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June 30, 1540: Most Gracious Prince, I Cry for Mercy, Mercy, Mercy

Thomas Cromwell Writing From His Cell In The Tower (From Showtime’s The Tudors)

On June 29, Parliament passed an Act of Attainder against Thomas Cromwell. It was in effect a death sentence – but Henry was being cagey. He actually sent Thomas Cromwell money – which appears to have given Cromwell good hope for his life. This was a tactic Henry employed often – alternating the carrot and the stick. It was more than possible this would blow over…

Cromwell’s response was to write a long letter. The letter contained his full testimony concerning the Cleves marriage – the testimony that was needed to free the King – enfolded within another abject plea for forgiveness. The Cleves story is a poignant description of the failed marriage and I will include that in the post about its dissolution. For now, I focus on Thomas Cromwell, terrified but clinging desperately to the possibility of reprieve. It almost worked – Henry had the letter re-read to him three times. But in the end, even the most persuasive prose would fail against the Duke of Norfolk’s incessant rabble-rousing…

Most merciful King, and most gracious sovereign Lord, may it please the same to be advertised that the last time it pleased your benign goodness to send unto me the Right Honorable Lord Chancellor, the Right Honorable Duke of Norfolk and the Lord Admiral, to examine and also to declare to me divers things from your Majesty, amongst the which one special thing they moved, and thereupon charged me, as I would answer before God at the dreadful day of judgement, and also upon the extreme danger and damnation of my soul and conscience, to say what I knew in the marriage and concerning the marriage between your Highness and the Queen. I answered as I knew, declaring to them the particulars as nigh as I then could call to remembrance. Which when they had heard, they, in your Majesty’s name, and upon like charge as they had given me before, commanded me to write to your Highness the truth, as much as I knew in that matter; which now I do, and the very truth as God shall save me, to the utmost of my knowledge.

Most gracious and merciful Sovereign Lord, beseeching Almighty God who in all your causes hath always counseled, preserved, opened, maintained, relieved and defended your Highness – I pray that He will now vouchsafe to counsel you, preserve you, maintain you, remedy you, relieve and defend you, as may be most to your honor, wealth, prosperity, health, and comfort of your heart’s desire. For the which, and for the long life and prosperous reign of your most royal Majesty, I shall during my life and while I am here, pray to Almighty God that He of his most abundant goodness will help, aid, and comfort you and after your continuance of Nestor’s years, that that most noble imp, the Prince’s Grace, your most dear son, may succeed you to reign long, prosperously and felicitously to God’s pleasure. I most humbly beseech Your Grace to pardon this my rude writing, and to consider that I am a most woeful prisoner, ready to take the death when it shall please God and Your Majesty; and yet the frail flesh incites me continually to call to Your Grace for mercy and pardon for my offenses. And thus Christ save, preserve and keep you. Written at the Tower this Wednesday, the last of June, with the heavy hard and trembling hand of Your Highness’ most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave.

Most gracious Prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy.

For further  reading:

I have several posts about this series of events –  June 10, 1540 – Thomas Cromwell Arrested; June 12, 1540 – Cromwell’s Initial Plea to Henry VIII;  June 15, 1540 – Cranmer’s Letter to Henry VIII Defending Cromwell. And of course, my post on Cromwell’s death (July 28, 1540 – Thomas Cromwell Executed). Of course, posts about Anne of Cleves are also interesting to read in this context.

And for anyone who loves  letters, I can’t say enough about Roger Bigelow Merriman’s Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell (Volume 2).


If you like my posts, you’ll love my books! My Seymour Saga trilogy tells the gripping story of the short-lived dynasty that shaped the Tudor Era. Jane the Quene skews romantic, The Path to Somerset is pure Game of Thrones (without the dragons), and The Boy King is a noir coming-of-age. Get them now through AmazonBarnes & NobleKobo, and Apple, or even your local independent bookstore!

The cell in the Tower of London where Raleigh was imprisoned

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June 30, 1540: Most Gracious Prince, I Cry for Mercy, Mercy, Mercy
Published inInteresting Letters and Speeches


  1. hmmmmmm very very interesting. Because my theory, (others, though not many have thought the same) is that Cromwell hid the last letter from Anne B to her husband the King among his things and never gave it to him, He didn’t want to risk the chance that Henry would feel badly for Anne and change his mind. As they say today, Karma is a Bitch. !!

  2. If that is true (and I agree it might well be), how much worse would that make Cromwell feel – knowing that his enemies might do the same thing to his last chance at mercy!

  3. A humiliating climbdown for a man who had callously schemed for the execution of others. The word ‘karma’ somehow seems inadequate, but it reveals very starkly the absolute power that Henry enjoyed. The ultimate irony is the grovelling reference to Norfolk, against whose family Cromwell had plotted for most of his career, most enthusiastically following the death of Wolsey. A far cry from the character depicted by Hilary Mantel and superbly portrayed by Mark Rylance in the TV version of ‘Wolf Hall’.
    Thanks for this – it was an eye opener.

  4. Thomas Thomas

    The entire history of Cromwell, Wolsey, Boleyn, Howard et al shows the real villain to be the unrestrained power and ego of the second Tudor. All the mentioned individuals and families can be blamed on many levels but the confusion, egotism, narcissism and pusillanimity of the monarch is the real problem – much like in the United States today

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