As we ended our series on Henry VIII’s wives, we thought it best to jump back with a jolt of testosterone by discussing the life of one of the most influential men in Henry’s court: Thomas Cromwell.
Thomas Cromwell, also known as the Earl of Essex, served as Henry VIII’s chief minister from 1532 to 1540. Though his early life is not well-documented, it’s thought that he served as a mercenary in France, then worked with a Florentine merchant banker, then worked for the church in Rome – quite the adventure for one little Englishman! Upon his return to England, and Cromwell gained a seat at the House of Commons. And this is where the fun begins.
After joining Parliament in 1529, Cromwell began to increase in the King’s favor. By 1531, our ole Tommy had the joystick in his hands, supervising the King’s legal and parliamentary affairs. Cromwell was a major supporter of the English Reformation, the Church of England’s break with Rome. As Henry sought to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Cromwell assisted him by manipulating the Commons into electing Henry as head over the Church. As a token of gratitude, Henry gave Cromwell a lordship in Wales and three other offices – a total of four very pretty feathers in Crommy’s cap!
Lord of Essex Shirt:
In 1534, Cromwell officially became the King’s principal secretary and chief minister, a position he’d already essentially been filling. Henry also appointed Cromwell vicar-general, entrusting him to organize all the church affairs. As part of this work, Cromwell pushed forward the publication of the “Great Bible,” the first authoritative English Bible and one of Cromwell’s major accomplishments.
Around this time, a feud between Anne Boleyn and Cromwell resulted in her declaring him an enemy of the Queen and Cromwell bringing up accusations of adultery against her. Anne got the short end of that stick of dynamite and was beheaded for treason. By this time, Cromwell had amassed a number of enemies among the conservative crowd. These foes found their opportunity when Cromwell suggested that Henry marry Anne of Cleves, a German princess. Henry agreed, but upon meeting her, found her insufficiently attractive and harbored anger against Cromwell for getting him stuck in this match. Cromwell received the title of Earl of Essex in 1540, but he was rapidly slipping in the King’s favor.
Lord of Essex Long Vest:
Cromwell’s enemies used the King’s resentment to their favor, accusing poor Crommy of treason, heresy, corruption, and plotting to marry Princess Mary. He was condemned to death without trial and executed on the same day as the King’s marriage to Katherine Howard. Henry later regretted Cromwell’s execution and was said to lament putting to death “the most faithful servant he ever had.”
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