Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex

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The Earl of Essex

Portrait by Holbein, 1532–3
Born 1485
Putney, Middlesex, England
Died 28 July 1540 (aged 55)
Tower of London, England
Occupation Government
Religion Roman Catholic, then Anglican
Spouse Elizabeth Wykes
Children Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell
Parents Walter Cromwell, Dau Clossop

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, KG, PC (c. 1485 – 28 July 1540) was an English statesman. He was King Henry VIII's chief minister (like Prime Minister) from 1532 to 1540. He held many important posts, ending as Lord Chamberlain. Cromwell did not come from a rich or noble family: he rose in life by his work and merit.

Cromwell tried to modernize government, but this meant that both the nobility and the church would have less power. Because of this he was seen as an upstart. He was one of the strongest supporters of the English Reformation, the English Church's break with the papacy in Rome. Henry VIII was made the head of the Church of England by Parliament in 1534. Cromwell helped control the new Church with his two new jobs; Vicegerent for spirituals and Vicar general.

Downfall and execution[change | change source]

Cromwell had supported Henry VIII in disposing of Anne Boleyn and replacing her with Jane Seymour. During his years as the King's chief minister, Cromwell created many powerful enemies for himself.

His final downfall was caused by the haste with which he encouraged the king to marry Anne of Cleves. This was a marriage that Cromwell hoped would put the English Reformation back on track after the recent setback with the Six Articles. The enterprise became a disaster when King Henry told Cromwell that he had not consummated the marriage.[1] Henry told Cromwell to get him out of the marriage by legal means, but the king was obliged to go ahead with it or risk the vital German alliance. The king's marriage to Anne of Cleves was a disaster for Cromwell. It was the opportunity that Cromwell's opponents (most notably the Duke of Norfolk) needed to press for his downfall.

Cromwell was executed at Tyburn on 28 July 1540, the same day that the king divorced Anne of Cleves and married Catherine Howard.[2]p60 After his execution, Cromwell's head was boiled and then set upon a spike on London Bridge, facing away from the City of London.

Henry came to regret Cromwell's execution. About eight months afterwards, Henry accused his ministers of bringing about Cromwell's downfall by false charges.[3]p496 Henry spent the rest of his life lamenting the fact that Cromwell had been executed.

Note[change | change source]

Oliver Cromwell, the revolutionary leader who overthrew the British monarchy and led a short-lived republican government in the 17th century, was a descendant of Thomas Cromwell's sister, Catherine Cromwell (born circa 1482).

References[change | change source]

  1. Schofield, p240.
  2. Hibbert C. 1981. The Tower of London Newsweek Books. ISBN 0-88225-002-7
  3. Scarisbrick J.J. 1971. Henry VIII Penguin.