Sunday, 8 September 2013

The Arrest and Execution of Cromwell

Ever since the disastrous and short-lived marriage of Henry VIII to Anne of Cleves, Cromwell's place in the royal favour seemed wavering and Henry VIII did nothing to settle matters. After having given Cromwell the cold shoulder he made him Earl of Essex in April 1540. But Cromwell was far from safe despite his newest elevation.

On Saturday 10th June 1540 Thomas Cromwell was in the middle of a Council meeting when he was suddenly interrupted at around 3 o'clock in the afternoon. Every single one of his most powerful enemies watched when the Royal Guards marched into the room; Cromwell of course immediately understood what was happening and reputedly threw down his hat on the table - a sign of anger or one last frustrated gesture? To make the scene even more humiliating for the soon-to-be prisoner was that the Dukes of Norfolk and Southampton personally removed his chains of office from his shoulders before the Captain of the Royal Guard took hold of him. While he was leaving the room the other Council members began accusing him of treason. Thus Cromwell was escorted through Westminster and down to an awaiting barge ready to take him to the Tower of London.

In the end there was to be no trial for the ever hard-working Thomas Cromwell nor any chance for him to plead his case. On 29th June an Act of Attainder with Cromwell's name was drawn up and just like that he was found guilty in heresy and treason. It is interesting that Cromwell was not blamed for the terrible marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves (the marriage was not yet dissolved) nor how the King had chosen his policies. Instead Cromwell's main accusation was that of heresy, this accusation was the brainchild of the Catholic Duke of Norfolk and the embittered Catholic bishops that Cromwell had swiftly removed from their offices. Together, they managed to convince Henry VIII that Cromwell was not only spreading heretical messages himself but also openly supported heretics going as far as to even release them from prison and then taking care of their enemies. Also, Cromwell was condemned for corruption through the sale of licenses and pass-ports to people not approved of by the King. Lastly, Cromwell was accused of wishing to marry Lady Mary Tudor which would make him an immediate threat to the King's personal position because Cromwell would then have a claim on the throne through his wife.

While awaiting his fate within the Tower of London Cromwell wrote two letters to Henry VIII both fervently protesting his innocence. None was answered.
Then on 28th July 1540 Cromwell was taken from his cell to the Tower Green where he faced the scaffold. He was to be given a private execution but it can be safe to say that none of his previous enemies were there to watch the spectacle - they had all rushed off to watch the King marry Katherine Howard on the same day. It was his recently granted title that probably saved Cromwell from being either hanged, drawn and quartered or burned alive at the stake: as a nobleman he could be beheaded for treason. But no matter what Cromwell died an innocent man since no real evidence could be held against him besides what was openly planted by his enemies.

As Thomas Cromwell stood on the scaffold he apologised if he had ever displeased or defied God or the King. Interestingly enough he also mentioned that he would die in the Catholic faith - could this be an indication that he was threatened into saying so or perhaps even tortured? It has been suggested by Hall's Chronicle of Tudor England that the execution was made even more painful for Cromwell because his executioner failed to strike his head off with one blow but hacked away at his skull and shoulders until the head finally came off. Considering that inexperienced executioners was a very real part of Tudor England (as Mary, Queen of Scots would also come to now) this might actually be true. However, there is no evidence to support that Cromwell's enemies had made the executioner drunk before performing his duty. So, in the end this was how Thomas Cromwell met his fate. His head was boiled and placed on a spike on the London Bridge as was customary when dealing with traitors - as a last mockery his head was turned away from London city itself so that not even his now dead eyes could gaze upon the city.

Henry VIII would very soon afterwards come to regret this execution of what he called his "most faithful servant".

Cromwell's execution on "the Tudors"

No comments:

Post a Comment