Your Most Sorrowful Subject – Thomas Cromwell’s Plea to Henry VIII in June 1540

Tower of London
Tower of London

Following his arrest two days earlier, Thomas Cromwell wrote to Henry VIII on 12th June 1540, from his prison in the Tower of London, asking for mercy and pleading his innocence.

Here is his letter:

Prostrate at your Majesty’s feet, I have heard your pleasure by your Controller, viz., that I should write such things as I thought meet concerning my most miserable state. And where I have been accused of treason, I never in all my life thought to displease your Majesty; much less to do or say “that thing which of itself is so high and abominable offence.” Your Grace knows my accusers, God forgive them. If it were in my power to make you live for ever, God knows I would; or to make you so rich that you should enrich all men, or so powerful that all the world should obey you. For your Majesty has been most bountiful to me, and more like a father than a master. I ask you mercy where I have offended. Never spoke with the Chancellor of the Augmentations and Frogmerton together at a time; but if I did, I never spoke of any such matter. Your Grace knows what manner of man Throgmerton has ever been towards you and your proceedings. What Master Chancellor has been to me, God and he know best; what I have been to him your Majesty knows. If I had obeyed your often most gracious counsels it would not have been with me as now it is. But I have committed my soul to God, my body and goods to your pleasure. As for the Commonwealth, I have done my best, and no one can justly accuse me of having done wrong wilfully. If I heard of any combinations or offenders against the laws, I have for the most part (though not as I should have done) revealed and caused them to be punished. But I have meddled in so many matters, I cannot answer all.

The Controller showed me that you complained that within these 14 days I had revealed a matter of great secrecy. I remember the matter, but I never revealed it. After your Grace had spoken to me in your chamber of the things you misliked in the Queen, I told you she often desired to speak with me, but I durst not, and you thought I might do much good by going to her and telling her my mind. Lacking opportunity I spoke with her lord Chamberlain, for which I ask your mercy, to induce her to behave pleasantly towards you. I repeated the suggestion, when the lord Chamberlain and others of her council came to me at Westminster for licence for the departure of the strange maidens. This was before your Grace committed the secret matter to me, which I never disclosed to any but my lord Admiral, by your commandment on Sunday last; whom I found equally willing to seek a remedy for your comfort, saying he would spend the best blood in his belly for that object.

Was also accused at his examination of retaining contrary to the laws. Denies that he ever retained any except his household servants, but it was against his will. Was so besought by persons who said they were his friends that he received their children and friends—not as retainers, for their fathers and parents did find them; but if he have offended, desires pardon. Acknowledges himself a miserable sinner towards God and the King, but never wilfully. Desires prosperity for the King and Prince. “Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject, and most humble servant and prisoner, this Saturday at your [Tower] of London.

Also on this day in history…

  • 1530 – Catherine of Aragon told Henry VIII to abandon his “wicked” life.
  • 1535 – Richard Rich interviewed Sir Thomas More in the Tower of London. He later reported, at More’s trial, that More had denied the royal supremacy during this interview.
  • 1553 – Edward VI’s council commanded the judges of the King’s Bench to turn Edward’s “Devise for the succession” into a legal will.

Notes and Sources

  • LP xv. 776

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14 thoughts on “Your Most Sorrowful Subject – Thomas Cromwell’s Plea to Henry VIII in June 1540”
  1. what i find so sad about cromwell and his downfall, is that henry came to regret the decisions he made. a needless death indeed.

  2. I think he got his just desserts he had Anne Boleyn and those innocent men murdered so he hasn’t any sympathy from me, whilst in his cell he knew then how they all felt, he was just as bad as the King

    1. I don’t think Cromwell was as bad as history makes him out to be. He was only doing what Henry VIII wanted him to do. Even after many years of being a faithful servant, Henry had him executed too.

      1. I consider Cromwell to be most vile man of his time, and he and Henry both as serial killers – alternately feeding off one another’s inventiveness for cruelty

  3. I’m with Christine, he was a self serving, cruel man who was only interested in himself. He was incredibly two faced, especially in regards to Anne. No sympathy here, either.

  4. While I have little sympathy for Thomas Cromwell; and I feel in this case he did make his own bed to lie in; and some of his downfall is of his own making; I cannot but think that even in his case the whole thing is a stitch up. Yes, Cromwell had built up a reserve of enemies; so had Anne Boleyn, but I doubt anyone would say she got her just deserts; yes he had meddled in affairs of state, perhaps behind the Kings back and that raised the suspicians of treason against him; yes he had a particular agenda with the Cleves marriage, which led to his failure and fall; but some of the details that he was accused off in the Act of Attainer against him read more like a Shakespearean tragedy than a convincing case. For example: he was accused of claiming on a certain date in March that had the King diverted from the reforms he would go on supporting them and defend them, fighting in the street with his dagger drawn and so on. Sounds like a load nonsense.

    I think that Cromwell brought about his own end but it is also a matter of his enemies gathering together, making a partial case from letters he had written, and a partial case from rumours and invention. As to the treason laws that condemned him; well he fell victim of his own laws; for some it must have been poetic justice. He may also appear to deserve death after his involevment in the deaths of others; but the case against him was as just as the cases that he had brought against others. In other words he now had fallen foul of the royal displeasure and his guilt was a foregone conclusion. The letter above, however, indicates that he even admits that at times he did not always do the right or legal thing and may have done something to deserve the fate that now awaited him.

  5. I used to hate Cromwell for his case against Anne and felt that he got what was coming to him – an eye for an eye, so to speak. However, while I still have little love for Cromwell, I think that he was just doing what the king required of him – in Anne’s case, to make a case of judicial murder. Henry was good at executing people who were an inconvenience to him, or to make points with his subjects – he was only 18 when he ordered the executions of Empson and Dudley, who were despised by the people because of the taxes they collected – by order of Henry VII! I guess in the dog eat dog world of the Tudor court you had to learn to be a survivor.

  6. Unfortunately, to survive in those times and work so close to a man who was so fickle and almost schizophrenic you had to be constantly watching your back, he only did what Henry wanted but Henry was to much of a coward to own up to ordering executions so he had to have his man to do it for him and to blame, It must have been tiring to be constantly on your guard and saying the right thing.

  7. I don’t think it ever occurred to Henry VIII that he owed gratitude or loyalty to anyone. Cromwell had some genuinely advanced ideas … like taxing the rich so the poor people kicked off land (due to enclosures) could be employed on public work projects …. but Parliament wouldn’t pass it, and apparently, he was also quite charitable (fed something like over 100 poor people a day) Also, I don’t think he can be blamed for Anne Boleyn’s fate … IMO, there is no way that he would create false charges against Anne if Henry hadn’t told him to get rid of her.

    1. I agree with Esther (and BanditQueen): in fact, by 1540 I don’t doubt H8 thought he was god-like (although perhaps he was also demented at times). Yes, of course Cromwell “had meddled in affairs of state”; he was Henry’s chief minister, and Henry was probably very pleased to have Cromwell do the meddling when it brought about an outcome he desired. He was Henry’s fixer, for better or for worse. And I love the fact that Henry regretted Cromwell’s death–not that it seemed to have reined in his style. Am I correct in thinking that Henry managed to blame that inconvenient action on others?

      1. I am not certain of the exact source or circumstances but I think I have read a couple of times that Henry in a not so good moment moaned about being without Cromwell, stated he mourned his passing and said others had caused him to put to death the most faithful servant that he ever had. May-be as in the Tudors; the old leg was not too good or the work of state was too much for the King as after Cromwell he did not have another first minister; he did a lot more himself. Cromwell was certainly Henry’s fixer; that was a great turn of phrase.

  8. I have mixed feelings about Cromwell. He did what he cruelly did for the king, but for his own benefit as well. I don’t think he ever imagined he would end up just as those he had himself wrongfully condemned. However, as the saying goes “pigs get fat and hogs get slaughtered”. Shame though, I wonder if he thought about all the people he put in the very same position he found himself in when it was his turn. Maybe he felt sorry in the end? Who knows? Brilliant man though and will always be remembered for his mark in history.

  9. I was never interested in history but when I saw Wolf Hall that changed.Such a huge change in English history and Thomas Cromwell was right in the thick of it all.

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