28 July 1540 – One wedding and two executions
Posted By Claire on July 28, 2018
On this day in history, 28th July 1540, forty-nine-year-old King Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard, who was about seventeen years old, at Oatlands Palace.
The groom’s fourth marriage, to Anne of Cleves, had only been annulled on 9th July, so Henry’s fifth wedding was a low-key, private affair and news of the nuptials was kept hush-hush for over a week. Catherine did not appear in public as queen until 8th August at Hampton Court Palace.
Henry VIII was happy, he had a pretty and hopefully fertile young bride, and there was certainly every reason to hope for another prince, a ‘spare’. Of course, we all know how this marriage turned out!
You can read more about Catherine and her fall in the following articles:
- Catherine Howard: The Material Girl?
- 2 November 1541 – A bad All Souls’ Day for Henry VIII
- 7 November 1541 – Queen Catherine Howard is in trouble
- 8 November 1541 – Catherine Howard is interrogated
- 1 December 1541 – The Trial of Francis Dereham and Thomas Culpeper
- 10 December 1541 – Culpeper and Dereham are executed at Tyburn
- 21 January 1542 – Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford’s Attainder
- 10 February 1542 – Queen Catherine Howard is moved from Syon to the Tower
- 13 February 1542 – Catherine Howard and Lady Rochford make the most godly and Christian’s end
While Henry VIII and Catherine were busy getting married, Henry VIII’s former righthand man, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, was being beheaded for corruption, heresy and treason by “a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very vngoodly perfourmed the Office” on Tower Hill. It was a sad end for a man who had served the king faithfully for many years, and it was an execution that Henry VIII came to regret. A friend of Cromwell was also executed on Tower Hill that day. Walter Hungerford, Baron Hungerford of Heytesbury, was beheaded for treason, with the charges including buggery and having dealings with witches.
Click here to read more about Thomas Cromwell’s execution.
34 thoughts on “28 July 1540 – One wedding and two executions”
Both the execution of Thomas Cromwell (which Henry later regretted) and his not suspecting that Catherine Howard was not a virgin after they wed despite having been married to her for some time until he was told, in my opinion shows that by 1540 his ability to think things through was definitely in decline. It seems when he was younger he was much surer of himself and didn’t have second thoughts on anything.
As Claire said in her video on the Tudor Society yesterday, Thomas Cromwell was now vulnerable because he had acted on his masters wishes but failed to satisfy him in his last venture into marriage and his enemies came for him. The actual charges of religious treason and heresy are totally nonsense and his trial was by Act of Attainder and Parliament and he was found guilty by the same Bill. Henry kept him around to give evidence of his fourth marriage being invalid and then off with his head. His execution was badly done as the executioner was either drunk or clumsy or both and it took several strokes to end his pain. It was a poor end for the man who was the architect of Henry’s political and religious policy for the last ten years.
Henry of course is off getting married to his new chick, Kathryn Howard who was no more than 17/18 and maybe even 16. She had been courted by Henry since Lent 1540 and Anne of Cleves was aware of something going on in May that year. Kathryn made Henry content and happy and he felt alive again. I think Michael has a point, though, there is evidence that Henry slipped into depression in March 1541 and he took to his rooms, leaving his young bride to her own devices. His leg was getting worse and any number of the lead based things given to heal them could have made him worse. He certainly remarked that he had been duped into getting rid of Cromwell. He regretted his death.
What a funny coincidence, Hungerford being executed for crimes such as incest and homosexuality, in Liverpool it is Pride Day. This is mostly to celebrate the gay and transgender community but it is also to celebrate love in general. I don’t condone incest but it is good to see we don’t have draconian laws any more for those who love a different way. This was a recent law in England and I believe Walter Hungerford was its first victim. There were other victims of Cromwell’s fall in the form of Robert Barnes who was burned as a heretic with two friends that Summer.
Henry knew he was causing a sensation and probably wanted to blank this execution out of his mind as he did with Anne Boleyn because as per usual he was miles away in Oatlands Palace getting married and he didn’t come back with his new Queen for nine days.
Sir Thomas Cromwell was a brilliant statesman and had successfully engineered the marriage of Anne Boleyn and later her fall, once good friends in several years time they found themselves bitterly opposing one another, Anne resented the influence he had over the King and they clashed over the revenues from the monasteries and later she discovered he had joined the Seymour faction, even allowing Jane Seymour his apartments at court, this devious man was above all a survivor and knew either Anne went or it was him, there was no room for both of him at court and he knew the King his master was regretting his marriage, thus Cromwell put in motion his evil plan and Anne was doomed, it was because of this cold blooded murder of five innocent people that I struggle to find sympathy with Thomas Cromwell, but if his master wished the queen dead than Cromwell had to make sure he had every good reason, he later admitted he had thought the whole thing up, well if that was so then his own execution was justified, in the ‘ Six Wives Of Henry V111’ he was arrested whilst at court and he cried out in despair he was no traitor, the Duke of Norfolk the main man behind his fall, and the same uncle of the murdured Queen Anne Boleyn and many others of the council taunted him whilst he was dragged away still struggling, like many others before him who had held high positions at court and had fallen, (his old friend and mentor Wolsley must have haunted him in that moment and Anne herself, and her so called paramours. he found himself in the Tower and from there he pleaded to his master of his innocence, ‘good Prince I beg for mercy mercy mercy’ so his quill scratched desperately across the parchment but it was all in vain and he felt the same despair of those others who had found themselves in his position, all those who served Henry V111 knew his favour was transitory, he was cruel to his daughter Mary he had treated Catherine of Aragon with no compassion, and had ordered the execution of his second queen whom he had once loved so desperately, he had seen the fall of Wolsley and the deaths of More an old friend of the kings and Fisher, no mercy had been shown to the Carthusian monks one by the name of Newdigate had been a friend of the kings yet he still suffered at Tybirn, and so he knew that it was extremely unlikely that he would come out of his prison except to lay his head on the block, the son of a Putney blacksmith he shook of his humble background and made his fortune in the service of Cardinal Wolsley, it was said that the other nobleman resented his closeness to the King, maybe he grew arrogant, he appears a charmless man who cared not for the decadence and luxury of the court but merely to please the King and after the death of Anne Boleyn he had certainly pleased him, for he was made a Baron, his son also married Queen Janes sister a further sigh of the kings esteem for him, where did it all go wrong? The answer Anna of Cleves, Cromwell miscalculated dreadfully there and the wolves were closing in on him, never popular he knew his enemies would not rest till he was destroyed and that his day of glory was past, he made the same walk his five victims had made in 1536 and maybe he was thinking of them as he climbed the scaffold, his end was terrible – faced with an inexperienced headsman his execution was botched and he suffered well before he sank into unconsciousness, like Lady Margaret Pole beheadings were not always quick and merciful though they appear so compared to death by hanging, which could take upto ten minutes the victim slowly choking to death before they died, and of course the dreadful hanging drawing and quartering, wether we love or hate or maybe just a little admire this man who appears like a cold blooded reptile slithering across the court of Henry V111, consuming his victims in his wake, we have to remember he tried to serve his King and master and in the end became just another victim, the part he played in the downfall of a queen will be forever attributed to him and it may not do him justice, but both him and Anne Boleyn were caught up in the same power struggle in the court of Henry V111, there were many glittering personalities that stalked the world of Tudor England, but only a few names stand out, Wolsley Anne Boleyn Henry V111 – and Cromwell, the fact that Henry was later to say that he regretted sending his faithful retainer to his death speaks volumes about the respect he had for him, the fact he was condemned by the bill of attainder to shows the unfairness of the justice system, Catherine Howard herself was thus condemned a few years later, at least Anne Boleyn had a trial by peers of the realm, even though it was strongly biased against her, but as iv said before, I cannot feel sympathy for Sir Thomas Cromwell, but I can understand the need for survival in the dangerous world of the court of Henry V111.
I think the nobles blamed Cromwell for the draconian laws which saw so many of them targeted for words as treason. Before the new legislation of 1534_treason was mostly the action of planning or conspiracy against the King to put him in danger or kill him. It may also include violence against his officials and armed rebellion. It didn’t normally include saying what you thought about the King or his government. Someone could shout and did, on one occasion, get back to your wife and all the King could do was probably fine them or whip them. Now it was treason. Informers were encouraged to report anything they heard and spies listened to conversations. Even innocent remarks could be construed as having hidden meaning and people were afraid. You couldn’t say anything about the King and his marriage to Anne Boleyn or his children and the laws became even more draconian as Henry broke from Rome so it was treason to speak against that or refuse to sign the oath regarding this. The reforms were blamed on Cromwell and his reforms at Court pushed them out of some of their traditional roles. His administration was effective and efficient but far from popular. The King’s wish was his command, not the nobles. Traditional Catholic families found it more and more difficult to endorse Henry and his reforms and some of the most powerful fell foul of the new laws. Norfolk hated Cromwell because of Tetford Priory. He had tried to save it with his own money and preserve it as his ancestors were all buried there. Cromwell persuaded Henry to refuse his request and he had to move the Howard tombs, including the King’s illegitimate son, his son in law, Henry, Duke of Richmond, whom he had moved to a magnificent tomb at Framlingham in Suffolk. He and others saw him as an upstart. He had too much power for their liking and he probably did. I have no doubt that Henry gave him plenty of autonomy because he trusted him and knew he was doing his job well. The Poles fell because of Cromwell and their son, Cardinal Reginald Pole and his invention of the Exeter plot. Henry wanted revenge as he could not get Cardinal Pole and Cromwell used the new laws to construct treason out of an off the cough stupid remark about the King’s leg and Henry Courtney and Henry Pole were charged with treason. They were both executed. Later, their mother, Margaret Pole, who was kept in prison was executed for no reason, much after Cromwell’s death so he had nothing to do with it, again, because Henry could not get her other son. Cromwell also clashed with Stephen Gardiner during Lent 1540 and he was involved in what was probably a conspiracy to bring the Minister down. The fallout from the Cleves marriage left him open to attack and most of the nobles seem to have worked behind the scenes to come up with something to go to Henry with at the right time in order to have him arrested for treason. The actual evidence that Henry was confronted with is very unclear. However, he quickly agreed that his Minister should be arrested and investigated. We have the famous Council Meeting at which he was taken, having all his symbols stripped from him and being dragged off. All kinds of bizarre things were brought against him, most of them either lies or inventions, but it is possible that he did something which looked suspicious in his dealings abroad. Nobles who had themselves lined his pockets for a share of monastic land and money from their sale turned against him. Even ordinary people who he had sought to help cried out for his demise when his goods were confiscated. In the end it was like a beast being surrounded by a pack of hungry wolves.
Thomas Cromwell is not an easy man to feel sympathy for but he did some things which were genuinely good. He was called the widows helper and many widows and women asked for his help in financial and legal matters. He tried to introduce a system to help the unemployed and poor relief which Henry objected to. He helped Princess Mary to write to her father and took her cause up. He was instrumental in the production of an official English Bible. To many Protestants his anti Catholic legislation was probably popular. He tried to reform the economy. He made several changes to the way Government did business and made the administration efficient. He was good at his job. He has been seen as the father of the modern English State, although this may be an exaggeration. He had a major role in making the Privy Council show up for work and run the country on a daily basis. He could fix problems, discreetly. Suffolk found him very useful in sorting out problems with his two eldest daughters and their husbands. Contrary to fiction, Suffolk was a friend to Cromwell. I find him difficult because of his role with Thomas More and the monks and of course, Anne Boleyn, but he was firstly Henry’s servant and Henry was ultimately to blame for those things, for appointing Cromwell in the first place, if nothing else. Henry’s political, religious and marital changes are all linked with Thomas Cromwell, but he was the one who authorised or originated them as an idea. Cromwell could be a hypocrite, he could be ruthless and brutal, he could be scary, but he could also show common sense and compassion. In the case of Anne of Cleves he was probably also very diplomatic. He was a fixer. In the end, though there was something he couldn’t fix and his enemies swooped down and he was sent to what was a very nasty death.
The worst thing for Cromwell was that Henry abandoned him and then used him for his own ends because he wanted out of his marriage with Anne of Cleves. Henry had tried to get him to find out if he could get out of the marriage in the first place, but Cromwell and his Council failed. Henry blamed Cromwell and Anne because he couldn’t consummate the marriage. He met and fell for the young woman he married on this day, Kathryn Howard, the maid of honour of his Queen. Now he needed evidence that his marriage wasn’t valid and Cromwell from his prison cell to provide it. He had him provide testimony in writing of their conversations about the nights Henry had spent with his bride. Henry had complained about her looks, body, aroma, even her virginity and said there was no attraction between them. He wanted Cromwell to confirm this for evidence. Whether any of it was true or not Henry got what he wanted and his marriage was annulled. It made no difference. Henry was convinced by others Cromwell had betrayed him in numerous ways and he left him to the bear pit while he and lovely, sexy young Kathryn went on honeymoon.
Yes Cromwell did help a lot of women out, Mary Boleyn and Lady Rochford the notable ones among them, it’s easy to forget that he was responsible for in fact doing a lot of good to help the unfortunate, he did also make it law to have all births and deaths recorded and did he not help with education?, yet we see the other side to him over the dissolution when he argued with the queen over the spoils, she wanted to see it go to charitable causes and he like the King, wanted to see it in the Royal coffers, which is at odds with the fact that he did try to help the countries poor, but we know Henry had made up his mind about where the riches should go in the first place, the image of him interrogating the hapless Mark Smeaton and possibly the men and women of the queens household is forever fixed in the consciousness as he is irrevocably linked to her fall, although as many historians have noted, he dare not move against her unless he had authority by the King, he extricated the King from his first marriage which found him in favour and then a few years down the line doing the very same with his second, though in horrific circumstances, in the film about Henry and his six wives which iv mentioned before, he demands to see the King and Norfolk tells him is is condemned by his own law by making it impossible to see the monarch when he is accused of treason, Cromwell’s service to Henry V111 is commemorated in the placque on Tower Hill along with the other unfortunate few who also lost their lives, a sad testimony to those who had fallen in his brutal reign, Wyatts grandson is also there who suffered for his attempted plot to put Elizabeth on the throne, I no nothing of Baron Hungerford who was condemned for buggery (homosexuality) and dealings with witches, so I assume that these witches were also executed ( hanged) possibly at Tyburn, no doubt he probably just bought the odd potion of them just to make himself irresistible to the ladies, or maybe something more sinister, witchcraft was thought of as a very real threat hence Eleanor Cobham’s trial in medieval times, Henry did miss his old servant yet he allowed himself as you say Bq to be duped into executing him, Weir says Henry was suggestible and he does appear to have acted as if he was, angry with him over Anne of Cleves he allowed himself to be misled into getting rid of his faithful servant, I’m wondering if he did regret other deaths too, Anne Boleyns amongst them, and he must have lamented on the death of Norris, did he really believe he had betrayed him with his queen, his old friend who he had known for many a year? As he grew older his mind must have harkened back to his sunny youth before so much blood was shed and it is possible he came to regret sending so many to their deaths, imagine his end as he lay on his death bed, he must have tried to shut out the images of all the people he had executed over the years, for a man to use his ‘conscience’ as Henry V111 did it must have gone into overdrive.
Something that has always bothered me about Henry’s death is his being unable to speak he squeezed Cranmer’s hand signifying that he was all right with God. If that’s true I feel it has more to do with Henry’s lack of conscience than with his being forgiven by the Lord. That man was broken.
That’s a good observation, Michael, he left until the last moment. He had of course been dying for about a month, but yes, at the end he did appear to lose his speech. Maybe he was afraid of what he had to confess or really was just waited too long and breathed his last. I think he was a broken man at the end. His decline seems to have begun after his return from France in 1544, although he was in poor health for many years following his accidents in 1536.
Globerose, I liked Mark Rylance in Wolf Hall as well and James Frain in the Tudors and I think Henry saw Cromwell as a bit of a toad, but the right type of a toad. He certainly didn’t like him when he first came to get into his service but he soon saw how useful he could be and he certainly was, whether we think he did good or ill, and of course he did both. Holbein sums him up perfectly in his portrait which shows the pen and accounts box and trimmings of his office. Above everything he was a loyal civil servant and it was perhaps too bad that he even fell foul of his own laws and administration.
Really enjoyed your conversation, Ch & BQ.
Since lovely Sir Mark Rylance played Cromwell, my critical faculties have been zapped!
Cromwell’s fixing fixed history – if we could just zap him out, clean out of the mix, imagine history unfixed and how different it would have been.
I love that thought Globerose. Perhaps if Thomas Cromwell didn’t exist we’d still have basically the same Henry but without that toady Cromwell to encourage him Henry may have been a bit more tempered in his actions and perhaps Anne and the five men would have lived along with countless others. Perhaps the monasteries would have survived. Unfortunately another piece to this is Henry didn’t listen to Wolsey’s advice on how to end his marriage to KofA and insisted on a theological basis for his divorce. But then again without Thomas Cromwell everything would have proceeded exactly as it did but without the deaths of six innocent people. I believe Cromwell encouraged Henry in this as it became personal between he and Anne. I feel little sympathy for Cromwell’s sad end. There were plenty of things he could have been charged with but treason? Thomas Cromwell was literally loyal to a fault. Despite his being a weasel his execution was atrocious. No one should suffer like that.
I really enjoyed John Colicos’ portrayal of Cromwell in ‘Anne of the Thousand Days’. He was a great character actor who was very good at playing these kind of parts.
Yep, that’s what I thought Michael, esp. as you say, the monasteries and all that entails.
I’m being mindful now of BQ’s measured words about Crum doing both good and bad and her emphasis on his loyalty.
But am I right in saying that Henry’s big killing spree and tyrannical laws begin with Crum’s tenure and thereafter, Henry will have learned all he needed to know about ‘fixing’ and thus things don’t grind to a halt when Crum dies.
The execution scene with James Frain still makes me wince on recall and I agree that John Colicos made a great Crum.
I also agree with BQ. I agree with you that the killings really started with Cromwell. In him Henry had a willing yes-man. As Henry does seem to be quite suggestible at this time a difference person may have used tact and pointed the King in a different direction while making Henry believe it was his idea. That wasn’t Thomas Cromwell. He did not believe in forgive and forget. He operated on revenge and carried it out under the king’s signature. So fitting that laws he wrote got him in the end.
i found both James Frain and Mark Rylance very unlike Cromwell in appearance, in real life the man was portly and he appears quite unnerving with his rather stern gaze, I can see him as a man dedicated to his duty, over zealous not giving much to mirth and frivolity but I could be wrong, Henrys right hand man who had seen his master and mentor Cardinal Wolsley fall, the great cardinal who so many said, reallly ran the country instead of the King yet he had fallen because of a certain woman whom he is alleged to have called ‘the night crow’, Cromwell knew how dangerous Anne was and he was determined he would not go the same way, I loved the actor who portrayed him in ‘A Man For All Seasons’, he was just like Henrys great statesman, at Mores trial when he found out he had books in his prison cell he had them confiscated, he was quite vicious how he treated him yet did that happen? I should imagine when Cromwell was aroused he could be quite terrifying to an inexperienced youth like Smeaton, Anne apparantly had told him she would have his head off which was unwise as it made his enmity towards her go even deeper, now he had a personal grudge against her, knowing how it all turned out with the King, Anne and Cromwell, and his nemesis Anne of Cleves, it’s very hard to imagine an England without this man who as Michael described a weasel, as he did I believe influence the King a lot, his mistake was in pushing for the German alliance which left his master saddled with his fourth wife whom he was revolted by, as I said I cannot feel sympathy for him, five families were ripped apart by his quest to bring down a queen and a little girl was made motherless, had Wolsley still been alive it’s interesting to consider what he would have done with the ‘night crow’, would Anne still have lost her head who can say, i believe Henry wanted her dead though he could have come to regret it in later years, it was not as if Anne would have opposed him the way Katherine had, Anne was in prison and was vulnerable to the Kings command, she had spoken of going to a nunnery why did Henry not banish her to one? I think had Henry decided to be merciful Cromwell would have not been able to have her executed but he must have dripped plenty of poison into the Royal ear, dead she could not ruin the legitimacy of Henrys next marriage, Henry was no fool but as we have discussed he was suggestible, Cromwell wanted his arch enemy out the way, did he ever think that the same thing could happen to him, his execution speech was long and he declared he died in the catholic faith, he left behind a large family and his descendants thrived, one of whom seized power in the civil war and by a strange twist of fate, he condemned the reigning king to death, death by decapitation the same as Sir Thomas Cromwell, his descendant Oliver Cromwell became Lord protector and some call him a hero, some a villian for murduring a crowned and anointed monarch, but he did change the very structure of Parliament which is still with us today.
When you asked why wasn’t Anne sent to a monastery I had a thought. This can’t be proven one way or another: Could Anne of had some kind of dirt on Cromwell that could have destroyed him if it came out? I don’t think so but it just came to mind. If she did she would have used it in her defense I would think.
Anne probably couldn’t be sent to a convent because the religious houses were on the way out and the legislation was ready for the first round of closures of the smaller houses worth £200 or less. The larger houses only went after 1538 and the Pilgrimage of Grace was used as an excuse for this but in truth their days were numbered. By 1540 they had all gone. If Anne went to a convent and presuming she didn’t escape, I wonder what one would do with her then? I know why people might think as she did that she might go to a convent because no Queen, at least no English Queen had been executed, and very few had elsewhere, but a few had been locked up and traditionally noble ladies were cared for by the Church in confinement. Even if put in a castle, holy women took charge of them for their modesty and moral correction. Adultery was a moral problem, not a civil crime. A religious institutional style imprisonment would have been more appropriate. However, another answer might be that she was also charged with the one capital crime which could justify her execution, treason by plotting with several lovers to kill the King. In this, Henry was doing a good job and he made sure she was not able to find mercy because he was determined to get rid of her once and for all. I don’t think Henry wanted another Katherine of Aragon hanging around and Anne could be just as thorny as her former mistress. I am certain that Anne never believed that every convent and monastic house and even chantry chapel in England and Wales and Ireland would vanish, which is one reason she was confident of being sent to one. I am certain Cromwell had a long term plan to have them closed regardless and the King approved because he benefited from their wealth. Four years to close 900 religious houses, transfer their land, property, tenants, farms, rights, even their churches, many of whom were purchased back and saved, even their associated schools, infirmaries, to move out their libraries of thousands of handwritten illuminated books into the royal libraries and to transport their surviving treasures, after much had been destroyed. It was an astonishingly fast efficient process and who delivered it but Cromwell. However, it also meant giving them all pensions and it was an economic and social nightmare. The modern equivalent would be closing down every hospital, social care home, school and college and every social service or council and public provision in Britain and sacking every public employee. It left huge numbers of lay people out of work and out of their homes. The Government had to pick up the pieces for generations to come.
I think that is an interesting idea that Anne had some dirt on Cromwell, but I don’t think so. It just appears that they saw things differently on the way the land sales and money from the monasteries was used and Cromwell imagined she may have been in his way when his own foreign policy went south and Henry was moving towards a new alliance. Anne was vulnerable and her enemies were just waiting to strike. Henry wanted out of his marriage and Cromwell yet again fixed it, this time with fatal consequences.
By the way Alison Weir is not the only historian to believe Henry was very suggestible because John Markevich has proposed in his study that Henry was actually quite weak and easily manipulated into believing the worst of people who had served him for years. He may have grabbed himself a load of power with the Supremacy but he was a weak willed man and a weak King as well. This might not sit with the traditional image of Henry as strong and powerful but it does fit with much of his later behaviour. Cromwell might well have been the perfect Machiavelli type character that Henry needed to get his Reformation legislation through Parliament, given the nature of it’s contents and the opposition his annulment from Katherine of Aragon and Break from Rome was likely to have.
Actually yes the monasteries were being dissolved so there would have been a dilemma were to send Anne, her rival Queen Katherine could not be buried where she wanted to be, the monastery of the observant Friars as it was no longer there, Eleanor the queen of Henry 11 had been shifted round the country to various residences under armed guard and Isabella , Edwards 11’s queen was cared for under armed guard as she had suffered it is believed a kind of breakdown, she was later after some years allowed back at court but her situation was different to Anne and Eleanor, she was the Kings mother not his wife, Anne whilst alive presented a very real problem, I don’t think she had any dirt on Cromwell she would have used it the minute she had the chance so outspoken was she, but it’s an interesting theory.
I don’t agree that Henry’s tyranny coincides with Cromwell’s tenure. He managed to execute Empson, Dudley and Buckingham before Cromwell’s rise — and Wolsey would have been included in this group if he hadn’t died first. His “killing spree” also did not end with Cromwell — Margaret Pole, for example, wasn’t killed until after Cromwell was dead.
Also, as to Cromwell’s ideas on what to do with the money of the monasteries — according to an article by Eric Ives, “Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation”, Anne opposed wholesale dissolution, and wanted the moeny from the closure of the small monasteries to go to the good ones. It was Henry who wanted the money in his coffers — and charitable purposes had no part in his plans. There is absolutely no evidence of Cromwell’s own opinions, as opposed to his obedience to Henry’s wishes
As they say – harsh but fair! History sans Crum? Guess a man, like Wolsey, like Crum, rising to court from very humble beginnings to hold great power and to make history, would have to offer something pretty compelling to their king , or they would have been invisible. Wolsey has the church. Crum has a lethal combination of loyalty and lawyer’s cunning, he sees ways to get Henry what he wants, and so much so that when he stumbles and his enemies pounce, the king will very soon come to regret his downfall. I’m remembering Mark Rylance as Crum, sitting in his home with his wife and saying, “First, you pick your prince.” Lovely drama!
Did Crum ‘create’ Henry the Tyrant … do you think?
Old Crum ha ha, I’m sure the man himself would be furious if he could hear you now Globerose, I think it was Anne who first set Henry on the road to the tyrant he later became, she let him see that he could rule England without the interference of Rome, she made him feel he was all divine, like the almighty maybe, the act of supremacy that was pushed through sealed his ambition into becoming the omnipotent being he thought he was, no more Pope saying ‘no you cannot divorce your wife and if you do you cannot marry your concubine’, it was treason for anyone not to acknowledge him as head of the new church, Cromwell though did play a part he flattered Henry the way he wished to be flattered, had Henry not been unfortunate in his wives,( I’m talking about their sad childbearing history )and had he not suffered the two head injuries the last one seems particularly fatal, he could well have retained some of his good humour he was known for in his youth, but that Henry was gone and his increasing ill health coupled with his assumed impotency, his weight gain and the ulcers on his legs all made him increasingly bad tempered, he was also worn out through years of frustration caused by the obstacles Katherine had put in his way, by the time he had married Anne he had suffered many setbacks so his character once benign and carefree was now bad tempered and suspicious, no wonder he did became the tyrant we speak of today, the long struggle to wed Anne her increasing demands coupled with Katherines obstinacy, and that of her daughters all played their part in this kings dark nature, there is a theory he suffered from McLeod syndrome, I do not know much about that condition but I think it causes some kind of mental imbalance? If anyone knows something about this maybe they can enlighten me, for now all we know is that at the start of his reign Henry was much more merciful, big hearted and generous than the man he later became.
No, I think the tyrannical part of Henry was already there. Remember he executed Empson and Dudley, his father’s tax collectors for treason very early in his reign. They had only been doing what Henry VII wanted them to do. Thomas More even made the comment warning about Henry VIII: tell him what he ought to do but never what he can do. I believe Cromwell told Henry what he could do and Henry realized there was no limit to his power.
He did send them both to the block that is true but it’s been suggested it was to appease the people who were baying for their blood, true they were only acting on the Kings orders but people have been scapegoat’s of kings before, a bit like the whipping boy.
You’re right, they were scapegoats. He could have accomplished the same thing by sentencing them to the tower for life but instead he chose their deaths. This shows me that from early on he put very little value on human life but his own.
We have to realise though that what seems cruel to us today was considered a necessity then, but yes it does appear rather harsh.
Ha! Christine, don’t think I’d dare “Crum” Cromwell, if he were alive today! What? You really think it was more Anne (like David Starkey, I believe) who put Henry on the road to tyranny?
That makes me pause.
There’s Anne, and there is Cromwell, not to mention the late and great Katharine, and Mary?,
and ‘Abroad’, the pope, the Platagenets, and Thomas More and ……….
Yes, there is Anne. She is the mover and Thomas has the task of being the shaker?
We always come back to Anne. You’re right.
But Crum plays his part. As Michael says……………..
I love ‘Crum’! A nickname and a description 🙂
I agree BQ that Henry can certainly be seen as a weak king i.e. brutality does not equal strength. As he became more and more paranoid it would have become very easy for someone like Cromwell to take advantage of Henry’s suggestibility. And later Norfolk and his ilk against Cromwell.
Paul Friedmann in his study of Anne also says that Henry was not ‘strong’, remarking he never had the nerve to move against anyone unless he had his councils backing, it’s hard to think that Henry V111 was a weak King as history paints him as brutal and intent on getting his own way, but yes brutality does not equal strength rather fear, his daughter Elizabeth was much more merciful, she did not believe in destroying her enemies by bloodshed, realising that was not a sign of strength and possibly her mothers sad end may have influenced her on that one, for many years Parliament bayed for the Queen of Scots blood her chief minister William Cecil particurlaly, but Elizabeth preserved her life for nineteen years, she also knew that if a crowned queen could be executed so easily so could another, more of a statesman than her father she realised shedding blood was not always the answer.
Think of Henry ad a schoolyard bully. Bullies have their followers who give them confidence. This is Henry to a T. Bad thing is though that this bully could use the power of the state as a weapon.
I don’t agree that Henry was a tyrant when he executed Epsom and Dudley, although charging them with being financial bullies might have been better and embezzlement could carry the death penalty in some instances. Yes, technically they were doing what his father wanted, but they went far beyond the brief of their office. They caused innocent people to be rounded up if they objected to their penalties and put in the Tower and in more than one case caused death of innocent family members of people they did business with. They terrorised the capital and there were several complaints about them. As a way of moving away from this Henry agreed to their trial and execution. A good read of the Winter King will soon lose any sympathy for Epsom and Dudley. I accept that the actual treason charges brought against them, that of seeking to prevent the lawful succession of Henry Viii are bizarre, but they are not evidence of a tyrant.
At the same time Henry acted as a normal young new King, he released a number of prisoners from his father’s last years and pardoned many more. His move was an extremely popular one, hardly tyrannical.
If Henry Viii was a tyrant from the start, why were there so few political executions in his first 25 years as King? Between 1510 and 1534 there were five high profile state executions, which again is hardly the actions of a tyrant. The increased number of executions begin to coincide with Thomas Cromwell and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, but they don’t end there. The main reason is probably not the appointment of Cromwell but his Supremacy, which gave him control over state and Church. Henry turned more tyrannical in the years following his fall in 1536 and his execution of Anne Boleyn but the long years of his stormy divorce had undoubtedly changed him. The combination of growing power and the need to stem the opposition to his marriage which was very vocal, Henry decided on new laws to exact penalties if people didn’t support his new status and marriage. Cromwell and Cranmer were the perfect team to put together methods and legislation to ensure compliance and obedience. The new laws protected Anne as his wife and his future children with her as sole heirs, ending the possibility of rivals, his religious laws enforced his new title and it was now treason to deny that title. Furthermore propaganda promoted his new view of kingship and his reasons for breaking from Rome and he used tracts and plays to bring people on board. Only after two years when the legislation was fully in place and the new treason laws became more draconian making it treason to write or speak ill of the marriage or deny the Supremacy did the trials and executions begin. Henry could argue that he had used the law and persuasive methods and everyone had an informed choice, that Parliament supported him and he was right. The new laws were more draconian than before because they were enforced by the swearing of an oath and refusal was treason. Cromwell was certainly the architect of this legislation but Henry was now confidently behind it because his authority depended on it.
With the deaths following the new laws, the monks, the friars, Thomas More and John Fisher, many others who we don’t know, this marks the turning point towards a more tyrannical regime. This was only the beginning and things got worse in the years following his head injury in 1536. The laws against heresy became stricter, laws against witchcraft and the death penalty for homosexuality followed, increased penalties against begging, enclosures, the fallout from the Dissolution of the Monasteries, the suppression of the rebellions in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Lincolnshire was brutal, although not as brutal as that of Elizabeth I in 1569 and 1572, the almost revenge hitting out at the old Plantagenet families, the Poles and Courtneys and Nevilles took them down and he executed two wives. Cromwell was involved in much of this and the body count does rise under his administration, but it continued after his death.
As Esther said, Margaret Pole was taken out of her cell and executed without trial or any warning just before Henry and Katherine Howard went off on their Northern Progress, in May 1541. The execution was brutal and although there are two different versions, one probably mythical, they agree that Margaret suffered because it took several strokes of the axe to end the poor old ladies misery. It was normal to remove any dangerous prisoners from the Tower and clear any awaiting execution if the King left London for any length of time and Henry used this as an excuse for her execution after so long in t he Tower. Her son and grandson had already been arrested, the grandchild disappeared but some people think he was killed, although there is no real evidence about what happened, her son in law was also killed as was Sir Edward Neville and Sir Nicholas Carew, all framed in the Exeter plot. Cromwell is seen as being the main person behind setting them up, but in reality there is a simpler explanation. Cardinal Pole had recently published his thesis attacking Henry and his divorce and as he couldn’t get at him, despite trying to capture him in Europe, he authorised an attack on the rest of the family. The others were accused of knowledge of a conspiracy and hiding it. All but the younger brother were executed. Now the poor old lady of 68 was killed out of revenge as well. Henry the Tyrant was born.
During his declining years Henry swung between further acts of tyranny and tougher laws and out of the blue extreme acts of mercy and there was still something of the human and entertainment as well. Ill health as well as paranoia and probably mental decline played a part, but there is something I think in the question that without Thomas Cromwell, would Henry have declined into the Tyranny which resulted from his Supremacy, quite as deeply as he did?
According to the books I’ve read (notably Wilson’s “The Uncrowned Kings of England”, a history of the Dudley family) Empson and Dudley did not do anything beyond following Henry VII’s orders — if they were guilty of some crime, Henry’s current apologists would have said so. Instead, David Starkey (trying to exculpate Henry) blames Henry’s advisors, but makes it clear that the two men simply implemented the policies of Henry VII.
Also, I think the effect that Cromwell had on Henry’s tyranny depends upon what you want to make of Cromwell. For example, according to Schoenfeld’s biography, Cromwell was slipping reformers into many monasteries up until the end; he wasn’t thinking of wholesale dissolution. Thomas Cromwell tried to introduce government funded poor relief; it was Henry’s plans to use the money from the monasteries for war in France or new palaces. Under this view, it is Henry who forced Cromwell into the wholesale destruction of the Reformation, not Cromwell showing Henry how to be a tyrant.
I think they were simple scapegoats. In my view, Henry VIII wanted to start his reign with a clean slate, draw a line under his father’s reign and make the point that he was going to be a different kind of king. It was a statement that things were going to change. There executions were not necessary, they were simply following Henry VII’s orders and so I do believe their executions to be an act of tyranny. They could have been stripped of their offices, dismissed and banished from court, or even imprisoned, there wasn’t any need to execute them on trumped up charges, but I do think it set the scene for Henry VIII’s reign.
Penn outlined several acts of savagery from Epsom and Dudley, many of which were known to Henry Vii, but never punished although at the same time they were not authorised to do. In other words, a number of acts he turned a blind eye to. They might have been acting on his authority but they were also autonomous. Henry Viii certainly wanted a clean slate but I don’t think he could simply banish them. You didn’t imprison people in 1510, you executed them for most things. Today you would put them in an FBI or state hotel of some sort and probably find a use for them. Treason charges are obviously the wrong charges, maybe their punishment was harsh, but it doesn’t make Henry a Tyrant at the start of his reign. In fact the rest of his actions show the opposite. He doesn’t begin to be anything like the Tyrant of legend for at least another two decades. A King can commit a ruthless act without being a Tyrant, if they felt it was for the benefit of his people or the realm. That is how I see Epsom and Dudley, not merely as scapegoats.
I agree that whether you think Cromwell influenced Henry to introduce draconian measures or if Henry recognised in Cromwell the efficiency and loyalty needed to enforce or legislate for those measures depends on your point of view of him. Certainly he was much more than the enforcement officer and terrifying character of legend and media and his legacy has to be balanced out much more. He tried to independently introduce a work scheme to reduce unemployment and with it poverty and he himself fed the hungry every week. Henry objected to the former, but this was a man much changed from the teenager who won the hearts of his people in 1509. This was a man who was becoming hard and stubborn. His new ideas of Monarchy took priority in Parliament and it was Cromwell who enabled it’s passage. One other positive thing Cromwell did…he played an active role in helping Princess Mary return to favour, even when Henry would only accept her back if she submitted totally to him as her father, King and Supreme Head. Cromwell acted as a go between and he helped Mary to write her letter of submission. Mary approached Cromwell in the first place, which meant she was obviously aware of his reputation and his ability to intervene on her behalf. She couldn’t do that if he was just this evil slimy toad who liked finding new ways to have people under control all the time. His natural ability to smooth things over as well as to warn people to obey must have been appreciated and he must also have had some compassion or he would have turned people who sought his aid in difficult circumstances away. However, he also knew the boundaries in which he could operate and that makes him a shrewd man.
Really enjoyed this discussion. Re-read all the comments because it’s such a big subject.
As always BQ, love reading your synopses.
Just read Claire’s comments and Ester’s. Am I right in thinking that Empson & Dudley’s objective, as in time Crum’s objective would be,was to increase the king’s revenue. History of England’s piece on Epson & Dudley (Henry VII’s Hatchet Men), says, “All they did was sanctioned and encouraged by the king – they were truly their king’s loyal and faithful servants. Their tyranny lies at his door as much as their own.” OK.
Crum’s loyalty and intent differs not one jot from theirs, it seems.
I read ‘The Winter King’ a few months ago. Although Empson and Dudley overstepped their bounds and shook down people for their own benefit Henry VII never really discouraged them.