Facts and Events
Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, ( or ; 28 July 1540), was an English lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540.
Cromwell was one of the strongest and most powerful advocates of the English Reformation. He helped to engineer an annulment of the king's marriage to Queen Catherine of Aragon, to allow Henry to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. After failing in 1534 to obtain the Pope's approval of the request for annulment, Parliament endorsed the King's claim to be head of a breakaway Church of England, thus giving Henry the authority to annul his own marriage. Cromwell subsequently plotted an evangelical, reformist course for the embryonic Church of England from the unique posts of vicegerent in spirituals and vicar-general.
During his rise to power, Cromwell made many enemies, including his former ally Anne Boleyn; he played a prominent role in her downfall. He later fell from power after arranging the King's marriage to a German princess, Anne of Cleves. Cromwell hoped that the marriage would breathe fresh life into the Reformation in England, but it turned into a disaster for Cromwell and ended in an annulment six months later. Cromwell was arraigned under a bill of attainder and executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540. The King later expressed regret at the loss of his chief minister.
Until the 1950s, historians had downplayed Cromwell's role, calling him a doctrinaire hack who was little more than the agent of the despotic King Henry VIII. Geoffrey Elton in The Tudor Revolution (1953), however, featured him as the central figure in the Tudor revolution in government. Elton portrayed Cromwell as the presiding genius, much more so than the King, handling the break with Rome, and the laws and administrative procedures that made the English Reformation so important. Elton says that he was responsible for translating Royal supremacy into Parliamentary terms, creating powerful new organs of government to take charge of Church lands and largely removing the medieval features of central government. Subsequent historians have agreed with Cromwell's importance, although downplaying the "revolution" that Elton claimed.
Leithead (2004) says of Cromwell: