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).