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

19 thoughts on “10 June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell is arrested”

  1. Globerose says:

    Oh dear Claire, I seem to have acquired a slight problem ……. every time I see the name THOMAS CROMWELL, in my mind’s eye I’m seeing and hearing MARK RYLANCE!!!!! Seems he’s made a big impression on me!! Anyone else?

    1. Claire says:

      Ha! I see James Frain!

    2. Gail Marion says:

      Mark Rylance’s underlying sexuality in Wolf Hall is haunting. Is there anything in history about the real Thomas Cromwell that could earn him the same attribution?

    3. Selina says:

      I didn’t like Mark Rylance. Wasn’t a fan of most actors in Wolf Hall, to be honest.

      I see James Frain, as well. He did a decent job, I think.

    4. L. Banning says:

      Ben Miles played Cromwell in the relatively recent RSC version of Wolf Hall. Miles is never not great. Once we get past the late ’60s-early ’70s tv and film versions, the Cromwells have been pretty wonderful.

  2. Christine says:

    I always think of the actor who played him in A Man For All Seasons, he resembles the actual portrait of him.

    1. Hannele says:

      I think the characters of novels, movies and TV-series may have the same name but they are always only fictional.

      I find some remarks in John Schofiled’s biography interesting. First, Schofield says that Cromwell could have saved himself from death but he chose not to it for he did not want to disown his beliefs nor save himself at the expense of others.

      Second, whereas Cromwell is often presented before death as a coward who cried only “mercy, mercy, mercy”, Schofield loans Cromwell’s letter from the Tower that is very much Anne’s alleged letter in that both say that they are innocent and that Henry must suffer the punishment of God if he does not admit that.

      Third, where others describe that Cromwell died as a Catholic because he used the word in this scaffold speech, Schofield interprets the tone of the speech as Lutheran as Cromwell put his trust on faith alone as Catholic did not mean Rome but only that the church was universal.

      1. JudithRex says:

        I have never heard anyone claim he died a Catholic, but that he himself claimed he was of f the old religion to try to save his life. That would not be on the execution block as that would be too late. Perhaps, like Cranmer, he reverted to his actually beliefs when the lie could not save him. I completely agree he was almost definitely a Lutheran.

  3. Globerose says:

    The late Leo McKern (or Rumple of The Bailey), Christine, played the character as a Putney Bruiser, and that film, “Man for All Seasons” still resonates with me on so many levels! But Mark Rylance has injected Cromwell with ‘Humanity” and the scenes with his wife, Liz, and their daughters really stayed with me. I spent an evening with Mark and his company at The Globe, on 6th January, as a “Friend of a Many Sided Place” and he just enthralled us all. He is the embodiment of charm, quiet, unassuming, with that rapid urchin smile that flits across his face; a man of charisma plus plus. And that’s somehow gone into Cromwell. Is that necessarily a good thing, I wonder? Many people consider Cromwell an evil genius. What do you think?

    1. Hannele says:

      I do not think that a man has “humanity” if he is kind to his family – that is natural and no merit at all. At least that does not compensate what a man makes to others which is really a test pf humanity.

      Cromwell in Wolf Hall is much like Michael Corleone: he never rises his voice but if somebody is in his way, he crushes him. Henry Percy got away with little. Anne’s “lovers” had to pay for a joke for their lives.

      Like Michael Corleone, Cromwell notices in the end, embraced with Henry, what he has lost. Henry does not – he is like a big child.

      1. Esther says:

        I agree that kindness to one’s own family does not mean too much. However, Cromwell also fed two hundred poor every day twice a day, and, he tried to get through Parliament a “public works program” to help the unemployed poor. So, he wasn’t just a greedy bully, either.

        1. Hannele says:

          Considering that Cromwell dissolved the abbeys who had taken care of thousands of poor, sick and elderly persons, one cannot cal him virtuous because he fed 200 poor. In this, Cromwell followed an ancient Catholic tradition to do “good works”.

          To Cromwell’s credit was his “public work program” but unfortunately it did not accepted by the Parliament. So the total effect of his action was that the King and the nobles who bought the estates of the abbeys won, the poor, sick and elderly lost.

    2. Christine says:

      It’s strange to think of Cromwell as a family man but yes I think he was an evil genius, to be a survivor at the court of Henry V111 you had to be but ultimately he did fall like Anne and he must have known or had an inkling that it could happen to him to, if a man can execute a woman he had loved so passionately for nearly ten years and who was the mother of his child, what chance did anyone else have, Globerose you were very lucky to have met Mark Rylance he is quite enigmatic and had rave reviews in Wolf Hall, but I think Claire Foy was brilliant as Anne one tv critic said when she was in the room she outshone all the others, even Mark Rylance.

  4. Esther says:

    I agree that the King and the nobles won while the poor, sick, and elderly all lost, but I don’t think it can be blamed on Cromwell. The public works program (IMO) shows that Cromwell was quite willing to spend to assist the poor; it was Henry who wanted the monastic wealth to be spent on other things. After all, Cromwell knew how to re-direct n monastic wealth to other uses without wholesale destruction — under Wolsey, Cromwell had dissolved several small houses, with monks transferred to different places and the land and the wealth transferred to two colleges, one at Oxford and one at Ipswich. Had Henry so ordered it, Cromwell could have done the same thing … transferring wealth from some houses to those that were doing a good job in providing education or caring for the poor (this was Anne Boleyn’s idea, too). I think It was Henry who chose to do otherwise.

  5. BanditQueen says:

    This is probably one of the most over the top high profile arrest of the day. Cromwell may not have been the most popular person in the world and the old gentry and nobility clearly had their own personal reasons for wanting to bring him down, but this was premeditated. Norfolk had been wanting to get Cromwell for some time, possibly years, he saw a great opportunity, the Kings dissatisfaction with his first minister and that he was being blamed for the disasterous marriage to Anne of Cleves and he had pounced. Henry was in the right frame of mind to be convinced that Cromwell was a traitor, not merrly a failed minister who deserved to be dismissed from his post, which of course was an option, but one who had pushed for the Cleves marriage for his own ends, one who had conspired with the Protestant League and one who had acted in numerous things without the knowledge or consent of the King.

    With a group of like minded counsellers Cromwell’s enemies sought out the King and managed to persuade him to arrest Cromwell. This famous scene is clearly pre planned as a signal for the actual arrest; it reminds me somewhat of theShakespeare version of the arrest of Hastings at the famous Council meeting in the Tower on 13th June 1483, when Richard cried treason, armed guards ran in, afight ensued, several people were arrested or injured, and Hastings dragged outside and beheaded. Although Cromwell may not have been dragged off to immediate execution, he was arrested, taken at the council meeting, assaulted at the council chamber, stripped of his offices and his garters, may have been hit and was humiliated. The scene is famous and it is also shocking. I have no love for Cromwell, but even in his arrest, did not such a faithful, efficient long time servant of the King deserve a more dignified arrest at least?

    I also believe that much of the so called evidence that was brought in the form of a mere list of charges in an act of Parliament called attainder against Cromwell at this point were not even formulated. Many of them were not even realistic and the atainder reads more like a piece of drama than a proper list of charges. For example the farcical charge that he stood in a tavern and declared that he would bring such reforms to the country that the king did not yet dream of and that if Henry did not agree that he would stand fighting in the streets until it was achieved; as he took out his dagger, must have been invented. Henry still had use of Cromwell; the author of his marriage was the only one who could testify that he did not consent to it and that he did told him he had not consumated the marriage. He was later commanded to write a letter to this end. But what if anything was Cromwell’s true crime?

    Henry clearly blamed Cromwell for the marriage, blamed him for the alliance, failure to find a way out and he was angry; he wanted revenge and there were plenty who could enable him to do this; by bringing allegations which persuaded Henry to arrest Cromwell and accuse him of treason. Henry was easily persuaded, thus the above arrest. The charges against him ranged from the obvious, misuse of power and acting against the Kings wishes for his own ends; to heresy, protecting heretics, swearing to fight for heretical reforms against the Kings will; the alliance with the Protestant league, taking financial advantage from that alliance; and many other bizzare crimes. What was the evidence against him besides the allegations in the attainder and what had his enemies actually told the King; and did they really show Henry a dossier on his links to the League? Or was his real crime that he had forced Henry into a marriage that he did not want to a woman he could not stand? I think that he may have been involved in a number of schemes, but it is this business of the Cleves marriage that I believe to have been his true crime; this is why he was really arrested; someone had to pay for Henry’s mistakes.

    1. Ana Gomez says:

      Yes ,i agree ,someone had to pay for the King’ s mistakes …..and i personally do not like Cromwell at all ,but he was a real scapegoat …..Henry the VIII to my mind after Anne Boleyn begun his own Hell …..he was definitely not a happy man !

  6. JudithRex says:

    Fascinating post. Love this:

    “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. ”

    Some powerful people were just not impressed with the case against More.

    I love the story about the hat as well. I think I read it before, but not as fully as quoted here. Thank you for that. Claire.

  7. JudithRex says:

    Cromwell was not just evil, that is far too simplistic. I think very good arguments can be mdd in his defense as well as to censure him and that is why he is so interesting. So is just about everybody involved in the Tudor reigns because it is such a he shake-up of who was ruling England and their respective power grasps. But Cromwell is special because of his unique ability to come up from nothing to be given a title.

  8. JudithRex says:


    as my comments last year were deleted.

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