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Thomas Cromwell Sentenced to Death

Thomas Cromwell Portrait Miniature (1)

<![CDATA[Thomas Cromwell was sentenced to death for treason on 29th June, 1540. It marked the beginning of the end for one of the most colourful and controversial figures from the Tudor period of English history. Achieving fame and prominence as an adviser to Henry VIII, Cromwell's life was as diverse and divisive as that of the king he served. He played a key role in many of the events that defined Henry's life, helping arrange several of his marriages and divorces while also playing a crucial role in shaping the English Reformation. Cromwell's rise to the King's Court is all the more remarkable in the context of his 'low born' family. In an English society rigidly divided along class lines, he came from a working class background to gain employment in some of the highest, most prestigious offices in government, variously serving as Lord Privy Seal, Lord Chamberlain, Master of the Rolls, Secretary of State, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Earl of Essex. Born around 1485 in Putney, near London, Cromwell's family ran a brewery. His father worked a series of jobs, including time as a fuller, a blacksmith, a brewer and a tavern owner. He also frequently appeared on manor court rolls for various misdemeanors, such as fights with his neighbours and deliberately watering down the beer served at his tavern. In contrast to his father's regular brushes with the law, Thomas Cromwell trained as a lawyer and quickly revealed himself to possess a keen mind, allowing him to rise to prominence in London's legal and mercantile circles. From there he won a seat in the House of Commons for Taunton, and served in the household of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey: a politician, diplomat and adviser to the King. Wolsey eventually fell out of favour with Henry VIII, yet somehow Cromwell managed to avoid being tainted by his association with him, in fact taking over many of Wolsey's responsibilities; a curiosity that has led many historians to label Cromwell as a devious political manipulator. Between 1530 and 1533 he steadily rose in rank in Henry's court, becoming an increasingly influential figure while also earning a host of jealous enemies. Cromwell played a key role in organising Henry's annulment from his first wife, Catherine of Aaragon; the controversial event which saw Henry excommunicated by the Vatican and ultimately triggered the creation of the Church of England. Revealing just how pivotal Cromwell was to the King, he then organised the fateful marriage to Anne Boleyn, and several years later, played an important role in having her arrested and tried for treason. Beyond the King's marital life, Cromwell was also pivotal to implementing the Reformation. Believed by most historians to have been a staunch Protestant, he was paramount to establishing a legal and political framework for an independent English Church. Between 1536 and 1537 he worked tirelessly to secure royal approval for the publication of a Bible in English, further cementing the foundations of the Church of England. At the same time, he helped foster connections between the Church and other Protestant organisations around Europe. His fall from grace was sudden, and like much of Cromwell's life, is still shrouded in mystery. He helped arrange Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves, something which quickly turned into a humiliating disaster and likely soured Cromwell's relationship with the crown. Meanwhile, the long standing resentment by the established nobility at a 'low born' having such influence is likely to have played an important role in the at times ruthless world of the Royal Court. Early in 1540, he angered the powerful Duke of Norfolk by having Thetford Priory, the home of the mausoleum to the Duke's family, closed down. Cromwell had also taken the title of Duke of Essex, an ancient and enviable position which likely furthered the resentment against him. By introducing the beautiful, nineteen year old Catherine Howard to the King, the Duke of Norfolk won his ear, and it seems this influence was used to turn Henry against his former trusted adviser. Cromwell was arrested on 29th June 1540, charged with treason and accused of wanting to push through a full conversion to Protestantism in England against the King's wishes. Perhaps sensing the danger of giving a formidable lawyer a public platform to challenge the accusations brought against him, Henry issued an Act of Attainder, denying Cromwell the chance to act as his own defence. Cromwell was executed in July. A paucity of surviving documents mean little is known for sure about this fascinating Tudor figure's life, or what led to his eventual execution. Nevertheless, he was clearly a crucial figure in shaping Tudor history, an unusual example for the period of someone from the lower classes reaching a position of great political influence. ]]>

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