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

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS: Author Q+A – Part 1

How much do you know about Tudor England? Maybe you are an expert; maybe you are new and know no more than Henry VIII and his desire to crop heads (roughly 72,000). Maybe you know Thomas Cromwell was the real genius behind Henry’s reign and changed laws in a way no country has ever known. Maybe you have heard his name a few times, maybe watched Wolf Hall, or get him mixed up with the genocidal Oliver Cromwell of the 1600’s.

Frailty of Human Affairs is set in the years 1529 – 1533, the early years of Cromwell’s rise to control England behind Henry VIII. He was already a wealthy merchant, trader, lawyer and money-lender. He had already served both the royal court for his master,Cardinal Wolsey, and in parliament. But it was 1530’s in which Thomas Cromwell basically picked up England and shook it, changing everything that everyone knew in a way that had never been done, and was never done again. If you are English or in a country invaded and dominated by the English (like here in the antipodes), you can thank Thomas Cromwell that you are not Catholic (unless you want to be, which is your choice now, you do you). Yes, Catholic vs. Protestant reform would have come to England with or without Cromwell’s help, but how it played out would have been very different.

Do you need to understand the difference between Catholic vs. Protestant to read this book?

I have kept it simple because unless you have done religious studies (like me), it can seen as daunting. It did to me at the start. Basically, Catholics pray in church to their priests, bishops archbishops and cardinals. All bow to the Pope in Rome. In Cromwell’s time, prayer had to be done in Latin. The Protestants (literally religious protestors, mostly in Germany) translated the bible from Latin to German and then English, and the translations came out with different rules on how to revere God. These bibles were banned in Cromwell’s time, as they questioned the Church’s real power. These English and German bibles allowed people to understand prayer easier, let them pray where and when they chose, and didn’t expect people to pray a premium in church for their souls to be saved. That’s the over-simplified version, but it’s all you need to start reading.

Why read your Cromwell over another version?

Thomas Cromwell sat in obscurity until around the 1950’s when he was brought back into public knowledge, as the villain behind King Henry VIII and the destruction of Catholic England. In the last decade, much has been written to reinvent Thomas Cromwell as a hero, a smart man who was caught under a despot king. I seek to write neither a hero nor a villain. In a world such as the Tudor court during the 1530’s, every man and woman would have needed to take sides – hero or villain – but I wanted to show that people can be both and neither. Neither Cromwell nor Frescobaldi are in any way perfect, and have intentions of their own as well as serving a king.

Who is Nicóla Frescobaldi in all this?

While Francesco Frescobaldi was the man who found a starving English teenager (Thomas Cromwell) on the streets of Florence, nothing is known about his immediate family. All characters focused around Frescobaldi are purely fictional, including Nicóla and Nicóletta.

Who is Machiavelli?

Niccoló Machiavelli was an Italian writer and diplomat in Florence until his death in 1527. He was at odds with the reigning Medici family, but wrote many books which have been him eternal. ‘The Prince” is his top book, basically the creation of modern political science. Seriously, grab a copy.

Much has been made of who ‘The Prince’ of Niccoló Machiavelli’s book really was. While dedicated to Lorenzo Di Piero De Medici, the book is said to be sometimes based on Cesare Borgia, the infamous son of Pope Alexander VI. The book,  published in handwritten form in 1513, was first published on a printing press in 1532, when Pope Clement VII agreed to its release. Thomas Cromwell and the Protestants were known as fans of the Machiavelli book, though Catholic kings such as Charles V, and French Queens such as Catherine de’ Medici, also endorsed the writing. Who inspired much of the book may in fact be a wide number of people, but Thomas Cromwell and his incredible mind lived in Florence from around 1503 until 1513. Very little is known around this period of his life. Is Cromwell the prince? Frescobaldi believes so.

What is the point of Cromwell’s changes to England?

Henry VIII needs rid of his first wife, who served England for twice as long as his other five wives combined.

Click here to read more on the “Great Matter”

In 1509, King Henry VIII was crowned alongside his new bride, Princess Katherine of Aragon. Katherine had married Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur, in 1501, only for him to die months later. After receiving dispensation from the Pope, the couple married and were crowned in a dual coronation, and would go on to have one daughter and lose another five children at birth.

After having affairs with several well-known mistresses, King Henry set his sights on Anne Boleyn, lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine, sometime in 1525. By 1527, Henry set his chief advisor, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor of England, to the task of procuring an annulment of his marriage to Katherine, on the grounds that a man could not marry his brother’s widow.

After several failed attempts to persuade Pope Clement VII to agree to an annulment, a decision was made – an ecclesiastic legatine court was to be set up in London. Two cardinals, Cardinal Wolsey and Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio, a chief confidant of the Pope, would stand in as papal legates (the Pope’s representatives), and through a hearing, decide on whether Henry and Katherine’s marriage was ever lawful in the eyes of God.

The people of England loved Queen Katherine; she had ruled for twenty years, a kind, pious and beautiful Catholic queen all could respect. But Katherine was too old to give Henry what he needed – a son to inherit the English throne. Anne Boleyn was still in her twenties – pretty, sophisticated, intelligent, and young enough to give birth to a male heir.

After being in love with Anne Boleyn for four years, King Henry had become bitter towards his Queen, and also his sixteen-year-old daughter, Princess Mary, whom he considered too unnatural to inherit the throne, as she was female. Anne Boleyn was a mistress who would not share Henry’s bed, and a combination of frustration, longing, and arrogance built in the 38-year-old ruler. Cardinal Wolsey, at Henry’s side for twenty years, and credited with countless successes at home and abroad, and the wealthiest man in England, could not give the King what he wanted, an annulment from Katherine. With the witty Anne Boleyn and her family taking Wolsey’s place at Henry’s side, and the Protestant reformers beginning to eat into England’s Catholic soul, the King could be easily swayed in any direction.

Enter Thomas Cromwell – lawyer and advisor to Thomas Wolsey, a commoner with a smart mind and vivid history throughout Europe, educated in England and Italy, who had ideas on how to create an annulment, and destroy Pope Clement’s power in the process.

By 1529, no one, noble or common, knew what would happen in their realm, and with the anger of the Holy Roman Emperor also weighing upon the annulment issue – the King’s ‘Great Matter” – the threat of war was real, all to gain a male heir for the kingdom. King Henry needed a new queen, and Katherine would never give up her crown.

Why so many characters?

They, with the exception of the Frescobaldi children, Nicóla and Nicóletta, all the characters are real people who served or opposed Henry VIII. There are a lot and they all played a role. There were many more who I have chosen not to showcase, and more will be added in the next books.

England’s royal inner circle by 1529

King Henry VIII

All-powerful, well-educated and athletic ruler of England for twenty years. Aged only 38 years old, a religious, volatile, arrogant man. Father of one legitimate heir, Princess Mary, and a bastard son, Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond and Somerset

Click here for more on Henry VIII

 Queen Katherine

Catholic Spanish princess married to Henry for twenty years – pious, respectable, intelligent, and mother to the only legitimate royal heir, Mary, Princess of Wales

Click here for more on Katherine

Anne Boleyn

High-educated former lady in-waiting to Queen Katherine, daughter to successful courtier Thomas Boleyn

Charles Brandon

Duke of Suffolk, and Henry’s best friend. Married to Henry’s sister Mary, Dowager Queen of France. Member of the Privy Council (advisors to the King on state matters) and the King’s Council (the King’s private advisors)

Thomas Howard

Duke of Norfolk, uncle to Anne Boleyn, close courtier to Henry. Member of the Privy Council and King’s Council

Thomas Boleyn

Lord Rochford and Lord Privy Seal (leader of the Privy Council) and member of the King’s Council. Father to Anne Boleyn, along with popular courtier George Boleyn and the beautiful Mary Boleyn, King Henry’s former mistress

Advisors and courtiers to King Henry

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey

Common-born man risen through the church to become advisor to King Henry, elevated to Cardinal by the Catholic Church, and Lord Chancellor of England, the nation’s most powerful ministerial role

Click here for more on Thomas Wolsey

Thomas Cromwell

Advisor and lawyer to Thomas Wolsey. Member of parliament, wealthy merchant and money-lender. Former soldier, Italian trader and banker and English-trained scholar

Click here for more on Cromwell

Sir Thomas More

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, respected humanist, author and Catholic theologian. Loyal advisor to King Henry and champion of Dutch writer Erasmus

Thomas Cranmer

Highly educated theologian, humanist and ordained priest, and supporter of Martin Luther. Diplomat to both Spanish court and Holy Roman Emperor on King Henry’s behalf

Archdeacon Stephen Gardiner

Trained in canon (religious) and civil law, and master secretary to Cardinal Wolsey. Well-travelled diplomat, Master of Trinity Hall and expert at Cambridge University

William Warham

Archbishop of Canterbury and leader of the Convocation of Canterbury (religious parliament). Bound to Pope Clement and the Catholic faith

Eustace Chapuys

Imperial Ambassador to England and champion of the cause of Queen Katherine on Charles V’s behalf

Powerful Italian figures in 1529

Pope Clement VII

Pope of Rome and leader of the Catholic faith since 1523. Member of the powerful Florentine Medici dynasty. Imprisoned during the sacking of Rome by Charles V’s soldiers in 1527

Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio

Powerful and well-travelled cardinal, left in charge of Rome during the Pope’s absences, and Cardinal Legate of England. Representative of Pope Clement abroad

Charles V of Spain

King of Spain, Holy Roman Emperor, King of Italy, King of the Romans, Lord of the Netherlands and Duke of Burgundy, ruler of the German and Austrian states controlled by the Roman Empire. Nephew of Queen Katherine of England

The Medici dynasty

Multi-generational family in control of the Republic of Florence. One of the wealthiest families in Europe, creator of two Popes, including Clement. Ousted from Florence in 1527 during a siege, only to be reinstated with full control and wealth

Nicóla Frescobaldi

Effeminate bastard son to the late Francesco Frescobaldi, a wealthy Florentine merchant and banker. Reclusive favourite courtier of Pope Clement, highly educated man of business and theology

Nicóletta Frescobaldi

Only living daughter of Francesco Frescobaldi. Pre-contracted in marriage to Alessandro de’ Medici

Well known figures in Europe in 1529

Erasmus of Rotterdam

Dutch Renaissance humanist, Catholic priest, social critic, teacher, and theologian. Creator of the Latin New Testament bible based on Greek texts

William Tyndale

Creator of the English language bible, translated from Greek and Hebrew texts. Supporter of Protestant reform. In exile from England and against Henry’s annulment

Martin Luther

German theologian, excommunicated priest and creator of the Protestant Reformation and the German language bible

Niccoló Machiavelli

Recently deceased Florentine diplomat, politician, historian, philosopher, humanist, and writer. Creator of political science

King Francis I of France

Popular young King of France. Well-educated writer and patron to Leonardo da Vinci. Signed the peace treaty at the Field of Cloth of Gold with England

Alessandro de’ Medici

The last senior member of the original Medici generation, illegitimate son of Pope Clement, set to rule Florence. His ‘sister’, Catherine de’ Medici, is set to become a French princess

Stephen Vaughan

English merchant, royal agent and diplomat, and strong supporter of the Protestant Reformation

Popular English courtiers in 1529

Ralph Sadler

Ward and master secretary to Thomas Cromwell

Richard (Williams) Cromwell

Nephew and attendant to Thomas Cromwell

George Cavendish

Writer and faithful attendant to Thomas Wolsey

Edmund Bonner

Faithful friend and chaplain to Thomas Wolsey

Sir Thomas Audley

Barrister and Speaker in the House of Commons

Richard Rich

Popular lawyer and member of parliament

Thomas Wriothesley

Lawyer serving Thomas Cromwell and Stephen Gardiner, clerk of the royal court

Sir Henry Norris                        

Sir Francis Weston

Sir William Brereton                                 

Sir Francis Bryan

Members of the privy chamber of  King Henry

Mark Smeaton

Talented young English composer and musician

Sir Thomas Wyatt

Diplomat, politician, poet, loved friend of Anne Boleyn

Hans Holbein the Younger

Popular German artist, given royal favour for his extraordinary portrait talents

What else do I need to know?

Check out the author Q+A Part 2 on the book for more, or click here to read the first chapter free right now.

FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS – read the first chapter free!

 

Welcome! Today is the day – the worldwide release of Frailty of Human Affairs, in paperback and on Kindle. You might be thinking – another Tudor book, Caroline? Is that what the world needs? Another book on Thomas Cromwell? Seriously? Has Hilary Mantel not done that man to death?

The world needs more Thomas Cromwell.

Why? I can tell you. Many books on Thomas Cromwell (all of wish I love and have nothing but respect for) tend to paint Cromwell as a hero or villain. I seek to do neither of these. My style is to let the readers decide what the character is, good or bad. Canna Medici was the villain and hero in her series, Mireya Centelles was a victim with an evil streak in Intense Professional Marquesa, and Luna Montgomery was an unlikely hero in the Secrets of Spain series.

This time, you have Thomas Cromwell, an already wealthy man who is on the verge of greatness, alongside Nicóla Frescobaldi (yes, Nicóla is a a man’s name in Italian), a sort-of Italian version of Cromwell, who have to do good and evil in order to create a queen in the form of young Anne Boleyn. Two characters, attendants to prominent masters in 1529, who are ready to set the world on fire. Literally and figuratively.

So here is the first chapter. The book is from the POV of both Cromwell and Frescobaldi, starting with Frescobaldi. Purchase links are at the bottom of the page.

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Chapter 1 – May 1529

The most wondrous seecryts art hydden coequal from thyself

York Place, London

Nicóla could not master the sound of the powerful male footstep. As men ambled together along echoing halls, Nicóla made a gentle tap, even if wearing heavy riding boots. Every person who met Nicóla regarded him up and down, questioning his every ability. Today proved no exception.

London seemed such a grim place. Many people on the muddy streets appeared near death, and Nicóla knew death well. Rain fell constantly, cold when driven into his face, as if God despised all. Yet was it not spring? The decorated walls of York Place provided scant relief; the hallways appeared bleak and shadowy, candles constantly snuffed out by endless drafts of chilled wind. Weeks at sea, to arrive hither? Nicóla feared death might seize him atop the crest of every wave of the journey. Now, after muddy roads tortured the horses, finally, London, the fabled York Place. A potential new plot with Cardinal Wolsey beckoned. Nicóla could not think of those left behind; Nicóla knew enough grief to stop any heart.

Two guards, dressed in dark blue with golden adornment, stood at the arched doorway. Both relented their positions when the party of three approached. Their master entered first, followed by Nicóla and purple-clad Bishop Alessandro, papers in hand, ever the attendants to the powerful man who allowed them his patronage, who needed them to endure England, far from Rome.

‘His Eminence, Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio.’

Nicóla acknowledged the short gentleman-usher who announced their presence, and glanced up and down his livery, the same as the guards; imported blue fabric, a decent price per yard of cloth. Following their master’s lead, Nicóla and Bishop Alessandro shuffled, faces forward, towards the end of the extraordinary room. No view presented through the broad windows; early evening darkness blotted out the world. Yellowing candles flickered in their numbers in the dusty but richly decorated room, which smelled so strange. Someone named the smell to be mould, something which seldom grew at home in Florence. The damp weather caused it here, the way it made cheese in cellars in Italy. Little yet made sense in this foreign land, yet the opulence of this office, golden tapestries, Turkish carpets, gold and silver plate laid out said much. Only fit for the richest man in England.

‘Lorenzo.’ Cardinal Wolsey did not stand as he addressed his long-time colleague, his face as grim as his tone. The old Cardinal appeared harmless enough, at least in Nicóla’s eyes. Ageing, a gift not bestowed to many, his fingers fat, jeweled rings constricting and bloating his hands. He wore the red robes of a cardinal, which Nicóla despised, the same as Campeggio. The Catholic faith gave Nicóla no comfort, even after going all the way to the Pope in need of salvation. Now, another cardinal with his fur-lined red robes and ugly red biretta cap sought to control Nicóla’s life.

Cardinal Campeggio took the offer of a seat across the grand desk of Wolsey, and Nicóla stood, head down, a few steps behind him with Bishop Alessandro. The others had visited the palace of the English Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, not so Nicóla.

‘Most thanks for seeing me before I need to address the King.’ Campeggio spoke in accented English, his age evident in his voice. He stroked his long white beard, grown to commemorate the sacking of Rome eighteen months earlier, just as the Pope had done.

Wolsey sighed. ‘The King will delay no longer. The court’s decision on His Majesty’s annulment from Queen Katherine has been considered enough. Perchance God made me so unwell for the winter, a way of giving Henry a chance to reconsider. But now it is my job as both papal legate and Lord Chancellor to hear, in your words, what you think before we start proceedings. Henry asked for an annulment two years ago, and the tide of favour is starting to turn against me.’

Campeggio gestured to Nicóla for his papers, which Nicóla happily dropped on the desk. The correspondence on Wolsey’s desk sat in a neat pile, with perfect handwriting, next to a solid silver ink quill. A fastidious man. A lone orange sat on the desk; it was said Wolsey carried the orange at his nose, so not to smell commoners on the street.

‘So few papers for such a burden,’ Wolsey sniffed. ‘You are a man of well over fifty years, Lorenzo, yet you seem to have let your long years of experience fail you.’ His tone told Nicóla that Wolsey considered himself well superior to his Italian counterpart.

‘Thomas, you would not believe the state of Rome,’ Campeggio sighed and took the first page into his hands. ‘The sacking of Rome was extreme and prolonged. I got left behind as papal legate to Rome, and I lost everything. My own palace got destroyed, robbed of its jewels, its art. I was almost killed.’

‘Oh yes, we heard of Rome’s sacking. You have told me several times this past year. Remember our own envoy got assaulted when hoping to see the Pope,’ Wolsey replied, and the clean-shaven old man, his double chin shaking as he spoke, had an appearance of boredom.

‘The Holy Roman Emperor’s soldiers assaulted the palace. Almost all were killed in broad daylight. If not for my friend …’ Campeggio paused and gestured at Nicóla… ‘I would be dead.’

Nicóla tilted his head enough to see beyond his brim of the soft cap of Campeggio’s servants’ livery, to witness, beyond the wooden throne of the great Cardinal, another man dressed all in black, and most tall. He took a few steps forward out of the darkness of the corner, closer to Wolsey. Nicóla caught his eye and the pair stared at one another, the man refusing to look away. He stood older than Nicóla by more than ten years. Power sat in the hands of old men in England. How did the young bear it? At home in Florence, the generations all fought for power.

The man’s wide golden eyes continued to stare with the slightest of frowns, and Nicóla remained still. Everyone regarded Nicóla up and down, took a second glance, but this man seemed the most threatening in his golden gaze. It was if he knew a secret so hidden that Nicóla felt faint at the thought of being discovered. This man wanted to recognise Nicóla but struggled. Secrets were Nicóla’s trade and currency, and Nicóla could never lose his biggest secret of all for no special reason. The dark man’s golden stare held remembrance, not secrecy.

Campeggio had seen the man in the shadows the whole time. ‘If it was not for my friend, I could not have talked with the Pope during his capture, nor his time in Orvieto after His Holiness’ escape. Nicóla delivered messages back and forth. Even then, it took months before the Pope decided to allow me hither, to come and decide on Henry’s future.’

‘Yes, but that is without relevance. You reached England eight months ago. If only your friend had brought us the papal dispensation we need from Rome,’ the dark man spoke with only mild curiosity on the subject, one hand now on Wolsey’s throne. His golden eyes continued to study Nicóla, but Nicóla refused to bow or look away. ‘Who are you? I have not seen you in the Cardinal’s envoy.’

‘A total stranger could you believe,’ Campeggio answered for Nicóla and coughed, the sound of a chronically ill man. ‘You know, with my poor eyesight, I am in need of young men. During the sacking, this young boy found me cowering as my palace burnt, and took me to safety, a home already sacked, but safe. I promoted him to the Pope, and His Holiness brought Nicóla into the Church, to live in the Apostolic Palace. Nicóla is not consecrated with holy orders, like my son Alessandro here. Nicóla has just arrived from Rome with supplies needed for this extended trip.’

‘You are here to rule on an annulment for King Henry and Queen Katherine, Your Eminence,’ the man continued in a smooth, even tone, and switched his gaze to Campeggio in the chair. ‘Anything less is a failure. I do not care why the Pope will not rule on the proposed annulment. We have the facts. No more delays; my master Cardinal Wolsey needs this completed.’

‘And we know how desperate King Henry is to marry Lady Anne,’ Wolsey added with a sigh. ‘They are involved in a three-year love affair. The King’s conscience is in a state of great suffering.’ The old Cardinal threw a gentle smile to Nicóla. For being known throughout Christendom as the most powerful cardinal of them all, and known as a corrupt tyrant, he certainly appeared placid. Just another heavy-waisted old man. ‘Before we continue, does your friend speak English?’

 ‘Parli inglese?’ the dark man asked, his voice suddenly as sharp as a blade.

Nicóla glanced up at the sound of Italian. ‘I speak fluent Italian, English, French, Spanish, Flemish, and Latin.’ At once, Cardinal Wolsey and his man showed surprise at Nicóla’s soft, lilting voice. ‘But I prefer that remained private. Bishop Alessandro beside me speaks Italian, English, with Greek, German, Portuguese and Latin, so we can deal with any duty.’

‘Gracious!’ Wolsey exclaimed. ‘What did a delicate man such as yourself do before entering the Church?’

Campeggio laughed; people often commented on Nicóla’s short and modest frame. ‘We call Nicóla ‘il reietto’ in Rome.’

Wolsey glanced to the dark man for a translation.

‘It means one who is an outsider, outcast, left over, abandoned. In this instance, based on the appearance of this man, petite, delicate, gentle, I believe they are saying like “the Waif”, someone small and useless.’ His voice growled deep, strong as his golden gaze. Nicóla could not look away, something about the man drew all eyes to him.

‘I have spent my life as a banker’s and merchant’s apprentice in Florence, Your Eminence,’ Nicóla replied to Wolsey.

Again the dark man had his gaze fixed upon Nicóla, enough to make any strong heart skip a little. ‘Who are you?’

‘Hush now, Thomas,’ Wolsey snorted. ‘He is Campeggio’s well-dressed, dashing, if not petite, hero of Rome.’

But the dark man would not so easily abate. ‘What is the make of your doublet and hose, Waif? Is that pale blue damask from Brussels? Are not churchmen bound to poverty, not opulence?’

‘Thomas,’ tumbled from Nicóla’s lips and he covered them with a hand, guilty of speaking out of turn.

‘We are both Thomas,’ Wolsey replied with a smile and gestured to himself and his attendant. ‘We know Bishop Alessandro Campeggio standing beside you, but tell us about yourself.’

‘You are Thomas Cromwella,’ Nicóla replied, his voice light and surprised, hands clasped together again. His sweet Italian accent added a vowel to the surname.

‘Everyone in Europe knows Thomas Cromwella,’ Campeggio commented from his seat.

‘You have an admirer,’ Wolsey jested to Cromwell.

No wonder the King’s annulment could not be settled; these two cardinals loved small talk which delayed work. But Nicóla wanted to speak to Cromwell personally, had come all this way in search of the man whispered of as “The Prince.”

‘Master Cromwella, you once worked as a servant in the Frescobaldi household in Florence. You worked as an apprentice to my father, Francesco. He spoke of you often.’

Cromwell’s golden eyes flared but he uttered nothing.

‘Do you know the name, Thomas?’ Wolsey asked, the old man finding it all rather amusing.

‘Perchance we ought to discuss the papal decision,’ Cromwell cut in with a cough.

‘Indeed,’ Wolsey sighed. ‘Lorenzo, your attendants can leave for your chambers downstairs.’

With a silent bow, Nicóla and Bishop Alessandro turned and left the cavernous room. Alessandro shuffled ahead of Nicóla in his purple bishop’s vestments, Nicóla’s calf-leather shoes making no sound on the wooden floorboards. But no sooner than the heavy doors closed behind them, they reopened, sending a short burst of light into the white stone hallway. There was Cromwell himself, following after Nicóla. Bishop Alessandro carried on along the hall, ignoring the Englishman.

With not a word spoken, Cromwell pulled Nicóla by the arm towards a window seat and pulled a great red curtain around the discussion. All done with his intense golden stare fixed upon Nicóla. But his touch sent a spark through Nicóla’s body, and it mattered none who this man thought he was; Nicóla pulled away in defiance.

‘You are the son of Francesco Frescobaldi?’ Cromwell asked in a whisper as they sat together against the cold glass laced with black lattice in diamond patterns, the Thames dark below them.

‘You knew my father,’ Nicóla began.

‘Most well!’ Cromwell’s golden eyes lit up, suddenly an angry face becoming a smile of pure happiness. ‘Your father saved my life when he took me off the streets and into the Frescobaldi household in Florence. I remember your father being well-furnished with daughters.’

‘I am the bastard child of my father’s annulled first marriage. Father had five daughters by his second marriage.’

‘What year were you born?’

Nicóla resisted the urge to cringe. Cromwell remembered so much detail, too much. ‘The year 1500.’

‘I see, before my arrival in Florence. How is your father now?’

‘My father went with God almost two years ago. Sadly, 1527 was not a positive year to be working in banking in Florence.’

‘Francesco did not meet a natural death?’ Cromwell swallowed hard at the thought.

‘No, in the chaos of the Holy Roman Emperor’s army rebelling in Rome, many took the chance to rise up against the Medici family and their power in Florence. My father got killed while visiting the Medici home at Poggio a Caiano. The palace got ransacked in the uprising.’

Cromwell dropped his gaze and shook his head, and slowly made the sign of the cross. Dark curls laced with silver hid his eyes for a moment. ‘It is uncommon for an only son to join the Church, especially since your father’s estate would be most prized. Your stepmother and sisters? The recent War of the League of Cognac was not kind on the Republic of Florence.’

‘They cannot be harmed now.’

‘So why have you come hither as part of Campeggio’s envoy?’

‘Did you not wander Europe once yourself?’

‘I did. Your father helped me learn Italian. I see he has passed his English skills onto you.’

Nicóla smoothed the pearl buttons on his blue doublet and took a deep breath. ‘There can be opportunities far and wide for a man who has seen war, who lives well and is educated. After Rome got sacked by the Emperor’s army, I decided to travel.’

‘Yet you found time to save the life of the papal legate of Rome and be praised by the Pope?’

Every word Cromwell spoke brought back memories of him in his youth, working at Frescobaldi manor during Nicóla’s childhood. ‘Luck. One day I saw a group of men fighting, and an old cardinal lying on the ground in agony. I went to his aid, and in return, Cardinal Campeggio kindly offered me a position in his household, at a time when I had lost my place with the fallen Medici family. Leaving for England was a final moment offer, so I grabbed hold.’

‘You have your father’s look about you. The rose-gold hair, and green eyes, though very dark skin. Not a large man like your father, though your English is as fine.’

Nicóla made sure no shoulder length rose-gold strands strayed from under his black cap. ‘It is said I am more like my mother, though I knew her not.’

‘Your father used to call me Tomassito, little Thomas, when I was young and homeless. I was privileged to work in the Frescobaldi household. I had no clothes on my back, and starving when your father saved me. Your father worked for the Medicis?’

‘Indeed, when seeking loans for clients, you always seek the help of the Medici family, one of the richest in Europe. I am sure you agree, Tomassito.’

Nicóla suspected Cromwell would not take kindly to the informal title, but instead, he gave a trifling smile, a tiny insight into Cromwell as a man. As a master of secrets, every detail brought prized information to Nicóla. Cromwell’s eyes did not leave Nicóla’s, a gesture which stirred nerves. For the last few years, Nicóla had sought to remain silent, behind a new master, out of sight as much as possible. Now a man, one known throughout Christendom as a common blacksmith’s boy who had risen above his station beside a cardinal, with a golden gaze ready to read the markings on one’s soul, had Nicóla cornered.

‘Cardinal Campeggio came to England unwelcome by many,’ Cromwell continued. ‘Campeggio is seen as weak by the King, and a natural ally to the Queen, and her nephew, the Roman Emperor. Campeggio may find his head departs his neck before long. Perchance we could be of assistance to one another.’

‘How, Master Cromwella? I am just a humble attendant.’ Yet Nicóla knew, as the child of the beloved Francesco Frescobaldi, Cromwell wanted collusion at once. Francesco had often spoken to Nicóla about Cromwell’s undying fealty to the family many years ago.

‘You may be a short man, a delicate man, but I am in need of people in all kinds of roles. I am sure you know how far the reach of Cardinal Wolsey extends.’

‘You are a wealthy man. Everyone knows that.’

‘Please, let us be friends. I shall do anything to be of service to the son of Francesco Frescobaldi. I loved your father, and I feel ashamed I knew not of his passing. We lost touch a while ago now, but I shall forever think upon him dearly.’

‘How could I be of service to you?’

‘Does it matter?’ Cromwell asked.

Nicóla smiled. ‘No, Master Cromwella. I suppose not. But Cardinal Campeggio is my master.’

‘And Cardinal Wolsey is my master. The King’s patience is at an end, and loyalties are being tested. Our masters must work together, and so must we, if we are to remain in success. It may be that someone with your accent has wandered into this palace at just the right moment. Go about your work for Campeggio, I will send for you when I am ready. A decision to claim scant of the English language is a wise choice. As I say, anything for the son of the kindest man I have ever known.’

‘Men speak of you, Master Cromwella. They say you are a fierce lawyer, a masterful accountant, a skilled orator. Men say you are corrupt; that you profit by Wolsey’s plots, with honest men’s money flowing into your pockets. Bribes are constantly accepted by you. You are not noble, just base, common born, and called “the double-minded man”.’

‘Mr. Frescobaldi, I play unfairly in an unfair world. Your father taught me how to survive. If you have worked for your father, and the Medici family, then you understand.’

Corruption. Bribery. Lies. Nicóla understood perfectly. Falling into Cromwell’s favour proved so easy. ‘Let us be friends, Master Cromwella.’

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