Launde Abbey Chapel – Resting place of Gregory Cromwell

Today we have a guest article from Teri Fitzgerald who has done extensive research into the life of Gregory Cromwell, son of Thomas Cromwell. Over to Teri…

What do we really know about Gregory Cromwell, the only son of Henry VIII’s chief minister and right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell? It was a revelation to me, after researching Thomas Cromwell, to discover how his son Gregory has been maligned by several historians. Curiosity drove me to discover if there was any truth to their portrayal of Gregory Cromwell. When it became obvious that there wasn’t, I set out to prove the allegations to be false and to explore the possible reasons for this unjustified criticism.

Thomas Cromwell’s first modern biographer, R. B. Merriman, who demonstrated a thinly-veiled contempt for his subject, also made a number of inaccurate assumptions and assertions about Thomas Cromwell’s son, Gregory, which included:1

  • Gregory Cromwell was around fourteen or fifteen in 1528
  • His tutor’s reports suggested he lacked intelligence (based on an inaccurate estimate of his year of birth and a single letter)
  • He was made a peer of the realm and summoned to Parliament in 1539
  • His father’s barony was restored to him in 1540
  • He died in 1557

Successive historians have accepted Merriman’s conclusions without questioning their accuracy and several writers have embellished his negative comments about Gregory’s character and abilities.

The Official Version

It has been generally accepted by historians that Gregory Cromwell was born around 1514 based on the misapprehension that he was fourteen or fifteen when he was at Cambridge in 1528.2 Gregory has been described by various historians as ‘a dull lad’,3 ‘a dull and plodding lad’, ‘stupid and slow beyond belief’,4 a ‘stolid and wastrel son’5 who was nevertheless married off to Lady Elizabeth Ughtred, the sister of Queen Jane Seymour. Gregory, according to one writer, ‘was to remain to Cromwell as his constant hope and disappointment.’6 It has also been asserted that a few months after Thomas Cromwell’s downfall and execution, his father’s forfeited barony was restored to him,7,8 then the simple-minded Gregory, perhaps in poor health,9 faded into obscurity and died in 1557.10

The Real Gregory Cromwell

The aim of this article is to show, by means of contemporary sources, that the above depiction of Gregory Cromwell is pure fiction. The primary sources present a very different picture:

  • Gregory Cromwell was around seven or eight in 1528.
    To date no-one has attempted to check the accuracy of Gregory Cromwell’s accepted year of birth, 1514. Sir Henry Ellis stated that ‘The date of Gregory Cromwell’s birth is not recorded, but it could hardly have been earlier than 1520.’11In fact, there is plenty of evidence in the primary sources to pinpoint the approximate year of Gregory’s birth and which suggests the later date of 1520.Merriman used the following letter from Gregory’s tutor, John Chekyng, to Thomas Cromwell written in July, 1528 to assess Gregory’s character and intelligence and concluded that he ‘appears to have been a dull and plodding lad’ and ‘stupid and slow beyond belief’ assuming the boy to have been a teenager.His son Gregory is not now at Cambridge, but in the country, where he works and plays alternately. He is rather slow, but diligent. He had been badly tutored, and could hardly conjugate three verbs when committed to Chekyng’s care, though he repeated the rules by rote. If this is Palgrave’s12 style of teaching, does not believe he will ever make a scholar. Will have to unteach him nearly all he has learned. He is now studying the things most conducive to the reading of authors, and spends the rest of the day in forming letters.13Merriman didn’t realize that Chekyng’s letter was describing a very young boy, about seven or eight years old. If he had read the letter carefully, he would have also realized that John Chekyng was criticizing John Palsgrave, Gregory’s previous tutor, and not insulting the child’s intelligence. Merriman failed to notice Chekyng’s next letter to Gregory’s father in November of the same year that refers to ‘little Gregory’.14There are several clues to Gregory’s age throughout his life. There are letters from his supervisors, tutors and mentors during his education that provide evidence of his age.
    They Include a letter from Margaret Vernon in 152815Your son is in good health, and is a very good scholar, and can construe his paternoster and creed.16 When you next come to me I doubt not that you shall like him very well.and another letter from Vernon, which can be dated to between September, 1529 and Whitsuntide 153017

    You promised that I should have the governance of the child till he was 12 years old.18 By that time he shall speak for himself if any wrong be offered him, for as yet he cannot, except by my maintenance…

    Letters to Thomas Cromwell from Gregory’s Cambridge tutor, John Chekyng, describe a ‘little’ boy who ‘plays’ and who is learning to read and write in July, 1528.19

    Gregory is not now at Cambridge, but in the country, where he works and plays alternately… He is now studying the things most conducive to the reading of authors, and spends the rest of the day in forming letters.

    and November, 1528
    Little Gregory is becoming great in letters.20

    Further, there are three key pieces of evidence that suggest that Gregory Cromwell reached his majority, i.e., eighteen, in 1538 and therefore point to a birth year of 1520:- His first official position was in 1538, when he became a justice of the peace in Sussex,21 his father alienated several properties to him and his heirs in November, 1538,22 the first in his own name, independently of his father and lastly, he became a Member of Parliament for Kent in April, 1539.23

  • His supervisor’s reports show that he was a capable scholar. Margaret Vernon stated in 1528 that he was ‘a very good scholar ‘,24 Henry Dowes remarked in 1535 on ‘the ripenes and maturitie of his wytte’25 and Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk wrote to Gregory’s father in August, 1536 ‘Be sure you shall have in him a wise quick piece’.26
  • He became a Member of Parliament, having been elected as one of the knights of the shire for Kent and was summoned to Parliament in 1539 to sit in the House of Commons.27, 28
  • He was not raised to the peerage in 1539 as has been claimed by several sources.29
  • He was granted the courtesy title of Lord Cromwell, Baron of Wimbledon in April, 154030, 31when his father was created Earl of Essex. The courtesy title was forfeited after his father’s arrest and subsequent attainder in July 1540.
  • He was raised to the peerage as 1st Baron Cromwell of Oakham in 1540. This was a new creation with a different territorial designation and not a restoration of his father’s forfeited barony.32Thomas Cromwell had been 1st Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon.33
  • He led an active life managing his vast estates, dealing with shire administration and regularly attending the House of Lords.34 There is no evidence that he suffered from poor health and since he died very wealthy, it is doubtful that he was a wastrel.
  • He died in 1551. Several contemporary sources report his death from the sweating sickness in July 1551.35

His Accomplishments

Gregory Cromwell was an accomplished, intelligent, and successful man. He spoke both French and Latin, played the lute and virginals and had received an extensive education.36 He was athletic and his favourite activities were riding, hunting with the long bow and hawking.37

Elizabeth Seymour, Lady Cromwell, Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger – once thought to be Catherine Howard.

Gregory married Lady Elizabeth Ughtred, the sister of Queen Jane Seymour in 1537.38 Gregory and Elizabeth had three sons and two daughters.39 Gregory is known to have participated in the Great London Muster of 153940 and the May Day jousting tournaments at Westminster in 1540.41, 42 He was elected as one of the knights of the shire for Kent and summoned to Parliament in April 1539 to sit in the House of Commons.43, 44 He was created 1st Baron Cromwell of Oakham in 154045 and after being raised to the peerage, he attended the House of Lords. Gregory is known to have participated in the funeral of Henry VIII46 and became a Knight of the Bath at the coronation of Edward VI in 1547.47, 48

Gregory enjoyed the friendship of such notable men as Sir Ralph Sadler and Sir William Cecil (later Lord Burghley).49 He survived the catastrophic fall from royal favour and subsequent execution of his father in 1540, as well as the ousting of his brother-in-law and patron, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, in 1549 and was a wealthy landowner, owning land and properties in several counties in the east of England, mainly in Rutland and Leicestershire.50

His family connections had provided him with wealth, property and privileges, however, it was his own intelligence and abilities, together with the remarkable education and training provided by his father, that enabled him to benefit from them during his life and to leave his wife and family well provided for at his death in 1551.51 He is buried in Launde Abbey chapel where there is a monument to him, to the left of the altar.52 Gregory was succeeded by his eldest son, and heir, Henry.

Sadly, there doesn’t appear to be a surviving portrait of Gregory Cromwell, however, given Thomas Cromwell’s patronage of Hans Holbein the Younger, it would be surprising if no portrait was painted during his youth or at the time of his marriage.

Unjustified Criticism

Some writers have simply accepted the findings of earlier historians without checking the primary sources and have repeated the various inaccuracies believing them to be a true reflection of Gregory Cromwell. Others, for various reasons, have shown real malice in their portrayal of the man.

Gregory’s father, Thomas Cromwell, was by no means a popular figure. As Henry VIII’s chief minister, he had attempted to modernize government at the expense of the privileges of the nobility and church. He was nominated by the king to oversee the destruction of the monasteries, used his office to promote religious reform and was one of the strongest advocates of the English Reformation.

Harsh measures carried out while he was in office caused deep resentment and made him many enemies among religious conservatives. Since Thomas Cromwell’s death this resentment has persisted, and a number of writers acting under the compulsions of ideology have taken a delight in blackening his name and disparaging his son.

For others, who believe that Henry VIII was an innocent bystander in his own court, Thomas Cromwell will always be remembered as the villain who allegedly brought down Anne Boleyn, her brother, George, and her faction single-handedly and sent them all to the scaffold. Their distaste is reflected in their depictions of the man and his son, Gregory.

The question is, can the vilification of an innocent man ever be justified because of the perceived sins of his father? Surely historical figures, who are unable to defend themselves, should be treated with respect.

It has been said that we filter all our ‘truths’ through our own prejudices and points of view. No two people view the same person or situation in quite the same way. It would appear that historians are no exception. They are only human after all and make mistakes. It only goes to show that when it comes to history, we shouldn’t believe everything we read.

External Links

Notes and Sources

  1. R. B. Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, 1902, vol. I, p. 12, 53, 145, 301 – Merriman repeats the same mistakes that were made in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1888, vol. XIII., pp. 195, 201-203
  2. Walter Farquhar Hook, The Lives of the Archbishops of Canterbury, vol. 6, 1868, p. 122 –
  3. Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1888, vol. XIII, pp. 195 –
  4. bid., p. 53
  5. Robert Hutchinson, Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister, 2007, p. 132-133
  6. B. W. Beckingsale, Thomas Cromwell: Tudor Minister, 1978, p. 18
  7. R. B. Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, 1902, vol. I, p. 145, 301
  8. Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1888, vol. XIII, pp. 201
  9. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Gregory Cromwell –
  10. Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1888, vol. XIII, p. 202
  11. Henry Ellis, Original Letters Illustrative of English History, third series,1846, vol. I, p. 338 Introductory note –
  12. John Palsgrave, author of L’éclaircissement de la langue française/ Tutor to Mary Tudor, the King’s sister and Henry Fitzroy. He composed L’esclarcissement de la langue francoyse (printed in 1530 in London and dedicated to Henry VIII). This book — written in English despite its French title — is said to be the first grammar of the French language. Its purpose was to help Englishmen who wanted to learn French.
  13. Letters & Papers, vol. 4, 4560, 27 July 1528
  14. Letters & Papers, vol. 4, 4916, 8 November 1528
  15. Letters &Papers, vol. 5, Miscellaneous, 18, 1531
  16. Letters &Papers, vol. 5, Miscellaneous, 18, 1531Nicholas Orme, From Childhood to Chivalry: The Education of the English Kings and Aristocracy, 1066-1530, 1984, p. 130 At that time, young children practised reading from religious texts, the primer, containing the Paternoster, Ave Maria, Creed and other common prayers and liturgical books like the antiphonal and the psalter. In the case of boys, the learning of Latin grammar also involved religious material. An elementary exercise might take the form of studying and analysing the basic prayers in their Latin forms.
  17. Letters &Papers, vol. 5, Miscellaneous, 17, 1531
  18. t was not unusual for gentlemen at that time to place their young children in the care of nuns. As a rule the boys in nunneries were very young. It was not considered appropriate for them to stay with the nuns later than the age of nine or ten (Eileen Power, Medieval English Nunneries c.1275 to 1535, 2010, pp. 263, 267, 570). The nuns were permitted to educate only the girls. It was customary for young boys, up to the age of nine or ten, to be supervised by nuns, but not taught by them, and so they were usually accompanied by a male tutor(Dowling, Humanism in the Age of Henry VIII, 1986, pp. 86-7, 160, 176, 192-4) as was Gregory Cromwell (Letters & Papers, vol. 5, 15, Miscellaneous, 1531).
  19. Letters & Papers, vol. 4, 4560, 27 July 1528
  20. Letters & Papers, vol. 4, 4916, 8 November 1528
  21. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Gregory Cromwell –
  22. Letters & Papers, vol. 13, 2, 967-54, November, 1538
  23. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Kent – Constituencies –
  24. Letters &Papers, vol. 5, Miscellaneous, 18, 1531
  25. Henry Ellis Original Letters Illustrative of English History, third series, 1846, vol. I, pp. 341-343
  26. Letters & Papers, vol 11, 233, 5 August 1536
  27. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Gregory Cromwell
  28. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 Kent – Constituencies
  29. R. B. Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, 1902, vol. I, p. 145 ; Dictionary of National Biography, London, 1888, vol. XIII, p. 201
  30. Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, 1808, vol. 3, England, p. 815 –
  31. Charles Wriothesley, A Chronicle Of England During The Reigns Of The Tudors: From A.D. 1485 To 1559, ed. W.D. Hamilton, vol. I, (new series XI), 1875, p. 116-117 –
  32. Letters & Papers vol. 16, Grants, December, 379-34, 1540 ; Letters & Papers, vol. 13, part 1, 1519-2, July, 1538 ; Letters & Papers, vol. 13, part 2, 967-54, November, 1538
  33. Letters & Papers vol. 11, Grants, July, 202-14, 1536 ; Francis Blomefield, An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk, vol. 9, 1808, Launditch Hundred: Elmham, pp. 486-495
  34. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Gregory Cromwell
  35. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, vol. III, 1913, pp. 557-558 –; John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, 1822, vol. II, part I, p. 493-494 –; The Travels and Life of Sir Thomas Hoby, Kt of Bisham Abbey, written by himself, 1547-1564, edited for the Royal Historical Society by Edgar Powell, 1902, p.73 ; Barbara Winchester, Tudor Family Portrait, 1955, p. 270
    Gregory Cromwell died in July, 1551, the same month as Henry Brandon, the young Duke of Suffolk and his brother Charles.
  36. Henry Ellis, Original Letters Illustrative of English History, third series, 1846, vol. I, pp. 341-345
  37. Ibid., pp. 343-345
  38. John Schofield, The Rise & Fall of Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, 2011, p. 288
  39. Douglas Richardson, Kimball G. Everingham (editor), Magna Carta Ancestry: A Study in Colonial and Medieval Families, 2nd ed., 2011, p. 111
  40. Wriothesley, A Chronicle Of England During The Reigns Of The Tudors: From A.D. 1485 To 1559, ed. W.D. Hamilton, vol. I, (new series XI), 1875, p. 95-97
  41. Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland and Ireland, 1808, vol. 3, England, p. 815
  42. Charles Wriothesley, A Chronicle Of England During The Reigns Of The Tudors: From A.D. 1485 To 1559, ed. W.D. Hamilton, vol. I, (new series XI), 1875, p. 116-117
  43. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Gregory Cromwell
  44. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 Kent – Constituencies
  45. Letters & Papers vol. 16, Grants, December, 379-34, 1540
  46. Hutchinson, Robert, The Last Days of Henry VIII, 2006, p. 226
  47. The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, vol. III, 1913, pp. 557-558 – Gregory Cromwell –
  48. John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials, 1822, vol. II, part I, p. 36 –
  49. The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Thomas Cromwell –
  50. Letters and Papers, vol. 13, part 2, 967-54, Grants, November, 1538 ; Letters and Papers, vol. 16, 580-49, Grants, February, 1541 ; James Wright, The History and Antiquities of the County of Rutland, 1684, p. 97
  51.  The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1509-1558, ed. S.T. Bindoff, 1982 – Gregory Cromwell
  52. Nikolaus Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Leicestershire and Rutland, 2nd ed. revised by Elizabeth Williamson, 2001, p. 198 and plate 28
    The monument to Gregory Cromwell, which is to the left of the altar, is said to be one of the finest examples of early English Renaissance sculpture in the country.

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54 thoughts on “Who Was Gregory Cromwell? – How Fiction Became History by Teri Fitzgerald”
  1. I love this article, Teri.
    Like you and Claire, I hate it when historical characters are unfairly demonised, whether in fiction or non-fiction.
    You’ve done Gregory Cromwell proud!!

  2. Interesting article – thanks. Any info on the descendants?

    Re the comment,”.. and was a wealthy landowner, owning land and properties in several counties in the south-east of England, mainly in Rutland and Leicestershire”. These are hardly in the S E of England…

      1. Many thanks Teri, one of the many useful things about this site is the links provided to other sources – appreciated.

  3. Great piece! The amount of misinformation perpetuated by authors blindly accepting what others have written before them is mind-boggling.

  4. Thanks for this article Teri. It’s great to see some of the lesser known Tudor people getting their real stories told.

  5. Great article! Life at court was one big chess game and it seems as if it continues to this day with their life stories

      1. True for the Crown, which is unique, and indeed Edward VI was flexing his will at sixteen, with his Device for the Succession (Lady Jane Grey). But for ordinary folks, twenty-one was the age in inheritance law and/or land ownership.

        1. There’s no way that Gregory was 21 in 1539. It looks like his father used his position to have his underage son elected to parliament! According to Keith Thomas, influential men could get their sons into parliament before the age of 21 to vote on crucial issues.
          Keith Thomcas, ‘The Age of Authority in Early Modern England’, 1933, p. 11

        2. Sorry, that reference should be Keith Thomas, “Age and Authority in Early Modern England,” Proceedings of the British Academy 62 (1976): p. 11

  6. Enjoyed this article – very interesting. Can I ask when the portrait, formerly thought to be Catherine Howard, was identified as Elizabeth Cromwell? The last I heard, she was still unknown, and Mary Howard, Duchess of Richmond was the strongest candidate.

    1. That the portrait could be Elizabeth Seymour, was first argued by Antonia Fraser. (I don’t know how long ago, sorry)
      My source was Derek Wilson, Hans Holbein: Portrait of an unknown Man, rev. ed. 2006, p. 215

      The sitter is only believed to be Elizabeth Seymour, however her identity is still not known for certain.

      The National Portrait Galley lists the painting as “Unknown woman, formerly known as Catherine Howard”

  7. Great research Terri, it is great when the more unknown Tudors come to the fore front.
    And your last paragraph is so true, so very true…

    Do you know, Terri, if Gregory ever stayed at Oakham Castle, did you come across it in your research?
    I visited there many years ago, there is only the Great Hall left now, small but intact,, with a tradition of ‘Horse Shoes’ on the wall, lots of info on the web on this place if you want to check it out, it’s a lovely
    There was also an archaelogical dig there by Time Team recently, (on TV last week).

    1. It’s interesting that you mention Oakham Castle. Oakham was transferred to Gregory and his heirs in November, 1538 by his father. I ‘d love to see that episode of Time Team !(as I’m in Australia, it might be a while before we see it).
      The Wikipedia article listed under External Links has some information about Gregory and Oakham that is accurate. Look under the heading’ Peerage and Knighthood ‘,_1st_Baron_Cromwell

      1. Thanks for that link Terri. I notice further down, it says that Hilary Mantle wrote of him as a ‘child-like, slighty inept, but lovable young man’ in Wolf Hall.!!!

        If you type in Time Team – 4oD – Channel 4, you will be able to watch this episode (7). How you enjoy it.

  8. Thank you so much for the wonderful article. I have been interested in the Cromwell’s for quite awhile and this info is just the filling inside the cake.

    Many Thanks,

  9. Dear Teri
    Please know how GLAD I am to receive this article; I have just come from Launde Abbey, which is ten minutes from where I live at the moment, and feel exonerated in that I have been sure of Gregory’s fine character and standing!
    Please do email me if I can help you in any way, since I live so near.
    Also please to keep my email address un-public!
    Thank you!

  10. As a direct descendant through my grandmother of Gregory Cromwell (through the families of Trewelha, Crymes and Drake of Buckland), I am interested in the question of the date of Gregory’s birth, particularly in the context of identifying possible portraits. If as it seems he was at university at Cambridge in 1528, surely this suggests that Gregory was aged around 14, not around 8. So a birth date of around 1514 seems much more likely. I also see that although some of her letters to Thomas Cromwell can be dated, the letter from Margaret Vernon which mentions Gregory is apparently undated, and that she was Prioress of Little Marlow from at least 1521. And if it were dated 1528 Gregory would be according to her own letter aged 12 years at the most and still under her governance. So why would he be – as we know he was that year – with a private tutor at Cambridge? Also the age of majority in the 16th century was 21, not 18. It would seem inherently unlikely that Gregory would have been made a JP and an MP whilst still a minor. I should be very interested in anyone’s thoughts on how these discrepancies might be overcome.

  11. As a descendant of Gregory Cromwell through my grandmother (via the families of Drake of Buckland, Crymes and Trewelha) I am very interested in the question of the date of Gregory’s birth. Since we know that he was at Cambridge university in 1528, an age of 14 rather than 8 then would surely fit much better. 14 was the usual age for university education in Tudor England, which followed the completion of a period of private tuition. Also whilst some of her letters are actually dated, I see that the particular letter from Margaret Vernon to Thomas Cromwell which mentions Gregory’s education with her is undated and if it were dateable to 1528 why would she say Gregory was under her governance until the age of 12 when he had left her and as we know from John Chekyngs’ dated letter was at Cambridge that year? Margaret Vernon was Prioress of Little Marlow from at least 1521 and so the letter could have been written much earlier. Furthermore, the age of majority in the 16th century was 21,not 18, and if Gregory were born c 1520 he would still have been a minor when he was appointed both a JP and an MP. I am particularly interested in how these discrepancies might be overcome as there is possible alternative portraiture of Gregory to be identified if he was born at the earlier date of c 1514 rather than the revised date of c 1520. So comments on all of this are very welcome!

    1. Kevin,
      The Letters of Margaret Vernon and John Chekyng provide strong evidence that Gregory Cromwell was a young boy in 1528.
      Margaret Vernon to Cromwell in 1528:
      “Your son is in good health, and is a very good scholar, and can construe his paternoster and creed. When you next come to me I doubt not that you shall like him very well.”
      Learning to translate the Paternoster and the Creed from Latin was an elementary exercise for young children.
      In a later letter, Vernon was objecting to the fact that Gregory, who was still under the age of 12, had been removed from her care and sent to Cambridge:
      “You promised that I should have the governance of the child till he was 12 years old. By that time he shall speak for himself if any wrong be offered him, for as yet he cannot, except by my maintenance…”
      Vernon’s letter is one of a series that date to just before and after Wolsey’s fall.
      Letters to Thomas Cromwell from Gregory’s Cambridge tutor, John Chekyng, describe a ‘little’ boy who ‘plays’ and who is learning to read and write:
      July 1528/9:
      “Gregory is not now at Cambridge, but in the country, where he works and plays alternately… He is now studying the things most conducive to the reading of authors, and spends the rest of the day in forming letters.”
      and November 1528/9:
      Little Gregory is becoming great in letters. (The editors of Letters and Papers dated these letters to 1528, but 1529 is more likely.)
      Unbiased observers could come to only one conclusion, that the letters refer to a young boy, and not a teenager. Henry Ellis and Mary C. Erler have done so.
      It was certainly not unheard of for minors to be elected to Parliament in the sixteenth century!

  12. Thanks Teri!
    Do you know what the evidence is for the precise dating of Margaret Vernon’s undated letters? From what you say it appears then that everything ng appears to turn on that. Especially the crucial undated one referring to her being promised the governance of Gregory until the age of 12? I see that David Loades, Thomas Cromwell’s most recent biographer, is still firmly convinced that Gregory’s correct date of birth is c1514, which would of course fit with a normal starting age for the c16th of around 14 in about 1528, as indicated by John Chekyng’s reference to Cambridge in his letter.
    I assume David Loades was well aware of these letters and of the suggested revised birth date of c1520? It would be very interesting to know therefore what his counter-argument is in the light of this as I assume he has given the issue detailed consideration?

    1. Kevin,

      Michael Everett is Cromwell’s latest biographer. He gives Gregory Cromwell’s dates incorrectly as 1516-1561. He was preceded by Tracy Borman, who gives a birth year of c.1520 for Gregory. Everett and David Loades have accepted R. B. Merriman’s and James Gairdner’s mistake. I suspect that Merriman and Gairdner (who didn’t have Vernon’s letters) only read Chekyng’s first letter to Cromwell and didn’t bother to read the next one referring to ‘little’ Gregory.

      Henry Ellis (who had seen Vernon’s letters) was the first to give the more likely birth year of c.1520.

      Mary C. Erler also gives c. 1520 (see p. 94, dating of Vernon’s letters pp. 158-168 not available in preview)

      For Margaret Vernon’s letters to Cromwell

      Wood, vol II, pp.52-60

  13. Thanks Teri! I am sorry for the delayed reply here but am very grateful to you for your taking the time to give such a detailed and helpful reply. Since this is effectively genealogical research for me – Gregory is a direct ancestor of mine – and anything concrete appears to hinge on other people’s assessment of the dates of each of those Margaret Vernon letters I shall have to go to the British Library (which is just down the road from me) when I get time, and carefully check each one and the context in which each was written. I always like to check the primary sources first hand myself whenever possible. I am especially interested in Gregory’s date of birth because of the likelihood of one of various unknown sitters in surviving Holbein portraits being him. If it is the early date, I have an idea for a very possible one, given age and specific aspects of the costume, symbolism and background; if it is the late date, those Holbein portraits of the unknown boy seem very plausible indeed. Thanks again! I will be sure to let you know here the results of my further research.

  14. Hi Teri I have checked and it seems none of John Chekyng’s seven letters to Thomas Cromwell about Gregory bears a date. The same is true of Margaret Vernon’s letter referring to her being promised the governance of Gregory until he reaches the age of 12. In fact the letters appear all to have been dated on the basis of estimates of the age of Gregory’s birth. So the argument as to his date of birth based on the letters is it seems circular! This is very frustrating since I would like to be able to verify his age as either the earlier date of 1513/14 or the later one of 1519/20, one way or the other, in order to identify the possible portraiture. Since the letters therefore appear to leave things inconclusive, further research into possible portraits of Gregory (which surely exist given that his father was a major patron of Holbein) may be the best solution and so I shall see if I can research them further. I have found a Regency engraving by George Perfect Harding of a lost portrait of a young man which has been catalogued as Thomas Cromwell the parliamentary diarist, Gregory’s son – but this appears to be incorrect because the costume of the sitter is very clearly c1540, not c 1560, and if therefore this is Gregory, Thomas’s father, the physical appearance of the sitter matches extremely well with yet another portrait – of an unknown man by Holbein. The latter portrait is of a man aetatis suae 28 in 1541, has a background similar to the Holbein of Gregory’s father Thomas, and has a pattern on the collar which may represent the Gromwell (or Cromwell) flower. “Aetatis suae 28” means not aged 28 but rather in the 28th year of his life, and so this would give a birth year for this unknown man in the Holbein portrait as 1513/14, and thus match perfectly the earlier of the suggested dates for Gregory’s birth. Alternatively it is possible that this is a portrait of another member of the Cromwell family and the portraits of the boy may instead on that basis be Gregory. I need to go to the Heinz archive to see if there is any further information about the George Perfect Harding engraving and/or the house where the lost portrait was copied, so as subsequently to be engraved, and see if the owners were descendants of Gregory. I will keep you posted!

    1. Hi Kevin,

      You’ll need to be patient and wait for the publication of Diarmaid MacCulloch’s bio of Thomas Cromwell to discover just how unlikely the earlier dating would be.

      I reluctantly ruled out the wonderful unknown nobleman by Holbein at the Mauritshuis as Gregory some time ago, but there is another member of the family who fits the bill (that I leave up to your imagination!).

      Your observation about the clothing of the sitter in the George Perfect Harding engraving is spot on. The clothing does appear to date to c.1540 and I look forward with interest to your findings.

  15. i Teri. Please delete my previous post as it posted accidentally when half written! If we go for the later date for Gregory’s birth there is something which I spotted and which may lend support to the portrait of the young boy by Holbein being Gregory. The unusual collar with the long tips which he wears in the portrait of the same individual at a slightly older age very much matches that of Thomas Fiennes, 9th Baron Dacre, of Herstmonceux Castle in East Sussex, just down the road from where my parents used to live. Thomas was Gregory’s friend and neighbour when he lived at nearby Lewes Priory and when he first came to live in Sussex, both Lord and Lady Dacre, as he says in a letter to his father, “welcomed him to the county and entertained him with presents.” I also see that Thomas named one of his sons Gregory and so Gregory Cromwell was presumably the godfather. The similarity in collars might perhaps suggest that Gregory and Thomas were copying one another’s fashions and so this might lend support to the idea, if we go for the later date of birth, that these are indeed portraits of the young Gregory.

  16. Also I recently stumbled across something interesting regarding the Holbein portrait whose sitter is variously given alternatively as Queen Catherine Howard or as Gregory’s wife Elizabeth Seymour, which I thought may well also interest you. Here pasted below are the results of my research regarding the portrait, which I recently emailed to my brother Andrew who is head of the Old Master’s Picture Department at Bonhams, the London auction house. I was analysing the portrait because it has recently been catalogued as more likely to be Elizabeth Seymour than Catherine Howard; and Elizabeth Seymour and her husband Gregory Cromwell are as I say ancestors of mine (through my paternal grandmother).

    I noticed that on the cuffs of the sleeves of this Holbein portrait formerly known as Queen Catherine Howard – but which some have (relatively recently) argued is much more likely to be Elizabeth Seymour wife of Gregory Cromwell – so that it is now generally re-attributed as being of the latter – there appear two small curved things which look like peppers coming out of each of the flowers. They are clearly pepper plants.

    Catherine Howard’s mother was Joyce Culpepper.

    This use of heraldic emblems on the sleeves in this way mirrors the use of the Stafford knot seen on the collar of the Holbein portrait of Thomas Howard 3rd Duke of Norfolk (painted c 1539 and hence around exactly the same time). His wife was Elizabeth Stafford. So the clothing is clearly using heraldic emblems in both cases from the female side.

    Norfolk’s collar as I say clearly shows the family emblem of his wife Elizabeth Stafford, eldest daughter of the 3rd Duke of Buckingham. The Stafford knot is alternating with the mulberry sprig badge of the Mowbrays (the Howards of course inherited the Dukedom of Norfolk through the 1st Duke’s mother Margaret Mowbray, daughter of the 1st Duke of Norfolk of the earlier creation).

    The portrait of Norfolk certainly suggests to me that it must have been the then fashion to have heraldic designs incorporated as embroidered detail into shirts during this period.

    It is also noticeable that the lady in the NPG portrait has a prominent nose very similar in shape to Norfolk’s – and since Norfolk was her uncle this was probably therefore a Howard family physical trait. It is on the other hand a very different nose to that of any of Elizabeth’s siblings: Queen Jane Seymour, Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset or Thomas Seymour.

    The relatively recent suggestion that the portrait is not Catherine Howard – whose miniature it is clearly almost identical to – apparently comes from Antonia Fraser, based on her allegation that she is dressed as a widow and therefore cannot be Catherine Howard. Black in the c16th was however a sign of luxury and wealth – it was the most expensive dye – not of widowhood. And a historian of fashion states that the sleeves which the sitter is wearing first came in with Anne of Cleves. By that time Elizabeth Seymour was married to Gregory Cromwell and would hardly be dressing as a widow, even if this were widow’s dress that she is wearing in the portrait.

    So I think the NPG on the above bases ought to be able to securely reattribute the portrait as indeed being of Queen Catherine Howard.

    1. Kevin,
      Your observations about the embroidery on the cuffs of the sitter’s cuffs are interesting but an identification of the lady as Catherine Howard is problematic.

      Catherine Howard was described by the merchant, Richard Hilles, as a “parvissima puella”, a very little girl in 1540 indicating that she was quite small in stature. The sitter does not have a small build.

      Thomas Howard was estranged from his wife, Elizabeth by the early 1530s, so it seems unlikely that he would have wanted reminders of his spurned wife on his shirt collar in around 1539..

      Jane, Edward, Thomas Seymour and this sitter all have prominent noses and they are quite similar:,_Queen_of_England_-_Google_Art_Project.jpg,_1st_Baron_Seymour_of_Sudeley#/media/File:Thomas_Seymour_Denizot.jpg,_Lady_Cromwell#/media/File:Holbein,_Hans_(II)_-_Portrait_of_a_lady,_probably_of_the_Cromwell_Family_formerly_known_as_Catherine_Howard_-_WGA11565.jpg

      You’re right, black was popular with the aristocracy and not worn only by widows. Besides it would have been strange for a married woman to have been dressed as a widow!

      Roy Strong first suggested that the sitter was Elizabeth Seymour in 1967 so it isn’t exactly a relatively recent identification! (Roy Strong.The Burlington Magazine, Vol. 109, No. 770 (May, 1967), pp. 276-281).

      Strong then observed that these portraits (NPG copy and Toledo original) were in the possession of the Cromwell family, probably depict a prominent member of the Cromwell family and “It is difficult to conceive that they would have cherished, multiplied and handed down to posterity the portrait of the one woman who brought about the collapse of the fortunes of the founder of the house, Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex.”

  17. Is the Holbein portrait of the unknown nobleman with the falcon, at the Mauritshuis, Sir Ralph Sadler? The sitter does bear a very striking resemblance to the man in the Holbein drawing of Ralph.

    1. The sitter in the Mauritshuis portrait was in his 28th year in 1542. Sadler was born in 1507 and so was aged 35 in 1542.

  18. Thanks Teri. The lady in the portrait is of no bigger build than the known miniature of Queen Catherine Howard as far as I can see. She is clearly however wearing a bulky dress. The Stafford knot and Mowbray mulberries clearly appear on the Duke’s shirt so I don’t see how it can be contested that they are anything other than heraldic. Likewise the pepper flowers are also clearly an heraldic emblem and they do not fit with a member of the Seymour family. Since the portrait was always traditionally believed to be Catherine I think a much better case needs to be made out for identifying it as Elizabeth than the fact it once belonged to the Cromwell family. There are numerous ways in which it might have entered the family’s possession. To show their loyalty to the new Queen is just one ready example. Both the Howards and the Seymours appear to have had similar noses so I think little if nothing can turn on that. As far as I can see the lady bears no resemblance whatever to Jane or either of her brothers but she does bear some resemblance to the Duke. I think heraldry is a rather better way to identify the sitters in portraits than art historians’ speculation about physical resemblances, none of which is particularly compelling. Of course there will be a vested interest in maintaining the new attribution because many will have committed themselves to it in writing and don’t want to lose face. This is one of the problems with historical revisionism when based on flimsy evidence and then taken up and repeated unchallenged

  19. I would very much like to think it is a missing portrait of my grandmother’s ancestress but I must say I would need far more convincing of this than by what I have seen so far – and still go with the original, traditional attribution of the sitter as Queen Catherine Howard.

  20. Sadly as you show by the discrepancy in ages the Ralph Sadler possibility goes straight out the window! It was a nice thought though and just shows how deceptive appearances can be. I suspect many sitters will have looked similar because of artistic convention. I will ask my brother to see if they have any information in their extensive library at Bonhams regarding the Fiennes portrait. So far the miniature portraits of the boy who might be Gregory are certainly looking like the best – and to my mind only – good candidates for missing portraits of the Cromwell family. I still haven’t had a chance to go to the Heinz Archive to look at the George Perfect Harding engraving but when I do I will be sure to let you know anything so find. This is such fun as art historical detective work! Thank you so much again Teri – this is a great debate! 🙂 🙂

  21. The photograph of Fiennes is frustratingly a very low resolution one but it certainly looks like a (fairly poor) contemporary (at least c16th or early c17th) portrait to me and the inscription “Thomas Lord Dacre of the South” and the coat of arms which is correct for a member of this family do not have any obvious appearance of having been later additions. They certainly look integral to the portrait (insofar as this can be made out from a low resolution photograph). The identity of the sitter also looks right judging by the portrait of him which appears in
    the background of the known portrait of his mother, Mary Neville. So on the face of things it is all looking right for a portrait of Gregory’s close friend. Do you have any better resolution images of the miniatures of the boy who might be Gregory – or know where they are held or anything about their provenance? The detail on the collar might be worth examining. We would be looking for lions or the Gromwell flower as possible decoration (although of course if the decoration were something else that wouldn’t be a negativing factor)

  22. I had a look at Thomas Cromwell’s coat of arms (both the original one with its red Cornish chough and roses on a gold fess being a direct allusion to Wolsey’s arms and the new version which he was granted as Earl of Essex – which later formed the first and third quarterings of Gregory’s arms. They appear to be versions of the coat of arms of the family of Gregory. The closest to the Gregory arms are two of the quarterings the new version which has exactly the same tinctures of a blue lion on gold (the other quartering being in reverse). (Reversal of tinctures was a common form of differencing). They certainly bear no resemblance to the arms of the family of the Barons Cromwell (of Tattershall Castle). This fact and the name Gregory suggests to me that Thomas was descended in his immediate ancestry from a Gregory family heiress which Thomas wanted to commemorate in his arms and in his son’s name. This also seems to be supported by the fact that his mother’s name is given as “Katherine Glossop” – Glossop is in Derbyshire where the Gregory family were prominent and prolific. I also see that my ancestor Thomas Drake (brother of Admiral Sir Francis) married an Elizabeth Gregory. This might have been instrumental in his son Sir Francis the 1st Baronet their son marrying Joan Strode – Gregory Cromwell’s great granddaughter. In other words this may have been typical inter-cousin marriage. I have not yet identified where the crest of a pelican vulning its breast comes from, nor Gregory’s Pegasus supporters in the arms on his memorial in the chapel at Launde Abbey – and it may be worth looking at the extensive heraldry in the carved fireplace surrounds at Tattershall Castle to see if any aspects of the heraldry are shared between Thomas’s family and that of the earlier Barons Cromwell.

  23. Hi Teri. Here is the feedback from my brother Andrew at Bonhams. Not sure if this takes us any further. I think we would have to explain/explore further the matter of the ring if the suggestion that the portrait of the boy is Gregory is to be pursued further. I would like to be able to see a higher resolution image in order to be able to do so …

    “The latest (1985) monograph by John Rowlands gives the following:

    The first bust length tondo of the boy is in the collection of the Queen of the Netherlands (or is there a king now?) Provenance: Queen Sophie (1818-77), first wife of William II of Orange-Nassau and thence by descent. It doesn’t make any other comments.

    The 1/2 length miniature is given as “a Member of the Steelyard Family (probably from the von Schwardzwaldt Family).” Provenance: Formerly Danzig Stadtmuseum, now missing after being looted in 1943. The identification is based on the fact that it was left in 1705 as part of the legacy of the patrician Danzig family, von Schwarzwaldt with a library and a coin collection to the Lutheran church of St Peter, Danzig. Rowlands says he is dressed in the English fashion. The ring he is wearing has the mark of the Danzig merchants, so he must have been a fully fledged member of the guild.

    I don’t have any information on the portrait of Thomas Fiennes.”

  24. The ring and known provenance seems to indicate that we rule out any idea as to the boy in the miniature and in the later portrait (clearly the same sitter) being Gregory Cromwell and this then supports my suggestion that the George Perfect Harding engraving could well be of a lost portrait Gregory rather than his son Thomas the parliamentary diarist. (Of course because of the clothes he is wearing this latter portrait had to date from c 1540 rather than c 1560 and so can’t be Thomas). So I will definitely have to go to the Heinz Archive to see if I can find any more about it. The sitter looks about 20 to me – so whether Gregory was born c 1514 or c 1520 it would totally fit.

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