Talk about blindsided.
Thomas Cromwell was arrested during a Council meeting a Westminster. The coup was led by the Duke of Norfolk, head of the Catholic party, who somehow managed to convince the King to turn on the man who had arguably been his most valuable counselor. Think about it – Cromwell was the one who orchestrated the divorce from Aragon by creating the English church, he was the one who replenished the King’s empty coffers by dissolving the monasteries, and the one who rid the King of Anne Boleyn by creating evidence of crimes that were never committed. All it took was one slight mistake and none of that counted anymore.
Henry disliked Anne of Cleves, herself Catholic but a figurehead for religious reformation. Cromwell knew of Henry’s distaste, but had not procured a divorce for him by the time the aging monarch fell in love with seventeen-year-old Catherine Howard. Because Catherine was Norfolk’s niece, the Duke gained enormous and unprecedented access to his monarch, and he used it to settle the score with his old enemy Cromwell.
Norfolk had clearly planned all his moves. Within hours of the arrest, a “gentleman of the court” was sent to explain the situation to the French ambassador, who wrote his letter to Francis I that very day:
The substance was that the King, wishing by all possible means to lead back religion to the way of truth, Cromwell, as attached to the German Lutherans, had always favoured the doctors who preached such erroneous opinions and hindered those who preached the contrary, and that recently, warned by some of his principal servants to reflect that he was working against the intention of the King and of the Acts of Parliament, he had betrayed himself and said he hoped to suppress the old preachers and have only the new, adding that the affair would soon be brought to such a pass that the King with all his power could not prevent it, but rather his own party would be so strong that he would make the King descend to the new doctrines even if he had to take arms against him.
Poor Cromwell, brought down with so many of the tricks he had himself instituted. Upon his arrest, he asked to speak with the King – but as the Spanish Chronicle reminds us, he had instituted the law that denied anyone accused of treason a royal audience. He was given no trial, but rather attainted. And he was executed based on trumped up charges.
What goes around, comes around.
For further reading: Letters and Papers of Henry VIII, June 10, 1540
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