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.
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.
Yesterday, I received a message asking about Thomas Cromwell. I was waiting to collect my sons from college, and my phone buzzed. A Tom Crumel chat? Of course! But instead, the messenger was asking about a link she had just seen, claiming that Anne Boleyn wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536, and because of this, Cromwell concocted lies to destroy her.
Readers, I laughed out loud when I read this. I probably looked crazy with my windows down on a hot summery afternoon, laughing to myself. Then I remembered why my messenger was confused, because this assertion comes from a recently released book. It has been a long week, and I have been frantic to get stock into my bookstores for Christmas, and the publishers are sending books by the thousands (the book in question is not one of them). I did not watch the video that came with this claim, but I did read the link, discussing the need to promote women in government. (It is a worthy claim, for Britain’s current political state is grotesque. I live in a country run by a woman, and we are better for it.) I know the book in question which makes these claims, and I have checked the book’s sources, and these claims do not match up with what I have read about Thomas Cromwell creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. That is not unusual in itself, for this story is interesting and is based on difficult evidence. The trouble is, the suggestion that new evidence has surfaced does not ring true, only that evidence has been interpreted… differently.
So, who wrote the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536?
Tudor Poor Law is not a fun read. Essentially, it was believed the poor were idle, lazy beggars and vagabonds who were poor due to their own behaviour. Many in (conservative) government tend to think the same way today, but in 1535, thoughts on better ways to deal with the poor were coming to life in England. Cromwell had been in parliament when the law last changed – the Vagabonds Act of 1531 (22 Henry VIII c.12). The law was a harsh one; rather than helping the poor, they were to continue to be punished. But this law change, the first in almost 150 years, saw the chance for beggars to become licensed by their local Justice of the Peace. Licensed beggars could to appeal to the JPs of their district for relief. However, punishments for vagrancy stayed in place.
The Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 (27 Hen VIII c. 25) is unique for a number of reasons. Cromwell passed the law in the House of Commons that stated that “sturdy vagabonds” had to be put to work. The constables, mayors, JPs, sheriffs and anyone in control of a district/parish had to look after their own poor. The poor were not simply punished for being poor, and the men in power would be punished if they did not aid beggars. Taxes were not levied to cover these costs, as taxes were always unpopular, and a number other important changes in England were already causing disharmony. Collections were organised through a common box, to pay for people to be put to work, for the sick to be helped so they could recover and find work, and those who could not work were not left to beg. The poor were to stay within their own district/parish, and in return, they could receive help. There were still harsh punishments in place for those who refused to abide by these rules, but this was the birth of real aid for the poor.
But this is not the real point of the claim that Anne Boleyn actually wrote up this law. What passed through parliament was Cromwell’s work. But, what Cromwell initially presented to parliament in February 1536 was far from what the law became. Cromwell presented a far more ambitious plan, a law that would tackle poverty right to the root. This plan suggested that the poor were not idle, instead, they had come to their circumstances by more than simply bad choices. Sadly, precious little of Cromwell’s work survived his attainder, so what was specifically said in parliament is not known. What is known is that Cromwell strongly believed in the law he presented to parliament; he made certain King Henry attended the Commons when he put forth the law to the House, as a way of displaying the support he had from the king for this legislation. Parliament’s nine-week session had been delayed by almost six months, so when Cromwell presented this law change, it was already underway in terms of firm planning. But the Act that passed in the House of Commons was a watered-down, rewritten version of the initial plan. Even Henry’s appearance could not get the law to pass, as the Act was so costly. Cromwell essentially pushed for what he could get from the House of Commons. King Henry and Cromwell were not simply tyrants doing their own bidding; the government had the right to push back on law changes and did so at their discretion.
It is the original plan, just a draft, which causes the question of who wrote this revolutionary plan.
The draft, BL MS Royal 18 CVI (which took me forever to view on this side of the planet), is a curiosity forgotten by time. As a draft, it is not listed in the official Letters of Papers of the Royal Manuscripts in the British Library, but it does exist. It was first uncovered by German Georg Schanz and mentioned in his book Englische Handelspolitik (English Trade Policy) in 1881. Draft 18CVI is a 66-page document, written in basic handwriting, double-sided. The handwriting does not look like the fine handwriting of a clerk of the period, and the draft suggests it was written by one individual, but not in a formal setting. Whoever wrote 18CVI had an intimate knowledge of the needs of the people, the needs of the country, the possibilities for job creation, the numbers of staff required, the costs, everything. It was not a plan of forming a utopian suggestion – this was a draft written up by someone who understood the needs of the poor and how to help them. Bringing a draft like this to Cromwell was a wise move, for he had grown up in a common home (though not the poor blacksmith’s son that fiction gives us), had been to prison very young, and fell upon the hardest of times when he left the French army in Italy in the early 1500s. Cromwell was a man who had been to the bottom and now sat at the top.
Draft 18CVI goes into fine detail – those who could, had to report for work starting Easter 1537, though to Michelmas 1540, the first period that Cromwell set out for works to begin. Those who could work had jobs planned out, works Cromwell knew needed to be done in England, as seen in his list of remembrances that still survive. Jobs would be created, such as making roads, digging sewers, repairing ports, jobs whose results would benefit the population. The workers would be paid a fair wage, along with meat and drink, and a clothing allowance they would earn. Salaries were already set out for those overseeing the projects. The costs of this new welfare state were set out as well; six forms of tax would cover the costs; ecclesiastical dignitaries would be taxed, then the temporal lords and laymen, taxed on different rates depending on their land values and moveables. Doctors would be arranged for the sick and injured; medicine, beds, food and warm fires would be provided for those who needed them. Children between 5 -14 could be taken and apprenticed in jobs, but only those over 12 would be whipped for failure to work. All people had the chance to reform, with a three-strike system in place for those who failed to live up to expectations. One punishment for failure to work was to burn the ball of a man’s right hand in public. Others included whipping and jail time for those unable to provide a good reason for not working.
Draft 18CVI broke down the costs involved, the men needed, the dates, the figures, the projects, everything for such an enormous plan. Whoever wrote 18CVI had a huge amount of official paperwork at their disposal. My general opinion is that someone working for Cromwell wrote this, as they would have access to his paperwork in his royal apartments as Secretary of State, the king’s chief minister, Vicegerent of Spirituals (head of the church under the king), along with his papers in his capacity as Master of the Rolls (keeper of England’s records). Cromwell believed in the reform of the Poor Law, could see how it would work, and how much it would cost. The problem was that this parliamentary session, finally free of the King’s Great Matter, had much work to do. The immense Dissolution of the Monasteries was underway, and 10 years of experience with sporadic dissolutions gave Cromwell an insight into what was going to happen; many more people were about to become homeless, jobless, begging to survive when their monastic house closed. Also, the dissolutions meant that land previously unavailable would suddenly belong to the king, which was about to upset the feudal system in which land was still owned, bought and sold. Tensions were already high among the rich and noble men passing laws in parliament. It was the right policy put to the wrong session. The 1536 parliament oversaw the new Act of Succession, the Dissolution of the Monasteries Act, the See of Rome Act and the Tithe Act (which was only repealed in 2018). An enormous change such as creating genuine care for the poor of England was a costly plan. This plan did not benefit the men voting for the Act and it was put to the vote at a time where nothing was certain, while the upheaval of religion affected everyone.
But who wrote draft 18CVI?
Enter William Marshall as the lead suspect. One of Cromwell’s agents, Marshall was an extreme reformist with an interest in the regulation of the monasteries. Marshall was a translator with a licence to print. He is not a well-known man, but his works between 1533 – 1537 leave a detailed story. In April 1534, Marshall sent Cromwell books on destroying Rome’s authority, and begging for money, as he often had none to live on or to print his books. Cromwell must have paid him, for Marshall printed three books in 1534. But in 1535, Marshall printed a book entitled The Forme and maner of subuention of helpyng of pore people, deuysed and practyced in the cytie of Hypres in Flaunders, whiche forme is autorised by the Emperour, and approued by the facultie of diuinite in Paris. The book is dedicated to Anne Boleyn, and it is suggested that Marshall had met with Anne, probably through Cromwell. The book is a translation of work in Ypres, of the systems planned and being implemented in the Low Countries in the late 1520s. Many of the initial ideas which appear in draft 18CVI also appear in this translation. Cromwell must have been fond of Marshall’s work, as he then paid £34, the highest sum of the time for printing, for Marshall to translate and print The Defense of Peace, and scholars have argued Bishop Fisher himself had a copy for several days before burning it prior to his execution. Marshall also printed several translations of Erasmus, Joye, Luther, and a book on idolatry and destroying relics, a book which caused much alarm in 1535, just as draft 18CVI was being created. The Images of a verye Chrysten bysshop, and of a counterfayte bysshop shocked many, including Thomas Audley, the country’s new Lord Chancellor and dear ally to Cromwell. Cromwell allowed the book to be published and did not seek to have Marshall punished for it, despite the book’s extreme Lutheran views.
It is possible that Marshall wrote 18CVI, for he made the translation of the Flanders plan for Poor Laws. It is possible that Cromwell had Marshall write out the draft based on the Marshall’s translation work, and had another agent provide the relevant figures. It is unlikely that Cromwell wrote the draft himself; Cromwell had largely given up writing in a neat style by 1534, as he didn’t have the time. It is possible that a group of Cromwell agents got together to discuss and create 18CVI. Anyone of Cromwell’s army of clerks could have written the repetitive draft for his master, or for another man on their master’s behalf.
Back to one detail – Marshall’s translation of Poor Laws was dedicated to Anne Boleyn. It was common to dedicate a book to the monarchs reigning at the date of printing. Had Anne talked with Marshall about his translations? Maybe. Had Anne read these translations about Poor Laws or idolatry? Maybe. Anne had access to anything she wanted, and with several dozen of Marshall’s books in existence in London, maybe Anne Boleyn discussed these issues with Marshall.
What is known is that Cromwell and Anne loathed one another. They had an equal enthusiasm for the Reformation, which kept their mutual distaste peaceful until 1535.Anne is known to have expressed her dislike of the dissolutions to Cromwell, both to his face and behind his back, and it is recorded that Anne mentioned helping the poor with proceeds of dissolutions. I suppose it was easier to yell at the “commoner” than the king about such issues. There is no doubt Anne was well educated on the issues she discussed. There is no doubt that Anne mounted a challenge in April 1536, to wrestle power over the Reformation away from Cromwell and his allies. Anne did have her chaplain preach at the king and Cromwell, denouncing their behaviour before the entire congregation. Anne’s champions Latimer and Alenius both told Elizabeth I of how her mother was angry the dissolutions of the monasteries. Anne was said to have harassed men who came to see her, men who ran monastic houses, to make them pay for education. After Anne’s death, there was an increase in monks with university degrees. Thomas Cranmer was away from court at the time of Anne’s power play after the parliament session, and wrote to Cromwell, asking what was going on, as Anne had seemed to jump into action in early 1536. Anne certainly did have powerful allies, a comfortable position that allowed her to advance her opinions, and access to information to help her make her case.
What is also known was that Marshall did not need anyone to give him ideas of Poor Laws. Marshall had read extensively, had travelled and met many Lutherans. Cromwellhad unique access to all the fine details held in draft 18CVI, and personal knowledge of the realities of being poor. After Cromwell had Valor Ecclesiasticus completed in January 1535 (though some papers didn’t arrive until as late as September), Cromwell knew exactly the state of England’s people, he knew his population and how many were suffering.Cromwell had already been planningValor Ecclesiasticus and what might be done about England’s people for a year before the papers were finished by his inspectors. The Marshall translations came to Cromwell at the same time as Valor Ecclesiasticus, and draft 18CVI appears to have been ready to go through parliament by October 1535, only to suffer the parliamentary delay. William Marshall certainly didn’t do the math required to get the Act into parliament, and he had no access to the figures needed without Cromwell’s express permission. Marshall had no place in parliament, couldn’t present anything, and nor did he play any role in what eventually came into law, which was the creation of votes and debates in the House of Commons. In fact, there is nothing but suggestions made by Georg Schanz in 1881 that William Marshall was a strong candidate as the author, followed by a more cautious suggestion by Geoffrey Elton in The Economic History Review in 1953.
So to suggest Anne wrote draft 18CVI, and either tried to present it or have Marshall present her work to Cromwell or parliament on her behalf, has no basis. Also, Anne creating the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536 as a result of her ideas doesn’t have any basis. The law that was pushed through was a compromise made by the all-male parliament (God, progress on that score has been very slow indeed).
What is a certainty is that Cromwell didn’t make up lies and kill Anne as a result of this legislation. In truth, Cromwell had seemed to run out of patience with Anne a year earlier. Anne’s marriage to King Henry had taken a huge toll on England, and the work levels Cromwell faced were so vast, he slept very rarely and worked himself into a life-threatening illness by 1534. Crucially, by the time that draft 18CVI was completed in autumn of 1535, Cromwell was already receiving letters from Stephen Gardiner in France, talking about rumours that Anne was an adulterer. Lutheran and pro-Anne supporter Alexander Alenius heard of these rumours and letters, and was in London as a guest of Cromwell and Cranmer when the rumours started to circle the English court. Cromwell, claims Alenius, had told the king of these French rumours before Christmas 1535, and the barrage of rumours and slander soon began behind Anne’s back. By February 1536, Chapuys was already writing to Lady Mary, assuring her that her position would soon improve. Jane Seymour had been slid in place, now under the advisement of Sir Nicholas Carew, and Anne’s ladies-in-waiting were waiting and listening. Anne had argued with many men at court over their greed and their cash-grab of the dissolution of the monasteries. By the time Cromwell and Anne were openly arguing, her downfall was already months in the planning. While Anne’s downfall can appear swift, the gossipers and the cowardly underminers of the court seemed to have already pounced on Anne’s position after her miscarriage in January 1536. While the tales of the what/where/when/how/why of Anne’s downfall timeline can vary between reports, Cromwell’s dislike of Anne began long before the Parliament sitting in 1536. (If you want solid information about Anne Boleyn’s life, read anything by Claire Ridgway).
Thomas Cromwell almost certainly engineered Anne Boleyn’s downfall. Whether Henry knew her adultery charges were false remains largely unknown, and there is little to suggest he cared too much about the truth when it came to trials. While Anne Boleyn sat on the throne, Cromwell had been working hard to justify her as the queen, and to make her daughter a legitimate royal heir. Cromwell became the chief minister to the king, had much control in parliament and he was the Vicegerent, controlling the church in its entirety. But Cromwell was still a commoner; not even Sir Thomas Cromwell for all his work. Anne arguing over the monastery funds (which Henry wanted, not Cromwell) needed to stop so Cromwell could continue the cause. An important fact to note is the monastery dissolutions were not required for a country following the Reformation. That was Henry’s grab for power.
Cromwell was no saint, and even I, as an ardent Cromwell lover, will say what he did to Anne was wrong. But I definitely don’t see any evidence that Cromwell killed Anne because she wrote the legislation of the Act for Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars 1536. While Anne was doing all she could with weakened power in 1536, this law was not one of hers. No time period in history has been kind to women, and the 1530s wasn’t kind of anyone at all. As it was, the 1536 Act didn’t work, it fell over swiftly, and no aid was rolled out, with the country split into the Pilgrimage of Grace by October 1536. It was not until the late 1590s that any real Poor Laws came into effect, and they too were weak.
I would gladly be corrected to say Anne Boleyn wrote draft 18CVI if the evidence proved it. It would be wonderful to see women’s plans and ideas being implemented in powerful ways. The time period was not filled with stupid women; women had plans of their own, but men weren’t listening (they still aren’t). I would support the idea that Anne was trying to push parliamentary reform if there was any proof of this, but I haven’t seen it. What has been offered in the book that inspired this whole question did not offer me a new source to check. I would gladly update this if that changed, and I could read primary sources showing the truth. Anne had power, but not in parliament, and by the time the Poor Laws went through parliament, Anne was already losing favour. Anne Boleyn did not die because she tried to push Poor Laws through the government. Anne was killed for a lot of unjustified reasons; she died unfairly, needlessly, callously, but it wasn’t because she wrote 18CVI.
PS – I have no desire to argue, denigrate other work, or have a point to prove. I am always happy to accept corrections, as I only care about facts, because it makes fiction writing far more interesting. I also didn’t write this to promote my own books, as I have a firm character in my books who writes Cromwell’s drafts for him. This article pushes no agenda on my behalf.
 Tawney, Religion and the Rise of Capitalism, 1948
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Privy Seal of England, has enjoyed a revival as a popular Tudor character in recent years after being reshaped into a hero. But was Thomas Cromwell ever a villain? After his execution in 1540, all mention of Cromwell falls away, only to be plucked from the archives in the 1930s and made into the villain who brought about all the Protestant changes made by Henry VIII. Did Cromwell really do all this work on his own? Was he a religious fanatic? How does a common-born man come out of nowhere to rise to the top of English society in one decade? Simply, Cromwell didn’t; he had a remarkable tale before he was noticed by Henry VIII.
A child born in Putney, to common parents, suffering poverty and violence?
Much of Cromwell’s childhood has been imagined or created from basic details, as there hasn’t been a lot of information available until now. It’s nice to think of a boy shrugging off his low-born life and escaping to Europe. But the story is more complex.
Born in around 1485, Cromwell’s father was an Irishman named Walter Cromwell alias Smith, a yeoman of many trades, particularly running an alehouse, and before the court 47 times in fifteen years for breaking the assize of ale (other words, selling ale overpriced, poor quality, etc). Cromwell’s mother was Katherine Meverell, and the Meverells of Throwley were a gentry family, making Cromwell a little higher in life than assumed. Throughout this life Cromwell did favours for the Meverells and their relatives, giving them plum positions wherever they lived. Cromwell’s parents were kindly people, not cruel as sometimes portrayed.
Cromwell never forgot where he came from, or who he knew. A local boy named Thomas Megges grew up to be one of Cromwell’s many proteges, as did Thomas Mundy, all Putney boys who were of school age together. When Cromwell got elevated to the peerage in 1536, he was made Baron of Wimbledon, and his wealth and lands grew right through the very area where he was born. His wife was a Putney girl, and his sisters and their families were paramount throughout Cromwell’s life.
The ruffian’s “lost years’ in Italy?
The word ruffian gets used far too often when describing Cromwell, but it’s the only word Cromwell himself used to describe his childhood behaviour, and Eustace Chapuys wrote that Cromwell admitted to time in prison before leaving Putney. In approximately 1500, young Cromwell did leave Putney in search of adventure, but his time in Italy is documented through records, business transactions and by an Italian novelist named Matteo Bandello. Rather than fleeing his father, Cromwell instead left for an adventure, and ended up taking a place as a mercenary in the French army, who were sent to fight the Battle of Gagliano, Naples, on 29 December 1503. The French lost, as were France’s hopes forever in Naples, but Cromwell survived the killing and made his way to Florence. Cromwell was found on the streets of Florence, starving and homeless, by Francesco Frescobaldi, head of a wealthy mercantile family, who was amazed to find a fluent English speaker on the streets. The novelist Bandello tells a great tale of how Cromwell is taken into the Frescobaldi family.
Cromwell had found a home with Frescobaldi, who smuggled goods from Egypt and the Ottomans into northern Europe, making huge sums in the process, even in league with King Henry VII, making England wealthy. Cromwell learned the art of trading wool and wine and had the chance to travel to the Low Countries to attend trade fairs. Francesco’s brother Leonardo traded out of Southampton, giving Cromwell valuable contacts for a new life back in England. Cromwell made many friends and business allies for the next 30 years. Cromwell also met John Hacket in Calais in 1505, and George Elyot in 1512, both living in the Low Countries, giving him access to a wide range of people. By this time, the men were all corresponding as close friends in fluent French. During the ten years in Frescobaldi’s employ, Cromwell lived in Florence and Antwerp, learned Italian, Spanish and “self-consciously elegant” Latin, learned how to defraud the Pope by smuggling goods, learned to chase down debtors in the Low Countries, became at ease with the snobbery of the cloth trade, and created a huge web of friends and colleagues, none of whom he ever forgot. Cromwell started vast libraries of books, with many of the greatest Italian and humanist works of the era in his collections. He was the Italianate-Englishman and determined to be the best Italian in England when he returned home in 1514. But records also show Cromwell back in Rome in 1514, working as a London-based lawyer in a dispute. For the next five years, Cromwell made himself a tidy sum working as a lawyer, living six months of the year in London, the other six months in Rome, despite having undertaken no legal training.
In his time in England between Roman visits, Cromwell married Elizabeth Wyckes in around 1519, with their son Gregory born in about 1520. Cromwell also had a ward, Ralph Sadler, living in his house as his own son, and also nurtured his sister’s son Richard, who took on Cromwell’s surname. By 1523, Cromwell had leased Austin Friars, a manor in the heart of the Italian community of London, and had two more children, Anne and Grace. He could live a wealthy life as a lawyer and merchant, but also gained a place working for the powerful and noble Grey family. But more lay ahead – Cromwell got himself elected into parliament in 1523, thanks to Thomas Grey, Marquis of Dorset, at a time when parliament rarely opened. Cromwell gave his first speech advising against Henry VIII’s possible war with France.
A sulking, unknown fixer and monastery-destroyer for Cardinal Wolsey?
In 1524, Cromwell was admitted to the bar, recognised as a lawyer by Gary’s Inn in London. He had worked for noblemen, clergymen and merchants in his time, so to be recommended to Cardinal Wolsey was no surprise. But Wolsey needed someone special; he needed someone fluent in Italian, a keen eye on money, and he needed a man who could fight his way through prolonged legal issues. Failing monasteries needed to be inspected and closed, to finance Wolsey’s vanity projects – large colleges built in his name, the completion of Hampton Court Palace, and the finishing of a giant tomb made by revered Italian tradesmen. Cromwell could well deal with Italians, but closing monasteries brought him into physical and legal battles with the gentry and the locals alike. Yet Cromwell emerged with even more people to add to his ever-widening group of friends who wrote to him throughout the rest of his life. Cromwell has a charm that saw even monks ejected from their monasteries still writing to him on friendly terms. This job also brought its enemies, a price Cromwell felt willing to pay.
During this time, Cromwell met many men interested in evangelical reform. While he worked for a Catholic cardinal and kept his religious affiliations quiet, Cromwell aided Reformation leaders and had them installed the new Cambridge College, helping reformers such as Thomas Cranmer, Robert Barnes and Miles Coverdale, all religious men who would feature in Cromwell’s rise and downfall.
Cromwell’s relationship with Thomas Wolsey grew in the short five years they worked side by side, and this brought Cromwell into contact with many noblemen such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk and met his friend-turned-nemesis Stephen Gardiner, a friendship that would spiral out of control in later years. Cromwell and Wolsey became close friends and allies in a short time, a relationship Cromwell would never forget.
Abandoning his closest friend for personal gain?
Did Cromwell step over Wolsey’s body to take his place beside the king? Absolutely not. Wolsey was Henry VIII’s closest friend and Lord Chancellor of England. When Henry decided he needed a marriage annulment, it was Wolsey’s job to procure the desired legal and ecclesiastical paperwork. Anne Boleyn would take Katherine of Aragon’s place, but Anne was only single because Wolsey forbade her marriage to Henry Percy of Northumberland years before. Anne Boleyn hated Wolsey and vice versa.
A legatine court needed to be set up, the judges Wolsey, and Cardinal Campeggio from Italy. Here Cromwell could again be helpful. But 1529 would not be a kind year, as Cromwell had lost his wife and daughters to sweating sickness and Gregory was sent away for his education. Anne Boleyn was ready to be queen, Henry wanted Katherine ousted, and Wolsey and Campeggio simply couldn’t make the charges stick against Queen Katherine, a woman unmatched in all of Europe. Cromwell helplessly stood by and watched Wolsey fail in the most public arena the 16th century had witnessed as the legatine court fell into disarray. When Henry denounced Wolsey and banished him 200 miles north to York, Cromwell had to stay in London. But he did not advance himself, rather Cromwell dared to face the king and beg for Wolsey’s return to power and favour, the only man to do so. Cromwell did a good job too, softening Henry’s angry heart. But Wolsey’s greed got the better of him, and even Cromwell’s brilliant mind could not save him, nor could he be with Wolsey when he died of illness in Leicester in November 1529. But King Henry had seen Cromwell now, seen what he could do. Cromwell also put his contacts to work, and got himself into parliament in late 1529, the first sitting in almost seven years, and tried to build a new life out of grief. All he had worked for had gone; his family was dead, Wolsey was disgraced, and his own legal practice had dried up due to busy times with the cardinal. In this time, Cromwell had a brief affair with an unknown woman, resulting in the birth of his daughter Jane. While illegitimate, Cromwell paid for Jane’s quality care and upbringing for the rest of his life.
Cromwell made being gay illegal?
In 1533, Cromwell did write the Buggery Act, a law designed to hurt men accused of the crime of sodomy. The law was created as an easy way to arrest men, primarily priests, as there was never any evidence to submit, and those arrested could not defend themselves. It was used to destroy men who would not submit to Henry’s new church, rather than what happened in bedrooms around England. Buggery was an immoral sin, but now also a legal crime, punishable by death. This law punished almost no one, while his larger legal changes, such as cresting the Church of England, making Henry VIII the head of religion over the Pope, and annulling the king;s marriage yo Katherine of Aragon all within a year.
A meteoric rise to power as Anne Boleyn’s “man?”
When Wolsey died, the king needed a new man at his side, and he called on Thomas Cromwell. But he was not an unknown to many; the Attorney-General sang his praises, his friend Stephen Gardiner was to be the king’s secretary, and ambassadors across Europe had already worked with him in the past. Cromwell was 45 years old when he caught the king’s eye and was no stranger, but a well-travelled and well-skilled man of many trades.
The Pope would never allow Henry to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell’s plans were simple; bypass the Church completely and start a Royal Supremacy over religion. He had his friend Thomas Cranmer elevated to be the archbishop, declared Henry the Leader of the Church in England, and ruled that the clergymen of England had to swear allegiance to Henry instead of the Pope or risk losing their heads. It was a pragmatic solution to a problem Henry could not solve in usual channels. Cromwell promised to make Henry the richest man in England and Henry was sold on Cromwell’s unorthodox plan. This allowed the Reformation to take hold in England, and by having Catholic men like Sir Thomas More and Bishop John Fisher killed. Suddenly, the Pope’s voice began to lose its power. To everyone who already knew Thomas Cromwell, none of this came as a surprise. But the nobles, in places of power due to birth and ancient customs were stunned by this new man.
Cromwell and Cranmer worked together, creating Henry as the Head of the Church, able to end his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Cromwell wanted the Reformation in England; he could even recite much of the New Testament by heart. Anne Boleyn wanted the Reformation so she could be queen, and yet Cromwell was not “Queen Anne’s man,” not in truth. For Cromwell loathed Anne and her family but had her married to Henry in 1533 anyway, with Queen Katherine banished. When Anne produced a daughter and then several miscarriages, Henry wanted out, and Cromwell had no qualms about destroying another queen. Over the course of 1530 – 1536, Cromwell did not hesitate in doing the king’s bidding. It was business, it was a pragmatic approach to issues that arose. Now the King’s Chief Minister, the Principal Secretary, Vicegerent of Religious Matters, and Chancellor of the Exchequer, Cromwell had England in his grip. But not all his new laws were terrible; many helped cities with water, sewage, and food for the poor. Cromwell fed 200 people twice daily from his own kitchens. He passed laws making sure churches helped the homeless and jobless, he changed tax laws meaning the noblemen and merchants paid to fund alms-houses. Cromwell walked a tightrope like no one else.
Cromwell made up lies about Anne Boleyn to kill her?
In 1536, Henry wanted a new wife and Cromwell had the task of destroying Queen Anne. Queen Katherine had just died of cancer, and Queen Anne had lost another child; Henry could wait no more. No man called to sit in judgement of Anne for crimes could go against the king, and Cromwell’s best friend Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell had allies all over court and country, and Anne did not. It is unknown who suggested Anne was unfaithful, Henry or Cromwell. But Henry did show genuine shock when he heard Anne was found guilty of seducing four men, plus the extra charge of incest with her brother. The plan could have been a possible slander of adulterous rumours which blew out of control when people got nervous. A legal mind like Cromwell could easily spin any testimony to sound like Anne Boleyn was a witch. Did Cromwell orchestrate Anne’s death? He did. Did he show remorse? Not in any outward sense, though to go through the whole process could not have been easy for any man to bear. Once Anne was buried, Cromwell assumed her father’s role in as Lord Privy Seal of England, giving him wide-ranging powers in every respect.
The Pilgrimage of Grace rebellion was all Cromwell’s fault?
In late 1536, as Henry basked in the glow of his new wife Queen Jane, upwards of 40,000 men marched toward London, demanding to be a Catholic nation again. Their enemy? Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell’s had been back to his old tricks – closing monasteries in order to reap the financial gain, albeit the money went in Henry’s pocket, not his own. Henry loved destroying the Catholic Church’s power and taking their lands and wealth. Cromwell’s inspectors raided monasteries, abbeys and convents across England and Wales, calling them houses of sin, fraud and debauchery. Relics and shrines were pulled down, unnecessary under Reformation prayer. Cromwell’s new laws were the cause of the rebellion, and he wore the blood of the over 200 clergymen, nobles and commoners executed when the rebellion got quashed during sporadic fighting between October 1536 and March 1537.
But 1537 wasn’t a total loss for Cromwell. His investment in Jane Seymour’s womb paid dividends when she gave birth to Prince Edward. Sadly, Jane’s death was as hard on Cromwell as anyone. Just three months before Queen Jane’s death, Cromwell married his son Gregory to Jane’s sister, Lady Elizabeth. Gregory’s sons were first cousins to the prince, but after Queen Jane died, all the glory the Cromwell’s could have won also died away.
Gregory Cromwell – rapist?
A tricky truth/myth to dispel. In autumn 1538, Cromwell was busy with the White Rose trials, having the final men of Plantagenet blood arrested and executed. But in Lewes, where Gregory Cromwell lived with his wife Elizabeth, their new-born son, and another son on the way, a scandal emerged, and Gregory’s father stepped in when the situation became grave. Bishop Sampson of Chichester wrote a letter stating that Gregory could go to church for punishment for a serious offence. Bishops could only demand punishment for heresy and sexual crimes. Gregory was no religious man and heresy was not in his nature. That only led to one other cause. Having sex with maids was considered a routine sin in Tudor times, but a sexual charge requiring clerical punishment was considered serious, such as rape or buggery. Gregory angrily refused a light punishment and refused to accept what happened. What did happen? The crime is not recorded, but in doing this very simple acknowledgement in church, it meant Gregory could avoid “the possibility of further business.” Gregory’s “honesty” was affected, and so ruined his wife’s “reputation.” At the same time, Lady Elizabeth wrote to Cromwell in London and said she would no longer live under the same roof as Gregory, and she moved away. Gregory and Elizabeth did not reunite for more than six months. After spending a fortune to set up Gregory in Lewes Priory, Cromwell had to forfeit the lot and move Gregory and Elizabeth to Leeds Castle, where they patched up their marriage.
Cromwell brought about his own downfall when picking Anna of Cleves?
When Cromwell’s downfall came, it did not come from a gradual decline in power or a bolt from the blue, rather a strange mix. In April 1539, Cromwell fell ill and wrote to Henry of suffering an ague (malaria) and tertian fever (malaria fever that comes in waves every two/three days). This illness really struck a knife in the heart of Cromwell’s hard work. He had not long released the latest version of the bible, nicknamed the Cranmer Bible, though it was Cromwell’s bible; he and Cranmer were even on the cover. But when Cromwell fell ill, the Duke of Norfolk and many traditionalist clergymen in power got together and wrote the Six Articles, six points of clarification needed in religion, mostly around transubstantiation and clerical celibacy. While Cromwell was unable to move for a month, Cranmer watched hopelessly as the king took on board this Catholic doctrine and tried to mix them with the Reformation ideals. Religion was still a mess, and the Reformation took a big step backwards in a short time. Cromwell spent the rest of his life trying to undo the Six Articles. Archbishop Cranmer was forced to send away his German wife and daughter and never saw them again, lest they all be punished, possibly executed.
The King wanted a new wife, and Europe was low on princesses and duchesses available and/or willing. The best was Anna von der Marck, Duchess of Cleves. Anna’s brother, Duke Wilhelm of Julich-Cleves-Berg was like Henry; he was not strictly Catholic or a Lutheran, he was a middle way. But Anna’s sister Sybylla was married to the Elector of Saxony, a Lutheran German state with the powerful Schmalkaldic (Protestant) League and an army. England needed allies and the Schmalkaldic League looked were perfect. But negotiations frequently stalled, and when Henry liked the look of Anna’s painting and agreed to marry her, the countries still had no formal alliance.
It took Anna two months to travel to England, and in that time, all hell broke loose. Duke Wilhelm laid claim to the duchy of Guelders, held by Emperor Charles V. Charles travelled to his lands in the Low Countries, and threatened war with Julich-Cleves-Berg if Wilhelm did not step back from Guelders. France, bordering these two, urged peace and wanted an alliance with the Emperor. Suddenly Europe’s largest Catholic nations were becoming allies, and Henry was informally allied to Cleves by his marriage. Poor Anna had nothing to do with this, but by marrying her, and bedding her, Henry would be allied with Anna’s brother and must be dragged into war. England would be decimated. To top it off, the Elector of Saxony still hadn’t allied with Henry, so even the Schmalkaldic League would not necessarily be England’s ally.
By selecting Anna, Cromwell had accidentally brought England to the brink of war while Christendom hung in the balance. Cromwell was a brilliant legal mind, so Henry and Anna’s marriage contract was so tight nothing could be done. Henry was forced to marry Anna, or Cleves would turn against England, possibly alongside the Schmalkaldic army and all of Germany. But marrying Anna meant England became the enemy of the Holy Roman Empire and possibly France.
Henry’s dislike to Anna was obvious, but it was not about her looks, rather she was the anchor to a war England couldn’t win. The men of Europe postured and moved troops around for months, by which time, Henry was totally infuriated, and trapped in a complex scenario where no one would even write to England, fearing they might light the spark which started war. Henry needed to be free, he needed an annulment, and he needed someone to take the fall. But Henry had just given Cromwell the honour he always dreamed of; Cromwell was now Earl of Essex. Cromwell was a high-ranking nobleman, the Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Secretary of State, Vicegerent of England and Ireland, Chancellor of the Exchequer, head statesman in the House of Lords and much more. But to show the Emperor that England was not a threat, someone needed to suffer.
Thomas Cromwell, traitor?
Cromwell was arrested on June 10, 1540, for being a traitor. He had said to Stephen Gardiner, one night at home at Austin Friars, that he would not turn from the Reformation, even if Henry did, and that Cromwell would fight the king if necessary. Angry words from a man who never seemed to recover from malaria. Was it treason? Technically yes, by Cromwell’s own laws of never speaking against the king, even though he did not mean he would literally fight against Henry, only argue for his religion. Cromwell’s long-time servant Thomas Wriothesley betrayed him and told the king that Cromwell was talking about Henry’s impotence with Queen Anna, sending the king into a rage. More rumours were thrown on the pile – that Cromwell wanted to marry Princess Mary and become king, that Cromwell was colluding with extreme Lutherans in Zurich, and was a heretic by failing to enforce the Six Articles of religion. By laws Cromwell wrote in the early 1530s, a subject could be attainted without trial and sentenced to death. Cromwell was stripped of all titles, but Henry still allowed him to be beheaded, rather than more horrific penalties. In his prison cell, Cromwell wrote out all the paperwork needed to prove that Henry was not truly married to Anna due to her pre-contract in childhood, plus lack of consummation and lack of inward consent. Once the paperwork was done, Cromwell lost his head on July 28; all he worked for scattered to the wind as Henry married Katheryn Howard on a whim. Gregory and Elizabeth, plus Richard Cromwell, Ralph Sadler, Thomas Cranmer, Thomas Wyatt, and countless more mourned the loss of Cromwell, but many rejoiced.
It was said Henry regretted the loss of Cromwell within a month of the arrest; Cromwell was still in the Tower when the king realised how much Cromwell did every day (while putting up with Henry’s atrocious leg smell), but it was too late to back down. By Christmas, Henry was angry at his councillors for lying about Cromwell’s crimes. Henry nor England really saw any kind of success after that, and no man could hold Cromwell’s position, instead, dozens were brought in to fill the void. Henry died a fat old man and Cromwell was forgotten, and all except for one portrait of him, hidden away by Ralph Sadler, was destroyed.
To commemorate the anniversary of Cromwell’s unjust execution, I am having a free kindle promo on Amazon worldwide from July 27 – July 31. Both novels in the Queenmaker Series, Frailty of Human Affairs, and Shaking the Throne, all about Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi, will be free to download. Book three, the final chapter of Cromwell’s life, No Armour Against Fate, will be available from October 28.
SHAKING THE THRONE is available today! Today is part five of a ten-part series, letting you into the world of King Henry VIII’s Chief Minister Thomas Cromwell, and his master secretary Nicóla Frescobaldi, as they embark on part two of THE QUEENMAKER SERIES.
Part one of the series, FRAILTY OF HUMAN AFFAIRS, is out now, covering Cromwell and Frescobaldi in 1529 – 1533, SHAKING THE THRONE, covering 1533-1536, will be available worldwide on October 1st. NO ARMOUR AGAINST FATE shall cover 1537 – 1540 and will be released September 2019.
Up first, the synopsis –
November 1533 – Thomas Cromwell and Nicóla Frescobaldi have their queen on the throne. The Catholic Church is being destroyed as the Reformation looms over England. Cromwell has total power at court and in parliament, while Frescobaldi wins favour with the King’s illegitimate son, Henry Fitzroy.
But England’s fate is uncertain. The nobles still despise Cromwell and his Italian creature. Anne has not given the king a son. Queen Katherine refuses to give up her title, and Thomas More and Bishop Fisher defy their king. The final Plantagenets think they should hold the throne, while the Catholics want Princess Mary named as heir.
England can be reformed, but Cromwell must dissolve all the monasteries and abbeys, and with the King on his side, the plan to change religion will sever heads. Queen Anne is losing Henry’s love, but Cromwell could suffer if Anne loses her crown. Frescobaldi creates a daring plan to replace Anne and regain the Pope’s favour, but Cromwell must execute the plans on his own. Schemes will go astray and the wrong heads will be severed to satisfy a vengeful sovereign.
Kings will rise, Queens shall fall, children will perish, and the people of England will march in a pilgrimage to take Cromwell’s head, but Frescobaldi will have to make the ultimate sacrifice.
‘Catholic, Protestant, all makes no matter; for I shall die a sinner for the justice I administer.’
Nicòla’s rose-gold eyelashes fluttered, such was the strength in which she held her green eyes closed. Tears perched upon her lashes, waiting to ripple down her dark olive cheeks.
‘God gives us the power of His spirit, and the sword of His word. True contrition shall deliver souls to heaven.’
Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, knelt opposite to Nicòla, his purple robes flowing around the carpets beneath their knees. His hands closed over Nicòla’s clasped in prayer. Behind the altar was Nicòla’s bedroom, or more precisely, the bedroom of Thomas Cromwell, her master. Before them; William Tyndale’s English Bible, handwritten by the man himself. Also, Martin Luther’s German translation, and, for Nicòla’s comfort, a Catholic Latin bible. Cromwell may have yearned for Protestant reform, yet Nicòla’s soul, away from the ears of her master, struggled with reformation.
Cranmer and Nicòla were firm friends, yet in times of prayer, in times of struggle, Cranmer also proved himself a man of true piety, patient with Nicòla’s fear for her soul.
‘Can contrition and repentance truly come to me?’ Nicòla whispered, one tear making its defiant roll down her cheek.
‘At the heart of the Christian faith, contrition shows that a soul is ready for repentance. The old religion and the new; it makes no matter, my child. Absolution will come through the regret you now feel.’
‘Father, forgive me, for I have sinned. I know you came yesterday for my need to confess and repent, but again I feel burdened with my deeds.’
Nicòla felt Cranmer’s hands move against hers, a gentle gesture. She opened her eyes a little to see him before her, his eyes closed, his dark hair over his face a touch. While Cranmer preached to king and country about the virtue of reformation in England, in private, Cranmer allowed Nicòla her need to adapt from Catholic idolatry and into the light of God.
‘Oh, Thomas,’ she whispered as she closed her eyes again, forgetting to address him formally. ‘I walked into the Tower of London, my stride strong, my will determined. I walked into the cell of Elizabeth Barton and I struck her across the face. Not a word. I watched as others hurt her, beat her, kicked her. I watched as others tortured her accomplices. I interrogated them; I screamed in their faces. The power I feel, disguised as a man, the favourite man of Thomas Cromwella, the most powerful man in this realm, makes me a monster. I watched as men were put to the rack, I heard their screams and yet I did nothing. How can God want me to do this?’
‘Elizabeth Barton is a heretic, a traitor. She is a traitor to her faith. Those men who stand accused beside her represent all the corruption and abuse of the Church itself.’
Cranmer’s hands shook over Nicòla’s, and she opened her eyes again. Cranmer stared back at her. ‘God gave Barton and her men the chance to repent, Nicòla. She claims to speak with God, to hear His words. Barton claims Mary Magdalene writes letters to her. She claims God tells her the future. Barton sins so deeply that there can be no salvation for her soul. They have forced you to torture Barton. Someone must do God’s will.’
‘What if Barton is like me?’ Nicòla asked. ‘I am a fantastical creature. The mind of a man trapped in a woman’s body. That is how I am explained. But I am a woman! You know well the frailty of my affairs. What if Barton is the same? A woman, confused by her calling in life, used by that heretical Friar Bocking and the others in Canterbury?’
‘Whatever the cause, Barton speaks. She spoke to the King himself, prophesying his death. That is treason on its own. She taints the minds of influential men. Perchance she is ill in the mind; perchance we shall never know. But what Elizabeth Barton has done is use God’s word against the King, against many of us. That is treason. That is heresy. She calls for us to be Catholic and to stop religious reform. She wants to keep England in the darkness.’
‘And for that, I must sin, abuse bodies, harm others, alongside Cromwella, alongside Ralph Sadler, Thomas Wriothesley, Richard Rich. We cloak ourselves under Cromwella’s name and commit sins.’
‘Let us pray. Mighty Lord, you have fashioned the universe, and brought order out of chaos. We thank you for bringing order to our lives. Help us respect the authorities you have established, for the sake of the world and for the Church. Guide us by your Spirit to serve Your will, and give us the courage needed by early reformers, so that in our time we may confess our faith in your Son Jesus Christ, in whose gracious name we pray. Amen.’
‘Amen.’ Nicòla made to cross herself, but stopped; for that was a Catholic gesture, not Protestant. But after years by Cromwell’s side, it remained a habit.
The pair wandered away from the corner of the enormous bedroom, past the bed where she and Cromwell slept in sin many nights, to the fire burning in silence beside two plush chairs and a table for wine. Nicòla leaned on the back of one chair and sighed.
‘Thank you, Thomas,’ she said, her Italian accent rolling the letters of his name. ‘I fear the truth of my sex makes me weak.’
‘Even the strongest man can be averse to torture,’ Cranmer replied, folding his hands together. ‘There is no need to feel ashamed after committing violence. We broke a country away from the Catholic faith. Violence happens all over Europe for this reason.’
‘King Henry looks to you as archbishop, to Cromwella as chief minister, to bring these changes.’
‘It is Cromwell who broke the Catholic Church in England. All must bow to Henry now. I owe my position in this country solely to Cromwell. I owe my life to Cromwell.’
Poor Thomas Cranmer. The Lutheran faith of the German States stated clergy did not need to be celibate, so he married Margarete in Nuremberg and shipped her to England in a crate. Now they had a son, also named Thomas, and both mother and son still lived in fear for their safety, hidden from the King until Henry decided if English priests could marry. Margarete moved often, so no one knew much of her. She lived in the Austin Friars nursery with her son at present, along with Jane, Nicòla’s daughter by Cromwell, already three years old. But Margarete could tarry nowhere long, lest be arrested, the archbishop likewise.
‘As long as we have the favour of Master Cromwella, we are safe,’ Nicòla replied. ‘Have you been at the King’s side recently?’
‘Yes, just yesterday,’ Cranmer said and invited himself to sit down in Cromwell’s private room. Few got into Cromwell’s huge bedroom; even the maids scurried with fear. ‘There is an anger in Henry, I must confess. His new daughter vexes him with anger, but also much confusion. His marriage to Queen Anne is sound, in both God’s eyes and the law. We defeated the Pope. Yet God gave Henry and Anne a daughter, not a son for the throne.’
‘Henry believes that God has given him the Princess Elizabeth to punish him for his sins against the former Queen Katherine.’
Cranmer nodded as he watched the fire. ‘Queen Anne has been out of confinement after the birth for a month now, yet the King barely goes to her. She wishes to make a son as fast as God can deliver another pregnancy.’
‘Surely Henry loves his new daughter. One of the ugliest babies I have laid my eyes on, God forgive me, but still Henry’s child.’
Cranmer stifled a laugh. ‘You have visited with Her Majesty?’
‘I have, a few days past. Cromwella suggests I call on the Queen often now she is back in London instead of Greenwich. Anne delights in her daughter; they even keep the child in Anne’s rooms, not the royal nursery! What the child lacks in looks she makes up for in her mother’s love. Cromwell spends much time in private with Henry, while Henry urges for further legislation, to make the Act of Supremacy legal and binding. Soon we shall all have to swear an oath that the King rules the Church, not the Pope.’
‘And we shall be better for it.’
‘We need no more of the Pope.’ Nicòla remembered Pope Clement in the Apostolic Palace in Rome. Gone was the handsome man of his youth who inspired her lust. He had forsaken her now, thought her a heretic. The Pope’s bastard son, Nicòla’s husband, had also ceased in demanding her to return home to Florence. At age three and thirty years, Nicòla had more than destroyed her Catholic soul. It was almost twenty years since her love affair with Pope Clement, then only Cardinal Giulio de’Medici, and even four years since she married his depraved Moorish son. Without God giving Nicòla a home, Cromwell allowed her to live safe in England.
‘How is Thomas?’ Cranmer asked after Cromwell. ‘For I have barely seen him.’
‘We are much busy at court. Master Cromwella is working on the Act of Succession, so Princess Elizabeth can be heir to the throne, and the Act of Supremacy, recognising Henry’s religious authority. Not only is Cromwella the King’s Chief Minister, set above all others, he runs the Exchequer, the Jewel House, the Hanaper, he sits in Parliament, and now Henry has made him the Steward at Westminster Abbey, now also Surveyor of the King’s Woods! One man can only do so much. We have only so many clerks, messengers, attendants…’
‘And spies.’ Cranmer smiled. Everyone knew of Cromwell’s creatures. Nicòla, “the Waif” was the chief creature of the English court.
‘There are rumours of rumblings in Ireland. The Dublin councillors are not happy with the Catholic Church’s destruction. Many northern lords are also complaining. Cromwella must see to quelling both factions. He seeks the head of Elizabeth Barton on a spike. Cromwella seeks the heads of Sir Thomas More and Bishop Fisher. He seeks to push Bishop Gardiner from court for good. Cromwella is the King’s Chief Minister and Secretary of State. And every nobleman at court hates him for it.’
‘I am the Archbishop of Canterbury, leader of the Church in England, under His Majesty, of course. There are bishops, archdeacons, priests, all who wish to defy me. I know what it is to be a common man raised so high all hate him. I lack Cromwell’s political knowledge, his deftness in his choices and movements, his ability to take on so many tasks at once. You and he have that art of memory skill. You speak Greek do you not, Nicòla?’
‘Yes, Master Cromwella taught me Greek last month while we were away from court.’
‘The whole language, in one month?’
‘That is Ioci, Archbishop. It is the powerful skill of remembering all. That is how Master Cromwella can recite the New Testament from memory alone.’
Cranmer shook his head. No one in England studied Ioci, the ancient Greek method of remembering everything. ‘You know of the Greek expression, “polymath.” It means to have the ability in many subjects, having the complex knowledge to solve many complicated issues, using many bodies of work all learned by one man.’
‘You believe Master Cromwella is a polymath?’
‘With no doubt. Cromwell can think of parliamentary legislation and religious reform, but be…’
‘Torturing heretics in the Tower, despite being a man of almost fifty years,’ Nicòla finished the sentence.
‘I have passed forty years and I could not sustain such a life. There are no exciting soldier-of-fortune stories in my history,’ Cranmer smiled inwardly. ‘I worry for Cromwell, Nicòla,’ he continued. ‘He rises so high; he works so often.’
‘Master Cromwella believes his reforms to England are a legal matter, using religion as a cover to change a country. He leaves the religious needs of the realm in your good hands. His soul seems at ease, despite all he handles.’
‘Yet, he hides you in his life. A woman, dressed as a man, works in the royal court as Cromwell’s master secretary. A woman married to another man. You violate this country’s social conduct laws, Nicòla. They should remove you to your husband in Florence. You, by right, should be Duchess of Florence, yet are a lowborn man’s attendant.’
‘You, sir, are Archbishop of Canterbury yet your wife serves in my daughter’s nursery, along with your son. King Henry could topple you with one word. I could be toppled also, but while Cromwella does whatever Henry wishes, then I feel safe. I know, every morning when I wake, that they could throw me back in the Tower where I was years ago. This is the world we have created, Archbishop Cranmer; a dangerous world, even for ourselves. As Machiavelli once wrote, “there are two methods of fighting, the one by law, the other by force: the first method is that of men, the second of beasts; but as the first method is often insufficient, one must have recourse to the second.” But we must pay a hefty price for owning such power.’
‘Now I have annulled Henry’s marriage to Katherine and the Boleyns have their queen…’
‘Anne is the Cromwella queen, not the Boleyn queen. They may think they have power with Anne on the throne, her father as the Lord Privy Seal, but we know Master Cromwella holds the power.’
‘Well indeed. Now that marriage is real in law and before God, what of your marriage? Will there be an inquiry into that?’
‘And risk telling the world I am hidden as a man?’ Nicòla brushed her newly trimmed rose-gold hair behind her ears. She wore her all-black Cromwell livery, even a black overgown lined with black fur to stay warm in the brisk late autumn. Her brighter clothes, which gave away hints of her feminine nature, had disappeared away again at Cromwell’s instance.
‘I can, as Archbishop of Canterbury, rule that Thomas Cromwell may take a foreign wife, one in need of an annulment. As the new marriage would be in England, with an English man, I can rule on the wife’s annulment. What the Pope of Rome says matters none.’
‘I married in the eyes of God, in the Apostolic Palace, before the Pope himself. I said the words before God.’
‘Did you not swear before God to marry Cromwell too, before King Henry and his Anne?’
‘And you consummated your marriage to Alessandro de’Medici?’
‘No. Alessandro is living in Florence happily with his head mistress, and the other girls. To gain an annulment, Alessandro would be the one to ask. A wife cannot petition for an annulment from a marriage.’
‘If your husband were to ask for an annulment, then your marriage would fall short and be ended.’
‘But Alessandro needs to apply to the Pope. The Pope will not grant his son an annulment.’
‘I can try to help you, Nicòla,’ Cranmer continued. ‘We can canvas the scholars of Europe… as we did for Henry and Anne.’
‘Henry is a king. I am a whore.’
‘Cromwell wants your marriage annulled, or at least ruled invalid.’
‘I had carnal relations with the Pope, my father-in-law, when Alessandro was still in the nursery. Surely that rules the marriage invalid.’
‘Yes, but it would also be spoken of, in front of the Convocation of Canterbury, before I could rule the marriage invalid.’
‘And we cannot see the King’s Chief Minister in the company of the Pope’s whore,’ Nicòla sighed.
‘I do not think I can help you without revealing your nature to the world, Nicòla, no matter how much Cromwell wants it done. We could try a secret ruling of the Convocation…’
‘But there are no secrets in the English court, parliament or convocation,’ Nicòla scoffed. ‘There are so many spies, so it would never work.’
‘If Cromwell’s Act of Supremacy laws are in effect, perchance all we shall need is the King’s consent. He knows of your fantastical nature and could rule in your favour.’
‘Mayhap once we have a legitimate son in the cradle we can ask,’ Nicòla suggested.
The sound of a distant tolling bell echoed through the private chambers. Master Cromwell had returned to Austin Friars; a rare event at present.
‘I shall retire to my private rooms,’ Cranmer said and eased himself from the warm chair. ‘Please, thank Cromwell again for letting me tarry at Austin Friars to visit my wife. If they found Margarete and baby Thomas, we would all be in grave danger.’
‘Margarete is welcome hither until after Christmas, then we shall move her out to Cromwell’s new house in Dewhurst for a few months. We shall keep your new family safe.’
Cranmer allowed Nicòla to kiss his ring and he shuffled along the darkened hallway, his purple robes smooth on the bare floor.
Nicòla knew Cromwell would go to his library and offices, where Ralph, who ran Austin Friars, would probably still be working. Ralph had been in Cromwell’s care since the age of seven and now had a baby with his new wife Ellen. Both Ralph and Cranmer had sons named Thomas. Had Nicòla’s last baby not been stillborn, there would have been three babies named Thomas in the nursery with baby Jane.
Nicòla sat before the fire and waited; they would flood Cromwell with papers from the lawyers and clerks still working in the offices on the ground floor. But it was not long before someone rushed into the private rooms with wine and cheese on a silver tray. Rather than a maid, it was Ellen, Ralph’s wife. She was one of the rare few who knew of Nicòla’s truth and thus allowed in the private bedroom.
‘Master Frescobaldi.’ Ellen bobbed in a curtsy as she placed the tray on the small table before Nicòla. Despite knowing of her sex, and after time to get used to the notion, Ellen still choked a little when calling Nicòla “Master.”
‘Mrs. Sadler,’ Nicòla said with a smile. ‘Cromwella and Ralph are in the library, I assume?’
‘Yes, Master Cromwell and Mr. Sadler appear to be in much cheer. I thought to bring this tray, as Master Cromwell will retire shortly. I shall tell him you are hither.’
‘Tell them to take their time,’ Nicòla smiled. ‘Archbishop Cranmer has retired for the night.’
Ellen curtsied again and rushed from the room. Nicòla sipped the sweet red wine and closed her eyes. The image of kicking Elizabeth Barton in the face flashed before her and she quickly opened her eyes.
The door to the chambers opened and Cromwell appeared in the bedroom moments later. He tossed his black bag and hat on the Turkish carpets and dashed over to Nicòla, and he pulled her into his embrace the moment she stood up to him. Only when he finally ended their kiss, could she see how tired he appeared. ‘Tomassito…’ she began.
‘I know, they forced you to interrogate Barton and her heretic bastards without me today, and I thank you for your pains. Ralph has already told me Barton gave away no news?’
‘No, she maintains she speaks with God,’ Nicòla replied, still in his embrace.
‘I could not leave the King today. He greatly needs every detail about his son’s wedding.’
‘Well indeed, but I shall not be the one to remind the King of his son’s illegitimacy,’ Cromwell said, and guided his love back to her seat. He sat down across from her and grabbed the wine. ‘Henry loves that boy, named for him,’ Cromwell sighed. ‘A young son, just fourteen years and now marrying a noble girl. If only we could make him legitimate.’
‘If any person can, you can,’ Nicòla replied.
Cromwell raised his eyebrows in agreement as he gulped the wine, most unlike him. The silver streaks in his dark curls caught the light of the fire. ‘I have thought to make a law, designed so they need no heir of the English throne to be born legitimate, and then Henry could choose his successor.’
‘That could spark civil war!’
‘And I know it, Nicò. Still, I must keep all options open. The wedding at Westminster shall be grand indeed. Lady Mary Howard may not wish to marry Henry Fitzroy, but it pleases her father, old Norfolk. It pleases Lady Mary’s brother, for he and Fitzroy are close friends. Fitzroy may be a bastard son, but he is the Duke of Richmond and Somerset, and Lord-lieutenant of Ireland. Henry loves his son. Even the King of Scotland speaks highly of Fitzroy. Naturally, our new queen hates the wedding plans. Fitzroy, and Katherine’s daughter, the former Princess Mary, are equally hated by Anne.’
‘But we draft laws so baby Princess Elizabeth can rule over Henry’s other children,’ Nicòla argued.
‘That does not stop Anne from complaining,’ Cromwell said and gulped his wine again. ‘She has been queen but six months and already finds fault in the role, and in her own world. I do loathe that woman.’
‘Pray to God we get a legitimate son in the royal cradle and all will not matter,’ Nicòla replied.
‘But what of you, my love. What of Jane?’
‘Our daughter is well. It has only been a week since I last saw you, Tomassito.’
‘I hate when we must work apart. A week is too long to be apart from my most wonderful and adored wife.’
‘I am glad you are so assured in our marriage.’ Nicòla swore to marry Cromwell before God and the King, but that did not overrule her lawful marriage in Italy.
‘And I also am assured in the abilities of you, my master secretary. After the Fitzroy-Howard wedding, we shall travel to Greenwich Palace to prepare for the royal Christmas.’
‘We prepare The Company of Merchant Adventurers of London banquet on your behalf. All have replied they will attend, except the governor.’
‘John Hutton is most ill. Stephen Vaughan shall take his place as governor of the Company when Hutton is dead. Tis a shame Vaughan shall not return to England this year.’
‘I know he is your closest friend, but Vaughan is safe in Antwerp. He need not get burned as a heretic for his Protestant views.’
‘England is my country now. They shall burn no more Protestants. Those days are gone.’
‘Now we shall burn Catholics,’ Nicòla replied, unable make eye contact with Cromwell.
‘No, I shall burn no one. I shall take the heads of heretics and traitors though.’
Now Nicòla raised her gaze to meet the double-minded man’s golden eyes. Cromwell softened in his position in the chair and took her hand. ‘I received word from Gregory today.’
‘Is he well?’ Nicòla thought often of Cromwell’s only son; a boy of female favour and not as intelligent as his father.
‘Very well, and happy to move to Dewhurst after Christmas. He shall enjoy being tutored there, and Cranmer’s wife and son shall be there for months. Gregory shall be fourteen in a few months. I shall soon need to find him a wife.’
‘Must you, Tomassito?’
‘A pre-contract only. Do you wish to hear scandalous talk?’
Nicòla noticed a twinkle in Cromwell’s beautiful golden gaze. ‘What have the creatures heard?’
‘An affair at Wulf Hall, one of the Seymour households. Catherine, wife of the eldest son Edward, has been sleeping with her father-in-law, old Sir John Seymour. Such disgrace! Two of the Seymour girls, Lady Jane and Lady Elizabeth, have been called home from Anne’s court. Now Edward’s two sons may not be his heirs, but perchance his own half-brothers!’
‘Idle talk, surely.’
‘It harms Edward’s chances of rising at court, with Sir John out of royal favour. A decent man, by all accounts. But no longer.’
‘As if King Henry cares for men being faithful,’ Nicòla scoffed.
‘We need Queen Anne pregnant before Henry finds himself a mistress. That is all we need to worry about for now.’
‘Such is the glory of ruling England,’ Nicòla replied.
Cromwell took Nicòla’s hand again, and she looked at his reddened knuckles, a sign of interrogating people in the Tower. ‘We shall rule together, you shall see.’
SHAKING THE THRONE, the second edition in the Queenmaker trilogy, is now available in paperback and Kindle
Mary Tudor’s childhood was overshadowed by the men in her life: her father, Henry VII, and her brothers Arthur, heir to the Tudor throne, and Henry VIII. These men and the beliefs held about women at the time helped to shape Mary’s life. She was trained to be a dutiful wife and at the age of eighteen Mary married the French king, Louis XII, thirty-four years her senior.
When her husband died three months after the marriage, Mary took charge of her life and shaped her own destiny. As a young widow, Mary blossomed. This was the opportunity to show the world the strong, self-willed, determined woman she always had been. She remarried for love and at great personal risk to herself. She loved and respected Katherine of Aragon and despised Anne Boleyn – again, a dangerous position to take.
Author Sarah Bryson has returned to primary sources, state papers and letters, to unearth the truth about this intelligent and passionate woman. This is the story of Mary Tudor, told through her own words for the first time.
I have always had a soft spot or Mary Tudor. She was the daughter of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York. One brother was destined to be king, and the other brother really took the throne. Her sister was Queen of Scotland. It could be easy to think Mary Tudor achieved little, but she might have been the happiest of them all.
Mary was only 18 when she had to marry the 52yo King of France. I can only think how foul that would be for Europe’s most beautiful princess (she was no fool, but as per the time period, her appearance was her talking point). Mary may have been sold off to the highest bidder by her brother Henry, but she had already planned her next move – to marry Henry’s bestie Charles Brandon. Brandon had already sidelined two wives and was ready to marry the lovely Mary.
Luckily for everyone, the French king died after three months of marriage and Mary married Brandon in secret. Bryson’s book tells this wonderful tale in full detail, of two people defying King Henry to hatch this plan and marry. Was Brandon a gold -digger? I shall reserve my opinion and you can make yours while reading the book.
The author used primary sources to write about the life of Mary, in order to create a full picture of who she was outside the shadows of the men around her. Mary’s letters have survived, giving us her own hand, her own thought process. Mary was the perfect princess; beautiful, virtuous, religious, skilled in all the areas a woman was meant to excel. But Mary was no uneducated woman – she may have been handed to France and into the bed of a creepy old guy, but she knew how to play men. Mary used a classic skill – make the man in her way think her ideas were all his, and then praised him for ‘his’ thoughts, while succeeding behind his back. Women with opinions were heretics; women who praised men after planting ideas were perfect wives/sisters/princesses/mothers. Mary used her charm not only for herself, but for people who came to her in need, a calming female voice in a harsh male world.
Mary became The White Queen (the nickname often now given to her grandmother Elizabeth) while wearing white, the French colour of mourning. Mary was meant to waiting to see if she was carrying the French heir, but instead she was writing, to plan the fortunes of the rest of her life. Mary wanted to come back to England, not stay in France and be married off again for English-French relations. Mary wanted to marry Brandon, and she was played the slow game in her words to her kingly brother.
Mary, of course, suffered for her marriage to Brandon, but being Henry’s favourite sister, returned to glory, bore many children with Brandon, and died in her fifties after spending her life beloved by her brother and husband. Her granddaughter Jane would become England’s queen for nine days. Mary was not just a king’s sister and pawn, she was a woman who was able to quietly plot the course of her life. Mary was not loud or dramatic in history, yet a woman born to an extraordinary couple, with extraordinary siblings, and lived her own free life in a time of great turmoil.
This is the only book I would turn to when referencing Mary Tudor. It is an essential volume on any discerning bookshelf.