"My prayer is that God give me no longer life than I shall be glad to use mine office in edification, and not in destruction"
1. Throughout his career Thomas Cromwell had an appetite for seeking positions of high power and influence in 16th century England. Initially he became a recognised name in Westminster after winning a seat in the House of Commons representing Taunton as an MP. Later on in his career Thomas operated in a number of roles including Chancellor of the Exchequer (1533-1540), Secretary of State (1534-1540), Master of the Rolls (1534-1536), Lord Privy Seal (1536-1540) and Chief Minister to the King (1532-1540). After the downfall of Cardinal Wolsey, his position close to King Henry meant he played a leading role in the Reformation of the Church and dissolution of the monasteries.
2. Thomas was not born into a powerful family with connections to royalty and wealth. Born to a brewery owner and a blacksmith, Thomas had humble beginnings and led a life in his early years which would later contrast the upper class lifestyle he enjoyed under Henry VIII. In the early 1500s Thomas found himself employed as a soldier in France before working in finance in Italy. Thomas’s ability to speak numerous languages at a young age allowed him to find a working role in society as well as prepare himself for a future life of political engagement abroad.
3. His personal life was a tragic one. Thomas was married to Elizabeth Wyckes and had three children with her – Gregory, Anne and Grace. Elizabeth and the two girls died of a sweating illness in 1528 which affected the whole nation causing a pandemic, leaving Gregory as the only surviving family member.
4. King Henry VIII ensured that Thomas’s eventual demise was a bloody one. After his failed marriage to Anne Boleyn, which Thomas endorsed, the Chief Minister was executed without a trial on July 28th 1540 at the Tower of London. His head was then displayed without remorse on a spike on London Bridge.
5. Henry VIII ultimately came to regret his decision to execute his close associate. He blamed ministers for pressing charges which were largely exaggerated and inaccurate. Thomas, incidentally in his last three months alive, had been given the title of Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain, illustrating the ruthlessness of the decision to execute a man of his pedigree. Henry, who was known for his short, volatile temper, bemoaned that ministers had destroyed his ‘most faithful servant’ acknowledging that he had made an error in judgement.
Read our review of Thomas Cromwell: The untold story of Henry VIII's most faithful servant, by Tracey Borman.