Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex

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Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, by Hans Holbein

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (* around 1485 in Putney , London, † July 28, 1540 in London ) was an English statesman under Henry VIII and the designer of the Henry Reformation in England . The institutions of the English state were modernized by the administrative reforms of Cromwell.

His policies strengthened the king's authority in the north of England, and church reform began in Ireland. Cromwell was instrumental in ensuring that Wales was finally annexed to England through the Incorporation of Wales Acts 1535–1542 . He is also considered to be the designer of an important constitutional principle, the “ King-in-Parliament ”. In the 1530s he carried out significant social and economic reforms in England. He supported the production and export of English woolen fabrics. He introduced the Buggery Act 1533 into the English Parliament, which was in force until 1828 and made homosexuality , anal intercourse and sodomy a death penalty .


Thomas Cromwell was the only son of a brewer and blacksmith from Putney, Walter Cromwell (around 1463-1510), called Smyth . He had two (or three) sisters, one of whom was named Catherine. His grandfather John Cromwell seems to have belonged to the distinguished Cromwell family from Nottinghamshire , the most famous representative of which was Ralph Cromwell, 3rd Baron Cromwell (1394-1456), who held the office of Lord High Treasurer from 1433 to 1444 . John's son Walter seems to have taken the name Smyth because he was apprenticed to his uncle William Smyth, an armorer at Wimbledon.

Around 1512 Thomas Cromwell married Elizabeth Wykes. Little is known about his marriage, but it is certain that at least two daughters and a son survived childhood. However, in 1527/28 his wife and two daughters Anne and Grace (presumably) died of the fever that is now called English sweat . From then on he was only left with his son Gregory, who meant everything to him and did everything for his well-being and future. Gregory Cromwell (around 1514–1551), 1st Baron Cromwell of Oakham, married Elizabeth Seymour, sister of Queen Jane Seymour , before 1538 . They had five children: Henry, 2nd Baron Cromwell of Oakham, Frances, Catherine, Edward, and Thomas. Thomas was a member of parliament and his record of parliamentary work is an important historical source.

The English lord protector Oliver Cromwell was a descendant of Thomas Cromwell's sister, his great-great-nephew.

Career and case

As a young man, Cromwell left England and traveled through Italy for a long time , first as a mercenary and later as a cloth merchant. His wife was also the daughter of a merchant. After returning to England, he studied English law at Gray's Inn Law School . Thomas Cromwell joined Cardinal Wolsey as a lawyer before 1520 . After his fall in 1529, he won the favor of Henry VIII.

From that time onwards his continuous ascent began. As early as 1523 he became a member of parliament . From 1531 he was one of the king's confidants. On April 12, 1533, Cromwell was appointed Chancellor of the Exchequer, on April 15, 1534, Royal Secretary and on October 8, 1534, Master of the Rolls .

Under his leadership, Parliament adopted the Supreme Act in 1534 , which made the King head of the Church of England instead of the Pope . This made it possible for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon and to marry Anne Boleyn . Cromwell is also considered to be the architect of the fall of Anne Boleyn in the spring of 1536.

Cromwell paved the way for Henry VIII's third marriage to Jane Seymour by indicting his second wife of adultery with three courtiers and incest with her brother George Boleyn , Earl of Rochford, and thus of treason, with the approval of the king on the basis of dubious statements . Heinrich's wedding to Jane Seymour took place on May 30, 1536, just two weeks after Anne Boleyn's execution.

In July 1536, the appointments as Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon and Lord Seal Keeper followed . Furthermore, in the same year he was accepted as a Knight Companion in the Order of the Garter and, as Vicar General, the king's deputy with absolute power over the church, whose conversion he carried out in the interests of the king. His approach to the dissolution of the English monasteries earned him the nickname Hammer of the Monks . Another epithet of Thomas Cromwell was messenger of the devil .

One of his collaborators was Thomas Parry from 1536 to 1540 , who regulated various political and other matters on his behalf.

Cromwell rose to become the leader of the actually Protestant party at the court of Henry VIII. On April 17, 1540 he was raised to the Earl of Essex and Lord Great Chamberlain . He brokered Heinrich's marriage with Anna von Kleve in order to establish connections with the German Protestants. But the intrigues of the Catholic party under the Duke of Norfolk and Bishop Gardiner, as well as the king's reluctance to marry Cromwell forced upon him, brought about the overthrow of the minister. The king's confidence in his First Minister was shaken by the marriage to Anna von Kleve, but not completely destroyed. The real reason for Cromwell's fall was to be found in faith: Cromwell, like all other Protestants, believed that only faith (and not deeds) counted in God's forgiveness. Henry VIII did not acknowledge this, however, which was revealed during a sermon in the pre-Easter Lent.


Cromwell was charged with treason and heresy , sentenced to death, and executed on Tower Hill on July 28, 1540 . Thomas Cromwell's head was exhibited on London Bridge with his face turned away from London . In his speech on the scaffold he confessed that he was dying a Catholic: "I die in the Catholic faith and do not doubt any commandment of my faith, nor do I doubt a sacrament of the Church." ( I die in the Catholic faith, not doubting in any article of my faith, no nor doubting any sacrament of the church. ) The contemporary Tudor chronicler Edward Hall wrote of the day Cromwell was overthrown:

“Many lamented but more rejoiced, and specially such as either had been religious men, or favored religious persons; for they banqueted and triumphed together that night, many wishing that that day had been seven year before; and some fearing read he should escape, although he were imprisoned, could not be merry. Others who knew nothing but truth by him both lamented him and heartily prayed for him. But this is true that of certain of the clergy he was detestably hated, & specially of such as had borne swynge, and by his means was put from it; for in dead he was a man that in all his doings seemed not to favor any kind of Popery, nor could not abide the snoffyng pride of some prelates, which undoubtedly, whatsoever else was the cause of his death, did shorten his life and procured the end that he was brought unto. "

“Many wailed, but even more exulted, especially those who were religious or were inclined to religious; for that evening they celebrated a feast and triumphed together, and many wished that that day had come seven years earlier. Some feared that he would still be able to flee even though he was in prison, and therefore could not be happy. Others who knew the truth about him wept for him and prayed for him heartily. But it is true that he was terribly hated by certain clergymen, especially those who had led uncontrolled lives and who were turned away from it by his influence. Indeed, he was a man who did not tolerate any kind of papistism [adherence to the Pope] in any of his deeds, and who could not come to terms with the haughty pride of some prelates who undoubtedly whatever caused his death , shortened his life and brought about the end that was done for him. "

The English poet Thomas Wyatt saw Thomas Cromwell die and alludes to the death of his patron and friend in his sonnet no.29:

English original German translation
The pillar perished is whereto I leaned, The pillar on which I leaned perished
The strongest stay of my unquiet mind; the strongest hold for my restless mind;
The like of it no man again can find - no man can ever find his kind again,
From east to west, still seeking though he went. and if he went looking from east to west.
To mine unhap! For hap away hath rent And to my misfortune! Because fate has torn apart
Of all my joy the very bark and rind, even the bark and bark (i.e. the very substance) of all my joy,
And I, alas, by chance am thus assigned and I, oh, got so fate,
Dearly to mourn till death do it relent. to mourn bitterly until death has an understanding.
But since that thus it is by destiny, But because it is so arranged by fate,
What can I more but have a woeful heart, what I can have more than a sad heart
My pen in plaint, my voice in woeful cry, my pen in lament, my voice in sad shouts,
My mind in woe, my body full of smart, my mind in sorrow, my body in pain,
And I myself, myself always to hate and I must always loathe myself, myself
Till dreadful death do ease my doleful state. until the terrible death eases my sorrowful condition.

As the French ambassador Charles de Marillac reported on March 3, 1541, Henry VIII later regretted the execution of Cromwell with the following complaint about his ministers: […] upon light pretexts, and by false accusations, they made him put to death the most faithful Servant he ever had. (Translation: [...] with superficial pretexts and false accusations they would have executed him [Henry VIII.] The most loyal servant he ever had ). This made Thomas Cromwell the only one of all Henry VIII's victims to receive a royal pardon posthumously.

Depiction in theater, film and novels


  • In the Shakespeare drama Henry VIII . Cromwell appears as Wolsey's servant.
  • In 1602 the play Thomas Lord Cromwell was published with the note "written by WS" , which may also be attributed to Shakespeare .
  • In the (filmed) play A Man For All Seasons by Robert Bolt about Thomas More , Cromwell appears as his opponent.




  • Cromwell, Thomas, Earl of Essex . In: Encyclopædia Britannica . 11th edition. tape 7 : Constantine Pavlovich - Demidov . London 1910, p. 499 (English, full text [ Wikisource ]).
  • Geoffrey R. Elton : Reform and Renewal. Thomas Cromwell and the Common Weal . Cambridge University Press, London a. a. 1973, ISBN 0-521-20054-7 .
  • Robert Hutchinson: Thomas Cromwell. The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII's most notorious minister. Phoenix, London 2008, ISBN 978-0-7538-2361-3 .
  • John Schofield: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell. Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant. The History Press, Stroud 2008, ISBN 978-0-7524-4604-2 .
  • John Schofield: Cromwell to Cromwell. Reformation to Civil War. The History Press, Stroud 2009, ISBN 978-0-7524-5154-1 .

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Thomas Cromwell and the Catholic faith . The History Press
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New title created Baron Cromwell
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New title created Earl of Essex
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