December 9, 1539 – Gregory Cromwell Writes to His Wife

Elizabeth Seymour (probably), by Hans Holbein the Younger (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Today’s is a bit of a feel-good post. While Jane Seymour was Queen, Thomas Cromwell managed to create a brilliant familial link to his sovereign – he had his son Gregory Cromwell marry Jane’s sister Elizabeth. While Jane’s death tempered the political benefits of the alliance, it was still a very successful marriage. We can see glimpses of their closeness in this letter that Gregory sent to his wife in December 1539 – while he was off in Calais to welcome Anne of Cleves. Back when this fourth marriage of Henry’s showed incredible promise.

Gregory doesn’t say much, even remarks that she will probably have heard his news before she reads his letter. He really seems to be writing just to make a sweet connection with his “bedfellow”…


The day before the making hereof we received the just news of my lady Anne’s repair hither the same being appointed upon Thursday next coming; which thing, although it be now news, yet I fear that lack of expedition in the conveyance of these my letters shall be occasion the same to be old before they shall be of you received, forasmuch as such news are more swiftly set abroad by tongues than writing. It is determined that she shall remain here Friday and Saturday all day, and upon Sunday, wind and weather serving, take her passage into England. After she once entereth the English pale but she and her whole train shall be at the King’s charge. Hitherto she hath been at her own. There are in her company three hundred horses, whereof one hundred rideth before for provision, and two hundred wait upon her. My lord deputy, with all the spears and officers of the town, shall receive her at the English pale; my lord admiral, with all us accompanying him, a little without the town; my lady Lisle, with all the other ladies and gentlewomen, at the town gates.

I am, thanks be to God, in good health, trusting shortly to hear from you like news, as well of yourself as also my little boys, of whose increase and torwardness be you assured I am not a little  desirous to be advertised And thus, not having any other news to write, I bid you most heartily well to fare.

At Calais the 9th of December. Your loving bedfellow,

Gregory Cromwell


RESOURCES: Letters of Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain, by Mary Anne Everett Wood

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October 1537 – Henry is Ready to Marry Again…

Wolfe Morris as Thomas Cromwell in BBC's The Six Wives of Henry VIII

Wolfe Morris as Thomas Cromwell in BBC’s The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1970)

Jane Seymour died on October 24, 1537, after giving Henry the son he had craved for so long.  At least two weeks before her funeral (held November 12), he was already thinking of his next wife: we have the letter, dated only “October,” in which Cromwell announces the death of the Queen – and instructs England’s representatives in France to open discussions with the French king.

This is one of those jaw-dropping scenes that The Six Wives of Henry VIII handled so well. Norfolk and Edward Seymour rolling shocked eyes when the cynical Cromwell starts to talk marriage with the King with Jane Seymour’s lifeless body behind them in the room – and Norfolk and Seymour standing open-mouthed when Henry responds with the physical requirements that are important to him (“I’m big in person, I need a big wife”). The actual letter (well, the summary reflected in Letters and Papers) is equally chilling:

They are to announce to Francis that though the Prince is well and “sucketh like a child of his puissance,” the Queen, by the neglect of those about her who suffered her to take cold and eat such things as her fantasy in sickness called for, is dead. The King, though he takes this chance reasonably, is little disposed to marry again, but some of his Council have thought it meet for us to urge him to it for the sake of his realm, and he has “framed his mind, both to be indifferent to the thing and to the election of any person from any part that with deliberation shall be thought meet.” Two persons in France might be thought on, viz., the French king’s daughter (said to be not the meetest) and Madame de Longueville, of whose qualities you are to inquire, and also on what terms the King of Scots stands with either of them. Lord William must not return without ascertaining this, but the inquiry must be kept secret.


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August 3, 1537 – Elizabeth Seymour Marries Gregory Cromwell

"Portrait of an Unknown Woman," said to be Elizabeth Seymour, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

“Portrait of an Unknown Woman,” said to be Elizabeth Seymour, by Hans Holbein (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

In March 1537, Jane Seymour’s sister Elizabeth, a widow in a somewhat impoverished state, had written to Thomas Cromwell hoping to be considered for an award of lands from one of the dissolved abbeys. Instead, Cromwell took advantage of the opportunity to propose that she marry his only son and heir, Gregory. For Cromwell, this would be a huge step – he would be related to the King (not directly, more like an uncle-in-law, but the guys was a blacksmith’s son for goodness’ sake!). With Elizabeth’s consent, he worked out the terms with his good friend Edward Seymour and by June everything had been agreed.

Cromwell set his soon-to-be daughter-in-law up at Leeds Castle in Kent pending the wedding. She wrote him the following letter from there, making it clear that she had been well-educated (which is interesting to note since the lack of letters from Jane Seymour suggested to some historians that she might have been illiterate – this would argue against that conclusion). Without further ado, a charming missive from a bride-to-be to her powerful new father-in-law:

To the right honorable and my singular good lord, the Lord Privy Seal:

In most humble wise, as your assured poor beadwoman, I cannot render unto your lordship the manifold thanks that I have cause, not only for your great pain taken to devise for my surety and health but also for your liberal token to me, sent by your servant master Worsley; and farther, which doth comfort me most in the world that I find your lordship is contented with me, and that you will be my good lord and father: the which, I trust, never to deserve other but rather to give cause for the continuance of the same. Pleaseth it your lordship, because I would make unto you some direct answer, I have bene so bold to be thus long ere I have written unto you. And where it hath pleased your lordship as well to put me in choice of your own house as others, I most humbly thank you; and to eschew all sayings, I am very loth to change the place where I now am, and where my brother my lord’s house shall remove, the which, if such need e, shall be at one Ambrose Wellose, a quarter of a mile from your lordship’s place, as master Worsely can inform your lordship more plainly thereof. And where it hath pleased your lordship to give me leave, and also commandeth me, if I want, to send to you, and that I may be bold to open my heart, I ensure your lordship my heart hath been a great time in such trust; and now this letter from you, with that I find in it, doth me more pleasure than any earthly good for my trust is now only in you, and if I have any need I shall obey your lordship’s commandment herein. And thus I shall daily pray unto God for the preservation of your lordship most prosperously in health to continue. Amen.

Prayeth your humble daughter-in-law,

Elizabeth Ughtred

A quick note: we have letters from many great Tudor ladies in which they refer to themselves as “beadwomen,” often at the same time as they refer to themselves as friends and servants. While I cannot find a firm reference, the context suggests that the “beads” refer to the rosary so that they were assuring their recipients that they were praying for them. If anyone has any information about this, I’d love it if you’d share in the comments below!


Letters: Royal and Illustrious Ladies of Great Britain Vol. II, by Mary Anne Everett Wood – Chiefly from the originals in the State Paper Office, The Tower of London, The British Museum and other State Archives (Volume 2)


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May 14, 1536 – Cromwell Informs Gardiner of Recent Events (AKA “Spin in Tudor Times”)

Thomas Cromwell, as played by James Frain in Showtime's The Tudors

Thomas Cromwell, as played by James Frain in Showtime’s The Tudors

So just about everything we know about the fall of Anne Boleyn comes from people who didn’t actually KNOW but were just repeating stories. But on May 14, Cromwell wrote a letter to Gardiner and Wallop, the King’s ambassadors in France, to let them know what was going on. He knew they had heard the rumors, but it was time to give them the “official” version. They had written to the King, they were owed a response, this would be it.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t much. The letter is most interesting in that it speaks a lot about the discovery process but deliberately makes short shrift of the facts: “I write no particularities, the things be so abominable that I think the like was never heard, and therefore I doubt not but that this shall be sufficient…” I’m going to guess Cromwell was being prudent and practical (perhaps even still hoping to add additional charges!) rather than avoiding the subject out of guilt and shame. Either way, he simply cites the Queen’s “abominations” and a plot against the King’s life, and then with those necessities out of the way, moves quickly on to financial issues – settling money owed to Gardiner and to Wallop, which would soon be paid to them – and assuring them that the King thinks they are doing a fine job.

It really feels like, for Cromwell, everything was just business.


I know you have not as yet received answer to your letters: they were deferred until the arrival of the bailly of Troyes. Yet the King’s Highness thought convenient that I should inform you of a scheme that was most detestably and abominably devised, contrived imagined, done and countenanced – and so most happily and graciously by the ordinance of God revealed, manifested, and notoriously known to all men. You have surely heard the rumor, yet I shall express unto you some pain of the coming out and of the King’s proceeding in the same. The Queen’s abomination, both in incontinent living and other offenses towards the King’s Highness, was so rank and common that her ladies of her privy chamber and her chamberers could not contain it within their breasts (conceal it). Their disgust led to such frequent communications and conference of it that at the last it came plainly to the ears of some of His Grace’s counsel. Given their duty to his Majesty, they could not conceal it from him: with great fear, they declared what they had unto his Highness. Whereupon in most secret sort, certain persons of the privy chamber and others of her side were examined, in which examination the matter appeared so evident, that beside the crime, with the accident, there broke out a certain conspiracy of the King’s death which extended so far that all we that had examination of it quaked at the danger his Grace was in, and on our knees gave Him laude and praise that He had rescued him so long from it and now manifested the most wretched and detestable determination of the same. Thus were certain men admitted to the Tower for this cause, that is Mark and Norris, and her brother. Then was she apprehended and conveyed to the same place, and after her were sent thither Sir Francis Weston and William Brereton. Norris, Weston, Brereton and Mark are already condemned to death, having been upon arraigned in Westminster Hall on Friday last. She and her brother shall be arraigned tomorrow, and will undoubtedly go the same way. I write no particularities, the things be so abominable that I think the like was never heard, and therefore I doubt not but that this shall be sufficient for your instruction to declare the truth if you have occasion so to do.

Your lordship shall receive 200£ of the 300£ that were out among these men, notwithstanding great suit has been made for the whole, which though the King’s Highness might give in this case yet His Majesty does not forget your service. And the third 100£ is bestowed of the Vicar of Hell (Francis Bryon), upon whom though it be some charge unto you His Highness trusteth ye will think it well bestowed. And thus fare you most heartily well.

From the Rolls in haste this fourteenth of May. Your loving assured friend, Thomas Cromwell

PS – And you Master Wallop shall not be forgotten. The certainty of the amount that ye shall have I cannot tell, but in the next letters you shall know it. I assure you the King’s Highness taketh both your services in as thankful part as you could wish or devise.


Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume 2,  edited by Roger Bigelow Merriman


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April 30, 1536 – Henry and Cromwell Writes to Gardiner About…Not That

Signature of Henry VIII (via Open Government License from the National Archives)

Signature of Henry VIII (via Open Government License from the National Archives)

On April 30, 1536, Henry VIII wrote to Stephen Gardiner, who was then serving as England’s ambassador to Francis I. The letter was a general set of instructions on certain diplomatic points that had been in issue between the two countries. Cromwell even sent a cover note, and enclosed cramp rings that Queen Anne would have blessed a couple of weeks ago right before Easter. The letters are completely innocuous (though they are an important part of moving forward in negotiations). So why do they deserve a mention?

It’s all about what they didn’t say. These letters were written and sent on the very day Mark Smeaton was arrested – the day before the May Day Joust where Henry walked away from Anne forever. An interesting PS was added to Henry’s instructions:

P.S.—Though this packet was made up this morning, and delivered to Thos. Barnaby, it has been delayed on account of the French ambassador signifying a wish for an audience. He has told the King that the French king was sending the bailly of Troyes to England “to open unto us the bottom of his heart,” and that he was commanded meanwhile to remove certain sinister opinions entertained of his proceedings; insisting that he had made no peace with the Emperor, and that, as he was informed for certain, that the Emperor and the bishop of Rome had determined upon summoning a General Council at Mantua at Whitsuntide come twelve months, he desired to know Henry’s resolution. The King replied that the matter was too weighty to be hastily disposed of, but that he considered, first, that all Christian princes had as good a right and an equal voice in the indiction of a General Council as either the Pope or the Emperor, and that no such council ought to be summoned without the consent of all; secondly, that though Henry thought it very necessary for the quiet of Christendom to have a Christian free General Council, his good brother would agree that Mantua was a most objectionable place, and most unsafe for princes to repair to.

Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I see these letters as Henry and Cromwell clearing the decks before the storm. These missives, sent at the last possible moment, would be sent out to smooth over all simmering controversies – so that when the French King (and everyone else) heard the news of Anne’s arrest, it would all blow over easily since no one would be worried about what that meant to them.

The next missive to Gardiner was not sent until May 14 – after the convictions of Brereton, Norris, Weston, and Smeaton but the day before the trials of Anne and George. It is interesting that no letters in this interim were recorded from Marillac (France’s ambassador to England) – while Chapuys informed the Emperor of the spate of arrests on May 2. I have to see this as part of Cromwell’s astute observations and careful planning…


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March 5, 1549 – Bill of Attainder Against Thomas Seymour

Thomas Seymour, by Nicolas Denisot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

Thomas Seymour, by Nicolas Denisot (public domain via Wikimedia Commons)

March 5, 1549 was the day Thomas Seymour realized his life was over, the day that a parliamentary bill of attainder declared him guilty of 33 counts of treason and sentenced him to death.

Wikipedia gives such a dispassionate description of what the bill of attainder (also referred to as the act of attainder) represents. They call it “an act of a legislature declaring a person or group of persons guilty of some crime and punishing them, often without a trial…. Bills of attainder were passed in England between about 1300 and 1800 and resulted in the executions of a number of notable historical figures.

Luminarium adds more judgment: “[I]n the reign of Henry VIII they were much used, through a subservient parliament, to punish those who had incurred the king’s displeasure; many distinguished victims who could not have been charged with any offence under the existing laws being by this means disposed of.”

Yep. Think of Thomas Cromwell when you read that. Both for starting the widespread use of attainder in the first place as well as for ending up as one of its victims.

Though truth be told, in an age where simply displeasing the sovereign could be construed as treason, most cases simply had no hope of defense even for behavior that was not technically so. After all, for Catherine Howard and Jane Rochford laws were retroactively changed to ensure their deaths (in Catherine’s case, to make it treason for a non-virgin to marry the King in Rochford’s case, to remove insanity as an impediment to execution).

And we know that a defense makes no difference. Anne Boleyn got a trial and the opportunity to defend herself, but was still unanimously convicted. Her brother, George, put on such a good defense that the wagering favored an acquittal – and was also unanimously convicted. (I believe the only reason they weren’t convicted by act of attainder was to ensure that all doubts were removed from the equation. I see this as the ultimate proof of Anne’s innocence.)

But back to Tom Seymour. In another blog post (here), I describe his crime: breaking into a sleeping Edward VI’s bedchamber in the middle of the night and killing his dog. There really would have been no way to defend that, especially given his erratic and dangerous conduct since the death of Katherine Parr – and the implication that he had killed her. Attainder was merely the convenient approach – convenient, but still relatively thorough, since the bill was passed by the Lords and Commons rather than just the Star Chamber (a small group of noblemen).

Upon the bill’s approval, Tom was stripped of his property and titles. His daughter, Mary, was placed in the care of the Duchess of Suffolk – who didn’t really want her (Mary was penniless but as the daughter of a dowager queen required expensive protocols). That’s another blog post…here, if you’re interested.

January 1, 1540 – Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves Meet Privately at Rochester

Elvi Hale as Anne of Cleves, from The Six Wives of Henry VIII

The official meeting between the King and his new bride was scheduled for January 3, 1540, at Greenwich, but Henry VIII was far too much of a romantic for this – he wanted to “nourish love.” Spoiler alert (as if we needed one!) – this really didn’t go well…

There are a number of stories that are told about this meeting. The chroniclers all agree that the King’s “face fell” when he first saw her, and that he was so disappointed that he forgot to give her the presents he had brought her. They also all agree that the King began immediately to make inquiries about avoiding the marriage. But it is stories about what happened in the room that are the fun ones.

EnglishHistory.Net presents a contemporary account said to be by Spanish Ambassador Eustace Chapuys:

And on New Years Day in the afternoon the king’s grace with five of his privy chamber, being disguised with mottled cloaks with hoods so that they should not be recognized, came secretly to Rochester, and so went up into the chamber where the said Lady Anne was looking out of a window to see the bull-baiting which was going on in the courtyard, and suddenly he embraced and kissed her, and showed here a token which the king had sent her for New Year’s gift, and she being abashed and not knowing who it was thanked him, and so he spoke with her. But she regarded him little, but always looked out the window…. and when the king saw that she took so little notice of his coming he went into another chamber and took off his cloak and came in again in a coat of purple velvet. And when the lords and knights saw his grace they did him reverence…. and then her grace humbled herself lowly to the king’s majesty, and his grace saluted her again, and they talked together lovingly, and afterwards he took her by the hand and led her to another chamber where their graces amused themselves that night and on Friday until the afternoon.

Antonia Fraser gives a slightly different version, taken from John Strype (Ecclesiastical Memorials…of the Church of England under Henry VIII). It’s the one that was used in the Six Wives of Henry VIII presented back in the 1970s. The Anne of Cleves episode, written by Jean Morris, was particularly brilliant. It opens with the marriage negotiations, showing us a king who looks much older than the one who married Jane Seymour – it’s the king that most people think of when they hear “Henry VIII” (these later years are really the ones that show Keith Mitchell’s greatness). Then we switch to Cleves, where Anne is about to have her famous portrait painted. We are given a key contextual point and learn that Anne has been told – and obviously believes – that Henry is “the handsomest and most courtly king ever born.” We also are given to understand that Hans Holbein was personally captivated by Anne of Cleves – perhaps because he met her when she was wearing simple clothes with her shoulders showing – and that Anne is surprised to hear herself called beautiful …

Then we get to the best part. Henry – in pain after a good hunt, learns that his bride-to-be is on English soil, and his romantic nature takes over. Rather than waiting for the official meeting scheduled for three  days, hence, he calls for “Clothes, clothes fit for the bridegroom,” checks on the gifts he has chosen for her, and grabs some chicken legs. While he is eating, his mouth full and his chin greasy, he comes up with his plan. “We will say that I am a messenger sent by the King. She receives me. When we are alone, I reveal myself. Not the King, but the lover. The ardent lover who can wait no longer.”

They ride the 30 miles to Rochester, and get there a bit late – when Anne would not be dressed to receive visitors (but not quite in her shift yet). He is admitted to her chamber as a messenger – a larger than life messenger covered by a plain, coarse cloak. And snickering every other line.

“So, this is to be the Queen of England, eh?” he says and kneels, awkwardly to kiss her hand.

“His Majesty has sent you, sir?

“Ya,” he snickers in “German.” 

“That was most kind.” She pauses, and looks at him. “I see the journey has tired you.”

Henry waves off the concern. “Twice as far would have been nothing, Madam, so long as it was to your side.”

Anne gives a quiet “Ah” (why would she encourage a messenger who was being overly familiar?); Henry continues with his attempts at gallantry.

“And er, does England please you as much as you will please England? The journey, these lodgings, your attendants? Are they all you could wish? One finger lifted, and all England is yours.”

“Everything is most comfortable, thank you.”

He gives another of his wheezy snickers. “And while we hear your views on England we will take a cup of wine with you.” The servant comes in, has a bit of a hard time not bowing to the King but also not turning his back on him, and Henry just pushes him with an “Oh go on, get out.”

Then Henry looks over and sees Anne’s lady, Lottie, still there. “Your woman may leave us as well.”

This clearly does not please Lottie, who sniffs, “Leave her Highness alone, Sir?”

“It’s not manners in Cleves, Mistress,” he starts to rage – then catches himself and calms himself with great effort. “Well, just here, manners are different.”

Lottie agrees (what choice does she have?) but turns to Anne to curtsy and assures her, sotto voce, “I shall be within call, Madame.”

Alone with his new bride, Henry sits and tries again to charm. “Ah, of to be Queen of England. What greater glory could any woman wish? When I was young, what was England then? A little country, disregarded in the councils of the world. Who feared England then, when we signed the treaty of Lille in 1514?”

Anne breaks in. “Thirteen.”


“The treaty of Lille was signed in 1513. October. The 17th

Henry is surprised, and utterly charmed. “Such a pretty thing, to prepare yourself for marriage by familiarizing yourself with your husband’s triumphs.”

Unfortunately, that turns his mind to other things…He sits, and a lecherous look appears on his face. “But there are better ways of pleasing a husband,” he says, patting his knee.

Anne pulls her dressing gown close around her and turns away. “I am not dressed to receive visitors so late at night.”

Henry ignores the dismissal and presses on. “That’s a mighty pretty piece of silk but nothing so fine as what it covers.”

That really gets her. She turns around, furious, and snaps. “Sir. This is too much. If the King were here himself…”

“But he is,” interrupts Henry.

Anne, still not getting it, looks around. “Oh? Where?”

“Sweetheart, behold him,” he yells, standing and removing his cloak to reveal a magnificent white doublet glittering with jewels. Anne looks him up and down and falls to her knees in horror.

The image cuts to Cromwell and Cranmer talking about the marriage contract outside the room. They hear an indignant scream from Anne, clearly in reaction to an inappropriate gesture. “My procuring has been successful,” says Cromwell, but then soon after that an annoyed and disgruntled King comes out of the room. A servant extends the tray of sables he had planned for her gifts, and Henry just waves him away. “Oh, tomorrow. Let a servant bring them tomorrow.”

Then he looks at Cromwell to delivers his famous lines. “I am ashamed that men have so praised the princess. I like her not.”

Again, not a good first date…


Antonia Fraser, The Wives of Henry VIII and  John Strype, Ecclesiastical Memorials…of the Church of England under Henry VIII

Marilee Hanson, The First Meeting of Anne of Cleves and Henry VIII (EnglishHistory.Net)

The Six Wives of Henry VIII series!

My other posts on the topic (including the description of their official meeting that did take place as planned on January 3) – check out the Anne of Cleves line of tags!

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August 8, 1540 – Marriage to Catherine Howard Made Public

Chapel  Royal at  Hampton Court Palace, aquatint engraving by w. H. Pyne published as plate 33 of The History of the Royal Residences; via Wikimedia Commons

Chapel Royal at Hampton Court Palace, aquatint engraving by w. H. Pyne published as plate 33 of The History of the Royal Residences; via Wikimedia Commons

Henry VIII married Catherine Howard on July 28 at Oatlands Palace in Surrey. The wedding, officiated by Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London, took place only nineteen days after the dissolution of the King’s marriage to Anne of Cleves – and on the same day as the execution of Thomas Cromwell, whose lands were awarded to Catherine as part of her marriage portion. Whether for these reasons, or purely personal ones, this new union was kept quiet for a time.

It was finally announced as most of the King’s other marriages had been: by having the bride “shown openly” at court and prayed for at mass around the country. As with Anne Boleyn and Jane Seymour, the King chose to attend the Chapel Royal at Hampton Court (for Catherine of Aragon and Anne of Cleves, he used Greenwich Palace). There were no reports of people walking out during the mass (that happened the Sunday when people were suddenly asked to pray for “the King and his wife, Queen Anne” rather than “the King and his wife, Queen Catherine”) but there were quiet grumblings – the English people vastly preferred Anne of Cleves as a proper queen for their king rather than this new young thing though they were not prepared to fight for the idea.

After the announcement, the couple left on a honeymoon progress – an extended hunting trip through Surrey into Berkshire. They stayed at Reading before moving north to Ewelme, Rycote, Notley, Buckingham, and Grafton. On the way back down, they spent some time at the Moore with members of his council (requiring letters and papers to be carefully described as emanating from or addressed to the “Council at Court” or the “Council in London”). During the progress, the King adopted a new rule of living (the French ambassador guessed that it was to lose weight), rising between 5 and 6, hearing mass at 7, riding out early to hunt, then returning at 10 for dinner and business all afternoon. By the time the court returned to Windsor in October, the King claimed to be “a new man” and that his leg had stopped paining him. Unfortunately for Henry, this new condition wouldn’t last long….


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July 28, 1540 – Thomas Cromwell Executed

July 28, 1540 - Thomas Cromwell executed. Sad day for England. Read more on

James Frain as Thomas Cromwell in Showtime’s 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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July 9, 1540: Cleves Marriage Dissolved

July 9, 1540 - Cleves Marriage Dissolved (lucky Anne!). Read Cromwell's detailed account of why it failed on

Hans Holbein’s Portrait of Anne of Cleves (Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons)

On this day in 1540, Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne of Cleves was formally dissolved on the grounds of the King’s lack of consent to it (evidenced by the nonconsummation…) and her precontract with the Duke of Loraine. The former queen fared quite well in the transaction: she received a generous financial settlement that included Richmond Palace and Hever Castle (which had formerly been home to Anne Boleyn…I always wonder whether that was a subtle reminder that things could go considerably worse for her). She was also made an honorary member of Henry’s family, referred to as “the King’s Beloved Sister”.

Thomas Cromwell had supplied the basis of the testimony, in his letter of June 30. The lawyerly Cromwell covered every key fact that spoke to the King’s lack of consent, and suggested other witnesses to bolster the King’s case. It was another example of Cromwell’s unparalleled skill at giving the King what he wanted.

A note of caution, this was the most run-on letter I have ever encountered – the entire text that you see below was a single sentence, perhaps to establish the weight of the case.  I considered leaving it like that to convey the sense of desperate urgency it gave, but it was too unreadable so I added commas and substituted periods for some of the connective “ands.” I also created paragraphs, all to make it more understandable and not discourage anyone from reading the full story.

First, after your Majesty heard of the lady Anne of Cleves’ arrival at Dover and that her journeys were appointed towards Greenwich and that she should be at Rochester on New Year’s Eve even at night, Your Highness declared to me that you would privately visit her at Rochester upon New Year’s Day, adding these words to nourish love, which accordingly Your Grace did upon New Year’s Day as is abovesaid. And the next day being Friday, Your Grace returned to Greenwich where I spoke with Your Grace and asked of Your Majesty how you liked the Lady Anne. Your Highness answered, as I thought, heavily and not pleasantly, “Nothing so well as she was spoken of.” You said further that if Your Highness had known as much before as you then knew, she should not have come within this realm. And you said as by way of lamentation, “What remedy?” Unto the which, I answered and said I knew not but was very sorry therefor, and so God knoweth I was, for I thought it a hard beginning. 

The next day after the receipt of the said lady and her entry made into Greenwich, and after Your Highness had brought her to her chamber, I then waited upon Your Highness in your Privy Chamber. Being there, Your Grace called me to you, saying to me these words or the like, “My Lord, is it not as I told you, say what they will. She is nothing so fair as she hath been reported howbeit she is well and seemly.” Whereunto I answered saying, “By my faith Sire, you speak true,” adding thereunto that yet I thought she had a queenly manner, and nevertheless was sorry that Your Grace was no better content. Thereupon Your Grace commanded me to call together your Council which were these by name: the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, my Lord Admiral, my Lord of Duresme and myself, to comment on those matters, and to know what commission the Agent of Cleves had brought touching the performance of the covenants sent before to Doctor Wotton to have been concluded in Cleves and also the declaration as to how the matters stood regarding the covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the said Lady Anne. Whereupon Oslegerr and Hogeston were called and the matters purposed, whereby it plainly appeared that they were much astonished and abashed and desired that they might make answer in the morning which was Sunday. And upon Sunday in the morning, your said counselors and they met early and their eftsons were purposed unto them as well, touching the commission for the performance of the treaty and articles sent to Master Wotton and also touching the contract and covenants of marriage between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the Lady Anne and what terms they stood in. To the which things so purposed they answered as men much perplexed that as touching the commission they had none to treat. Concerning the Articles sent to Mr. Wotton and as to the contracture and covenant of marriage they could say nothing but that a revocation was made, and that they were but spousals, and finally after much reasoning they offered themselves to remain prisoners until such time as they should have sent unto them from Cleves the First Articles ratified under the Duke their master’s sign and seal, and also the copy of the revocation made between the Duke of Lorraine’s son and the Lady Anne. Upon these answers, I was sent to Your Highness, by orders of your said Council, to declare to Your Highness what answer they had made. I came to Your Highness by the privy way into your Privy Chamber and declared to the same all the circumstances. Wherewith Your Grace was very displeased saying “I am not well handled,” insomuch that I might well perceive that Your Highness was fully determined not to have gone through with the marriage at that time, saying unto me these words, or others with like effect, that “if it were not that she is come so far into my realm and the great preparations that my state and people hath made for her, and for fear of making a ruffle in the world that is to mean to drive her brother into the hands of the Empeor and French king being now together, I would never have married her,” so that I might well perceive Your Grace was neither content with the person nor yet content with the proceeding of the agent.

After dinner the said Sunday, Your Grace sent for all your said counselors and repeated how Your Highness was handled as well as touching the said articles and also the said matter of the Duke of Lorraine’s son. It might – and I doubt not it did – appear to them how loath Your Highness was to have married at that time. And thereupon and upon the considerations aforesaid Your Grace thought that it should be well done that she should make a protestation before your said councilors, in the presence of notaries, that she was free from all contracts. This was done accordingly, and thereupon I repaired to Your Highness declaring how she had made her protestation. Whereunto Your Grace answered in effect these words or others like them, “Is there none other remedy but that I must needs put my head in the yoke?” Whereupon I departed leaving Your Highness in a study or pensiveness, and yet Your Grace determined the next morning to go through.

In the morning, which was Monday, Your Majesty prepared yourself toward the ceremony. There was some question who should lead her to church, and it was appointed that the Earl of Essex and an Earl that came with her should lead her to church. And thereupon one came to Your Highness and said unto you that the Earl of Essex was not yet come, whereupon Your Grace appointed me to be one that should lead her. And so I went to her chamber to do your commandment and shortly after I came into the chamber the Earl of Essex was come, whereupon I repaired back again in to Your Grace’s Privy Chamber and showed Your Highness how he was come. And thereupon Your Majesty advanced toward the gallery out of your Privy Chamber, and Your Grace being in and about the middle of your Presence Chamber called me into you saying these words, or others  like them, “My Lord, if it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing.”  Therewith one brought Your Grace word that she was coming, and thereupon Your Grace repaired into the gallery toward the closet, and there paused her coming being nothing content that she so long tarried as I judged then. And so consequently she came and Your Grace afterwards proceeded to the sermons, and they being finished traveled the day, as appertained, and the night after the custom.

And in the morning on Tuesday, I repaired to Your Majesty in your Privy Chamber, finding Your Grace not so pleasant as I trusted to have done. I was so bold to ask Your Grace how ye liked the Queen, whereunto Your Grace soberly answered, saying “Surely my lord, as ye know I liked her before not well, but now I like her much worse. For I have felt her belly and her breasts and thereby as I can judge she should be no maid, which struck me so to the heart when I felt them that I had neither will nor courage to proceed any further in other matters. I have left her as good a maid as I found her.”  Methought then ye spoke displeasantly, which I was very sorry to hear.

Your Highness also after Candlemas and before Shrovetide once or twice said that you were in the same case with her as you were afore, and that your heart could never consent to meddle with her carnally. Notwithstanding, Your Highness alleged that you for the most part used to lie with her nightly or every second night, and yet Your Majesty ever said that she was as good a maid for you as ever her mother bore her, for any thing that you had ministered to her.  Your Highness showed me also in Lent last passed, at such time as Your Grace had some communication with her of my lady Mary, how that she began to wax stubborn and willful, ever lamenting your fate and ever verifying that you had never any carnal knowledge with her. And also after Easter Your Grace likewise at divers times and in the Whitsun week in Your Grace’s Privy Chamber at Greenwich exceedingly lamented your fate and that your greatest grief was that you should surely never have any more children for the comfort of this realm if you should so continue, assuring me that before God you thought she was never your lawful wife. At which time Your Grace knoweth what answer I made, which was that I would for my part do my utmost to comfort and deliver Your Grace of your affliction and how sorry I was both to see and hear Your Grace. God knoweth Your Grace divers times since Whitsuntide declared the like to me, ever alleging oiv thing, and also saying that you had as much done to move the consent of your heart and mind as ever did man and that you took God to witness this, but ever you said that the obstacle could never leave your mind, Gracious Prince.

After you had first seen her at Rochester, I never thought in my heart that you were or would be contented with that marriage. And Sire, I know now in what case I stand, in which is only the mercy of God and Your Grace. If I have not to the utmost of my remembrance said the truth and the whole truth in this matter, God never help me. I am sure that there is no man living in your realm that knew more in this than I did, except only Your Highness, but I am sure my Lord Admiral calling to his remembrance can show Your Highness and be my witness what I said unto him after Your Grace came from Rochester, and also after your Grace’s marriage, and also now of late since Whitsuntide. And I doubt not but many and divers of my Lords of your Council, both before your marriage and since, have right well perceived that your Majesty hath not been well pleased with your marriage, and as I shall answer to God I never thought Your Grace content after you had once seen her at Rochester.

This is all that I know.

For further reading:

Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume 2


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