The rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell

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The rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell

There is a lot of historical controversy surrounding Thomas Cromwell.

There are two ways of looking at him. Was he simply an able administrator (Henry is claimed to have murmured something to the effect that he had lost his greatest minister when he was executed), or was he something more than this? Did he effect a revolution in Tudor government? This theory was first put forward by G. Elton in the 1950s. It has caused great controversy ever since.

Below are some points relating to the work which Cromwell did. Think, while you read through them, whether, in your mind, what he did constitutes a revolution.

He entered Wolsey's service in 1516. He became his councillor. By his own admission he had been somewhat of a ruffian in his early life.

He had travelled extensively throughout Europe.

He was fluent in Italian.

He was one of the few men who knew where Wolsey's property was, and he used this as a bargaining tool in his early dealings with the King.

He entered Royal service in the spring of 1530.

By 1531 he was master of the King's jewels.

He became Henry's parliamentary manager.

His enemies claim that he had offered to make Henry the richest prince in Europe.

He never really dominated the King's councils. (Henry was more politically aware than he had been in his earlier years, i.e. in Wolsey's administration.)

Publicly he cast himself as an administrative genius. Here he was like Wolsey, and he presented himself as affable to the world. (Guy)

But he was feared rather than envied and here we have a difference with Wolsey. (Guy)

He reached the summit of his career after the fall of Anne Boleyn.

He was able to stay alive, politically, earlier on because he was deft. He destroyed Anne, and he helped to drive the Aragonese from court later by 'exposing' a plot to put Mary on the throne.

Mid-1536 was a putsch. (Guy)

His power was weak as it was based on faction politics. (Guy)

AGR Smith maintains that he saw that Henry wanted rid of Anne and so constructed the lies with which to prosecute her. He had already fallen out with her.

The reform of the Privy Council was not something that happened in a few years, it took until 1603. It was finished under Lord Burleigh. (Guy)

Cromwell would make decisions on the basis of conversations held informally at court. It was not a bureaucracy in the modern sense of the word. (Guy)

The historical debate is about whether he reformed the Privy Council. There is no denying that the numbers were reduced dramatically to 19. The tightening of the system meant that the Star Chamber was free to dedicate itself to legal matters alone.

He did have a role in drawing up agendas for meetings, which demonstrates that he did have some political clout.

There were examples of a tighter council at work. The King's deputy in Ireland had one. He may have based his ideas on these examples.

The theory of Elton's revolution is in the nature of the Privy Chamber under Cromwell.

AGR Smith in his book refers to 'Cromwell's reformed Privy Council'.

Elton's theory is that Cromwell took the jobs of the Household and split them into departments, which were smaller and more specialised. These would be more bureaucratic and not be influenced by connections. Each councillor would be given a specific job and a clerk to record their decisions.

It is Elton's theory that Cromwell had a master plan.

Cromwell did contemplate reform, but his plans were overtaken by events. (Guy) The speed at which events happened at court in the 1530s meant that Henry's closest advisors would naturally retreat to the more privy apartments of the King. (Guy)

Guy argues that if the reforms were his then how come most of the new chamber were opponents of Cromwell's? They were not reformers.

Lotherington backs this view, he says that this council was a threat to his position.

Starkey would argue that the idea of a Privy Council was more in line with what the nobility would have wanted rather than what Cromwell wanted.

1536 Henry talks of summoning a Privy Council but Guy is convinced that this was just a turn of phrase. Also on a document that said that certain individuals were required to attend the Queen in London several were marked with the letter 'P', but these were not members of the council.

Cromwell always had control over the council.

In the provinces Cromwell made bridges. Guy maintains that this helped to maintain stability in the reign. He communicated with the localities using circulars, which the magistrates received.

Changes in government were more pragmatic than revolutionary. (Lotherington)

Ability to tax efficiently is a valid index of the strength of a modern political regime. (Guy)

The system under Henry was so efficient that it remained the system for centuries. Much of this due to the work done under Henry VII and Wolsey. (Guy)

Cromwell developed the idea of a subsidy. Subsidy Act was in 1534 justified taxation on grounds of peace as well as war.

The Privy Purse became the King's coffer. A bureaucratic system of acquiring and recording income and expenses.

Parliamentary Taxes = £45 000

Fifteenths and tenths = £36 000 in 1535-7

Clerical tax = £406 000 in 1535 and 1540.

Dissolution was when the big money came in! £1.3 million Aug. 1536. (Guy)

The gross receipts from land sales were £8,000,000. Gold and silver plate and jewels from churches came to £79,500. (Guy)

Land sales brought in £82 000 pa after 1539. There was also money from rents. (Guy).

Henry wanted to spend all of his new money on building up a war chest. Cromwell wanted to set up a permanent land endowment for the imperial crown.

This indicates that Cromwell understood that this would lead to peace and prosperity - following the examples set by John Fortescue in the reigns of Henry VI and Edward IV.

After Anne's fall Henry made him 'Vice Regent in Spirituals'. This gave him the authority to inspect the conditions of the monasteries.

He made sure that all of the clergy followed new policy and that supremacy became a part of the sermons up and down the country.

He implemented a number of small, but significant changes in the church: teach children the Lord's Prayer, articles of faith had to come out of the scripture, banned idolatrous images and pilgrimages, restricted the burning of candles for the dead, said that an English translation of the Bible had to be placed in every parish.

Part played in the break with Rome was to make legislation out of Cranmer's ideas. (Guy)

He played a leading part in the subdication of the clergy though. (Guy)

He also enforced the royal supremacy with the oaths and the extension of the treason laws.

The Lincolnshire rebels referred to him as an upstart and they wanted him removed from court and council.

Cromwell personally wanted to do away with monastic life altogether. (Lotherington)

The fear of invasion in July 1538 brought about the dissolution of the greater monasteries.

He masterminded the Cleves marriage.

He tried to secure an alliance with the German states.

At the beginning of 1540 it did not look like he had fallen out of the king's favour, as he had recently been made Earl of Essex.

The conservatives led by Howard wanted rid of Cromwell and his reforming ideas for the church. No sooner was he out of the picture than the Six Articles are passed, these reverse some of the changes in church doctrine that had taken place in the 1530s.

It was said in the official explanation of his fall that he was promoting Lutheran ideas too strongly.

He had annoyed Henry with the Cleves affair, and Henry had his eye on the Catherine Howard faction at court as her uncle was Norfolk.

He was arrested in June 1540 and by July he was dead.

Condemned unheard under Act of Attainder on charges of High Treason that were clearly absurd. (AGR Smith)

Gardiner and Norfolk had managed to poison the King's mind against him. (AGR Smith)

Outnumbered at council. A victim of faction. The conservatives were in ascendancy.

He resigned in 1540. Then there were 2 contenders for his post: Wriothesley and Sadler.

Within a year of his execution Henry was mourning the loss of the most faithful servant that he ever had. (AGR Smith)

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