Thomas Cromwell’s Fall from Grace

Thomas Cromwell by Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Holbein.

On June the Tenth 1540, Thomas Cromwell was arrested on flimsy charges of treason and heresy. “Thomas Cromwell’s arrest” writes Hutchinson, “was as ruthless as it was sudden.”

Thomas Cromwell had traveled to Westminster Palace to take his place on the Privy Council. After the council, when everyone went to dinner, his mortal enemy, the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, stood up and raised his voice and shouted “Cromwell! Do not sit there! That is no place for you! Traitors do not sit amongst gentlemen.”

Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk

When Thomas demanded to know what the hell was going on, the captain of the Guards, Anthony Wingfield and six more men came forward. Thomas Cromwell, as they predicted, did not go easily. He asked them what was the reason for his arrest, but the Captain of the Guards calmly told him that wasn’t his concern. He either went with them willingly and they wouldn’t hurt him, or else he resisted and they would use full force against him. Cromwell probably knew this day was coming. According to his latest biographer, Tracy Boarman; Thomas Cromwell was plotting against the Duke of Norfolk just as he was plotting against Cromwell. It was only a matter of who got there first.

Henry VIII of England.
Henry VIII of England.

Henry VIII could have easily stopped this from happening but Henry was the main force here. Norfolk loaded the gun, and Henry pulled the trigger. He was very dissatisfied with his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves. And although he had known of her pre-contract with the Duke of Lorraine, he agreed to marry her anyway because he needed the Cleves alliance so badly. Once he saw her, he tried to get out of this arrangement saying that she was ugly and that she wasn’t a virgin. But the truth is that Henry didn’t like her because of their first meeting. That first meeting on January of that year really determined their short marriage. Whereas Henry’s previous wives (including his first foreign wife, Katherine of Aragon) were very conscious of their roles as Queens and familiar with the pageantry and the culture of courtly love; Anne was educated in a very strict household. She had no idea what she was getting herself into. Or rather, her brother had no idea what she was going to getting his sister into. Anne was a fish out of water in the English court. Her garb was strange, she could barely speak English and she had no idea how to dance or engage in the types of conversation that other women of her adoptive country engaged on.
She was completely unprepared for this. And then came Henry VIII. He was no longer the handsome youth who had bedazzled so many women. He had grown morbidly obese and his ulcerous leg smelled bad. But being who he was, he still had a penchant for court drama so he thought of surprising his wife by arranging a playful visit to her. He and a few other courtiers dressed as bandits and arrived to Anne’s bedroom and started flirting with her ladies, including those she brought from Cleves.

You can imagine Anne’s horror as this happened. The leader of the bandits approached Anne and tried to speak with her and when he went too far –from Anne’s point of view- Anne pushed him away and told him to go away. For a man like Henry VIII with an ego the size of his realm, being told that he was disgusting and refused by in front of everyone, including his best friends, it was a huge humiliation. When he revealed who he was, Anne immediately apologized but it was too late. Her reaction made Henry make up his mind about her.

Cromwell tried many times to convince Anne to seduce Henry, to get on his good side but it wasn’t Anne who was at fault here, it was Henry. And it was Anne’s education. She hadn’t been told what she would be getting into, she hadn’t been prepared for this role the way her predecessors had been. Even her common predecessors. Anne Boleyn had served under three Queens, Jane under two. They knew state protocol, they knew all about courtly love. And Katherine of Aragon like Anne of Cleves, had been a foreigner but one who had grown in a court that treasured courtly love and were dressing good was everything. She was skilled in dance, music, art, everything. Anne had practical skills which were seen as very useful, but ultimately they paled in comparison to her other predecessors.

Henry VIII directed his anger at Cromwell. Cromwell tried to tell him that he couldn’t get out of this arrangement so easily. He had agreed to marry Anne of Cleves, and there was nothing else he could say that would justify his repudiation of her. So Henry married her. But he was very angry at Cromwell. And Cromwell was taking too many liberties with his privileges position. Though Boarman believes that Anne was as ugly as Henry saw her, she does admit that it may have all been a matter of perception. And that one of the people who added more fuel to the fire of disappointment is Cromwell. Cromwell probably knew Anne was no great beauty, but by no means was she ugly. She could enchant the King. But Cromwell as always wanted to make sure that Henry would fall in love with her before he got to lay eyes on her so he started bragging about her beauty, saying that her hair shined like the sun, that her eyes were like stars, that her skin was so fair, etc. Then there was also the religious factor. Thomas Cromwell was a very methodical and pragmatic man; he did what the King asked him to. But he was also a Reformist sympathizer and his sympathies were becoming more obvious to the King and his enemies.

Thomas Cromwell Tudors
Thomas Cromwell (James Frain) in the “Tudors”.

After Cromwell was apprehended by the royal guards, he lost it. He said very angrily “This then is the reward for all my services?” Then he turned to the members of the Privy Council “On your consciences, I ask you, am I a traitor?”

If Cromwell believed he was going to cause a big impression and leave everyone dumbfounded, he was sorely disappointed because soon after he asked this, everyone began yelling “Yes” and “Traitor”.

Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall).
Thomas Cromwell (Wolf Hall).

After Cromwell finally came to grasps with the situation, he eyed all the people who were just so happy to see him lose for once, and said lastly: “I have never thought to offend, but if this is to be my treatment, I renounce all claims to pardon and only ask that the King should not make me languish long.”

Thomas was immediately dragged away after that. He was completely shocked. He had been plotting against Norfolk because he knew Norfolk was plotting against him, and he believed that he would get out of this, but there was no getting out of this this time. This was the end and as he was dragged from the room and heard the council members’ cries of joy, he realized he his days were numbered.

Sources:

  • Thomas Cromwell by Tracy Boarman
  • Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchinson
  • The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell by John Schofield
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle
  • On This Day in Tudor England by Claire Ridgway.
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Glorianna: The Death of Queen Elizabeth I & the End of an Era

Elizabeth I's most iconic portrait, the "Rainbow" portrait.
Elizabeth I’s most iconic portrait, the “Rainbow” portrait.

On the 24th of March 1603, Queen Elizabeth I died at Richmond Palace at the age of sixty nine. She had ruled England for forty five years, the longest reigning monarch in Tudor history and the third longest ruling female monarch in English history. Elizabeth I was the daughter of Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII. She was born on September 7th, 1533, she was bastardized less than three years later in 1536, following the execution of her mother. It is not known whether Elizabeth remembered her mother, likely she did not. However, she spent a lot of time with people who did, namely her maternal family. Through them, she probably got to know the woman who gave birth to her. She had one ring with her picture on it, and while she didn’t renew the validity of her parents’ marriage as her sister had done with hers; she made them an important part of her coronation celebrations, showcasing them together along with their sigils, the Tudor rose and the glorious white falcon crowned. Elizabeth also made an important point of showcasing her paternal grandparents, Henry VII and Elizabeth of York and what their union represented: The end of the wars later known as the wars of the roses, and the bringing of peace. Elizabeth I’s reign was not an easy one and she was always plagued by conspiracy, betrayal and suspicion. As she got older the Queen saw enemies everywhere, and as her predecessors she became more ruthless. While her religious establishment was more conciliatory than any of her ancestors (especially her father, sister and brother) had been, she still burned heretics, namely Anabaptists, and persecuted many Catholics who resisted her rule.

Out of all the monarchs, Elizabeth was unique in the sense that she never married. She refused to be tied to anyone; not so much because she feared love but because as a woman in a country that was not used to female rule, she knew that being married would mean submitting to her husband’s rule, or worse. If she married into another House, that House would expect more favor than the others and that could disrupt the whole order of things. Elizabeth I had many favorites nonetheless, but it is unlikely she had any sexual relations with any of them. They were more of platonic love interests, who gave the Queen companionship and who (like Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester) also served as faithful advisors.

News of the Queen’s death spread like wildfire, also reaching her preferred successor, James VI of Scotland. Weeks before, on March 9th, Robert Cecil, the son of her most trusted adviser, William Cecil (Lord Burghley) wrote to George Nicholson, the English Ambassador in Edinburgh, informing him that the Queen was ailing and that “her mouth and tongue” were “dry and her chest hot” and that she couldn’t sleep anymore. This is somewhat false. Elizabeth was deathly ill, but she was far from helpless as Cecil’s report suggests. She was in fact, walking back and forth in her chambers, perhaps pondering of what the future would bring once she was gone. Less than a week later, she became worse and was no longer able to move so freely. On the 19th of March she gave a last audience to Sir Robert Carey (Mary Boleyn’s youngest grandson). She held Carey’s hand and confessed to him that she was not well. Her cousin tried to cheer her but it was clear to everyone that their beloved Queen wouldn’t live for much longer.

On Tuesday, the twenty-second she was brought to her bed where she stayed until her death. Her councilors visited her and insisted that she dictate her will, but she refused. Like before, Elizabeth refused to name an heir. All those who had been potential heirs, had suffered tragic fates. Katherine Grey had been punished for marrying without royal permission, and with her only witness to her wedding, dead, she had been incarcerated and forced to give birth (twice) in prison. Then she died from depression. Her youngest sister, Mary Grey was forbidden from having intimate contact from her husband who was of lower rank, with no royal ties whatsoever. She was later forgiven and became one of Elizabeth’s most loyal subjects. Her other cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, suffered the worse penalty by being executed for plotting against her. Her son, James VI, was Elizabeth I’s councilors favored heir.

According to one story, on the day before her death, the Privy Council seeing that she was unable to speak, suggested that she raised her finger to the successor she’d like. Supposedly, she raised her head when they mentioned James, giving her approval to her late enemy’s son. Others who were present, said that she never moved.

It didn’t matter in the end. Everyone was set on James and probably Elizabeth knew it, and that could have been the reason she refused to move, knowing that as the sun was setting on the Tudor dynasty, nothing she did, would have changed her soon-to-be former subjects’ minds.

Elizabeth-I-Allegorical-Po

“This morning Her Majesty departed from this life, mildly like a lamb, easily like a ripe apple from a tree … Dr. Parry told me he was present, and sent his prayers before her soul; and I doubt not but she is amongst the royal saints in heaven in eternal joys.” –John Manningham

She died on the next day, between two and three o’clock in the morning.

Eight hours later, her cousin, Sir Robert Carey with whom she had an audience days before, was given the order to go North to Scotland to carry the ring his sister had taken from the Queen’s finger and deliver it to James as confirmation of his new future as King of England.

It was the end of the Tudor Dynasty and the beginning of the Stuart Dynasty.

Some historians today dispute the image of Elizabeth as Glorianna, and while their reasons are well-founded, no one can deny that Elizabeth I was unique in many ways, and that as her sister; she fixed the coinage that had been debased during their father’s and brother’s reigns. And while her “idiosyncratic attitude to marriage left her equally isolated … she was saved, once again, by divided counsel” writes Starkey. Therefore, after nearly forty five years of rule, Starkey adds, “she handed over to her Stuart successor something that was recognizable as the inheritance of Henry VIII”. And yet she continues to divide public opinion. Some want to portray her in a negative light, overturning previous propaganda, and this is equally bad because it is doing the same, only in another extreme. In reality, Elizabeth was as Leanda de Lisle, Tudor biographer, writes in her latest book, neither heroine nor villain. Both she and her sister, ruling England, a country which had a negative perception of female rule, were both “rulers of their time”. Both had to take on the role of mother. Mary had shown herself as a mother to her children in her speech during the Wyatt Rebellion. Elizabeth I had done the same, and gone a step further by presenting herself as the defendress of the faith, as a new Deborah, defending the precepts of the holy tenant, a reluctant warrior who would be mother and protector to her people. It was an image that put everyone at ease, and by doing little to change the social order, she earned the acceptance of most of her subjects. Truly, as Claire Ridgway says in her book “On this day in Tudor History”:

“Elizabeth I’s death was the end of an era in so many ways: the end of England’s “Golden Age”, the end of a long reign and the end of the Tudor dynasty.”

After people grew tired of James’ extravaganza, they began to look back and think differently of their late queen. And so, the legend of Glorianna began, a legend that has endured since then.

Elizabeth I tomb

Elizabeth is buried at Westminster Abbey, on top of her half’s sister, in a magnificent tomb which has the next inscription:  “Consorts in realm and tomb, here we sleep, Elizabeth and Mary, sisters, in hope of resurrection.”

Sources:

  • Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne by David Starkey
  • On This Day in Tudor History by Claire Ridgway
  • Tudor Age by Jasper Ridley
  • Tudor. Passion. Manipulation. Murder: The Story of England’s Most Notorious Royal Family by Leanda de Lisle.
  • Anne Boleyn Collection by Claire Ridgway
  • Sisters who would be Queen by Leanda de Lisle.