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July 28, 1540 – Thomas Cromwell Executed

Jame Frain as Thomas Cromwell in Showtimes’ The Tudors

This was the end of an era. Incredibly, Thomas Cromwell 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 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 right, 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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5 Comments

  1. […] 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). […]

  2. Fred Wright Fred Wright

    While I love your writing, and agree with most of your comments above, I do fault Cromwell for Anne’s death. Although a conniving Lady, who used her wits to achieve her goals, I feel she was set up by Cromwell in order to appease Henry, and gain him favors.
    The end doesn’t justify the means ! 🥲

    • The end never justifies the means, but I honestly believe Cromwell thought he was doing what was right for England and God…and that’s where the nuance comes in. All I can say is, I needed every page in Jane the Quene to really explore the morality of the players involved…and thank you for the compliment! 😉

  3. Zane Zane

    Not true about Cromwell being the only person Henry regretted executing
    Henry’s friend, Sir Thomas More was another
    And though Cardinal Wosley was not executed, Henry may have had regrets about loosing him also.
    Although it was a different time and you could get executed for merely “burping in Catholic”,
    by the standards of the day, (and our standards also) Henry VIII was a bloodthirsty tyrant, selfish, egotistical, not to mention “very smelly”.
    History has recorded that you could smell him coming from several rooms away

    • We believe Henry regretted executing More – but he never actually said it to anyone. And yes, I carefully calibrated his stench in The Path to Somerset!

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