On the 12th June 1540, the newly imprisoned Thomas Cromwell wrote to King Henry VIII from the Tower of London, asking for mercy and pleading his innocence. It is an eloquent and rational letter written by a man in fear of his life:

“Prostrate at your Majesty’s feet, I have heard your pleasure by your Controller, viz., that I should write such things as I thought meet concerning my most miserable state. And where I have been accused of treason, I never in all my life thought to displease your Majesty; much less to do or say “that thing which of itself is so high and abominable offence.” Your Grace knows my accusers, God forgive them. If it were in my power to make you live for ever, God knows I would; or to make you so rich that you should enrich all men, or so powerful that all the world should obey you. For your Majesty has been most bountiful to me, and more like a father than a master. I ask you mercy where I have offended. Never spoke with the Chancellor of the Augmentations and Frogmerton together at a time; but if I did, I never spoke of any such matter. Your Grace knows what manner of man Throgmerton has ever been towards you and your proceedings. What Master Chancellor has been to me, God and he know best; what I have been to him your Majesty knows. If I had obeyed your often most gracious counsels it would not have been with me as now it is. But I have committed my soul to God, my body and goods to your pleasure. As for the Commonwealth, I have done my best, and no one can justly accuse me of having done wrong wilfully. If I heard of any combinations or offenders against the laws, I have for the most part (though not as I should have done) revealed and caused them to be punished. But I have meddled in so many matters, I cannot answer all.

The Controller showed me that you complained that within these 14 days I had revealed a matter of great secrecy. I remember the matter, but I never revealed it. After your Grace had spoken to me in your chamber of the things you misliked in the Queen, I told you she often desired to speak with me, but I durst not, and you thought I might do much good by going to her and telling her my mind. Lacking opportunity I spoke with her lord Chamberlain, for which I ask your mercy, to induce her to behave pleasantly towards you. I repeated the suggestion, when the lord Chamberlain and others of her council came to me at Westminster for licence for the departure of the strange maidens. This was before your Grace committed the secret matter to me, which I never disclosed to any but my lord Admiral, by your commandment on Sunday last; whom I found equally willing to seek a remedy for your comfort, saying he would spend the best blood in his belly for that object.

Was also accused at his examination of retaining contrary to the laws. Denies that he ever retained any except his household servants, but it was against his will. Was so besought by persons who said they were his friends that he received their children and friends—not as retainers, for their fathers and parents did find them; but if he have offended, desires pardon. Acknowledges himself a miserable sinner towards God and the King, but never wilfully. Desires prosperity for the King and Prince. “Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject, and most humble servant and prisoner, this Saturday at your [Tower] of London.””

Notes and Sources

  • Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 15: 1540, 776

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39 thoughts on “12th June 1540 – Thomas Cromwell’s Letter to Henry VIII”
    1. Sad yes, How ever I’m sure King Henry thought about it. But whit the accusations and “evidence” proving his “wrong doing” (which was just hear say) If the king showed mercy then he showed he was weak and could be subjugated to manipulation. And when you the king, you can show no sings of being weak. :/

    2. Henry’s version of mercy was to allow him to have the execution of a gentleman and not that of a common felon: beheading by the axe; meant to be quicker and less painful. However, it was for some reason that the axeman was not experienced and did his office poorly. Poor Cromwell had to endure about 5-7 strikes before his neck was removed. But Henry felt that he deserved death through the Act of Attainer and he was not going to allow him more than commuting hanging, drawing and quartering to beheading. He could have banished him or sent him into exile, but his enemies came up with evidence that he could not ignore. He was persuaded not to spare him. Some months later, Henry did regret having him executed and saw that his councillors had brought about the death of the most faithful servant he ever had by devious means. I am afraid Thomas Cromwell probably got what he deserved: being put to death in the same manner that he had caused the death of others. Henry was not in the mood for extra mercy; not even for previous years of faithful service. In any event; he was too busy wedding Katherine Howard.

  1. I think Henry did show mercy in one way as he has Cromwell beheaded rather than hung, drawn and quartered. You have to wonder if the the King actually believed the charges as he later claimed to have been tricked by ‘light accusations’. Of all the people executed by Henry the only one he ever showed any regret over was Cromwell.
    God bless his soul.

      1. Henry told his ministers that ‘upon light pretexts and by false accusations, they made him put to death the most faithful servant he ever had’. This was shortly after Cromwell’s death.

        1. Thank you Emma, I stand corrected. I had always thought that statement was about Thomas More – my mistake.

  2. Hello:

    I am sorry if what I am about to type will offend anyone, but I do not feel any sadness for Cromwell as I believe that he played a significant part in destroying Anne Boleyn. His “witch hunt” lead to the deaths of six innocent people. (Henry is not innocent as he used this opportunity to marry Jane Seymour).

    What goes around comes around?

    1. I often wonder about all the innocent people he had part in killing and torturing. Understanding these people, 500 years later, is so difficult. Shoot, understanding people today is hard enough…adding in the change is culture, time, and circumstances… we can only imagaine. This is one reason why I enjoy reading this Web site and Claire Ridgway’s books… because they are as fair as can be under the circumstances to those of us how love history and really want to understand the truth.

    2. My feelings exactly – Henry used and destroyed people all his life and as for Thomas Cromwell – Anne had befriended and supported him and he betrayed her in the worst possible way. Just deserts in my book. It all caught up with him.

      1. There is no evidence that Anne befriended Cromwell and he was never a member of her faction at court. Some of the work he did was pro-Anne. Henry’s annulment from Catherine, getting Anne legaly accepted as Queen and Elizabeth as the legtimate heir. But Cromwell was always Henry’s servant and it was his usefullness that got him promoted not recommandations from Anne.

        1. With all respect, my impression and opinion – was definately that Anne befriended Cromwell at the start and this opinion was formed after reading the wonderful writing of Eric Ives “Life and Death of Anne Boleyn” – particularly the second paragraph on page 207 “there is nothing to suggest that Anne ever saw the secretary (Cromwell) as other than her loyal dependant, and to all outward appearances he remained ‘her man'” It goes on to state how Anne appointed Cromwell her high steward at 20GBP per year and the success of her conoration was largely atributed to him. “And this close relationship continued” it goes on to say in more detail. It is a wonderful book that I have read from cover to cover as once I started I could not put it down and I can recommend to all of us as supporters of our Queen Anne.

  3. I’ve read a few of the comments. When it comes Cromwell he isn’t my biggest n favorite historical figure. He had a part in Anne’s fall. We know the biggest player Henry he got what he want when or how. Now I be scared in that time period cause the slightest thing can cause your death. You look different your a witch. Stuff like that. Cromwell I believe did what his King wanted or he die especially with Anne. I feel horrible for all those souls that lost their lives May 17th & 19th. Cromwell death was horrible. Rumors of the hackman being drunk or did it on purpose. I wasn’t there, but he did die horrible it was what 3-5 whacks?Claire would know the more details. I’m going from what I read or seen on movies shows. So if my details are off I’m not a historian. I do feel bad for they way it happened. I believe he wanted to please Henry but also gain somewhat of power. Its a touchy subject cause alot of things happened while Cromwell was in the picture for the time he was serving Henry. Yes he did things that caused deaths,but he just acting on his orders or was it him gaining power. Like I said before he isn’t my favorite historical figure. He was a person who lived came from a poorman to the kings right-hand man. So what he did to move up and try to have a goodlife. Sadly the things he had to do to prove I don’t know. What would people do to be a part of something amazing. He was only human. So I feel bad to his ending but the.things he may of done may or may not I believe it was to please Henry and for Cromwell to move up to gain a better and richer life. He did things that wasn’t right right but I believe to make Henry happy, including what happened to Anne : ( he played a big role in her downfall. That’s why alot of people hate him. That very understandable. I didn’t think I write this much. One more thing how many people who had the same position ended up dieing? Wesley, Thomas More ….? How did they end up due to their previous employer. Thank you ~QueenFletch82~

    1. @ Jessica..i read a few books and from the info i can find..the blade wasn’t sharpened the way it should have been so it was dull so yes it did take a few swings to get his head off..as for the the hack man being drunk that was not true..it was actually lady Salisbury who died that terrible death..she was hacked in the back multiple times til they finally got her head off. It is very weird how the king would have so much love and trust in one person and have them executed whether he wanted it or not…I really don’t see why everyone hated him because he had something to do with her downfall..he was only doing what thing king wanted most in his heart..to get rid of her…but like anyone who was in his position..he made enemies..everyone were doing for their own gain and they all paid the prices for it.

      1. im sorry not her back her neck…he was also very inexperience so he really never received the proper practice

  4. I happen to agree with Emma on this one! I What an obsequious (sp?) a and pitiable letter. There are two quotes which are very true in this letter, a) “God and he know best,” and b) “Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject…” When one says, “I’m sorry.” It’s like the sentence, “Go.” In the latter the “You” is understood. When one says I’m sorry, it mean that one is admitting to being a sorry person. Every work in the English language has its own particular meaning, and this is where “apologize” comes in. In Cromwell’s case, though, I don’t thin he meant “apologize” as that would not have moved Henry at all.

    His first mistake was being a greedy lawyer and having anything to do with Henry at all. Although it is argueable that Henry ordered Cromwell to see to it that his marriage to Queen Anne be gone, then he is the first person to suspect. In any case, he also advised Henry before “Great Divorce,” after conferring with others as that the King was always told what he ought to do, and not what he can do, it was brought to Henry attention, after much ado with Pope Clement VI not granting the dispensation ot divorce Queen Katharine, etc. That is when advice was offered to what the Henry could do. And Cromwell made i t happen, the break with Rome, the “Act of Supremacy (do you serve the King or do you serve God – who rules England?”, and other factors Cromwell made the marriage possible to be the legitimate marrige between Henry and Queen Anne. Many men went to the block for and during this marriage, including Sir Thomas Moore (author of the great classic “Utopia.”

    In short blood was all over his hands and I see this letter as coming from a killer now sorrowful not for what he had done, but a letter, as is natural to save his life. If he had any of Christ’s spirit in hiim, he would have viewed and written this letter very differently.

    If I were Henry, and I’m glad I’m not, I would see this letter as sickening, a plea from a who as he most likely saw it, and have fanned himself with the paper on which it was written after reading it, if he read it, but there is the possiblity as was custom sometimes to royalty at that to have it read to the sovereign.

    In any case, when reading it, I found nothing, but deniial, and denial, and we all know what too much denying can do. People may disagree with me on this, but as much as I know, I can’t’ feel or in intellect find any other comment to give. Thank you! WilesWales!

    I will defend Queen Anne for as long as I am around! She was innocent on all charges against her! Queen Anne did give England one very special gift, Queen Elizabeth I! Queen Elizabeth I was the greatest absolute monarch that country ever had!

    “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:…” ~ Psalms 118:23

      1. Thank you very much; it’s not often I get a reply that agrees with me! The rest of the comments sound on target as well, but I don’t buy the jousting accident in January 1536 would be the cause of Cromwell helping Henry break with Rome in 1533. So how can this be the case with Cromwell in 1540? It would have been discussed, and, let’s face it, gossip was just as prevalent in those days as it is now, most likely more so…So I cannot really buy Julie’s comment on that one. Thank you! WilesWales

        I will defend Queen Anne for as long as I am around! She was innocent on all charges against her! Queen Anne did give England one very special gift, Queen Elizabeth I! Queen Elizabeth I was the greatest absolute monarch that country ever had!

        “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes:…” ~ Psalms 118:23

    1. I think you may have meant to put another person’s name at the top of your first comment.

      I have to respectfully disagree with you about the meaning of the last letter. The mercy that Cromwell is asking for from the King is not to live but to have a quick death. As you know as Cromwell had been reduced in status to a ‘commoner’ he could have been hung, drawn and quartered. As one of the charges against him was that he was a sacramentary so he could have also been burned as a heretic.

      I was interested in your comment about the spirit of christ. Could you expand on that ? If it is not taking the discussion too off topic.

  5. I cannot feel sorry for Cromwell for I find him one despicable character. His cruel treatment of Anne and her faction is just one of many unsavory things he did, though certainly the bloodiest. But he also shut down the monestaries and was instrumental in the persecuting the monks and nuns who lived there, sometimes causing their death, certainly stopping their livlihood. It was his idea to turn to these monestaries for the wealth they could bring, regardless of how they had served the sick and the poor. I think he also did it because he was a Protestant and he didn’t like the old ways. I agree–what goes around comes around. It was karma for Cromwell!

    1. Between 1533 and 1539 Cromwell was placing nuns & monks in key postions in the relgious houses that were reformists. He was instrumental in promoting the reading of the gospels and often relocated monks/nuns who were not involved in the scandals which brought down their monastries/convents. Most of the Monks and Nuns were given a pension. In 1535 he tried to pass a poor law that would make up for the loss of the monastic houses. I agree that Cromwell and Henry caused the dissolution and that many suffered. But the truth is far from simple.

  6. Cromwell may have been many things, but I do not believe he was ever disloyal to the King. If it is true that Brandon plotted to have Cromwell’s execution botched, that is very, very horrible. To this day, no-one is too certain what extent Cromwell played in the demise of Anne Boleyn. Even if he was a major player, & it could very well be he was, no-one deserves to die like Cromwell did. I honestly do not think he was ever a traitor to the King.

    1. Charles Brandon had nothing to do with plotting the execution of Thomas Cromwell or the drunken executioner. I am afraid that was just the Tudors. His execution was botched, it is true because the executioner didn’t know what he was doing and he may well have been drinking. It is more likely to be a coincidence that all they could find that day was a poor executioner. No professional beheading executioner existed in England. They were in fact hangmen or butchers because the normal execution for treason was to be hung, cut down while alive, then have your organs cut out of your belly and your private parts cut out and bowels removed, then your organs burned and then your head cut off after your heart was ripped out. It was a long process and beheading was considered more merciful but was not always done by people with experience.

      Anne Boleyn was extremely lucky as Henry ordered a professional with a sword from France and he came as the chief executioner in Calais. Henry paid for the execution, so it was more likely him who hired this man who was either inexperienced, clumsy or drunk or all three. You are probably correct, he was more likely the victim of a conspiracy among the leading nobles to bring him down as he was now losing favour and the King’s protection after the failure of his fourth marriage.

  7. Henry VIII, after receiving a bad head injury in a jousting accident in January1536, in which he was unconsious for two hours must have sustained serious brain damage. He acted rashly, chopping and changing his mind like getting rid of Cromwell, I think he did regret that as Cromwell was his right hand man. When his son Henry Fitzroy the Duke of Richmond died in 1536 he told the Duke of Norfolk to bury him secretly. The Duke did as he was told, then Henry went mad as his son never got the funeral befitting his station. It is said that it took the executioner thirty minutes to chop Cromwells head off, whether this is true or not I dont know. But he did botch it and what mangled remains of his head was stuck on a pike for all to see. I remember reading somewhere that the executioner was paid to botch executions as it was more entertaining for the crowds who came to see!! Thats one of the reasons Henry showed Anne great mercy in calling for the executioner from France who used a sword. It was quick. How noble of him!!! I dont like Cromwell, the way he got rid of Anne and the others was awful, but I suppose it was a case of dog eat dog in Tudor times, and with a mentally deranged tyrant for a king you would do anything to survive. No one was really safe.

  8. How appropriate to find this today. I’m reading Hilary Mantel’s new book, “Bring Up the Bodies.” It’s written from Cromwell’s point of view.

    1. I too have read “Bringing up the Bodies’ and also “Wolf Hall’ (the first book in this series). It paints an entirly different view of Thos Cromwell and is certainly food for thought. I’m not sure of Hilary Mantel’s credentials as a historian but I like her presentation of him as a person who basically cleaned up the King’s messes, was a consumate politician and was also somewhat of a philanthropist. I feel that it shows him as a more rounded character than the “evil personified” that we usually get.

  9. Anyone who began a career at this court were skating on thin ice, no one was safe, no matter how loyal and hard working, the benefits were great, the drawbacks were fatal, but it seems the risks were worth taking, because so many did.
    There would be no mercy, Cromwell, I am sure, knew this, as there had been none for the others before him. If Cromwell had written that letter in blood it would not have made any difference, he had made too many powerful enemies on his way up who were fuelling the King’s anger, for their own ends and benefits…it was his turn, part of the job description it seems!
    All that has been said…you reap what you sow, karma, his arrogance, his greed, can definately be applied to Cromwell, but to so many others also that did the King’s bidding, all were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t.
    He did have blood on his hands too, put there, in the main by the King, he was the King’s scapegoat, that was part of his job, as terrible as it seems to us. The King needed to be seen as innocent in all that happened around him, Cromwell wasn’t stupid, but at some point he must have fooled himself into thinking he was untouchable, because of his hard work, interlect and power, had he forgotten about his previous master, Wolsey?… but, I still feel empathy for him, and his end should not have been as brutal as that, no matter what he did for the King , or himself.
    Different times, different values, different ways…fascinating history

  10. I’m afraid I don’t know very much about the details of Cromwell’s fall — what exactly is “retaining contrary to the laws”?

  11. Emma, thank you for adding some of the positives from Cromwell, the reading of the Gospels in English and placing certain priests/nuns in different places. From what I’ve read, a great deal of the ‘scandalous’ behavior in the monestaries was fabricated by those who wished to bring them down, Cromwell being a part of that. As no one is all good or all bad, I’m sure Cromwell had his own fine qualities–he was an extremely hard worker and he did bring himself up by the proverbial bootstraps. He did the King’s bidding, which is what he was suppposed to do. However, for me, he is a character who serves his own interests, often at the expense of others. (Not every nun/priest got a pension or was placed–) Not that these things are all his fault–he was carrying out the King’s orders. Perhaps he did try to make the best of the circumstances.

  12. Hi there,

    Just wanted you to know I received both your books. Very very informative, especially for those who are just starting. So thank you –

    Re Cromwell: Am I gleaning correctly that the King had Cromwell killed because Cromwell spoke with the Chancellor about the queen. Is that what Henry was alleging? It is just one vile thing after another with Henry. But please enlighten me. Thanks so much – love the books and the site. Solace

  13. Anne B. I have Eric Ives’ book and found it a very interesting read. The title Cromwell had was High Steward of the Queen’s Lands and dealt with major political issues rather than anything personal conncected to Anne. He paid £99 15s for the position. It could be that Anne did want to reward Cromwell for the work he had done. But it was work done for Henry that benefited Anne because what Henry wanted benefited Anne. It could also be the case that Anne was not rewarding an ally but trying to make one.

  14. A bit late to the conversation, but must say that WilesWales comments are laughable or just plain uneducated. Wiles… do some serious reading of modern historical views based on thorough research — those not tainted by the biased views from the past (e.g., Victorian influenced historians, etc). Also, educate yourself about customs, what words meant in Tudor times, etc and you will have a very different opinion. Sounds like you have watched too many bad movies depicting Anne Boleyn as a romantic heroine and Thomas Cromwelll as an evil rogue in Henry’s court, and then layered on your own prejudices and what not.

  15. Turned his back to his friends and wives, ignoring their pleas in the form of letters, written from prison cells as they awaited execution? That’s the Henry VIII I recognize!

  16. Henry always left before any execution took place, and once he had decided their fates, he never spoke to them or saw them again. I doubt he ever received Cromwells plea for mercy, not that it would have done much good. And yes his biggest regret, shamefully, was Thomas More.

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