Thomas Cromwell (c. 1485–1540) was an English statesman, 1st Earl of Essex, and chief minister of King Henry VIII.
Recently I have been watching ‘The Tudors’ The TV series which details the fascinating but despotic rule Of Henry VIII.
King Henry VIII has captured lot of attention amongst the Tudor dynasty as he had six Queens.
Two of them were executed and one Queen after Henry annulled his marriage to her, became his sister.
The historians have focused a lot of attention on King Henry VIII for obvious reasons, but during his reign there were many other powerful but selfish, enigmatic, sycophant personalities
Cardinal Thomas Wolsey the archbishop of York, Thomas More, two clergies who were his confidante
His intimate friend Charles Brandon Duke of Suffolk
Thomas Howard Duke of Norfolk and uncle to two of Henry’s wives
But the most influential, fast to rise and equally fast to fall from grace was King Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell.
Cromwell was the architect of the English Reformation; who secured Henry’s divorce from Catherine of Aragon Henry first wife then plotted the downfall of his second wife, Anne Boleyn and was finally beheaded as he was falsely accused of trying to usurp the king himself.
Rise of Cromwell
King Henry VIII was a staunch catholic, but he wanted to divorce his queen Catherine of Aragon who had failed to sire an heir and marry the conniving but beauteous Anne Boleyn.
The church refused to annul Henry marriage which infuriated the King and he broke ties with the Papal Catholic Church based in Rome. His disagreement with Pope Clement VII about such an annulment led Henry to initiate the English Reformation, separating the Church of England from Papal authority.
Cromwell was one of the strongest and most powerful proponents of the English Reformation and enacted and passed all the necessary legislative laws in the Parliament.
Henry was now the secular and spiritual head of England, and with that title came the power to appoint bishops, control church property, and recognize selected ecclesiastical courts.
Cromwell then began addressing the issue of anticlericalism through the petition of a bill entitled ‘Supplication of the Commons against the Ordinaries’. It was the reformative influence of Cromwell that was seen in the king’s demands to remove any independent ecclesiastic voice from his church for fear of divided loyalties, which was the been the foundation of Cromwell’s bill of Supplication itself.
Cromwell served the aspirations of both the King and himself.
Henry was now head of the Church of England and was thus free to enjoy his new role in ecclesiastical affairs and he annulled his marriage with his first wife Catherine of Aragon.
Cromwell benefitted both spiritually and politically. Within a month, he was rewarded by Henry with the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer.
England had been completely severed from the corruptive element of the Catholic Pope
Henry with shrewd and tactical thinking of Cromwell were now well-positioned to continue the advancement of reform in the Church of England
Cromwell’s Administrative Success
The decade of 1530 to 1540 proved to be productive and tragic for Cromwell.
In The year 1534, Cromwell firmed up and rendered a plan for creating a procedural mechanism for the appointment of bishops and archbishops under the Acts in ‘Restraint and Submission of the Clergy’, no longer under the auspices of the Pope.
Once a nomination had been made, the clergy had twelve days to elect and choose the individual named. Failure to elect the nominee within twelve days would ensure the election to go forward without ecclesiastic endorsement; failure to do so after twenty days would result in penalty.
This success galvanized Cromwell to introduce the Act in Repeal of Annates, which eliminated the collection of taxes to be sent to Rome.
Papal revues were instead collected by the king now.
The Dispensations and Peter’s pence Act rendered legislation in England impermeable to external influence (Read Papal here), unless unequivocally allowed by the king.
The Act further allowed the Archbishop of Canterbury (who is Primate of All England and first peer of the realm, and plays a leading role in the worldwide Anglican Church) the power to issue dispensations from canonical law in addition to the issuance of licenses necessary for church-approved actions.
. Between 1536 and 1540 over 800 religious houses in England were dissolved and the lands sold off. The proceeds went to the King.
In the mid-1530’s, Cromwell seized on a convenient opportunity to enrich Henry’s treasury.
The Act in Restraint was a stepping stone for Cromwell, who sought to provide the king with the funds he was in dire need of. Cromwell was able to persuade Henry that good governance was itself an acceptable reason for taxation, rather than the historically accepted threat of war.
The passage of the First Fruit and Tenths Act, ensured that all the taxes which were earlier sent to the Pope now remained in henry coffers,
The passage of this bill provided the treasury with a yearly income of £40,000.
The First Fruit and Tenths Act was eventually administered to the hoi polloi, under the title of the Subsidy Act, which accrued the Crown an additional £80,000 annually.
Cromwell was bestowed with the title of Vicegerent of Spirituals in January, 1535.
Tyranny of the King under the guise of Cromwell
Cromwell was entrusted the responsibility of visiting the churches of the realm to assess their wealth.
Cromwell constituted a commission who travelled and surveyed on his behalf during the 1535.
Cromwell drilled into them as to how to prevent underestimation and collusion with local aristocrats.
During the latter half of the 1535, the commission was again instructed, ostensibly to monitor the moral behavior of the monastic inhabitants.
The resultant document created from the compiled data was the ‘Valor Ecclesiasticus’, which estimated the value of church properties to be £800,000, a sum that could place Henry on equal footing with other European monarchs.
Armed with this information Cromwell strode further and began dissolution of smaller religious houses, which were more vulnerable and at risk
The act further dissolved religious houses with an income of less than £200, and provided pensions for the priors, as well as the opportunity for movement. For the lower ranked inhabitants, alternatives had been the acceptance of transfer to another larger house, or remain and be trained to serve as a secular priest.
Henry appointed himself Supreme Head of the Church of England and dissolved convents and monasteries, with the wily tactician Cromwell.
Cromwell was one of the strongest and most powerful proponents of the English Reformation.
Thomas Cromwell is a good subject for fact and fiction. He was and remains somewhat of an enigma both as a visionary for government efficiency and as an ambitious ‘new man’ rising to perhaps the most powerful man in England during the reign of Henry VIII.
Historians have tried to untangle how much influence Cromwell had over Henry VIII or whether he was the puppet-master or the puppet in the monarch’s affairs of state
Nonetheless there is no doubt that his life was remained dependent on the whims and commands of Henry VIII.
Perhaps the most important aspect of Cromwell’s personality and political outlook is, according to Elton the famous historian is, a belief and reliance in the efficacy of the law and its use to reform and transform England.
Time and again it is proven that Cromwell as adept at manipulating Henry VIII.
Cromwell was a visionary bent on converting ideas into actions that succeed
Cromwell innate work ethic and drive, and his knack of pleasing his master endeared him to the king
In conclusion I think Cromwell had many faces, that of an administrator, church reformer but the everlasting image of him being a sycophant, groveler, bidding to do everything for his master stays with me