29 June 1540 – A Bill of Attainder is passed against Thomas Cromwell

Posted By on June 29, 2017

On this day in history, 29th June 1540, nineteen days after his arrest, a Bill of Attainder was passed against Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, and King Henry VIII’s former right-hand man.

The Journal of the House of Lords records on Tuesday 29th June 1540, day 81 of that parliament, the following:

“Item Billa Attincture Thome Cromwell, Comitis Essex, de Crimine Heresis et Lese Majestatis, per Communes de novo concepta; et assets. et simul cum provisione eidem annexa.”

This Latin record means that Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, was attainted by Parliament for the crimes of heresy and Lèse-majesté (high treason). He was stripped of his honours and condemned to death.

Thomas Cromwell, a man who had risen from humble beginnings in Putney to be Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Rolls, principal secretary to the king, Lord Privy Seal, Lord Great Chamberlain, Vicegerent in Spirituals, and Earl of Essex, was beheaded on 28th July 1540, the same day that King Henry VIII married his fifth wife, Catherine Howard.

You can read more about Cromwell’s meteoric rise, and dramatic fall, in my article on his arrest – click here. I’d also recommend Teri Fitzgerald’s article on Thomas Cromwell the family man.

Also, on this day in history…

  • 1509 – Lady Margaret Beaufort, grandmother of Henry VIII and the matriarch of the Tudor dynasty, died at Cheyneygates, the Abbot’s house at Westminster. Click here to read more.
  • 1536 – Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire, was stripped of his office of Lord Privy Seal. Click here to read more.
  • 1537 – Death of Henry Algernon Percy, 6th Earl of Northumberland, a man who had been romantically linked to Anne Boleyn before her relationship with Henry VIII. Click here to read more.

Notes and Sources

1 thought on “29 June 1540 – A Bill of Attainder is passed against Thomas Cromwell”

  1. Banditqueen says:

    I have to feel sorry for Thomas Cromwell at this point although he probably was piling up trouble for himself with the number of enemies he had gathered over the years. His crime, however, was not getting Henry Viii out of marrying a woman he didn’t want in the first place. Anna von Kleve was actually a good political match and she was intelligent enough to work out what he wanted and to please him. Once they were divorced, they were very good friends. Had they remained married, they would have been good partners and Anna was also fond of his children. Cleve was strategically well positioned to support England and stood between both the Empire and French expansion. It was a big pity that Henry was unable to find her sexually attractive because she would probably have given him more children and raised them well. He certainly wouldn’t have made a fool of himself with Katherine Howard.

    Henry tried for six months to get an annulment and Cromwell had appeared to hesitate and there were accusations of his complicity in making arrangements with the German League for his own ends. Henry had, however, rewarded Cromwell with the Earldom of Essex only a few months earlier but he was not content. Just as the marriage was being considered for annulment, Cromwell was set up for arrest through a conspiracy of the nobility and Henry was approached with ‘evidence: and persuaded to order his arrest. Letters were prepared by Cromwell while in prison attesting to conversations Henry had with him about how he had not consummated the marriage through an inability to proceed when he attempted to have sexual relations with Anne and he was kept around long enough to provide evidence used to end Anne and Henry’s marriage.

    The details of the Act of Attainment are not fully included here but the details of individual charges were ludicrous. One heresy charge was that on a date in March he had obtained meat through Lent and a more serious charge was that he didn’t believe Henry went far enough with his reforms and if he refused to go further Cromwell would “stand fighting in the streets with his dagger” all very dramatic and possibly a load of nonsense. He was tried and found guilty and condemned by his own favourite device: an Act of Attainder used originally on people not available for trial or to confirm a sentence, but now more regularly used instead of a trial.

    It was probably used as there was a lack of genuine evidence against Cromwell who had served Henry loyally for years and taken the burden of government from him. Cromwell has always been portrayed as a cruel man because he supported cruel legislation, but a closer look at the man in practice shows a much more pragmatic and practical person who had good judgement when discerning who should be charged under the Treason Act and who should not. When it came to ordinary people he was well aware of the part malice plays when people are asked to report on their neighbours. Several reports of something being said by ordinary people against Henry and Anne Boleyn were dismissed as foolish or down to ignorance and age or lies by jealous neighbours anxious for reward. I am aware of many such cases from his biography by John Scoffield. Yes, Cromwell left ten monks to hang in irons and didn’t bat an eyelid over heresy and treason alike being punished harshly and to the full letter of the law and his interrogation techniques dragged confessions out of terrified people. I hate to say this, but wasn’t that his job? Didn’t he have leave to act and even a duty to do so under Henry’s new laws, which yes he had a hand in, but which were ultimately the royal will? Who ruled England, Thomas Cromwell or Henry Viii? The fact that Cromwell now faced his own doom shows it was Henry Viii and Cromwell was getting the blame because Henry didn’t like his German bride.

    Thomas Cromwell was also a man who women found compassionate. He was diplomatic. He had helped Princess Mary and he helped Lady Rochford with her dower lands. He had also helped Mary Boleyn. The nobility used him as their agents when they needed something doing and Suffolk had used Cromwell to control his daughter from his first marriage who had left her husband. He also asked Cromwell to ensure his hapless son in law made sure his wife had an income and stopped gambling. Even Katherine of Aragon called Cromwell her special friend.

    Henry was courted by Norfolk and his allies to bring Cromwell down and he used his contacts with Gardiner and Fitzwilliam to promote his niece, Katherine Howard who Henry had been courting for months and whom he hoped would make the next Queen. It was in his interests to set up Cromwell and he had hoped to do so for some time. Henry was easily influenced and it didn’t take much persuasion to give orders for his old servants arrest. What we do know, however, is that Henry regretted his actions against Cromwell and told his council they had put him to death on the word of malicious enemies. The nonsense in the Attainder show he was right.

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