10 June 1540 – The Arrest of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, at Westminster

Thomas_Cromwell,_portrait_miniature_with_fur_collar,_after_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerAt 3pm on 10th June 1540, the Captain of the Guard strode into the council chamber at Westminster, interrupting a meeting of the Privy Council, and announced that he had a royal warrant for the arrest of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, on a charge of treason.

Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, described the arrest in a letter to Anne, duc de Montmorency:

“As soon as the Captain of the Guard declared his charge to make him prisoner, Cromwell in a rage cast his bonnet on the ground, saying to the duke of Norfolk and others of the Privy Council assembled there that this was the reward of his services, and that he appealed to their consciences as to whether he was a traitor; but since he was treated thus he renounced all pardon, as he had never thought to have offended, and only asked the King not to make him languish long. Thereupon some said he was a traitor, others that he should be judged according to the laws he had made, which were so sanguinary that often words spoken inadvertently with good intention had been constituted high treason. The duke of Norfolk having reproached him with some “villennyes” done by him, snatched off the order of St. George which he bore on his neck, and the Admiral, to show himself as great an enemy in adversity as he had been thought a friend in prosperity, untied the Garter. Then, by a door which opens upon the water, he was put in a boat and taken to the Tower without the people of this town suspecting it until they saw all the King’s archers under Mr. Cheyney at the door of the prisoner’s house, where they made an inventory of his goods, which were not of such value as people thought, although too much for a “compaignon de telle estoffe.” The money was 7,000l. st., equal to 28,000 crs., and the silver plate, including crosses, chalices, and other spoils of the Church might be as much more. These movables were before night taken to the King’s treasury—a sign that they will not be restored.”

The Spanish Chronicle tells a slightly different story, but there are similarities. In its account, Thomas Cromwell’s cap blows off as the council are going to dinner and although, apparently, the custom was for others present to doff their caps if a gentleman lost his, they did not. Cromwell commented “A high wind indeed must it have been to blow my bonnet off and keep all yours on”, but they ignored him. Then, after dinner when they went to the council chamber and Cromwell was just about to sit down, Norfolk said to him, “do not sit there; that is no place for thee. Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.” When Cromwell denied that he was a traitor and asked to see the King, he was arrested. As he was escorted out of the chamber, the Duke of Norfolk cried “Stop, captain; traitors must not wear the Garter,” and tore it off him.

Thomas Cromwell was executed on 28th July 1540, following the passing of a bill of attainder against him on the 29th June 1540 for the crimes of corruption, heresy and treason. In March 1541, Marillac recorded that Henry VIII sometimes reproached his ministers for Cromwell’s death, saying “by false accusations, they made him put to death the most faithful servant he ever had.”

On this day in history…

  • 1537 – Deaths of Blessed Thomas Green and Blessed Walter Pierson, Carthusian monks from London Charterhouse, in Newgate Prison, from starvation. They were two out of nine monks who were purposely starved to death for refusing to accept the royal supremacy. Others were hanged, drawn and quartered.

Notes and Sources

  • LP xv. 804
  • Chronicle of King Henry VIII. of England: Being a Contemporary Record of Some of the Principal Events of the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI (The Spanish Chronicle), p98-99
  • LP xvi. 590

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12 thoughts on “10 June 1540 – The Arrest of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, at Westminster”
  1. It makes me wonder if Cromwell at all thought about Anne or the men while he was sitting in the tower, since he (theoretically) had a hand in her downfall. They both took place about the same time of the year.

  2. Letter goes on to say, “Next day were found several letters he (Cromwell) wrote to or received from the Lutheran Lords of Germany. Cannot learn what they contained except that the king was thereby so exasperated against him that he would no longer hear him spoken of, but rather desired to abolish all memory of him as the greatest wretch ever born in England.” Do we now know what those letters were about?

  3. The last line is the most chilling to me – “These movables were before night taken to the King’s treasury—a sign that they will not be restored.” Yikes. So often it’s the gesture that tells the true consequence of one’s actions, not the word. (Of course, in the case of Henry VIII, one’s actions didn’t necessarily have that much to do with the consequences.)

  4. Whatever you think about Cromwell, his downfall is yet another example of just how cut throat the political game was in Henry’s court. Norfolk pops up yet again here. It always amazes me he didn’t lose his head after he was arrested to be honest. He was very lucky Henry died when he did.

  5. I have little sympathy for men like Thomas Cromwell as he had made laws with Henry’s consent by which men had been accused and executed for treason or presumption of treason. Cromwell had also by his genius for administration proved himself over the years to be more useful to the King than other members of the council and had challenged the rights and traditions of the nobility. Cromwell was seen as aragont by men like Norfolk who wanted to bring him to ruin. When Cromwell put himself into a pit through the disasterous marriage of the King to the Princess of Cleves; his enemies saw a chance to persuade the KIng that Cromwell had been working for his own interests and not the Kings.

    There is some mystery that surrounds the nature of what evidence if any was actually used against Cromwell, but somehow Henry was suddenly persuaded to order the arrest of his first minister, a man who had been a good administrator, who had taken the strain out of the every day running of the kingdom for the King; had been called the friend of widows; had helped to promote and make the legal framework for the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon and his break from Rome; the man who had made the legal framework that had protected Henry and Anne from attacks against their own marriage, and the man who had helped Henry get rid of a wife that he no longer loved. Whatever the nastier aspects of Cromwells character, he was a faithful servant to the King and he worked hard on his behalf; or at least that is how Cromwell saw things. But could he really also have done things that meant he went too far? His enemies certainly invented a case that made this appear so.

    Ironically Cromwell would never be tried. He would face the mock trial by his own laws: the reading of an Act of Attainer in Parliament outlinging the evidence and then passing his finding of guilt by a vote and this would also allow for his death sentence. Others had and would fall by this devise that Cromwell; although he did not invent it; had made easier to introduce and more powerful in its use in treason trials. Henry clearly did not want to marry Anne of Cleves when he saw her and Cromwell was not able to find a way out of the marriage. As Henry had his eye on wife number five; he wanted out of this marriage as soon as he could and he constantly tried to get Cromwell to find a remedy. By now it was also clear that Cromwell gained from the marriage in a political way and a personal way; and he would lose out if the marriage was dissolved. Cromwell may have been an obstocle to the marriage being ended. He had to go.

    It is my personal belief that Henry could simply have dismissed Cromwell from office; exiled him from court and given him a pension to retire. He did not need to have him arrested and executed. But a fallen Cromwell would also have been vulnerabe just as a fallen Wolsey was; likely to be charged with fraud and lining his own pockets. The council members who came together to bring him down for treason had a much more angry attitude and agenda against him. I believe mch of this was personal. So as with others; a stich up was made and Henry shown some invented evidence. He may also have been shown some real evidence that was used to convince him of the need to get rid of Cromwell. He was off a mind that Cromwell had failed him and trapped him in this marriage and this sealed his fate. I do not believe in karma, but it is almost as if all those who he had brought down now had a spokesman in that Parliament and Cromwell fell foul of his own tyranical laws.

    The arrest scene is certainly colourful, and he must have been startled when at a council meeting he was suddenly arrested and marched off to the Tower. Whether or not he was confronted and stripped of his symbols of office at the council; that makes good hollywood; he was to lose all of his honours and returned to a commoner. In fact he had been Earl of Essex for less than six months. His last honour was a mere two months ago. Henry had lavished all sorts of titles and honours on Thomas Cromwell; he was a very rich man; but very soon after his arrest his goods were listed and he was marked to lose it all to the crown. I do not think he had any thoughts for those he had sent to the block; I believe he was too afraid and wondered how to save his own skin. Compassion is not something I associate with Cromwell; not for those who had gone before; he was more likely to have been in shock and he must surely have known the end was going to come.

  6. Just like to say a big thanks to BanditQueen – I find your contextualised summaries and synopsis really useful.

  7. Do you have any idea what the phrase “compaignon de telle estoffe” means ? It translates to “friend of such stuff.” I assume from context they mean he had too many valuables for a person of his rank. Just wondering why this phrase was left untranslated and if it had any special meaning. I’m intrigued by the idea that it was De Montmorency that was written to on the occasion. De Montmorency would have known Cromwell from Calais. WI can’t help but come back to personalities. I wonder what he thought of Cromwell…

    1. “Compaignon” refers to someone who has been been made a member of an order such as the order of the garter “telle estoffe” means literally any kind of cloth, clothing or upholstery. Modern french speling is étoffe. So my interpretation is that he is referring to his rank, one could only wear a certain kind of hat if you had a certain rank, or wear certain kinds of fur for example. So my understanding of what he said would be ” a noble of his rank”

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