Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 4 – Cromwell’s Complete Mercy Letter, 30 June 1540

Final page of Cromwell’s letter, held by Robert Gascoyne-Cecil, 7th Marquess of Salisbury, at Hatfield House.

The letter written by Cromwell to King Henry on 30 June 1540 is well-known, though usually in the context of Cromwell’s beg for mercy. This letter served primarily to recall the finer points of Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves. Cromwell had been interrogated the day prior by Norfolk, Audley and Fitzwilliam, with Wriothesley writing out a series of questions and answers to be signed by Cromwell and sent to Henry directly (though anyone who has read Heather Darsie’s book on Anna of Cleves knows the details to be false). Also on 29 June, the House of Lords passed the final draft of Cromwell’s Act of Attainder, meaning he had been declared guilty of treason on the false evidence provided primarily by Norfolk, Gardiner, Fitzwilliam and Wriothesley. The initial draft had gone through parliament ten days earlier, passing unanimously, likewise the final draft on 29 June (not that anyone actually had any choice but to vote in favour). Cromwell would have received this information at his interrogation, and being the man who wrote the Treasons Act 1534, knew that the punishment was hanging, drawing and quartering (though even Henry commuted it beheading much of the time).

This long letter survives in two forms, as a heavily mutilated draft (British Museum Otho C. x f.247), and a finished copy (Hatfield House, Cecil Papers, 124-7) , both written on the same date. Below is a modern copy (using modern punctuation, as Cromwell loved extremely long sentences) from my book of Cromwell correspondence, which is available from 5 November. I have added footnotes for the names mentioned, in case you are new to the topic.

 

To the king, my most gracious Sovereign lord, his Royal Majesty.

Most merciful king and most gracious sovereign lord, may it please the same to be advertised that the last time it pleased your benign goodness, to send unto me the right honourable Lord Chancellor,[1] the Right Honourable Duke of Norfolk,[2] and the Lord Admiral[3] to examine, and also to declare to me, diverse things from your Majesty, amongst the which, one special thing they moved and thereupon charged me as I would answer, before God at the dreadful day of Judgement and also upon the extreme danger and damnation of my soul and conscience, to say what I knew in the marriage and concerning the marriage between your highness and the queen, to the which I answered as I knew, declaring to them the particulars as nigh as I then could call to remembrance, which when they had heard, they, in your Majesty’s name, and upon like charge as they had given me, before commanded me to write to your highness the truth as much as I knew in that matter, which now I do, and the very truth as God shall save me, to the uttermost of my knowledge.

First, after your Majesty heard of the lady Anne of Cleves’ arrival at Dover and that her journeys were appointed towards Greenwich, and that she should be at Rochester on New Year’s Eve at night, your highness declared to me that you would privily visit her at Rochester upon New Year’s Day, adding these words “to nourish love,” which accordingly your Grace did upon New Year’s Day as is abovesaid. And the next day being Friday, your Grace returned to Greenwich where I spoke with your Grace and demanded of your Majesty how you liked the lady Anne. Your highness answered, as I thought heavily and not pleasantly, “nothing so well as she was spoken of.” Saying further that if your highness had known as much before as you then knew, she should not have come within this realm, saying as by way of lamentation what remedy, unto the which I answered and said I knew none but was very sorry. Therefore, and so God knows, I thought it a hard beginning, the next day after the receipt of the said lady and her entry made into Greenwich and after your highness had brought her to her chamber, I then waited upon your highness in your privy chamber, and being there, your Grace called me to you, saying to me these words, or the like, “my lord, is it not as I told you, say what they will, she is nothing so fair as she has been reported, howbeit, she is well and seemly.” Whereunto I answered, saying, “by my faith, Sir, you say truth,” adding thereunto that yet I thought she had a queenly manner, and nevertheless was sorry that your Grace was no better content, and thereupon your Grace commanded me to call together your Council, which were these by name: the Archbishop of Canterbury,[4] the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk,[5] my lord Admiral, my lord of Durham[6] and myself, to common of those matters, and to know what commission the Agents of Cleves had brought as well, touching the performance of the covenants sent before from hence to Doctor Wootton[7] to have been concluded in Cleves, as also in the declaration how the matters stood for the covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son[8] and the said lady Anne. Whereupon, Olisleger[9] and Hoghestein[10] were called and the matters purposed, whereby it plainly appeared that they were much astounded and abashed and desired that they might make answer in the next morning, which was Sunday. Upon Sunday in the morning, your said Councillors and they met early, and there again it was proposed unto them, as well touching the omission for the performance of the treaty and articles sent to Master Wootton, and also touching the contracts and covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the lady Anne, and what terms they stood in. To the which things so proposed, they answered as men much perplexed that as touching the commission they had none to treat concerning the articles sent to Mr. Wootton, and as to the contract and covenant of marriage they could say nothing but that a revocation was made, and that they were but spouseless, and finally after much reasoning they offered themselves to remain prisoners until such time as they should have sent unto them from Cleves, the first articles ratified under the Duke,[11] their Master’s, signature and seal, and also the copy of the revocation made between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the lady Anne. Upon the which answers, I was sent to your highness by my lords of your said Council to declare to your highness what answer they had made, and came to your highness by the privy way into your privy chamber and declared to the same all the circumstances, where your Grace was very much displeased, saying I am not well handled, insomuch that I might well perceive that your highness was fully determined not to have gone through with the marriage at that time, saying unto me these word or the like, in effect that, “if it were not that she is come so far into my realm, and the great preparations that my states and people have made for her, and for fear of making of a ruffle in the world, that is to mean to drive her brother into the hands of the Emperor and French king’s hands, being now together, I would never have nor marry her,” so that I might well perceive your Grace was neither content with the person nor yet content with the preceding of the Agents. And after dinner, the said Sunday, your Grace sent for all your said Councillors, and in repeating how your highness was handled as well as touching the said articles and also the said matter of the Duke of Lorraine’s son, it might, and I doubt not, did appear to them how loathe your highness was to have married at that time. And thereupon and upon the considerations aforesaid, your Grace thought that it should be well done that she should make a protestation before your said Councillors, and notaries to be present, that she was free from all contracts which was done accordingly. Thereupon, I repairing to your highness, declaring how that she had made her protestation, whereunto your Grace answered in effect the words, or much like, “there is none other remedy but that I must need against my will, put my neck in the yoke,” and so I departed, leaving your highness in a study or pensiveness. And yet your Grace determined the next morning to go through, and in the morning which was Monday, your Majesty, preparing yourself towards the ceremony, there was some question who should lead here to church and it was appointed that the Earl of Essex[12] desist, and an earl that came with her should lead her to church, and thereupon one came to your highness and said unto you that the Earl of Essex was not yet come, whereupon your Grace appointed me to be the one that should lead here. And so I went unto her chamber to the intent to have done your commandment, and shortly after I came into the chamber, the Earl of Essex had come, whereupon I repaired back again in to your Grace’s privy chamber and showed your highness how he had come, and thereupon your Majesty advanced towards the gallery out of your privy chamber, and your Grace, being in and about the middle of your chamber of presence, called me unto you, saying the words or the like in sentence, “my lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for no earthly thing.” And there, with one brought your Grace’s word that she was coming, and thereupon your Grace repaired into the gallery towards the closet and there paused her coming, being nothing content that she so long tarried as I judged then, and so consequently she came, and your Grace afterwards proceeded to the ceremony, and then being finished travelled the day, as appertained, and the night after the custom. And in the morning on Tuesday, I repairing to your Majesty in to your privy chamber, finding your Grace not so pleasant as I trusted to have done, I was so bold to ask your Grace how you liked the queen, whereunto your Grace soberly answered, saying that I was not all men, surely my lord as you know I liked her before not well but now I like her much worse. For to quote your highness; “I have felt her belly and her breasts and thereby as I can judge she should be not a maid, which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters,” saying, “I have left her as good a maid as I found her,” which me thought then you spoke displeasantly, which I was very sorry to hear. Your highness also, after Candlemas, and before Shrovetide, once or twice said that you were in the same case with her as you were before and that your heart could never consent to meddle with her carnally. Notwithstanding, your highness alleged that you, for the most part, used to lie with her nightly or every second night, and yet your Majesty ever said that she was as good a maid for you as ever her mother bore her, for anything that you had ministered to her. Your highness showed me also in Lent last passed, at such time as your Grace had some communication with her of my lady Mary how that she began to wax stubborn and wilful, ever lamenting your fate and ever verifying that you had never any carnal knowledge with her, and also after Easter your Grace likewise at diverse times. In the Whitsun week. in your Grace’s privy chamber at Greenwich, exceedingly lamented your fate and that your greatest grief was that you should surely never have any more children for the comfort of this realm if you should so continue, assuring me that before God you thought she was never your lawfully wife, at which time your Grace knows what answer I made, which was that I would for my part do my uttermost to comfort and deliver your Grace of your affliction, and how sorry I was, both to see and hear your Grace. God knows your Grace diverse times since Whitsuntide declared the like to me, ever alleging one thing, and also saying that you had as much done to much the consent of your heart and mind as ever did man, and that you took God to witness, but ever you said the obstacle could never out of your mind, and gracious prince, after that you had first seen her at Rochester, I never thought in my heart that you were or would be contented with that marriage, and Sir, I know now in what case I stand in, which is only in the mercy of God and your Grace, if I have not to the uttermost of my remembrance said the truth and the whole truth in this matter, God never help me. I am sure as I think there is no man living in this your realm that knew more in this then I did, your highness only except, and I am sure my lord Admiral, calling to his remembrance, can show your highness and be my witness to what I said unto him after your Grace came from Rochester, and also after your Grace’s marriage, and also now of late since Whitsuntide, and I doubt not but many and diverse of my lords of your Council, both before your manage and since, have right well perceived that your Majesty has not been well pleased with your marriage, and as I shall answer to God I never thought your Grace content after you had once seen her at Rochester, and this is all that I know.

Most gracious and most merciful sovereign lord, beseeching almighty God, whoever in all your causes has ever counselled perceived, opened, maintained, relieved and defended your highness so he now will save to counsel you, preserve you, maintain you, remedy you, relieve and defend you as may be most to your honour, wealth prosperity, health and comfort of your heart’s desires. For the which,  and for the long life and prosperous reign of your most royal Majesty, I shall, during my life and while I am here, pray to almighty God that He of his most abundant goodness, will help aid and comfort you, and after your continuance of Nestor’s[13] years, that that most noble Imp, the prince’s grace, your most dear son, may succeed you to reign long, prosperously and felicitously to God’s pleasure, beseeching most humbly, your Grace to pardon this, my rude writing, and to consider that I am a most woeful prisoner, ready to take the death when it shall please God and your Majesty. Yet the frail flesh incites me continually to call to your Grace for mercy and pardon for my offences and in this, Christ save, preserve, and keep you. Written the Tower, this Wednesday the last of June, with the heavy heart and trembling hand of your highness’ most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave.

Most gracious prince, I cry for mercye, mercye, mercye

THOMAS CRUMWELL

~~~

[1] Thomas Audley, good friend to Cromwell

[2] Thomas Howard, one of Cromwell’s two biggest enemies alongside Stephen Gardiner

[3] William Fitzwilliam, who took the Lord Privy Seal role, only to die two years later

[4] Thomas Cranmer, close friend to Cromwell, created the English bible together

[5] Charles Brandon, sometimes friend to Cromwell, neutral in most matters

[6] Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, staunch Catholic and enemy of Cromwell

[7] Nicholas Wootton, English ambassador to Cleves who arranged the marriage

[8] Francis I of Lorraine, Duke of Lorraine from 1544, died in 1545

[9] Henry Olisleger, Vice-Chancellor of Cleves, and ambassador to England

[10] Wernerus von Hoghestein, Chancellor and Hofmeister (court master) to the Duke of Cleves

[11] Wilhelm, Duke of Cleves, Anna’s elder brother

[12] Henry Bourchier, who died horse-riding on 13 March 1540, the king giving the Essex title to Cromwell on 18 April 1540

[13] Nestor from the Iliad, known for wisdom and generosity, which increased as he aged. The comparison was considered a compliment

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

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

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

~~~

CROMWELL TO HENRY VIII, 12 June 1540

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

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

THOMAS CRUMWELL

~~~

 

~~~

[1] William Kingston

[2] measured

[3] Sir Richard Rich

[4] Michael Throgmorton, associate to Reginald Pole

[5] Thomas Audley

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

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

[8] Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland

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

Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 2 – Cranmer’s letter, 11 June 1540

Thomas Cromwell

The letters of the 1530s show a true friendship between Thomas Cromwell and Thomas Cranmer. Even as early as 1528, Cromwell was promoting Cranmer, a priest and diplomat at Cambridge, who had spent years in Spain as England’s ambassador, but who had also gained a huge knowledge and understanding of reform coming out of Germany and Switzerland. Cranmer was one of the men who first looked into annulment for Henry VIII, and Cromwell found his legal arguments aligned well with Cranmer’s theological arguments. Around the same that Cromwell was brought into court by King Henry, Cranmer was a favourite of the Boleyn family. But when the annulment could not be secured in England, Cromwell set to work to dismantle the Catholic Church’s power in England, while Cranmer set off for Germany and Switzerland, to find theological supporters for Henry’s desire to remarry. On the journey, Cranmer made the decision to marry Margarete, niece to Andreas Osiander, a Lutheran in Nuremberg. Cranmer had been tragically widowed before he took holy orders,[1] but married again, firm his belief that King Henry would allow the Reformation (and its lack of clerical celibacy) to flourish in England. Precious few knew of the life of Cranmer and Margarete, Cromwell among them (who received letters talking of Cranmer’s heartbreak at having to exile Margaret and their daughter Anne in 1539).[2] Cranmer was ushered home in 1532 to take up the position of Archbishop of Canterbury, firmly supported by both Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn, who both believed he could annul the king’s marriage in that position, supported by Cromwell’s legal changes.

Thomas Cranmer

The friendship of Cromwell and Cranmer remained firm throughout the 1530s, letters frequently going between them on both serious and trivial matters, with social events shared, court events attended together, on the Privy Council and in parliament together, trusted reforms written together, and even heated arguments on many matters,[3] which never shook their friendship, as they deeply respected each other. Their work together culminated in the 1537 English bible being published, and the 1539 English Bible, nicknamed the Cranmer or Cromwell Bible, showing the two of them together, each assisting the king, and sharing the reformed word of God to the people. The 1541 edition showed a blank space where Cromwell’s banner had been, a stranger in his place assisting Cranmer, the hole on the otherwise richly decorated bible cover evident for all to see.

Thomas Cranmer was one of Cromwell’s strongest friends and allies on the Privy Council the day Cromwell was rudely arrested, and Cranmer was the only man in a politically safe position to argue Cromwell’s cause. But even Cranmer could not speak in Cromwell’s defence at his physical arrest, yet he was the man with enough courage to write to the king the very day after Cromwell went to the Tower. Cromwell’s family, friends and allies (of which there were countless) stayed silent throughout his arrest, carrying on faithfully with the positions he had given them, to ensure the wheels of England and Ireland continued turning, as he would have instructed them. Speaking up would not help Cromwell, nor the person who spoke, but Cranmer couldn’t hold back, just as he couldn’t when Anne Boleyn got arrested.[4]

The Great Bible of 1539

Cranmer sent a letter across the Thames from Lambeth to the king, which sadly has not survived, and only a partial fragment remains. But this partial letter shows a heart-breaking plea from a man who sounds helpless over the loss of his friend and ally. The letter was printed originally in Edward Herbert, Baron of Cherbury’s The Life and Raigne of King Henry VIII in 1649, but how Herbert got hold of a copy of the letter written by Cranmer is unknown. Herbert was a colourful court character, from one of the branches of the Earl of Pembroke family tree. The Herberts were connected with the Parr and Dudley families before and after the execution of Cranmer in 1556, so it is possible the fragment was handed down that way. However, it’s impossible to know where Lord Herbert found this record, or what happened to the fragment after its original publication. The letter is also listed in White Kennett’s History of England Volume II 1706, Gilbert Burnet’s History of Reformation Vol. I 1829, John Cox’s Cranmer’s Works 1846, and John Strype’s Ecclesiastical Memorials Volume I 1882, all copied from Herbert’s writings, and not an original document. It is also sometimes dated as 14 June, but is now catalogued as 11 June, 1540.

“I heard yesterday in your Grace’s Council, that he (Crumwell) is a traitor, yet who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your Majesty, he that was so advanced by your Majesty; he whose surety was only by your Majesty; he who loved your Majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forwards whatsoever was your Majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your Majesty; he that was such a servant in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had; he that was so vigilant to preserve your Majesty from all treasons, that few could be so secretly conceived, but he detected the same in the beginning? If the noble princes of memory, King John, Henry the Second, and Richard II had had such a counsellor about them, I suppose that they should never have been so traitorously abandoned, and overthrown as those good princes were: I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be; but I chiefly loved him for the love which I thought I saw him bear ever towards your Grace, singularly above all other. But now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your Grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas! I bewail and lament your Grace’s chance herein, I wot not whom your Grace may trust. But I pray God continually night and day, to send such a counsellor in his place whom your Grace may trust, and who for all his qualities can and will serve your Grace like to him, and that will have so much solicitude and care to preserve your Grace from all dangers as I ever thought he had…[5]

The Great Bible reprint in 1541, with the hole of Cromwell’s missing banner

~~~

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

~~~

[1] Parker, De Antiquiate, p. 387

[2] SP I/152 f. 118, July 1539

[3] Cranmer’s Letters, 311, 12 Oct 1535

[4] Otho, C. x. 226. B. M. Burnet, i. 320, 3 May 1536

[5] Strype’s Eccl. Mem. Vol. I. 1882, p. 561. Burnet’s History of Reformation, Vol. I, 1829, p. 569. Cranmer’s Works, 1846, p.401, Herbert, Life of Henry VIII, 1649, Kennett, History of England Vol. II., 1706.

Thomas Cromwell’s downfall: Part 1 – The Arrest 10 June 1540

A surprising thing happened on the afternoon of 10 June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell was running late. Sure, he had been at Parliament in the morning, and had a Privy Council meeting at 3pm, but Cromwell didn’t need to go far between his two important tasks for the day. Cromwell was never late for anything, and no record exists explaining why Cromwell had to rush into a Privy Council meeting already attended by all members – and William Kingston, Constable of the Tower.

What was not a surprise was the arrest of Thomas Cromwell. Many were stunned by the news that the Lord Privy Seal, the King’s Chief Minister, the most powerful man in England, was suddenly arrested on vague charges, sent to the Tower on the King’s command. But in truth, the clues had been spread out of the course of the previous year, and Cromwell’s chief enemies, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, had slowly tightened the net around their common nemesis.

Parliament had been dissolved in July 1536 and did not sit again until Henry summoned his ministers in March 1539. Cromwell had ensured Parliament sat regularly from 1529, running yearly reformation parliaments, changing the nature of politics under King Henry. But the Pilgrimage of Grace, the death of Jane Seymour, and Henry’s increasing illness and paranoia had got in the way of Cromwell’s changes. Cromwell’s political to-do list was huge by 1539, although his religious reforms had continued without parliament and despite the rebellion of 1536-37.

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

Cromwell gets unlucky

Just prior to parliament’s opening on 28 April 1539, Cromwell fell ill, which he described by letter to Henry as an ague or tertian fever (possibly malaria).[1] Cromwell suffered a number of near-fatal illnesses throughout his time at court, usually always in spring, managing to beat them every time. Cromwell’s 1539 illness was a brutal one, rendering the Lord Privy Seal bedridden at Austin Friars and then at St James’ Palace, which was kept for his use, through most of April and May. Cromwell was seen outside St James’ when a muster of Henry’s troops, led by Ralph Sadler and included Richard and Gregory Cromwell, marched past the Palace, but the amount of work he completed almost ground to a halt.

While Cromwell lay in his sickbed, Norfolk was ready to pounce. He summoned the Convocation of Canterbury, and invited Convocation of York members as well, and pushed reform through the House of Lords, where Cromwell was too ill to attend. Norfolk was the face of The Six Articles,[2] which rolled back Cromwell’s reformist changes. The Six Articles, mostly dealing with matters of the Eucharist, clerical celibacy, vows of chastity, transubstantiation, private masses and confessions, brought King Henry and England way back to Catholic practises. By the time the first session of parliament closed in June, Cromwell still had not appeared before the House of Lords or House of Commons, and the damage to the Reformation had been done.

Cromwell loses his cool

King Henry wanted religious unity in England before he went on progress, and set up a banquet at Cranmer’s place, Lambeth Palace, but refused to attend himself. Cranmer was already in a poor mood, as he had just sent his wife and daughter from England,[3] as his marriage was deemed illegal by the Six Articles. All sides of religious debate attended the banquet, Cromwell included, on 2 July 1539. After years of backstabbing, rumours and snide comments, Cromwell and Norfolk had the public fight that had long been brewing. Norfolk gleefully slandered Wolsey before the banquet and Cromwell snapped, accusing Norfolk of supporting Rome over England. Norfolk had begged to go to Rome with Wolsey when the cardinal expected to be made Pope in 1523, remembering every detail, down to the money Norfolk made during the negotiations to have Wolsey elected, acting as the ‘protector of the future Pope’ and sailed the Mary Rose, to accompany Emperor Charles’ ship from England.[4] These details enraged Norfolk, essentially being accusing as a traitor to his king and his country.

Duchess Anna, Daughter of Cleves

Cromwell accidentally picks the wrong queen

Cromwell wanted to push harder than ever to secure the Reformation in England. The monasteries were almost dissolved, and the delegation went to the German States to secure a royal bride and alliance with the Schmalkaldic League, with its powerful Lutheran army. Holbein brought home portraits of Anna and Amalia, Duchesses of Cleves in October 1539, and Henry decided to marry Anna in a rush.[5] There are no reports Cromwell ever bragged of Anna’s qualities, nor that Holbein’s over-exaggerated Anna’s beauty. Anna had a powerful Lutheran brother, Wilhelm, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg, and her sister, Sybilla, Electress of Saxony, wife to the head of Schmalkaldic League. Duchess Anna was perfect for England; young, beautiful, clever and well-connected. The duchess of a Lutheran state, which was still part of the Holy Roman Empire. She was strongly supported by her Lutheran family but was Catholic like her mother.[6] Cleves was the perfect ‘middle-way’ of religion, needed to secure alliances and peace.

By the time that Anna had finally reached England to marry King Henry in January 1540, international movements had ruined everything Cromwell had crafted. Henry was listening to the whispers of Norfolk and Gardiner, turning back to Catholicism. Anna’s brother Wilhelm had all-but declared war against Emperor Charles over the German state of Guelders. Once Henry married Anna, England would be in alliance and could have to fight against Emperor Charles. France swayed back and forth, helping to undo all negotiations of alliances between these formidable powers of Europe. Cromwell couldn’t undo the marriage contract; he had helped to create it, and it was water-tight.

The long-held rumours of Henry calling Anna ugly, “a Flanders mare,” have dogged the tale through the centuries, despite documents telling a very different story. Jousts were held in Anna’s honour; the people spoke of her beauty and kindness.[7] England quickly warmed to Anna, but Henry wanted out of any alliance that could mean war. Emperor Charles was furious that England would align with the reformers, but the Germans were also unhappy with the marriage, with Henry not backing them on matters of war, and not undoing the infuriating Six Articles. Cromwell had promised the German ambassadors he would crush Norfolk and the Six Articles, but had lost the power in parliament and convocations to do so.

Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester

Cromwell makes a mistake

Despite all the troubles with Anna, Henry still believed in Cromwell, confiding in him about his impotence with Anna, and making Cromwell the Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain in April 1540. While the marriage was still sound, Cromwell had completed the Dissolution of the Monasteries and made Henry rich. Cromwell’s enemies, such as Norfolk and Gardiner, were stunned, as were Ambassador Chapuys and Ambassador Marillac. Gardiner and Cromwell had been together at dinner at Austin Friars only weeks before, where Cromwell made a mistake. Cromwell told Gardiner “if the king did turn from the Reformation, I would not turn from it; and if the king turned, and all his people too, I would fight them in the field, with my sword in my hand, against the king and all others.” [8] Cromwell had already lost many allies in parliament and at court as religious changes slowly peeled apart, and this comment would come back to haunt him.

Thomas Wriothesley

Cromwell has a slip of the tongue

In May, Cromwell again made a mistake. He had almost secured an annulment for Henry and Anna, based on a flimsy pre-contract from Anna’s childhood, and was in initial stages of an alliance with France, seen running around the May Day jousts like a crazed man, trying to juggle national and international diplomacy. But he made a rare misstep soon after, admitting aloud of Henry’s impotence to Thomas Wriothesley one tired evening.[9] So many little moments were beginning to add up against Cromwell, just as it had for so many others.

For a long time so many men had sneered at Cromwell’s power. Norfolk had Henry’s ear, as did Gardiner, Bishop Bonner of London, Sir Anthony Browne, and Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall, all on the Privy Council. Cromwell’s life was still looking up in June 1540 – he had unlimited power in England, his son Gregory was happily married to Elizabeth Seymour and they had three healthy sons, Henry, Edward, and Thomas, at Leeds Castle. Richard Cromwell had just been knighted and called ‘the king’s diamond’ by Henry as he was given a diamond off his own hand. Ralph Sadler, a man so close to Cromwell he was practically a son, was now Principal Secretary to the king, shared with Thomas Wriothesley, one of Cromwell’s most loyal men, in a role Cromwell relinquished to them. Queen Anna’s marriage could be undone, giving Cromwell a chance to secure religious reform alongside Archbishop Cranmer.

Yet, for some unknown reason, Cromwell was late to the Privy Council meeting, where he was quickly called a traitor by most, if not all, of the councillors (though among them was his nephew Richard Cromwell, and close friends Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Audley, who never spoke against him). Even Richard Rich, a long-time colleague, did not defend his master. Sir John Russell, Sir Edward Seymour, Sir William Fitzwilliam and Sir Robert Radcliffe, while not on record as calling for Cromwell’s head, also did not defend the Lord Privy Seal. Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk and head of the Privy Council, likewise did not speak against Cromwell (Cromwell was godfather to Suffolk’s son Henry[10] and probable godfather to Suffolk’s granddaughter Jane Grey). But Suffolk allowed Kingston to arrest Cromwell, who threw his cap on the table before the Council and cried, “I am no traitor! Your Grace, members of the Council, is this reward for good service done unto His Majesty the king? I put it to your consciences, am I a traitor as your accusations imply? Well, no matter, for I renounce all pardons or grace needed, for I never offended the king, and it matters only if the king himself thinks me a traitor, and he would never have me linger long!”[11]

Norfolk pulled Cromwell’s golden collar from his shoulders, while Fitzwilliam pulled the garter from Cromwell’s leg,[12] as he was still wearing his parliamentary robes, no time to change between meetings. Cromwell was arrested as a traitor, almost eleven years after Reginald Pole had expected to see Cromwell rowed to the Tower alongside Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell’s work on securing a Schmalkaldic alliance showed he was in league with Lutherans and Calvinists across Europe, that he had contacted a marriage that Henry couldn’t remain in, and he had uttered treasonous words to Gardiner over dinner.[13] The Six Articles had got in the way of so many of Cromwell’s reforms, making him appear ineffectual, and Henry knew of Cromwell’s slip-up to Wriothesley about impotence. Cromwell had been betrayed by people close to him, and he left Westminster in a boat to the Tower, where he was housed in the Queen’s rooms – the same rooms Anne Boleyn had stayed in only four years earlier.

Wriothesley himself drafted letters that day to John Wallop, Nicolas Wootton and Christopher Pate in France that very day, talking of Cromwell’s arrest,[14] though letters from Wallop arrived to Cromwell in the following days, having not received the news right away. French Ambassador Charles Marillac wrote to King Francis that very day, writing, “I have just heard that Thomas Cramuel, keeper of the Privy Seal and Vicar-General of the Spirituality, who, since the Cardinal’s death, had the principal management of the affairs of this kingdom, and had been newly made Grand Chamberlain, was an hour ago led prisoner to the Tower and all his goods attached. Although this might be thought a private matter and of little importance, inasmuch as they have only reduced thus a personage to the state from which they raised him and treated him as hitherto everyone said he deserved, yet, considering that public affairs thereby entirely change their course, especially as regards the innovations in religion of which Cramuel was principal author, the news seems of such importance that it ought to be written forthwith. I can add nothing but that no articles of religion are yet concluded, and that the bishops are daily assembled to resolve them, and meanwhile Parliament continues. They were on the point of closing this when a gentleman of this court came to say from the King that I should not be astonished because Cramuel was sent to the Tower, and that, as the common, ignorant people spoke of it variously, the King wished me to know the truth. The substance was that the King, wishing by all possible means to lead back religion to the way of truth, Cramuel was attached to the German Lutherans, had always favoured the doctors who preached such erroneous opinions and hindered those who preached the contrary, and that recently, warned by some of his principal servants to reflect that he was working against the intention of the King and of the Acts of Parliament, he had betrayed himself and said he hoped to suppress the old preachers and have only the new, adding that the affair would soon be brought to such a pass that the King with all his power could not prevent it, but rather his own party would be so strong that Cramuel would make the King descend to the new doctrines even if he had to take arms against him. These plots were told the King by those who heard them and who esteemed their fealty more than the favour of their master. The King also sent word that when he spoke with me that he would tell things which would show how great was the guilt of said Cramuel and that said lord has so long been able to conceal it and the right opportunity now came to give orders.”[15]

Marillac also wrote to Anne Montmorency, Constable of France, saying, “what I wrote last is now verified touching the division among this King’s ministers, who are trying to destroy each other. Cramuel’s party seemed the strongest lately by the taking of the dean of the Chapel, Bishop of Chichester, but it seems quite overthrown by the taking of the said lord Cramuel, who was chief of his group, and there remain only on his side the Archbishop of Canterbury, who dare not open his mouth, and the lord Admiral, who has long learnt to bend to all winds, and they have for open enemies the Duke of Norfolk and the others. The thing is the more marvellous as it was unexpected by everyone.”[16]

Tomorrow – 11 June: Cranmer begs for Cromwell’s life. 

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[1] TNA xiv no. 783, SP 7/I f.53, 16 April 1539

[2] McEntegart, Henry VIII, 152

[3] SP I/152 f. 118, July 1539

[4] Ibid 142-44, SP I/142 f. 105

[5] Foxe 1570, 1399.

[6] See Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather Darsie for full information

[7] See Anna, Duchess of Cleves by Heather Darsie for full information

[8] TNA xv no. 486, 10 April 1540

[9] BL MS Cotton Titus B/I f.273, 12 June 1540

[10] TNA ix no. 386, 18 September 1535

[11] TNA xv no. 804, 23 June 1540

[12] TNA xv no. 804, 23 June 1540

[13] Foxe 1570, 1399.

[14] TNA xv no. 765, St. P. viii.349, 10 June 1540

[15] TNA xv no. 766, Kaulek, 189, 10 June 1540

[16] TNA xv no. 767, Kaulek, 190, 10 June 1540

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

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

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

cover and text via Amberley Publishing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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