This was the end of an era. Incredibly, Henry VIII’s “most faithful servant” was executed on this day. There is an old saying on Wall Street, “you’re only as good as your last trade.” This certainly was Thomas Cromwell’s problem.
Think about it. Henry worked unsuccessfully for seven years to get a divorce from Catherine of Aragon – until Cromwell came along and created the Church of England. Henry was broke from all his profligate ways, until Cromwell came up with the idea of dissolving the abbeys. Finally, when Henry tired of his second wife, Cromwell came up with a way to dispose of her and blame her for all the country’s ills. For that kind of loyal and unfailing service, he should have been safe for life.
But then Spain and France forged an alliance that left England out in the cold. And Thomas Cromwell suggested that England’s best defense would be an alliance with the German league. Politically, he was absolutely correct, but he failed to consider that the King had lost the habit (if he ever had it) of political marriages. When Henry took an immediate dislike to Anne of Cleves, it was too easy for him to believe that Cromwell had sacrificed him to his dreams of reform. All of a sudden, all of Cromwell’s accomplishments were recast through this selfish lens.
Normally, that should not have been fatal – except that Cromwell had made a permanent enemy of the Duke of Norfolk. Had Henry fallen in love with someone other than the old Duke’s niece, Cromwell would likely have been safe. But Norfolk used his increased access to the King to move Cromwell aside. Permanently.
Interestingly, Cromwell was the one person Henry executed that he openly regretted. Henry realized after the fact that he’d been manipulated. A bit too late for Thomas Cromwell…
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