wrote to him throughout the rest of his life. Cromwell has a charm that saw even monks ejected from their monasteries still writing to him on friendly terms. This job also brought its enemies, a price Cromwell felt willing to pay.

During this time, Cromwell met many men interested in evangelical reform. While he worked for a Catholic cardinal and kept his religious affiliations quiet, Cromwell aided Reformation leaders and had them installed the new Cambridge College, helping reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Robert Barnes and Miles Coverdale, all religious men who would feature in Cromwell’s rise and downfall.

Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Wolsey grew in the short five years they worked side by side, and this brought Cromwell into contact with many noblemen such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and met his friend-turned-nemesis Stephen Gardiner, a friendship that would spiral out of control in later years. Cromwell and Wolsey became close friends and allies in a short time, a relationship Cromwell would never forget.

Abandoning his closest friend for personal gain?

Did Cromwell step over Wolsey’s body to take his place beside the king? Absolutely not. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s closest friend and Lord Chancellor of England. When Henry decided he needed a marriage annulment, it was Wolsey’s job to procure the desired legal and ecclesiastical paperwork. Anne Boleyn would take Katherine of Aragon’s place, but Anne was only single because Wolsey forbade her marriage to Henry Percy of Northumberland years before. Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey and vice versa.

A legatine court needed to be set up, the judges Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio from Italy. Here Cromwell could again be helpful. But 1529 would not be a kind year, as Cromwell had lost his wife and daughters to sweating sickness and Gregory was sent away for his education. Anne Boleyn was ready to be queen, Henry wanted Katherine ousted, and Wolsey and Campeggio simply couldn’t make the charges stick against Queen Katherine, a woman unmatched in all of Europe. Cromwell helplessly stood by  and watched Wolsey fail in the most public arena the 16th century had witnessed as the legatine court fell into disarray. When Henry denounced Wolsey and banished him 200 miles north to York, Cromwell had to stay in London. But he did not advance himself, rather Cromwell dared to face the king and beg for Wolsey’s return to power and favour, the only man to do so. Cromwell did a good job too, softening Henry’s angry heart. But Wolsey’s greed got the better of him, and even Cromwell’s brilliant mind could not save him, nor could he be with Wolsey when he died of illness in Leicester in November 1529. But King Henry had seen Cromwell now, seen what he could do. Cromwell also put his contacts to work, and got himself into parliament in late 1529, the first sitting in almost seven years, and tried to build a new life out of grief. All he had worked for had gone; his family was dead, Wolsey was disgraced, and his own legal practice had dried up due to busy times with the cardinal. In this time, Cromwell had a brief affair with an unknown woman, resulting in the birth of his daughter Jane. While illegitimate, Cromwell paid for Jane’s quality care and upbringing for the rest of his life.

Cromwell made being gay illegal?

In 1533, Cromwell did write the Buggery Act, a law designed to hurt men accused of the crime of sodomy. The law was created as an easy way to arrest men, primarily priests, as there was never any evidence to submit, and those arrested could not defend themselves. It was used to destroy men who would not submit to Henry’s new church, rather than what happened in bedrooms around England. Buggery was an immoral sin, but now also a legal crime, punishable by death. This law punished almost no one, while his larger legal changes, such as cresting the Church of England, making Henry VIII the head of religion over the Pope, and annulling the king;s marriage yo Katherine of Aragon all within a year.

A meteoric rise to power as Anne Boleyn’s “man?”

When Wolsey died, the king needed a new man at his side, and he called on Thomas Cromwell. But he was not an unknown to many; the Attorney-General sang his praises, his friend Stephen Gardiner was to be the king’s secretary, and ambassadors across Europe had already worked with him in the past. Cromwell was 45 years old when he caught the king’s eye and was no stranger, but a well-travelled and well-skilled man of many trades.

The Pope would never allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s plans were simple; bypass the Church completely and start a Royal Supremacy over religion. He had his friend Thomas Cranmer elevated to be the archbishop, declared Henry the Leader of the Church in England, and ruled that the clergymen of England had to swear allegiance to Henry instead of the Pope or risk losing their heads. It was a pragmatic solution to a problem Henry could not solve in usual channels. Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England and Henry was sold on Cromwell’s unorthodox plan. This allowed the Reformation to take hold in England, and by having Catholic men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher killed. Suddenly, the Pope’s voice began to lose its power. To everyone who already knew Thomas Cromwell, none of this came as a surprise. But the nobles, in places of power due to birth and ancient customs were stunned by this new man.

Cromwell and Cranmer worked together, creating Henry as the Head of the Church, able to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Cromwell wanted the Reformation in England; he could even recite much of the New Testament by heart. Anne Boleyn wanted the Reformation so she could be queen, and yet Cromwell was not “Queen Anne’s man,” not in truth. For Cromwell loathed Anne and her family but had her married to Henry in 1533 anyway, with Queen Katherine banished. When Anne produced a daughter and then several miscarriages, Henry wanted out, and Cromwell had no qualms about destroying another queen. Over the course of 1530 – 1536, Cromwell did not hesitate in doing the king’s bidding. It was business, it was a pragmatic approach to issues that arose. Now the King’s Chief Minister, the Principal Secretary, Vicegerent of Religious Matters, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cromwell had England in his grip. But not all his new laws were terrible; many helped cities with water, sewage, and food for the poor. Cromwell fed 200 people twice daily from his own kitchens. He passed laws making sure churches helped the homeless and jobless, he changed tax laws meaning the noblemen and merchants paid to fund alms-houses. Cromwell walked a tightrope like no one else.

Cromwell made up lies about Anne Boleyn to kill her?

In 1536, Henry wanted a new wife and Cromwell had the task of destroying Queen Anne. Queen Katherine had just died of cancer, and Queen Anne had lost another child; Henry could wait no more. No man called to sit in judgement of Anne for crimes could go against the king, and Cromwell’s best friend Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell had allies all over court and country, and Anne did not. It is unknown who suggested Anne was unfaithful, Henry or Cromwell. But Henry did show genuine shock when he heard Anne was found guilty of seducing four men, plus the extra charge of incest with her brother. The plan could have been a possible slander of adulterous rumours which blew out of control when people got nervous. A legal mind like Cromwell could easily spin any testimony to sound like Anne Boleyn was a witch. Did Cromwell orchestrate Anne’s death? He did. Did he show remorse? Not in any outward sense, though to go through the whole process could not have been easy for any man to bear. Once Anne was buried, Cromwell assumed her father’s role in as Lord Privy Seal of England, giving him wide-ranging powers in every respect.

The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was all Cromwell’s fault?

In late 1536, as Henry basked in the glow of his new wife Queen Jane, upwards of 40,000 men marched toward London, demanding to be a Catholic nation again. Their enemy? Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s had been back to his old tricks – closing monasteries in order to reap the financial gain, albeit the money went in Henry’s pocket, not his own. Henry loved destroying the Catholic Church’s power and taking their lands and wealth. Cromwell’s inspectors raided monasteries, abbeys and convents across England and Wales, calling them houses of sin, fraud and debauchery. Relics and shrines were pulled down, unnecessary under Reformation prayer. Cromwell’s new laws were the cause of the rebellion, and he wore the blood of the over 200 clergymen, nobles and commoners executed when the rebellion got quashed during sporadic fighting between October 1536 and March 1537.

But 1537 wasn’t a total loss for Cromwell. His investment in Jane Seymour’s womb paid dividends when she gave birth to Prince Edward. Sadly, Jane’s death was as hard on Cromwell as anyone. Just three months before Queen Jane’s death, Cromwell married his son Gregory to Jane’s sister, Lady Elizabeth. Gregory’s sons were first cousins to the prince, but after Queen Jane died, all the glory the Cromwell’s could have won also died away.

Gregory Cromwell – rapist?

A tricky truth/myth to dispel. In autumn 1538, Cromwell was busy with the White Rose trials, having the final men of Plantagenet blood arrested and executed. But in Lewes, where Gregory Cromwell lived with his wife Elizabeth, their new-born son, and another son on the way, a scandal emerged, and Gregory’s father stepped in when the situation became grave. Bishop Sampson of Chichester wrote a letter stating that Gregory could go to church for punishment for a serious offence. Bishops could only demand punishment for heresy and sexual crimes. Gregory was no religious man and heresy was not in his nature. That only led to one other cause. Having sex with maids was considered a routine sin in Tudor times, but a sexual charge requiring clerical punishment was considered serious, such as rape or buggery. Gregory angrily refused a light punishment and refused to accept what happened. What did happen? The crime is not recorded, but in doing this very simple acknowledgement in church, it meant Gregory could avoid “the possibility of further business.” Gregory’s “honesty” was affected, and so ruined his wife’s “reputation.” At the same time, Lady Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell in London and said she would no longer live under the same roof as Gregory, and she moved away. Gregory and Elizabeth did not reunite for more than six months. After spending a fortune to set up Gregory in Lewes Priory, Cromwell had to forfeit the lot and move Gregory and Elizabeth to Leeds Castle, where they patched up their marriage.

Cromwell brought about his own downfall when picking Anna of Cleves?

When Cromwell’s downfall came, it did not come from a gradual decline in power or a bolt from the blue, rather a strange mix. In April 1539, Cromwell fell ill and wrote to Henry of suffering an ague (malaria) and tertian fever (malaria fever that comes in waves every two/three days). This illness really struck a knife in the heart of Cromwell’s hard work. He had not long released the latest version of the bible, nicknamed the Cranmer Bible, though it was Cromwell’s bible; he and Cranmer were even on the cover. But when Cromwell fell ill, the Duke of Norfolk and many traditionalist clergymen in power got together and wrote the Six Articles, six points of clarification needed in religion, mostly around transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. While Cromwell was unable to move for a month, Cranmer watched hopelessly as the king took on board this Catholic doctrine and tried to mix them with the Reformation ideals. Religion was still a mess, and the Reformation took a big step backwards in a short time. Cromwell spent the rest of his life trying to undo the Six Articles. Archbishop Cranmer was forced to send away his German wife and daughter and never saw them again, lest they all be punished, possibly executed.

The King wanted a new wife, and Europe was low on princesses and duchesses available and/or willing. The best was Anna von der Marck, Duchess of Cleves. Anna’s brother, Duke Wilhelm of Julich-Cleves-Berg was like Henry; he was not strictly Catholic or a Lutheran, he was a middle way. But Anna’s sister Sybylla was married to the Elector of Saxony, a Lutheran German state with the powerful Schmalkaldic (Protestant) League and an army. England needed allies and the Schmalkaldic League looked were perfect. But negotiations frequently stalled, and when Henry liked the look of Anna’s painting and agreed to marry her, the countries still had no formal alliance.

It took Anna two months to travel to England, and in that time, all hell broke loose. Duke Wilhelm laid claim to the duchy of Guelders, held by Emperor Charles V. Charles travelled to his lands in the Low Countries, and threatened war with Julich-Cleves-Berg if Wilhelm did not step back from Guelders. France, bordering these two, urged peace and wanted an alliance with the Emperor. Suddenly Europe’s largest Catholic nations were becoming allies, and Henry was informally allied to Cleves by his marriage. Poor Anna had nothing to do with this, but by marrying her, and bedding her, Henry would be allied with Anna’s brother and must be dragged into war. England would be decimated. To top it off, the Elector of Saxony still hadn’t allied with Henry, so even the Schmalkaldic League would not necessarily be England’s ally.

By selecting Anna, Cromwell had accidentally brought England to the brink of war while Christendom hung in the balance. Cromwell was a brilliant legal mind, so Henry and Anna’s marriage contract was so tight nothing could be done. Henry was forced to marry Anna, or Cleves would turn against England, possibly alongside the Schmalkaldic army and all of Germany. But marrying Anna meant England became the enemy of the Holy Roman Empire and possibly France.

Henry’s dislike to Anna was obvious, but it was not about her looks, rather she was the anchor to a war England couldn’t win. The men of Europe postured and moved troops around for months, by which time, Henry was totally infuriated, and trapped in a complex scenario where no one would even write to England, fearing they might light the spark which started war. Henry needed to be free, he needed an annulment, and he needed someone to take the fall. But Henry had just given Cromwell the honour he always dreamed of; Cromwell was now Earl of Essex. Cromwell was a high-ranking nobleman, the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Secretary of State, Vicegerent of England and Ireland, Chancellor of the Exchequer, head statesman in the House of Lords and much more. But to show the Emperor that England was not a threat, someone needed to suffer.

Thomas Cromwell, traitor?

Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, for being a traitor. He had said to Stephen Gardiner, one night at home at Austin Friars, that he would not turn from the Reformation, even if Henry did, and that Cromwell would fight the king if necessary. Angry words from a man who never seemed to recover from malaria. Was it treason? Technically yes, by Cromwell’s own laws of never speaking against the king, even though he did not mean he would literally fight against Henry, only argue for his religion. Cromwell’s long-time servant Thomas Wriothesley betrayed him and told the king that Cromwell was talking about Henry’s impotence with Queen Anna, sending the king into a rage. More rumours were thrown on the pile – that Cromwell wanted to marry Princess Mary and become king, that Cromwell was colluding with extreme Lutherans in Zurich, and was a heretic by failing to enforce the Six Articles of religion. By laws Cromwell wrote in the early 1530s, a subject could be attainted without trial and sentenced to death. Cromwell was stripped of all titles, but Henry still allowed him to be beheaded, rather than more horrific penalties. In his prison cell, Cromwell wrote out all the paperwork needed to prove that Henry was not truly married to Anna due to her pre-contract in childhood, plus lack of consummation and lack of inward consent. Once the paperwork was done, Cromwell lost his head on July 28; all he worked for scattered to the wind as Henry married Katheryn Howard on a whim. Gregory and Elizabeth, plus Richard Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wyatt, and countless more mourned the loss of Cromwell, but many rejoiced.

It was said Henry regretted the loss of Cromwell within a month of the arrest; Cromwell was still in the Tower when the king realised how much Cromwell did every day (while putting up with Henry’s atrocious leg smell), but it was too late to back down. By Christmas, Henry was angry at his councillors for lying about Cromwell’s crimes. Henry nor England really saw any kind of success after that, and no man could hold Cromwell’s position, instead, dozens were brought in to fill the void. Henry died a fat old man and Cromwell was forgotten, and all except for one portrait of him, hidden away by Ralph Sadler, was destroyed.

To commemorate the anniversary of Cromwell’s unjust execution, I am having a free kindle promo on Amazon worldwide from July 27 – July 31. Both novels in the Queenmaker Series, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, all about Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi, will be free to download. Book three, the final chapter of Cromwell’s life, No Armour Against Fate, will be available from October 28.

 

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘Pustules, Pestilence and Pain: Tudor Treatments and Ailments of Henry VIII’ by Seamus O’Caellaigh

Henry VIII lived for 55 years and had many health issues, particularly towards the end of his reign.

In Pustules, Pestilence, and Pain, historian Seamus O’Caellaigh has delved deep into the documents of Henry’s reign to select some authentic treatments that Henry’s physicians compounded and prescribed to one suffering from those ailments.

Packed with glorious full-colour photos of the illnesses and treatments Henry VIII used, alongside primary source documents, this book is a treat for the eyes and is full of information for those with a love of all things Tudor. Each illness and accident has been given its own section in chronological order, including first-hand accounts, descriptions of the treatments and photographic recreations of the treatment and ingredients.

cover and blurb via amazon

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The title doesn’t exactly make someone dash to the store for this book, but to miss out would be a real shame. O’Caellaigh has dived into a complex subject and combined it with a visually stunning piece of work to create a detailed life story of Henry and his illnesses, a book which came in very handy for me personally, as well as a great read.

Much is known of Henry’s health, combined with letters written by his doctors and those who were close to the king. Henry’s health changed dramatically throughout his life and had a stark impact on the relationship he had with his wives. Because of this behaviour with these queens, the Tudors have become infamous.

Anyone who has looked for info on Henry’s health will know there is much out there, and not all of it accurate. The author has tried to use primary sources, a great challenge for the time period, as doctors did not keep records as they now do. But through sheer determination it seems, O’Caellaigh has tracked down Henry’s prescription book as well as handwritten records from the Royal British Library. This is combined with letters in the court at the time, and the author has had to push through the accounts to separate truth from rumour.

One original and lucky bonus in this book is the photographs. As Henry was a handsome man, then a huge man, physical appearance would have been important in Tudor times. So this book has been dressed accordingly, with lavish photos of Tudor medicine and history. The photos are a welcome addition to the book.

While there are numerous books that look at Henry’s wives and the destruction of the church, this book looks at Henry from a unique angle, and also catalogues the changes and advancements made during Henry’s life. As Henry’s health and recovery from injuries made such a  difference to his reign, to makes sense to write a book on the details of how people survived during this period. I got a copy of this book not expecting a long read, and yet, to my delight, found it to be fascinating and well-researched. I am extremely pleased to have this book in my digital library and will definitely go back to it time and again.

 

HISTORICAL BOOK REVIEW SERIES: ‘The Raven’s Widow: A Novel of Jane Boleyn’ by Adrienne Dillard

The river was as calm as I had ever seen it. Ordinarily, the tide would have been wild by this time of year, and woe unto any man unfortunate enough to fall into the fierce currents of the Thames. Tonight the tides were still, and the surface of the water appeared glassy. When I peered down into the dark depths, I saw my tired, drawn face wavering in the reflection. I quickly turned away as I fought back a wave of nausea, frightened by the anguish I saw etched there.

“Only a few moments more my lady, the Tower is just ahead.”


Jane Parker never dreamed that her marriage into the Boleyn family would raise her star to such dizzying heights. Before long, she finds herself as trusted servant and confidante to her sister-in-law, Anne Boleyn; King Henry VIII’s second queen. On a gorgeous spring day, that golden era is cut short by the swing of a sword. Jane is unmoored by the tragic death of her husband, George, and her loss sets her on a reckless path that leads to her own imprisonment in the Tower of London. Surrounded by the remnants of her former life, Jane must come to terms with her actions. In the Tower, she will face up to who she really is and how everything went so wrong.

cover and blurb via amazon

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No one with the name Boleyn has fared well through history or fiction, and Jane Boleyn is definitely no exception. In recent times, Jane has been pained as a snitch, a mean, meddling and jealous woman, one who helped get her husband beheaded. Here, Dillard sets out to paint a very different woman.

Jane Parker was born in around 1505 to Henry Parker, Baron Morley and Alice St John (so through her mother’s family, a distant relative of King Henry). By 1520 Jane was in service to Queen Katherine, and considered an attractive woman for her time. By 1525, marriage had been arranged to George Boleyn, brother of two women, Anne and Mary Boleyn, whom also served Queen Katherine. As the Boleyn family were of little consequence at the time, little is recorded about the marriage, or Jane herself. It seems they had a loving marriage, though no children were ever born to the pair. Here, possible miscarriages and losses are added to the book to gain a different insight with artistic licence.

After Mary Boleyn’s time as the king mistress ended, it was Anne’s turn to fall prey to Henry, whom loved her deeply right through the 1520’s, and it was then that the Boleyns rose in the court and public eye. By 1533, Anne was queen of England, and Jane was in her service, now Viscountess Rochford. No part of Jane’s life could have prepared her for such circumstances. Jane is written as caring, emotional, irrational but interesting through the trials of being the queen’s sister-in-law, through the eyes of a courtier not often chosen as a main protagonist.

History remembers Jane as the one who told Cromwell that Anne and George were committing incest to gain a child to claim as King Henry’s. But Jane n reality was a woman married to a man who was a womaniser (though is portrayed as kinder and more chaste in this book), and, when George lost his head, she had to plead and bow to regain favour.

In this book, as in life, Jane is a character who manages to survive, to serve Anne of Cleves and then Katherine Howard as queens, before Jane too loses her head for helping Queen Katherine set up dates with her secret lover in 1542. The twist in this book is how Jane is not written as the scheming bitch who happily served her husband and sister-in-law to the axe so she could continue to survive. Also, Jane’s breakdown right before death is also given a fresh look. A book for those who are on the look out for something new.