Born on 8th of June 1485
Died on 28th of July 1540
Mainly remembered now for his leading role in Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries, Thomas Cromwell was an administrator and politician of exceptional ability, though not exceptional enough to evade the fate so many of Henry’s servants.
Cromwell was born in Putney about 1485, his father variously described as a cloth seller, alehouse keeper, and blacksmith. Thomas had an adventurous youth: he served with the French army in Italy; worked for the Frescobaldi banking dynasty in the Netherlands; and was employed by an English Cardinal. On his return to England in about 1514 he studied law and was taken on by Wolsey. In 1523 he became an MP.
Having shown himself adept at raising money for Wolsey, for whom he dissolved various monasteries in the 1520s (enabling Wolsey to found a school in Ipswich and a college in Oxford), Cromwell was clever enough to distance himself from his erstwhile master when Wolsey fell, and catch the king’s eye, becoming a royal counsellor in 1530, and Henry’s chief advisor by 1532.
A Protestant by conviction (supporting Erasmus) and convenience (obtaining considerable wealth in the great Dissolution), he helped Henry sever ties with Rome, and allied himself to Anne Boleyn until she fell. Cromwell united Wales to England in their laws, changed the basis of taxation from prosecution of war to maintenance of peace, and improved the state bureaucracy, employing able men of lower class. His reforms brought Henry millions.
Cromwell alienated the old nobility, making powerful enemies such as the Duke of Norfolk. They resented increased taxation and central control, and despised his low birth. When, to strengthen ties with Protestant Europe, he pushed Henry to marry Anne of Cleaves, whose looks disgusted the ageing monarch, he had given his enemies their opportunity. Henry signed an act of attainder against him, negating the need for a trial, and he was executed at the Tower on July 28 1540. No great consolation to Cromwell, but within months Henry was bemoaning the loss of his most able aide.
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