Thomas Cromwell: Facts & Execution

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  • 0:04 Who Was Thomas Cromwell?
  • 1:37 Henry VIII & English…
  • 4:49 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Paul Brazinski
Learn about the English Reformation promoter Thomas Cromwell and how he gained King Henry VIII's favor and disfavor, leading to his execution at Tower Hill. Then you can test your knowledge with a quiz!

Who Was Thomas Cromwell?

Thomas Cromwell, famous politician and advisor to Henry VIII, was born around 1485 in London, England. His father, Walter Cromwell, was a blacksmith and owned a hostel and brewery in London. Little is known about Thomas Cromwell's early life before his political career. We do know that Cromwell left England in his youth and sought adventure and financial opportunities in France, the Low Lands, and Italy. We are unsure about exactly what Cromwell did in these early years, but knowing that he called himself a ''ruffian'' as a youth, we can only assume that he was up to no good!

By 1514, Cromwell, using his political networks, was a representative in Rome for several important figures, such as the Archbishop of York and Cardinal Christopher Bainbridge. By 1518, Cromwell led two parties to visit Pope Leo X, which again shows how influential Cromwell was and the connections that he had. At this point in his life, Cromwell was certainly collecting friends in high places.

In the 1520s, Cromwell's influence in England grew, as he gained a seat in Parliament and was appointed to Henry VIII's Privy Council. The Privy Council was composed of Henry VIII's closest advisors, and Cromwell was one of them. Try to imagine being a close advisor to the King of England during that time -- there were few positions of greater power.

Henry VIII & English Reformation

Although Henry VIII was a supporter of Catholicism in the early outset of the Reformation, he changed his mind in the mid-1520s when he wanted to annul his marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon. Catherine did not bear any male heirs that lived into adulthood, and Henry VIII wanted to keep his Tudor dynasty going.

Henry VIII petitioned for annulment to Pope Clement VII; however, the Pope declined his request. This angered Henry VIII, who then turned to his own Parliament, and Thomas Cromwell's support, to approve the divorce. After Cromwell helped Henry VIII get his divorce, Thomas Cranmer, the new Archbishop of Canterbury, married the king to Anne Boleyn, his second wife.

In the 1530s, Cromwell and Cranmer were two of Henry VIII's top reformers. Cromwell was now also England's Chancellor of the Exchequer, the head of the royal treasury, and the King's Chief Minister, which was the King's top advisor. All was going well for Cromwell as he helped Cranmer close down monasteries during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and close down ''cult of the saint'' sites, since both were Catholic entities and were now under the Crown's control. Cromwell is also famous for his role in publishing the first Bible in English.

Cromwell was one of Henry VIII's top reformers; however, the two soon had a falling out. Thomas Cromwell secured the marriage of Anne of Cleves, a German princess, to marry Henry VIII as his fourth wife. Cromwell thought that the marriage would strengthen England's bond with the Protestant alliance in Germany and would weaken the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor.

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