28 July 1540 – The Executions of Thomas Cromwell and Walter Hungerford

Posted By on July 28, 2013

Thomas CromwellWhile Henry VIII was busy marrying wife number 5, his former chief minister Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, was being beheaded on Tower Hill. Cromwell had been arrested on 10th June 1540 at a council meeting, and a bill of attainder was passed against him on 29th June 1540 for the crimes of corruption, heresy and treason.

Cromwell climbed the scaffold on Tower Hill and addressed the gathered crowd:

“I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should do so, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I have had yeres of discrecion, I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And it is not unknowne to many of you, that I have been a great traveler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the tyme I came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me.

O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve 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 Churche. Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes 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 live with you, maie long reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe.”1

Cromwell then knelt at the block and was beheaded “by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the office”2 – a botched execution in other words.

Walter, Lord Hungerford of Heytesbury, a client of Cromwell’s, was also executed on that day. He has gone down in history as the only man to be executed for the crime of “treason of buggery”3 in the Tudor period, but the charges against him also included:

  • Treason for pretending to arrest Pilgrimage of Grace supporter William Bird, Vicar of Bradford-on-Avon, when he actually supported him by employing him as chaplain.
  • Using magic, along with Sir Hugh Wood and Dr Maudlin, to predict how long Henry VIII would live.

As for the “buggery” charge, Hungerford had allegedly “exercised and frequented, and used the abominable and detestable vice and sin of buggery with William Master, Thomas Smith” and others in his household.”4

Hungerford was also beheaded on Tower Hill, following Cromwell on to the scaffold, and his head joined Cromwell’s on London Bridge. Retha Warnicke believes that it was the information that the King’s council gleaned about Hungerford, and his association with sorcerers and witches, that caused the heresy charges to be added to Cromwell’s bill of attainder because there was a “connection between sodomites and heretics.”5 Cromwell’s connection with Hungerford was definitely a way to blacken his name.

Henry VIII did come to regret Thomas Cromwell’s fall and execution. Marillac, the French ambassador, reported that the King had said 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.”6

Notes and Sources

  1. Kippis, Andrew (1789) Biographia Britannica: Or, The Lives Of The Most Eminent Persons Who Have Flourished in Great Britain and Ireland, Volume 4, p472
  2. Hall, Edward. Hall’s Chronicle, p839
  3. Chronicler Charles Wriothesley quoted in Warnicke, Retha (2000) The Marrying of Anne of Cleves: Royal Protocol in Tudor England, p228
  4. Warnicke, p227
  5. Ibid., p228
  6. LP xvi. 590

10 thoughts on “28 July 1540 – The Executions of Thomas Cromwell and Walter Hungerford”

  1. Jackie says:

    If Henry was aware of “false accusations” Cromwell later on, then I wonder why he didn’t punish the men that claimed the charges were legitimate?

    Was Cromwell truly guilty of the charges? I feel he was guilty of helping Henry murderer Queen Anne, maybe Cromwell’s Fall was him finally receiving his karma.

    1. Mariette says:

      Jackie says: July 28, 2013 at 6:07 pm

      “If Henry was aware of “false accusations” Cromwell later on, then I wonder why he didn’t punish the men that claimed the charges were legitimate? ”

      Cromwell had many enemies among the religious conservatives and nobility on Henry’s council, The king would have had to take down the majority of the men on his council , some of whom like the Duke of Norfolk were very powerful – not a wise move!

      “Was Cromwell truly guilty of the charges? ”

      I believe that Cromwell was a loyal servant of the king and was not guilty of treason, he was definitely not a sacramentary ( he said as much on the scaffold ), although as a religious reformist he was involved the dessemination of prohibited religious books. If you’d like to know more about Thomas Cromwell, John Schofield’s ‘The Rise & Fall of Thomas Cromwell’ is a very good read.
      “I feel he was guilty of helping Henry murderer Queen Anne, maybe Cromwell’s Fall was him finally receiving his karma.”
      I don’t believe in karma nor do I believe that any human being deserved to have their head hacked off, especially by an inexperienced executioner. Men like Cromwell and Norfolk were servants of the king and were expected to do their duty irrespective of their personal feelings. Norfolk had tears in his eyes when he sentenced his niece and nephew. Cromwell had no choice but to carry out the king’s orders – it wasn’t personal. Cromwell told the imperial ambassador, Chapuys that he had admired Anne and George Boleyn’s wit and courage. Even the executioner, who may have been coerced into the job, had little choice but to do his duty. There were few volunteers for this grisly job! The king was considered to be next to God and it was dangerous to defy him. In Norfolk’s words ‘indignatio principis mortis est’ [the wrath of the king is death].

    2. Lois says:

      Henry was crazy and could never see past his rage.

  2. BanditQueen says:

    Hello….Is this a comment on how low regard that King Henry now had for the once faithful and by all accounts efficient Thomas Cromwell that he should arrange for him to be executed at the same time as a common felon who had committed some of the most appaulling crimes of the 16th century? By that I mean that buggery and sodimites were considered to be almost sub human in this ultra religious society. Crimes of this nature were not merely horrible sins: they were considered to be against nature and without redemption. That is why Lord Hungerford was being executed for them. By having Cromwell, a commonor who should have been either hung or hung and disembowelled beheaded with Hungerford, Henry who once admitted himself that he liked novelity in regard to executions, Cromwell is being closely associated with his terrible crimes. Henry clearly had lost all regard for Cromwell, forgotten his service and was prepared to show how horrified he was by what Cromwell was accused of doing. It was not an act of mercy having him beheaded: it was a statement of disgust.

    Cromwell was also accused of a whole list of crimes: heresy, treason, bribe taking, and I am sure they probably added some other fancy to them such as witchery or something: the list in the attainer was certainly quite long. And fancy getting married to your bit of fluff while your ex first minister is being beheaded? Henry may have felt he was on borrowed time, but getting married on the same day as Cromwell’s execution was a bit rich even for Henry.

    And really in the case of the seventeen year old Catherine Howard what was Henry thinking? He did not normally go for young women. Even in his early days the two women he did have as mistresses were just a year of two younger than him in their early 20s. Bessie Blount I think was about 19 or 20 and Mary Boleyn was about 20-22. The women that he married were all in their mid to late 20s and one was over 30. This young girl was an exception to the rule and can only have been on the rebound. Experts claim that she was no more than 19 at the time of her marriage, but many agree she was as young as 17. And even then she was a young woman with something of a past; was not that sophisticated and did not have any brains. Just what did the King see in her? She is reputed to have been a beauty; and even the most lovely of his wives. She had beautiful long hair and lovely eyes: did she have Boleyn eyes? Did he see her once bewitching cousin looking back at him and think back to those heady days with Anne? Who knows? One thing was for certain: Catherine Howard may have been pliable in a sexual way, but in reality she was just not meant to have ever have been Queen.

    1. Charlene says:

      I suspect that Henry was reaping the rewards of his lifestyle and experiencing a loss of potency. He wouldn’t have been the last man to “self-medicate” by choosing a wife based on youth and looks alone, nor the last to suffer the ill effects of such a short-sighted decision.

  3. HollyDolly says:

    Oh,that’s true about Henry and many men in regards to his marrying Catherine Howard.
    Whatever Cromwell did, Henry certainly didn’t cry any tears over him,nor did he cry tears after executing Saint Thomas More, who had been Lord Chancellor.
    They didn’t do what Henry wanted in some matter and he decided they were no longer useful, so he got rid of him.
    By the way,Hungerford Castle they say is haunted. There was also some scandal concerning Lady Hungerford. She had supposedly been married before,and tossed her former husband into an oven. Unless I’m thinking of another place,I’m sure it’s this castle.

    1. HollyDolly says:

      The story about Lady Hungerford is true.The castle’s name is Farleigh Hungerford and you can visit the castle if you live or happen to visit England.Wikipedia has something on it and Walter Hungerford as well.

  4. opus-v says:

    I just found this website. It’s very informative. I’m a Tudor History junkie and love reading and learning more about it. Thanks for all of your hard work on this site. I truly enjoy it!

  5. Kenny byrnes says:

    The rational observations about Henry the eighth leaves me to conclude that the winners
    writes the history, he was a despot who took the wealth of the country for his own. He set up the future wealthy England.
    H8’s use of those around him and then discard is dissected as if the king was a rational self seeking king and not some psychopath who killed when their use was over, or was he afraid they would overcome him ?
    The savagery in the very recent past must have been in the racial memory, and Henry had come to power in a very civilised fashion compared to his predecessors. He had to follow in the manner of previous rulers and dominate by violence.
    One has to see that high ranking people of that time would have the same quality of life that even the most humble enjoy today . However it’s all great fun to look back at and know that power still wears the same coat

  6. Terry says:

    I make no comments on kin since I’m a cousin to Henry VIII and also each of his 6 wives,

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