Thomas Cromwell

Missing image
Thomas Cromwell: detail from a portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1532-3

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (c. 1485 - July 28, 1540) was an English statesman, one of the most important political figures of the reign of Henry VIII of England.

Cromwell was born in about 1485 in Putney, the son of Walter Cromwell (c. 1463 - 1510), a tradesman. After studying law, he entered the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and became a Member of Parliament in 1523. Following the crisis over Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Cromwell came to prominence at Wolsey's expense. By 1533, he had risen to the position of Chancellor of the Exchequer.

Cromwell was the most prominent of those who suggested to Henry VIII that the king make himself head of the English Church, and saw the Act of Supremacy of 1534 through Parliament. As Henry's Vice-Gerent of Spirituals, he presided over the Dissolution of the Monasteries, which began with his visitation of the monasteries and abbeys, announced in 1535 and begun in the winter of 1536. As a reward, he was created Earl of Essex in 1540. He is also the architect of the so-called Acts of Union 1536-1543, which brought Wales firmly within English control - a "Union" which unfortunately was achieved at the cost of Welsh identity and economic self-sufficiency.

Often portrayed as a cynical money-grabbing initiative, Cromwell and his supporters had genuine theological issues with the idea of monastic life, specifically on the nature of intercessory prayers for the dead. While Cromwell was in power, Henry's government was far more open to religious reform than subsequently.

Cromwell had supported Henry in disposing of Anne Boleyn and replacing her with Jane Seymour. His downfall was the haste with which he encouraged the king to re-marry following Jane's premature death. The marriage to Anne of Cleves, a political alliance which Cromwell had urged on Henry, was a disaster, and this was the real motive for Cromwell to be charged with treason. He was privately executed at the Tower of London on July 28, 1540. It is said that Henry VIII intentionally chose an inexperienced executioneer. The young boy had three attempts at chopping Cromwell's head before he succeeded.

The inscription on the paper lying on the table in the original portrait describes Cromwell as "Master of the Jewell House," an official position that he occupied for just one year from April 12, 1532, thus neatly dating the portrait (illustration, upper right).

The Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell (1599 - 1658), was descended from his sister Catherine Cromwell.

Preceded by:
Stephen Gardiner
Secretary of State
Succeeded by:
Thomas Wriothesley
Preceded by:
John Taylor
Master of the Rolls
Succeeded by:
Christopher Hales
Preceded by:
The Earl of Wiltshire
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by:
The Earl of Southampton

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Preceded by:
New Creation
Earl of Essex
Succeeded by:

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External links

  • A biography of Thomas Cromwell ( with details on his policies
  • A genealogical page ( listing some details of the Cromwell family back to the 12th century
  • An ancestor chart ( of Walter Cromwell, father of Thomas; not necessarily reliablede:Thomas Cromwell

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