Thomas Cromwell - rise and fall from favour with Henry VIII


Thomas Cromwell - rise and fall from favour with Henry VIII

Thomas Cromwell was an English lawyer and statesman in the early 16th century, who became one of the most influential people in the Tudor court, serving as chief minister to King Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540. But he fell foul of the mercurial king, and his serial matrimonial complications, and his resultant personal fate is a key part of historical author Hilary Mantel’s bestseller "Wolf Hall".

Cromwell was considered of low birth by the nobles at Henry’s court, but his father was a prosperous London merchant and blacksmith and owned several properties, whilst his mother was from a recognised "gentry family" in Staffordshire. He went to France and improved himself, and by 1527 the well-travelled Cromwell had returned to England as a lawyer, a married father of three, and extremely respected as the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the king's chief advisor, with a stellar reputation for deal-making. His life took a tragic turn when his wife and two youngest daughters abruptly died of the sweating sickness leaving him a widower.

Cromwell came to King Henry’s notice through his role as a trusted assistant to Cardinal Wolsey – and took his place after Wolsey’s disgrace and death.

Cromwell helped to engineer an annulment of the King's marriage to Catherine of Aragon so that Henry could lawfully marry Anne Boleyn, despite the Roman Catholic Church's objections. He then played a prominent role in her downfall three years later.

Cromwell himself fell from power after advocating and setting up the king's marriage to German princess Anne of Cleves. But Henry found his new bride unattractive and it turned into a disaster for Cromwell, when the king demanded an annulment six months later.

Cromwell was executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540. Some records state that the execution was botched, with the axeman having difficulty severing the head. The king later expressed regret at the loss of his chief minister.

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