10 June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell is arrested

Posted By on June 10, 2015

Cromwell,Thomas HolbeinOn this day in history, at 3pm on 10th June 1540, Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, Lord Great Chamberlain and Lord Privy Seal, was arrested during a meeting of the Privy Council at Westminster.

In a letter to Anne, duc de Montmorency, Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador wrote of Cromwell’s arrest:

“To commence with the day of his taking in the Council Chamber of the King’s house at Westminster:—
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.”1

He went on to say how, on 11th June, “several letters he wrote to or received from the Lutheran lords of Germany” were found at 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.” Marillac reported how Henry VIII then began distributing Cromwell’s offices and ordered that Cromwell should now only be referred to as “Thomas Cromwell, shearman”, and not by any titles or offices.

In The Spanish Chronicle’s account of Cromwell’s arrest, his bonnet is blown off before his arrest, something which Cromwell takes for “a bad omen”:

“As usual, they all went to the Parliament at Westminster, and when they came out and were going to the palace to dinner, the wind blew off the Secretary’s bonnet, and it fell on the ground. The custom of the country is, when a gentleman loses his bonnet, for all those who are with him to doff theirs, but on this occasion, when Cromwell’s bonnet blew off, all the other gentlemen kept theirs on their heads, which being noticed by him, he said, “A high wind indeed must it have been to blow my bonnet off and keep all yours on.” They pretended not to hear what he said, and Cromwell took it for a bad omen.”

The chronicler goes on to describe Cromwell’s arrest:

“They went to the palace and dined, and all the while they were dining the gentlemen did not converse with the Secretary, as they were wont to do, and as soon as they had finished all the gentlemen went to the Council-chamber. It was the Secretary’s habit always after dinner to go close up to a window to hear the petitioners; and when the gentlemen had gone to the Council-chamber, the Secretary remained at his window as usual for about an hour, and then joined the other gentlemen; and finding them all seated, he said, “You were in a great hurry, gentlemen, to get seated.” The chair where he was in the habit of sitting was vacant, and the gentlemen made no answer to his remark; but just as he was going to sit down the Duke of Norfolk said, “Cromwell, do not sit there; that is no place for thee. Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.” He answered, “I am not a traitor;” and with that the captain of the guard came in and took him by the arm, and said, “I arrest you.” “What for?” said he. “That you will learn elsewhere,” answered the captain. He then asked to see the King, as he wished to speak with him; and he was told that it was not the time now, and was reminded that it was he who passed the law. God’s judgment! for he was the first to enact that the King should speak to no one who was accused of treason.

“Then the Duke of Norfolk rose and said, “Stop, captain; traitors must not wear the Garter,” and he took it off of him; and then six halberdiers took him by a back door to a boat which the captain had waiting, and he was carried
to the Tower; and the Council sent a gentleman, who was said to be Knyvett, to go to his (Cromwell’s) house, with fifty halberdiers, and take an inventory of everything they might find, and hold it for the King.”2

A bill of attainder was passed against Cromwell on 29th June 1540 for the crimes of corruption, heresy and treason, and he was executed on 28th July 1540, the same day that Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard. Henry VIII came to regret Thomas Cromwell’s fall and execution. Marillac reported that the King reproached his council for using “false accusations” to bring down Cromwell, complaining that “they made him put to death the most faithful servant he ever had.”3

Also 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. Click here to read more about the Carthusian Martyrs.
  • 1584 – Death of Francis, Duke of Anjou and Alençon, a suitor whom Elizabeth I dubbed “Frog”, in Paris. It is thought that he died of malaria.

Notes and Sources

  1. Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume XV: 804
  2. 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
  3. LP xvi. 590
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