28 July 1540 – Thomas Cromwell’s Final Speech

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

Related Post

30 thoughts on “28 July 1540 – Thomas Cromwell’s Final Speech”
  1. Beautifully said, Claire. Another judicial murder during Henry’s bloody reign – such a waste! It wasn’t long before Henry VIII was regretting the loss of his talented minister.
    Cromwell’s friends, family and colleagues (especially Cranmer) must have been very afraid for their future after Cromwell’s execution. His poor son Gregory was only nineteen or twenty at the time, married with two small sons. Gregory had been employed by his father and he and his family were housed by him.I always feel so sad for the fate of therelatives and servants of the fallen.

  2. Interesting scaffold speech. Whatever his part in Anne Boleyn’s fall, I find it interesting that he made some of the same points in his last words that Anne made in hers. A tribute, perhaps?

    1. Oliver Cromwell was the great great (not sure how many greats!) grandson of Thomas Cromwell’s sister, Katherine. John Schofield has written a really interesting book about the two Cromwells and the period between: Cromwell to Cromwell.

      Thanks for the article, Claire – I totally agree! Thomas Cromwell was far from innocent, but I’ve always thought there was much to admire in his rise from total obscurity to second man in the kingdom.

    2. Oliver Cromwell is descended from Richard, son of Thomas Cromwell’s sister (born Richard Williams, but changed his name), so he would be Thomas’s great-grand-nephew or something. Scroll down to the article of July 27, 2012 here:


      Also, wasn’t Cromwell’s speech the standard pattern for those being executed: acknowledge your “sin”, if not your guilt?

      1. Ester, You are spot on about sins and guilt,There pretty much the same thing, that man was the cause of many poor soul’s, being murderd.I don’t harbor hate but Comwell was the down fall of many,spinning his lies for gain.I have never put my feeling’s aside, as I am sure you most likely know.I am most sure he is not in the Lord’s, house I don’t care how many time he ask for forgiveness.I will pray for his soul in hell.

  3. Well said Claire.
    The speeches of those being executed tended to stick to the same form which reflected the religious and cultural enviroment of the time. It would not have been a tribute.
    Cromwell was a complex, intellegent visonary man. May his soul rest in peace.

  4. I am sorry that anyone had to die that way, but part of me believes that this was his pay back for what he did to Anne Boleyn and the other five people that died with her. I don’t have any sympathy for him except for the fact that it is a terrible way to die. Henry was a terrible person to be around and I imagine that everyone at court feared him!

  5. another violent death ordered of course by henry ,i read that during henrys reign of terror 38 years he was responsible for approximately 72,000 executions ,now i dont know how true this is but this is complete insanity

  6. Isn’t it a myth that Cromwell’s execution was ‘botched’, and the amount of blows needed is not recorded? Thomas Cromwell was a superb minister – somewhat of a genius – and he did his master’s bidding. I’m sure he was involved in bringing down Anne Boleyn – but at Henry VIII’s bidding.

    1. We don’t know how many blows it took but Edward Hall, a contemporary chronicler, recorded that Cromwell was executed “by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the office” so the execution definitely went wrong.

  7. and I agree with Claire – I take no pleasure in his demise. Anne and Cromwell lived in violent times and served a tyrannical king.

    1. I definitely agree with that article, there is no evidence that Cromwell’s executioner was drunk or that it was a purposely botched execution. I think it just went wrong and was not over in one clean blow.

  8. I’ve always had a hard time feeling too much sympathy for Cromwell – I’ve always felt that he served Henry TOO well – when Henry needed Anne to be judicially murdered, he chose his main henchman, Thomas Cromwell. I always felt that what goes around comes around. However, since I’ve been following the Anne Boleyn Files, I can see that it was not Cromwell but Henry who was responsible for the fall of Anne and the five men who died with her. Cromwell was a very intelligent, wily man who would never have planned Anne’s destruction on his own if he didn’t know that it was what Henry expected of him. Nobody deserves a botched execution, especially a loyal servant who was guilty of nothing but doing his master’s bidding.

    1. agree with above henry could have stopped annes execution at any time but he did not catherine parr was in a bit of “trouble” as well but fortunately she was quick thinking enough and tipped off of course to be able to get to henry and stop any problems ie her arrest

  9. Claire,Not to get off the subject of Cromwell,I have always had ask myself these QAs,Anne of Cleve’s was made the King’s sister after the divorce,was she in line to the crown?as she was sister and stepmother to the King and his children,so she did out live all except Elizabeth,what if Elizabeth were to fall Ill and sucome to death??As for Cromwell I think the King hand pick the butcher to make a point. THX Baroness

  10. I honestly think that Thomas Cromwell was loyal to Henry. His execution was awful, & he did not deserve that. The way that Charles Brandon & the others set him up, & had the executioner botch the execution was terrible. Yes, Cromwell was far from a decent person, but this death he did not deserve, in any way.

  11. Hi,

    It’s Hannah from the Thomas Cromwell Experience, here. I want to respond to Baroness Von Reis. Anne of Cleves was never in line to the English Crown. That runs down the heirs male (preferably) of the KIng, and not even as Queen Consort could Anne of Cleves held the English Crown. Certainly not as his ex-Consort. Also, I think describing Cromwell as a “butcher” is wildly over-stating the case; possibly attributing 21st Century ideals on to the man. In an absolute monarchy, Henry had the final say in everything.
    As for his involvement in Anne Boleyn’s downfall, Schofield makes a convincing argument that it is all down to one mistranslated source. The way I see it, he was just one link in a very big chain that brought Anne down. Cromwell was not solely responsible for it, and there was nothing he could have done to save her.

    1. Hannah,Thank you for your reply,as to Anne of Cleve’s she was inall rights his wife and demoted like some of his other wive’s,what I was wondering,being made his sister,could she have been in line to the crown,and now I know.It was just that sons were all dying,Mary was sickly I think you get the jist of why I ask,as she was The Kings sister. As for Cromwell he was the master mind of the down fall of many with help fromChaupy’s the King ect; I did not call him a butcher,I said that the King hand pick the butcher, that made such a mess when,Cromwell was beheaded,I think it was personal between Cromwell and the King.Not just males were in line to the crown Mary was and Elizabeth aswell were in line,so were would the King go without any living heirs male or female,I gess one would have to go to his bastards,perhapes Bessy Blount,The Duke of New Richmond,he died very young,gess will never know the what if’s. Kind Regards Baroness

  12. I just want to thank you for all the interesting articles and emails. The Anne Boleyn Files helps quench my thirst for all things Tudor, especially Anne.

  13. Claire I completely agree. Cromwell was a gifted politician, loyal to Henry VIII, and historians such as Joanna Denny who villify him for supposedly bringing down Anne Boleyn and then glorifying in his death go wildly astray, in my opinion.

  14. I think when Henry said jump….you jumped. And if Henry started to show displeasure in Anne and told Cromwell he wanted her removed then Cromwell did what he was told. Lord help him if he did not. I think Henry wanted to avoid the 7 year mess that occurred when he wanted rid of KOA. Anne did not produce sons, Jane hinted that she could (being innocent and demure the entire time of course) so bye Anne. I have no bitterness towards Cromwell. To dislike someone who follows orders would be to find issue in all military/job/parent child/ etc establishments. In a way I feel sorry for him. He saw first hand how vicious Henry could turn on someone whom he previously adored. It must have been a nerve wracking downward spiral for Cromwell knowing if he could not prove himself worthy to his master then “off with his head!”. I am sure plenty of executions took more than one swipe due to any mulitple of scenerios, but when the formerly elite go to the scaffold people notice.

  15. We cannot put ideas into the heads of historical figures that did not exist at the time. When Cromwell lived, Catholic meant one thing, and the writer knows full well what that meant. Later, Anglicans, to justify their break from Rome, would twist the meaning into a ridiculous concept which was invented merely for the occasion.

  16. What a ridiculous commentary attached to Cromwell’s dying words. As if people in those days were into the peculiarly Anglican habit of parsing words like Catholic, and arguing over a small c and a capital c. Catholic meant Rome and Rome meant Catholic. Read the Magna Carta. Read any history – just don’t start in the late 19th century.

  17. Had henery been put down as the madd dog that he was the world would be in a better place as a result.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *