On this day in 1540 Thomas Cromwell was executed

On this day in 1540 Thomas Cromwell met a gruesome end on Tower Hill. Some would say he got what he deserved after having been crucial in the demise of many others. This is what Cranmer had to say to Henry VIII after Cromwell’s arrest:

“Who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a traitor against your majesty? He that was so advanced by your majesty, he whose surety was only by your majesty, he who loved your majesty, as I ever thought, no less than God; he who studied always to set forward whatsoever was your majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to serve your majesty; he that was such a servant, in my judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had …

If he be a Traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him, or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason is discovered in time; but yet again I am very sorrowful; for who shall your grace trust hereafter, if you might not trust him? Alas!”

Thomas Cromwell

Edward Hall recorded Cromwell’s scaffold speech:

I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should do so, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe comdempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I have had yeres of discrecion, I have lived a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes. And it is not unknowne to many of you, that I have been a great traveler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithes the tyme I came thereunto, I have offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgevenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeve me. O father forgeve me. O sonne forgeve me, O holy Ghost forgeve me: O thre persons in one God forgeve me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe, not doubtyng in any article of my faith, no nor doubtyng in any Sacrament of the Churche.* Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I have been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned evill opinions, whiche is untrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct us in the truthe, so the devill is redy to seduce us, and I have been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe of the holy Churche. And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long live with you, maie long reigne over you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I waver nothyng in my faithe.

And then made he his praier, whiche was long, but not so long, as bothe Godly and learned, and after committed his soule, into the handes of God, and so paciently suffered the stroke of the axe, by a ragged and Boocherly miser, whiche very ungoodly perfourmed the Office.

There are many myths surrounding Cromwell’s execution, some claim he suffered the full traitor’s death, others that his head was boiled before being put on a spike, even that he was quartered after being executed but I am not sure that much credible evidence exists to support these claims. What does seem likely is that it did take the executioner 2 or 3 swings of the axe to sever the head because why else would Edward Hall have commented on the executioner not performing his office well.

Henry VIII spent much of the rest of his life lamenting the loss of his ‘most faithful servant’ and accused his council of deliberately engineering Cromwell’s destruction. One can only wonder about exactly what part Henry played in Cromwell’s downfall. Was he as much a victim of the very powerful and influential old nobility or was Henry simply looking for someone to take the blame and clear his conscious…

As an admirer of Anne Boleyn, okay ‘admirer’ doesn’t quite describe what I am, perhaps ‘loyal servant’ better describes me…I feel that Cromwell’s end was his own doing. He may have worked tirelessly for Henry but he viciously turned on Anne and led the charges against her even when they were clearly fabricated. Not to mention that he owed much of his elevated position to her generous patronage.

Even still, I think of him on this day and wonder if it was all worth it.

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  1. Was Cromwell’s death his own doing? I think not. He was simply doing his job by finding false proof to incrimidate Anne Bullen & burning the abbies. If Cromwell refused to find Anne an adultress or told Henry that he just couldnt find any proof, Henrey would have found someone else to do it (and probably fired or executed Cromwell for not doing his job). Cromwell took the blame for Henreys doings. People hated him for it and Henrey probably felt forced into his execution….hence the guilt. Just my opinion.

    • In fact, Cromwell as instrumental in bringing Anne of Cleves over from Europe to marry Henry, his 4th wife. Henry found Anne extremely ugly and blamed Cromwell for advocating that Henry should marry her. Cromwell showed Henry a portrait of Anne before she came to England which turned out not to look like her in real life. Henry was enraged at Cromwell for the Anne of Cleves mistake. For this reason he had Cromwell executed. It should be added that the nobility in England were always out to get Cromwell who was low born, the son of a blacksmith, yet had risen so high in office. They wanted him executed.

  2. I think henry felt pressured into many executions that he permitted such as the death of two of his wives.

  3. so he begged to die in the Catholic faith ?, if you ever need proof of the kind of hypocrite this man was its proof positive

    • Linda Winkler says:

      England was still Catholic during the reign of Henry V111; the only change was that Henry was head of the Church not the Pope. So everyone was still Catholic including Cromwell. He did have Lutheran leanings and was friendly with Archbishop Cramner but Protestantism as we know it didn’t come to England until the reign of Henry’s son some years later (and after the reign of his daughter a staunch Catholic, Mary 1 “Bloody Mary”)

  4. Cromwell was not being a hypocrite. He said “I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting in any article of my faith… nor in any sacrament of the church” but Schofield points out that Cromwell was using gallows humour and irony here and was not referring to the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but instead was using the word “Catholic” in the way that Luther, Melancthon and Cranmer did, referring to the “Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church” of the New Testament and Nicene Creed.

    Read more: http://www.theanneboleynfiles.com/the-execution-of-thomas-cromwell/#ixzz3ZKkM0bUjrite.

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