On this day in history, 28th July 1540, while his former master, Henry VIII, was busy marrying wife number 5 – see Henry VIII marries Catherine Howard – Thomas Cromwell was executed on Tower Hill. It was an horrific end, with it taking a few blows to kill him.
Before he knelt at the block, Cromwell made the following speech:
“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.”
One article on Wikipedia uses this speech to argue that “Thomas Cromwell was and died as a Roman Catholic”, but historian John Schofield, Cromwell’s biographer, believes that Cromwell was using the word “catholic” to refer to the “Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church”, rather than the Church of Rome (catholic with a small ‘c’), and that it was also gallows humour and irony. Today, when worshippers recite the Nicene creed in Church of England services, they say “We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church”, and they are not referring to the Catholic Church.
I know that some people believe that Cromwell’s execution was “karma”, a case of “what goes around comes around”, but I can’t agree. I personally don’t hold him responsible for the executions of Anne Boleyn and the five men, I believe that those deaths were ultimately down to Henry VIII, but even if I did then I could take no joy in Cromwell’s end. Nobody deserves to die in that way and Cromwell was a gifted man who deserves to be remembered for his intelligence, his loyalty to his rather difficult master, and his amazing career. RIP Thomas Cromwell.
Notes and Sources
- Hall’s Chronicle, Edward Hall, p839
- The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, John Schofield, p268