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England's Mysterious and Powerful Evil Genius: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell
England's Mysterious and Powerful Evil Genius: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell

Once upon a time, a German artist named Hans Holbein Jr. painted two portraits. One of them is Sir Thomas More, a British aristocrat, great philosopher and humanist. His name is known and respected all over the world. On the second - Thomas Cromwell, the son of a simple blacksmith, who became the right hand of King Henry VIII himself and one of the most influential people of that time. When placed next to each other, it may seem that they are in the same room and are looking directly into each other's eyes. This is not the case, though. Half a thousand years ago, it was clear to everyone who of the two Thomas was the hero and who was the villain. But recently everything has changed …

Such different people

Portraits of Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More, Hans Holbein the Younger

The image of Thomas More breathes nobility. He has an aristocratic profile, he looks openly, but strictly. More is richly dressed. The second Thomas is depicted without flattery. Dressed simply, tightly compressed lips over a double chin. The look of Cromwell's small eyes is impossible to guess.

Grey Cardinal

In relation to Thomas Cromwell, this expression sounds like a pun. After all, the start of his political career took place with a job for a real cardinal named Thomas Woolsey. Yes, Thomas too.

Cardinal Woolsey

These Thomas were very similar. The fact is that Cardinal Wolsey was also of simple origin. He was the son of a butcher. Woolsey graduated from Oxford when he was only fifteen. Then the talented young man was surrounded by King Henry VII. When the young and daring Henry VIII ascended the throne, Wolsey's career took off. At first he became the Archbishop of York, only a year later - a cardinal. It was rumored that the ambitious cardinal was seriously considering the papal throne.

Anne Boleyn's father called Cromwell "the butcher's dog." But that was not entirely true. Thomas was loyal to his master. But he was not just his faithful servant, he was his disciple. And so talented that he was able to surpass his teacher.

Cromwell is often called a cynical traitor who walked over the heads, not sparing even those who patronized him. Again, this is not entirely true. Although Thomas's career rise coincided with the fall of Wolsey's power, the young man never betrayed him. Cromwell paid tribute to his teacher even on his coat of arms, which he got after a sharp takeoff. Cardinal Woolsey had already died by this time. Cromwell's coat of arms bore two jackdaws and a Tudor rose. People who understand heraldry will immediately understand where these jackdaws come from. Even after the death of the teacher, Thomas remained faithful to him. Cromwell was principled to the core. Unsurprisingly, this annoyed many.

Left: Cardinal Wolsey's coat of arms. Right: the coat of arms of Thomas Cromwell

Loving king

"Divorced - executed - died - divorced - executed - survived." This is how schoolchildren in Great Britain teach the order and fate of the wives of King Henry VIII. Unfortunately, it was Cromwell who managed to have a hand in the beginning of this ominous sequence. The first wife of the king was Catherine of Aragon. This was preceded by a very strange story. First, young Catherine became the wife of Henry VII's eldest son, Arthur, but he died. After that, the girl spent almost ten years in England in a very uncertain status. Either the old king is going to marry her, then he appoints her ambassador … Before his death, the king ordered his son Henry to marry Catherine.

Portrait of Henry VIII, Hans Holbein the Younger

Henry was obsessed with getting a male heir.With his wife, he was unlucky in this regard. Catherine had five children. Only one girl survived. Ironically, it was she who, years later, would become the queen. In the meantime, Henry VIII was simply desperate. In addition, Heinrich was a ladies' man. Soon, the hot man was carried away by a girl who was much younger than his wife. He began to look for a reason to divorce Catherine.

The cynical Henry found this reason in the Old Testament. It contains the following words: “If anyone takes his brother’s wife, it is abominable; he revealed his brother's nakedness, they will be childless. " Henry completely ignored the context of the phrase, as well as the fact that there are other words in the New Testament: "If anyone's brother dies, having a wife, and if he is childless, let the brother take his wife and restore the seed to his brother." Henry was not interested. Moreover, there were children, just not boys.

Mary I Tudor, daughter of Catherine of Aragon and Henry VIII

The only snag in all this was that it was necessary to receive a blessing from the pope. Cardinal Woolsey was elected to speak with the head of the Catholic Church. He failed to obtain permission for divorce. The cardinal was accused of high treason and removed. Thomas Cromwell was appointed in his place. The new advisor found a way out of the situation. He proposed a reformation to Henry. Prior to this, Henry VIII had been very active in opposing this idea. The Pope even gave him the title of "defender of the faith." The desire to get rid of an unloved wife and marry another in order to get a long-awaited son overshadowed everything.

Pope Clement VII

So, due to the whim of one person, the Anglican Church broke away from the Catholic Church. The king divorced Catherine of Aragon and married Anne Boleyn. Cromwell became one of the most influential and powerful people in England. Again, ironically, the same Cromwell will be directly related to the execution of Anna. It's funny that despite the fact that Henry was excommunicated, he did not give up the title of "defender of the faith". It is worn by English monarchs to this day, contrary to the position of the Vatican.

Catherine of Aragon and Anna Boleyn

The fall of Anne Boleyn

The events that led to the arrest and execution of the second wife of Henry VIII, as well as her brother and a number of courtiers in May 1536, had some mystical ground. Some historians believed that this was a conspiracy with the active participation of Thomas Cromwell. Allegedly, the adviser was too concerned about Anna's huge influence on the king and wanted to eliminate her. But there was one interesting detail here. Thomas clung to Boleyn for a reason. He had good reason for that.

Anna Boleyn, Hans Holbein Jr

Cromwell claimed that the reason for his negative attention to Anna, which was followed by a thorough investigation and the discovery of her guilt, was a prophecy. This prophecy said that the king was threatened with death as a result of a conspiracy of people close to him. In the text of the prophecy, the words "secret treason" were used. This meant that it would not be an uprising, but a conspiracy. In addition, it said that these would be people. Then it mattered. This prompted Cromwell to investigate secretly sympathizing with the traditional Roman Catholic Church.

One interesting detail needs to be mentioned here. Anna objected to the fact that the funds taken from the monasteries went to the king's treasury. She wanted to send them to charity. In addition, Anna's associate, Skip, delivered an accusatory speech in parliament against Cromwell. He stated that Thomas Cromwell is the evil and greedy Aman. And you need to protect traditional church ceremonies from any changes. The parallels with the prophecy were striking. The queen got in the way of religious politics.

One of the few surviving letters of Cromwell

Then Heinrich easily believed that his wife was involved in the conspiracy. Rumors became evidence, talk became a conspiracy, and flirting became treason. Everything is in accordance with the prophecy.

Two Thomas

While Thomas Cromwell became the first royal advisor, Thomas More took over as Lord Chancellor. Mor was restrained and noble. He can be called the greatest humanist of those times. The Lord Chancellor tried very hard to contain the irrepressible ardor of the young king.Henry had already felt the heady taste of power and the restrained Mor became for him only an obstacle on the way. Moreover, Thomas More allowed himself not to recognize the king as the head of the church. He opposed his divorce. As a result, he was convicted and executed.

Thomas Cromwell

Thomas More several centuries later was canonized. Nothing bad could be said about him at all. Yes, he can be blamed for his pride. Before his execution, Sir Thomas dared to compare himself to Jesus Christ. He refused the wine served with the words: "Christ was served vinegar, not wine." But otherwise Mor was a decent and principled person who remained true to himself to the end.

Many people ask the question: were Cromwell and More enemies? Unlikely. They had to communicate a lot by the nature of their service, and Cromwell always showed unwavering respect for More. There are many theories about when the two Thomas first met, one more fantastic than the other. But this secret is unknown to historians. Only one thing is clear: thanks to one young, ambitious and ardent monarch, the two of them first reached unprecedented heights, and then ended up on the chopping block. With a difference of only half a dozen years.

They could very well be friends. Both are principled and true to their principles to the end. Willing to die for what they thought was right. Cromwell did not betray his teacher Woolsey, and More did not betray Catholicism. Unfortunately, history has developed in such a way that one became a murderer and a villain, and the other - a hero of faith and a holy martyr.

The image of Thomas Cromwell in the TV series The Tudors

Fall of Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell was certainly a contradictory and multifaceted person. You can look at his actions in different ways. Of course, Cromwell certainly fell victim to greed. He became one of the richest men in England, third after Henry and the Duke of Norfolk. And traces of the crime, of course, were found. Thomas was sent to the scaffold. Someone was happy about this, someone was grieving. Only the king later bitterly regretted what he had done. The best epitaph for Thomas Cromwell can serve as the words of the king once thrown in the hearts: "With your false accusations, you made me execute the most faithful servant I have ever had!"

Read more about Anne Boleyn and her secret in our other article: discovered secret entries in the prayer book of the wife of "Bluebeard", sent to the scaffold: Anna Boleyn.

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