Thomas_Cromwell,_portrait_miniature_with_fur_collar,_after_Hans_Holbein_the_YoungerOn 28th July 1540, the same day that Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, the man who had negotiated the King’s fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleves, was executed on Tower Hill having been found guilty by a bill of attainder of the crimes of corruption, heresy and treason.

Chronicler Edward Hall recounts his execution:

“And the. xxviii. daie of luly was brought to the skaffold on the tower hill, where he saied these wordes folowyng.

I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should so do, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe condempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I haue had yeres of discrecion, I haue liued a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgeuenes. And it is not vnknowne to many of you, that I haue been a great traueler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the tyme I came therunto, I haue offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgeuenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeue me. O father forgeue me. O sonne forgeue me, O holy Ghost forgeue me: O thre persons in one God forgeue me.

And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe, not doubtyng in any article of my faith, no nor doubtyng in any Sacrament of the Chnrche. Many hath selaundered me, and reported that I haue been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned euill opinions, whiche is vntrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct vs in the truthe, so the deuill is redy to seduce vs, and I haue been seduced: but beare me witness that I dye in the Catholicke faithe of the holy Churche. And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long liue with you, in healthe and prosperitie. And after him that his sone prince Edward, that goodly ympe, maie log reigne ouer you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I wauer nothyng in my faithe. And then made he his praier, whiche was long, but not so. long, as bothe Godly and learned, and after committed his soule, into the handes of God, and so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very vngoodly perfourmed the Office.”1

This Tudor statesman, who had served King Henry VIII faithfully for many years, had an awful end, his execution being botched by a “butcherly” executioner.

Thomas Cromwell had been arrested at a Privy Council meeting at Westminster on 10th June 1540, accused of being a traitor. He wrote to his master, King Henry VIII, from his prison in the Tower of London pleading his innocence and begging for mercy, but his pleas were ignored. According to Charles de Marillac, the French ambassador, writing to the Duke of Montmorency in March 1541, Henry VIII later regretted Cromwell’s execution, blaming it all on his Privy Council, saying that “on the pretext of several trivial faults he [Cromwell] had committed, they had made several false accusations which had resulted in him killing the most faithful servant he had ever had.”2

Thomas Cromwell was not the only man executed that day on Tower Hill, he was followed on to the scaffold by his client, Walter, Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury, who has gone down in history as the only man to be executed for the crime of “treason of boggery” (buggery)3 in the Tudor period. He was also charged with treason and using magic. Both men’s heads were displayed on London Bridge.

Tower Hill scaffold memorial plaque with Cromwell's name listed
Tower Hill scaffold memorial plaque with Cromwell’s name listed

Notes and Sources

  1. Hall, Edward (1809) Hall’s chronicle : containing the history of England, during the reign of Henry the Fourth, and the succeeding monarchs, to the end of the reign of Henry the Eighth, in which are particularly described the manners and customs of those periods. Carefully collated with the editions of 1548 and 1550, J Johnson, London, p. 839.
  2. In the original French: “soubz pretextes d’aucunes legieres faultes qu’il avoit commises, ils lui avoient mis sur plusiers faulses accusacions au moyen desquelles il avoit faict mourir le plus fidelle serviteur qu’il eust oncques.”, Marillac au Connétable (Montmorency), London, 3 March 1541, from Correspondance politique de mm. de Castillon et de Marillac, ambassadeurs de France en Angleterre (1537-1542); pub. sous les auspices de la Commission des archives diplomatiques, ed. Jean Baptiste Louis Kaulek (1885), Paris, p. 274.
  3. Wriothesley, Charles (1875) A chronicle of England during the reigns of the Tudors, from A.D. 1485 to 1559, Volume 1, Camden Society, p. 120.

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