Thomas Cromwell’s Arrest

Posted By on June 10, 2010

On this day in history, the 10th June 1540, Thomas Cromwell was arrested at a council meeting. All had been going swimmingly for Cromwell until the Anne of Cleves debacle. Who could have known that a lady from Flanders would be his undoing?

The Rise of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex

Thomas Cromwell rose from humble beginnings in Putney in 1485 to be the King’s right hand man by 1532. The keys to his success were his education (he studied law and was fluent in French, Italian and Latin) his employment by Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and the patronage of a certain Anne Boleyn in the 1530s.

When Cardinal Wolsey fell from favour and then died in 1530, it was Cromwell to whom the King turned for advice regarding his wish to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and marry his new love, Anne Boleyn, and it was Cromwell who helped make the King’s wish come true. He was also Henry VIII’s “genie” when the King tired of Anne Boleyn and wanted rid of her. Nothing was beyond Cromwell, he just waved his magic wand (or whatever a genie uses) and – pouf! – Anne Boleyn was gone, and gone forever, he’d even got rid of her supporters too! Not only that, he also helped the King fill the royal coffers by presiding over the Dissolution of the Monasteries. What more could a king want?

When we look at the many titles bestowed on Cromwell, it is clear that he was THE royal favourite in the 1530s and the King’s right hand man – Chancellor of the Exchequer, Master of the Rolls, Secretary, Lord Privy Seal, Lord Great Chamberlain, Vicegerent in Spirituals and Earl of Essex. Phew! What a meteoric rise! But, they say that pride comes before a fall, and what a long way to fall, Master Secretary.

The Fall of Thomas Cromwell

Anne of Cleves

After the death of the King’s third wife, Jane Seymour, in October 1537, Thomas Cromwell was itching to use his magic wand again and help the King find the ideal fourth wife and also provide England with a useful ally against Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor. Pouf! Cromwell found the ideal candidate, Miss Cleves 1539 – Anna von Jülich-Kleve-Berg, sister of William, Duke of Jülich-Cleves-Berg. Court artist, Hans Holbein, was sent to paint a portrait of Anne of Cleves, and Henry obviously liked the look of her because he entered into a marriage treaty on the 4th October 1539. However, all went rather pear-shaped when Henry met Anne on her arrival in England, the King was not impressed. He ordered Cromwell to find a way to get out of the impending marriage without wrecking relations with Cleves, but Cromwell had lost his magic touch, his wand had lost its power and he failed the King.

On the 6th January 1540 King Henry VIII married Anne of Cleves but after the wedding night Henry told Cromwell: “I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse”, and told of how he could not bring himself to consummate the marriage. It appears that Cromwell lived in hope that the King would learn to love Anne, or at least tolerate her, but this did not happen and the King blamed him for the unhappy union.

The King’s unhappiness and disillusion allowed Cromwell’s opponents to rise up against him and push for his fall. They could never have moved against Cromwell when he stood high in royal favour, but he had failed the king and the king was not willing to protect him. At a council meeting on the 10th June 1540, a group led by the Duke of Norfolk got Cromwell arrested and he was taken to the Tower of London. An Act of Attainder was used against him, meaning that he had no trial in which to defend himself, but he was kept alive until the Cleves marriage could be annulled on the grounds of non-consummation. He was executed on the 28th July 1540 at the Tower of London and suffered an awful end with a botched execution. It is said that it took three blows to finish him. A sad end to a life full of glory.

As per usual, while his friends (or wives!) were coming to brutal ends, the King was out enjoying himself. This time, he was getting married to wife number 5, Catherine Howard.

21 thoughts on “Thomas Cromwell’s Arrest”

  1. Carolyn says:

    Karma’s a bitch, eh, Master Secretary?

  2. Louise says:

    For obvious reasons I am no great fan of Cromwell, but no one deserves to die like that. He spent a career putting into effect exactly what Henry wanted, and in the end he died exactly as Henry wanted. I suppose you could say his death was a fitting tribute, but wasn’t he merely trying to survive in a world made brutal by the monster on the throne?

    1. James says:

      You have to admit, it could have been worse. The full punishment for treason was not pretty.

  3. jenny says:

    Wonderful apt quote from a song in the musical “Chicago” – “He had it coming….”

  4. rosalie says:

    why couldn’t the anne of cleves marriage be annulled?

  5. Claire says:

    It was annulled in the end, but Henry actually didn’t want to go through with it in the first place. I’m sure that Cromwell would have got it annulled eventually but he was dragging his heels, I think in the hope that Henry and Anne would get on so that the alliance between England and Cleves would be strong and England would be protected from Charles V. It was an important alliance diplomatically and it was important to Cromwell, however, Henry really didn’t like Anne and wanted rid of her. All this was an opportunity for Cromwell’s opponents to rise up against Master Secretary, pointing out that he hadn’t got Henry what he wanted, despite the fact that he always had before. Henry did regret executing Cromwell and blamed his council for making him do it but it was too late then!
    The marriage was eventually annulled on the grounds that it had never been consummated and also on the grounds that Anne had been precontracted to the Duke of Lorraine. Anne did not argue and kept her head, along with some wonderful lands and properties, including Hever Castle.

  6. Anne Barnhill says:

    I’m just starting Wolf Hall so I should know a lot about Cromwell soon–I don’t think I can ever forgive him for what he did to Anne, though. But maybe this novel will make him more sympathetic.

  7. Sarah says:

    Is it true that years later Henry VIII regretted allowing the death of Cromwell?

  8. Claire says:

    Yes, that is true but he did not take the blame, instead he blamed his council.

  9. julie b says:

    Henry must have lived with alot of unhealthy guilt in his life.

    On another note, I am reading “The Lady in the Tower” and lovin’ it!!!! What a great book.
    Does anyone share my opinion?

  10. Sarah says:

    Absolutely brilliant book! I LOVED reading it! I bought it in London, read it on the flight home to Australia and cried half the way home! (The other passengers must have thought me crazy!)

  11. StephanieM says:

    Anne, Wolf Hall was hard to get into, but so good in the end! It actually made me very sympathetic to Cromwell and I started re-watching the Tudors (showtime) just to see how differently he was portrayed. Haven’t read The Lady in the Tower but it is now added to my list now!

  12. Hannah says:

    I rather hope that the people here leaving cruel comments about Cromwell’s end have read John Schofield’s excellent biography of Cromwell? The man is a scapegoat, and possibly the greatest statesman in English history.

  13. lisaannejane says:

    Hannah, Just my opinion, but the impression I get was that Cromwell was a ruthless politician, and he certainly wasn’t the only one. He was intelligent and willing to do whatever it took to make Henry happy, as well as anything to take care of himself. He felt threatened by Anne over the use of money from the monastaries and concocts a terrible story to bring her down. Even Chapuys didn’t think the charges were real. But he pleased Henry and that was all that mattered. And did he need to suppress them all – I don’t think he cared about the average citizen and how the better run monastaries did provide help to the poor. i think he did create a lot of bad karma, as well as a lot of enemies. I think Carolyn was right and that in his case, what comes around goes around. I did order “Wolf Hall” to see if it might give some insights into his character and another perspective just to be open minded about any views that may portray him in a better light.

  14. Emma says:

    The reason why so little of the money produced from the dissolution of the relgious houses went to charity was that it was being used to strengthen England’s defences. The reason for this was because of the increased risk of invasion. I’m reading The Lady in the Tower at the moment and Weir’s theory seems to be that Henry had reconcilled with Anne and that Cromwell was responsible for the whole plot that destroyed her because she knew he was taking ‘back handers’. There are a couple of reasons why I think this unlikely. Firstly if Anne had been truly back in favour with the King it would have been extremley dangerous to accuse her of anything. Secondly there are some glaring errors in the accusations against Anne. If Cromwell had decided to accuse a Queen who had the King’s backing a methodical man like he was would have made the case absoutley water tight. Thirdly it seems strange that Anne knew all about Cromwell profiting from the dissolution but Henry was in the dark about it. I remember reading that when Wolsley was in favour the King was indifferent to his lavish lifestyle only becoming bothered with it when he fell from grace. If Henry didn’t know, which seems unlikely, why didn’t Anne just tell him ? I personally think Anne at this time had not regained Henry’s support. Although Henry had told the spanish ambassodor that he insisited on Charles recognising Anne as Queen I think this was just a reaction to the extreme, to Henry’s mind, demands the emperor had made of him. He was just playing hard ball. During this period he still remained cool towards Anne & was still courting Jane as a future wife. And of course Henry often showed the most favour to people he was gathering evidence against to lull them into a false sense of security.

  15. Kaitlyn says:

    Allow me to just say this: no one, emphasis on NO ONE deserves to die in such a manner. The man was brutally maimed to death for crying out loud. Neither Cromwell, nor anyone else for that matter should have been executed in some a horrific way.

    For those of you using abusive language toward Cromwell I understand where you’re coming from, I really do. I hate what he did to Anne and others. However, did it ever occur to you all that he simply had to do these things? Did it not occur to any of you that if he did not serve his king that he would be executed, as well? Of course, he might as well have refused to obey his king and been executed. Unfortunately following the king’s orders did him little good in the end.

    He was quite ruthless at times, yes. So were the times in which he lived. Should he have done his job differently? Possibly. Did he have much choice? Absolutely not. He did not deserve his death. He was only an honest, hard-working man who tried to make a living and please a king who was extremely fickle with people.

    We cannot judge him or others because we live in much easier times, now. Most of us now do not have to worry about whether what we say or not will send us to the Tower or the block. People back then were not so lucky. I don’t believe it’s fair to pass such harsh judge on Secretary Cromwell when we did not have to deal with everything to deal with His Majesty.

  16. kcmarbaise says:

    I have just finished reading Hilary Mantel’s books entitled Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and I must say that I am now a fan of Thomas Cromwell. The fact that he achieved so much with such a rough start in life is something to be admired, He did not deserve to be executed. He was only doing his job and he worked for an unpredictable employer. It wasn’t his fault that the king wasn’t attracted to Anne of Cleves. Cromwell didn’t paint her portrait. And as for Anne Boleyn, it was actually her ladies in waiting who first made comments about Anne’s inappropriate behavior. It is very possible that she committed adultery because she was desperate to give the king a son. Not totally convinced she was innocent–where there’s smoke, there’s fire……

    1. Donald Sargeant says:

      Henry was certainly not a very fertile man as can be seen that none of his last three wives conceived, though Catherine Parr his last wife married shortly after Henry’s death and conceived almost immediately and had a daughter though she died just after the birth.

  17. Kelley says:

    Ultimately, Henry drove all of these people’s actions. Nothing at his court happened without his deign and approval. The courtiers and politicians were all his pawns and were used in whatever fashion he needed at the time. I am constantly amazed at how tightly Henry held the reins of power while he was alive. I can’t believe Henry got away with everything like he did.

  18. Megan MacDonald says:

    I also read Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, both of which are excellent and also (kcmarbaise) made me a fan.
    I’m curious though, I see he was arrested by the Duke of Norfolk. This would be the 3rd Duke of Norfolk (logically) who was Ann’s uncle, right? I had a quick look at his Wikipedia page (bet he never imagined he’d have one of those!) and I see he lived to the ripe old age of 81!!! In a time when executions were commonplace, that’s pretty amazing! Can anyone recommend a biography on him?
    (And by the way, I’m South African, and I was lucky enough to be in London exactly one month ago. I went to the Tower – of course!! – and I picked up a little stone from Tower Green, in the pouring rain, just so that I could have a piece of history! 🙂 )

  19. Ana Gomez says:

    Terrible thing to befall some one … for being the right hand man of Henry the VIII – a scapegoat – very sad ! But they Cromwell had no scruples at all – – and it was indeed the prive paíd for sending many people to cruel deaths in orden to obtain more power –

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