Thomas Cromwell


Thomas Cromwell was a barrister and low ranking member of Parliament who came to the fore when Henry VIII was seeking a divorce from his first wife under the influence of Anne Boleyn. Henry had already tried and failed to obtain a divorce by going through official channels. Cromwell conceived of the idea of changing the laws of England so that decisions of the English churches could not be appealed to Rome. In this way Henry could become legally divorced in England without the permission of the Pope as long has his annulment was approved by the local ecclesiastics. This brilliant maneuver won Henry's loyalty and Cromwell quickly became his chief minister and the architect of his "reforms" regarding church-state relations. Cromwell is also the main character associated with the dissolution of the monasteries in England and the sale of their land.

Henry VIII was so pleased with Cromwell's work in helping him obtain a divorce, he immediately promoted him to chief minister, and from that position, Cromwell was able to have a hand in almost unlimited mischief. Cromwell was a very strong supporter of the Protestant reformation, and in particular the idea of making secular powers dominant over religious ones. His Act of Supremacy placed the King of England squarely at the head of the Church of England, which effectively made Henry VIII "pope" of a national church. Cromwell also supported and patronized Protestant theologians and anti-clerical thinkers of all stripes. Cromwell saw clearly that the best way to prevent a Catholic resurgence was to bring the nobles over to the protestant cause and by granting or selling them lands that the king acquired by dissolving the monasteries, he was able to assure their continued support for his "reforms".

Cromwell's career came to an abrupt end when he arranged a marriage for Henry VIII for political reasons, which did not please the king. When his marriage to Anne of Cleves failed, Cromwell was imprisoned and executed for treason.

Key events during the life of Thomas Cromwell:

Birth of Thomas Cromwell.
  Studies Law.
Elected to Parliament.
With Wolsey, dissolves a few monasteries (for practice).
Conceived a plan for obtaining a divorce for Henry by influencing Parliament.
Became Henry's chief minister.
Pushed legislation through Parliament "legalizing" Henry's divorce and remarriage.
Promoted the Act of Supremacy, severing the Church of England's ties with Rome.
Presided over the dissolution of the monasteries.
Arranged the marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves.
Executed by Henry who blamed Cromwell for his failed marriage to Anne of Cleves.

Other Resources

Story Links
Book Links
The Boy-Emperor  in  The Story of Liberty  by  Charles C. Coffin
Thomas Cromwell and Destruction of the Monasteries  in  The Tudors and the Stuarts  by  M. B. Synge

Image Links

Oliver Cromwell
 in  The Story of the English

Cromwell dissolves Parliament
 in  The Story of the English

Short Biography
Henry VIII King of England famous for marrying and dispensing with six wives.
Anne Boleyn Second wife of Henry VIII. Executed when she fell from grace.
Thomas Cranmer Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII. Broke with Rome. Founded Anglican Church.
Anne of Cleves Fourth wife of Henry the Eighth, arranged by Cromwell. Henry was not pleased.
Thomas Wolsey Rose from humble beginnings to become Chancellor of England. Stalled on Henry VIII's divorce.