"You think Mr. Cromwell is a great man?"- Thomas Tallis
"No, I think he's a coming man."- Thomas Wyatt
Sir Thomas Cromwell, Baron of Wimbleton and Earl of Essex, was one of King Henry's most trusted and brilliant advisors. He initially appeared as a shrewd up-and-coming lawyer of humble origins, and is presented as the protege of Cardinal Wolsey in episode 1.04; he is a recurring character in Season 1 and a major character in Seasons 2 and 3, portrayed by English actor James Frain.
Unlike the Catholic Wolsey, Cromwell was shown to secretly support the Lutheran cause and the Reformation (or in his words, the destruction) of the Catholic Church, which he appears to despise above all else for its' corrupt elements. Cromwell, like the King's friend Charles Brandon, played a key role in the downfall of many powerful figures of Henry's court, although he eventually met a similar fate himself.
Despite his excellent work in securing both his own power and the King's following the successful break with Rome, Cromwell's efforts towards further Reformation eventually falter due to his harsh methods of enforcement being unpopular and Henry's unwillingness to abandon Catholic doctrine. When he later tries to re-establish Protestant links to England by arranging the King's fourth marriage to Anne of Cleves, he angers Henry again and his many enemies sieze the opportunity to accuse him of treason and sentence him to death. However, the Protestant Reformation- which Cromwell had fought for his entire career- survived and prospered in England under subsequent members of House Tudor, ensuring that part of Cromwell's legacy survived.
Season One Edit
Thomas Cromwell first appears in episode 1.04. Although Cromwell was elevated by the King's First Minister Cardinal Wolsey to replace Henry's secretary Richard Pace (who was arrested by Wolsey as a suspected French spy), he was also secretly an ally of the Boleyn family and intended to betray Wolsey. Despite his past friendship with the Cardinal, he was convinced that the Protestant Reformation would otherwise not occur, because for all Wolsey's corruption and groveling to the King he was still a true Catholic believer. Although clearly intelligent and ambitious, Cromwell goes largely unnoticed by the court during Season One, largely because he comes from an entirely non-noble background.
Cromwell is also represented as the man who introduces Anne Boleyn to Lutheranism, which she subsequently introduced to Henry VIII; early in the season, he is shown attending a secret meeting of German Lutheran ministers in London. However, he is careful to conceal his true beliefs around Sir Thomas More when More reveals his denounciation of all reformers as heretics; as Chancellor, More later arrests- and subseqently burns- several Lutherans, much to Cromwell's distaste. Cromwell counters this by suggesting to the King that, as Henry should be head of the Church in his own realm, he need only seek the support of different Protestant theologians abroad regarding his intended divorce; with the King's approval, he travels to various foreign colleges to canvass their support of Henry's claims. Thus, Cromwell and Anne Boleyn jointly set the King- and England- firmly on the road to the Reformation. When Henry, in episode 1.08, sends Cromwell to inform Pope Clement he will break with Rome if he is not granted his anullment, Cromwell deliberately portrays the Pope as unwilling to interfere in any means besides prayer, hoping to push Henry over the edge. As the season continues, Henry increasingly relies on Cromwell's advice above Wolsey's, especially when Cromwell secretly uses his spy network to reveal Wolsey's various inefficiencies in handling Henry's annulment. Cromwell does not betray Wolsey without regret, as Wolsey essentially gave him much of the training required to survive and gain power in Henry's unpredictable court.Towards the end of the first season, Cromwell, despite still only holding the post of Royal Secretary, is clearly very favored by the King, who states to Thomas Boleyn that he has 'great hopes for him'. Boleyn agrees, since he and his family have been Cromwell's patrons for some time. Thomas Wyatt- who has received patronage by Cromwell for his literary work- also notes that Cromwell is a 'coming man', foreshadowing Cromwell's further rise in power in subsequent seasons. Cromwell cements his position by intercepting evidence of the disgraced Wolsey's attempt to join forces with Catherine of Aragon. Subsequently, Wolsey is sent to the Tower, where he commits suicide; Cromwell reports this to Henry at the end of the season Finale. However, both men are forlorn by this news, as Cromwell remembered Wolsey instated him in court and helped him get his start in politics, and Henry looks at himself with shock that despite Wolsey's removal, a loyal minister and able member of his court, is now dead. The King orders that Wolsey's death be covered up and that it be remembered historically that he died of old age.
Season TwoEditIn episode 2.03, Cromwell is given the position of Lord Chancellor (in addition to his position as Royal Secretary) after Thomas More resigns, giving him tremendous power. He furthers the influence of Lutheranism in England once the Reformation begins by persuading the King to appoint Thomas Cranmer, a Protestant clergyman and friend of his, as Archbishop of Canterbury. Cromwell handles other matters besides religion, however; he leads the interrogation of the cook who attempted to poison Bishop John Fisher (despite Fisher being his opponent in matters of religion) who was secretly hired by Earl Thomas Boleyn. Cromwell also earns some ire from Charles Brandon when he banishes Brandon from court on Henry's behalf in 2.02 (at Anne's urging, since Charles earlier made insinuations about her to Henry). However, the two later have a more level conversation, with Cromwell urging Charles to couch his personal beliefs and earn Henry's favor until he is powerful enough to speak for himself.
When Sir Thomas More is later arrested and sentenced to die for refusing to acknowledge Henry as supreme head of the Church in England, Cromwell takes a sympathetic approach towards him, as he deeply admires More and does not wish his death (despite despising the Catholic Papacy that More and Fisher continues to show loyalty to). However, More rebuffs him, having long been suspicious of Cromwell's new influence on the King. Despite Cromwell's efforts to spare Fisher and More, both refuse his repeated offers to take the oath and save themselves; they are both beheaded in episode 1.05.
In later episodes, after receiving the unique post of Vice-Regent of Spiritual Matters (2.06) from the King, Cromwell unleashes a series of anti-Catholic measures, both propaganda (through plays) and physical. He sends agents to make direct raids on monasteries, which he sees as the greatest example of church corruption; the treasures, land and properties they gain from closing down these monastic houses give the King's exchequer vast wealth, with Cromwell taking a minor cut of the profits for himself (the King approves this skimming). While many of the English people saw this as rightful retribution for the decadence and greed of the Church, Cromwell's extremist measures drew disapproval from other circles. Staunch Catholics were furious with his desecration of their way of life, while certain Reformers (including Queen Anne Boleyn) felt his confiscation of church property was giving too much to the King, and not enough to actual reforms.A small circle of non-Catholics have expressed concern that the nationalization of the monasteries is putting far too much power in the hands of the King, and returning England to the absolute monarchy of darker times. Thomas Wyatt, Cromwell's former friend, wonders if Cromwell worries that Henry's taken such absolute power that no law can stop him; Cromwell (though hesitating himself) replies that what pleases the King is the law, and warns Wyatt to be careful about what he says.Cromwell begins to take action against Anne Boleyn late in the season that leads to her ultimate downfall, since she has begun to mistrust and openly threaten him in episode 2.07. Although both are passionate supporters of the Reformation, Anne increasingly disagrees with Cromwell's policies. Also, Cromwell's hope of a positive foreign policy with the Spanish H.R.E. hinges on Lady Mary Tudor being restored to the royal line, something Anne vehemently opposed. Cromwell does not allow religion to interfere with his diplomacy, remarking to Imperial Ambassador Chapuys that he is willing to dislodge the 'obstacle' that Anne represents for the sake of England's alliance with Catholic Spain. Once again, he doesn't allow past obligations to stand in his way in order to keep his power, breaking his ties with the Boleyns as easily as he did with Cardinal Wolsey. Recognizing the king is in love with Jane Seymour in 2.09, he gives her family his chambers at Whitehall Palace so that Henry can court her, to the fury of the Boleyns. From discussions with Chapuys in episodes 2.08-09, it becomes clear that Cromwell is now actively seeking Anne's downfall. Cromwell temporarily puts aside their feud when Henry is injured and knocked unconscious for several hours in 2.08 (during which he single-handedly manages England's government and prepares for an emergency coronation of Princess Elizabeth Tudor if Henry dies). Although Cromwell is the only official keeping a level head in this emergency, making him virtually King, he does not act dictatorially, demanding a proper session of Parliament to make Elizabeth Queen, to the ire of Thomas Boleyn, who said Parliament is a newfangled bureaucracy, unlike the absolute monarchy of the old days. Cromwell dryly looks up from his work to remark "These are not the old days". When Henry comes out of his coma, he makes it clear he will seek a new wife, and Cromwell knows he must help get rid of Anne to retain the King's favor and expand his own power. He has little need to fear Anne's vengeance after her miscarriage, as the loss of her unborn son also cost her Henry's favor.
Investigating on Henry's behalf (and, through his own vast spy network) Cromwell is able to bring up falsified allegations of adultery and incest against Anne in episode 2.09, supplied by some of her ladies-in-waiting, when Henry begins to complain that he entered the marriage under the influence of witchcraft. Simultaneously, Cromwell interrogates several potential scapegoats until one of them (Mark Smeaton, after being tortured) confesses falsely to the adultery charge. When a horrified Cranmer tells Cromwell that killing Anne will endanger their Reformation in England, Cromwell warns him that showing loyalty to her risks his life and the Reformation, and adds that Cranmer should quickly find Henry a reason to nullify his marriage to Anne.
However, Cromwell is shown to regret the enormity of his attack on the Queen when she is sentenced to death, urging Henry to honor his promise to behead Anne with a non-English executioner (which would require a postponement of the execution) when Henry is in one of his rages. In private, Henry shouts at Cromwell to stop obsessing over trivial promises, but when Cromwell departs and is in public, Henry sternly says "Postpone it". On the morning of Anne's execution, Cromwell kneels before the altar at Westminster Abbey with a look of genuine remorse.
Four years later, Cromwell's destruction of Anne would come back to haunt him near the end of Season Three, as he was left without any allies when he permanently lost King Henry's favor.
Season Three Edit
Cromwell is depicted as being increasingly ruthless and calculating, but also as a hard-working and extremely able minister; his campaign against the monasteries continues to net the Crown huge amounts of wealth, which of course pleases Henry. By episode 3.01, he is Wolsey's true successor as the King's right-hand man, and the King rewards him by giving him a knighthood and noble titles as well as the coveted post of Lord Privy Seal- to the resentment of some of his courtiers, especially Charles Brandon, Cromwell's ally-cum-rival from the past against both Wolsey and Anne Boleyn.
However, in the same episode Cromwell's position is endangered when northern Catholics rebel en masse, demanding his head for his repressive measures against their parishes. The rebellion, known as the Pilgrimage of Grace, is at last brutally crushed by episode 3.04- with Cromwell somewhat gleefully leading the interrogation of their leaders Robert Aske and Lord Darcy. However Cromwell's initial failure to quickly and decisively deal with the rebellion badly damages his standing with Henry, especially as the rebels specifically rose in response to his policies. Cromwell and some of the Reformists initially fear the Catholic Queen Jane Seymour will uproot their changes, but he quickly realizes her subservience to Henry and determines she is not a threat, unlike her predecessor. However, when he attempts to take charge of the government after her death (while Henry is in mourning) the Privy Council, resentful of him, refuses to obey his instructions in the King's absence. Cromwell is often slapped or insulted by Henry whenever the King is in a foul mood, and he is resented by the nobilty for his commoner origins and most of the clergy for his Protestantism; the only ally he has left apart from Cranmer is Sir Richard Riche, the Solicitor-General.
Cromwell's historic role as a talented administrator and reformer eventually comes into conflict with Henry's ambiguous commitment to the Reformation. The series portrays Cromwell as a committed Protestant who sees the Reformation slipping away, with the Church of England, despite its break from Rome, retaining the Catholic tradition and ritual that Cromwell sees as ridiculous, unnecessary and hypocritical. In episode 3.05, to Cromwell's dismay, the Six Articles of Faith- drafted by pro-Catholic bishops in Cranmer's absence- are signed by the King, preventing any further reforms. Nonetheless, some of Cromwell's more radical Protestant friends continue to advocate for Lutheranism, which leads to many of them being charged with heresy and burnt.
Desperate to keep the Reformation alive somehow, Cromwell adheres to the Church of England to avoid being charged with heresy, then tries to solve the problem through foreign policy when Henry began seeking a new wife in episodes 3.06-3.07. An attempt to strengthen the King's ties to Protestantism through a German marriage to Anne of Cleves (though couched as a political alliance) backfires, however and Cromwell soon meets his downfall as the court unites against him. The pro-Catholic Bishop Stephen Gardiner seeks to overturn Cromwell's Reformist policies even further, while Edward Seymour, although secretly a Reformist, wishes to claim Cromwell's political power for himself. Their opportunity arrives in episode 3.07; repulsed by his new bride Anne of Cleves, Henry almost immediately begins seeking to annul his marriage. In contrast to previous annulments, Cromwell hesitates, trying to persuade the King to make the marriage work for the sake of the alliance with Protestant Cleves. This proved to be a fatal mistake, as the Council could now testify Cromwell was acting against the King's will.
In the season finale, Cromwell's fall from power is swift and decisive; the Privy Council arrest him on a loosely-based charge of treason concerning his arrangement of the Cleves marriage, coupled with accusations of heresy from Gardiner. Riche, unwilling to be caught in the crossfire with Cromwell, renounces his loyalty to him as Cromwell is thrown in the Tower of London and his house is stripped of its' goods. Despite Cromwell's desperate appeal to King Henry- in which he willingly gave the King grounds to annul his marriage to Anne- the King is distracted by his new mistress Katherine Howard, and Cromwell is sentenced to death without a proper trial. His beheading in episode 3.08 is a brutal, humiliating affair because the executioner is deliberately made drunk by Cromwell's enemies. Cromwell, in tears from his fear, eventually musters his courage and finishes his last words with dignity, and even his enemies from the court become appalled by the botched decapitation; one of the soldiers, feeling this is a disgusting and undignified means of execution, tells the hungover axeman to step aside and confiscates his axe. The soldier delivers a clean blow, ending Cromwell's life and his agony.
Season Four Edit
As with Cardinal Wolsey and Sir Thomas More, Henry later shows genuine regret for Cromwell's death when he berates his council early in Season Four, describing Cromwell as "the most... faithful servant I ever had." This regret appears to have carried with him in his old age; in the series finale, during Henry's last flashback, one of his memories includes striking Cromwell over the head in a rage during the Pilgrimage of Grace. Although Henry's Reformation fell short of what Cromwell had hoped for, what reforms Cromwell had pushed through Parliament remained intact during the reigns of Henry and Edward; they were mostly removed during Mary's reign, but then restored by Elizabeth.
A characteristic of Cromwell is that, although he is untrustworthy to anyone but the King and is no-one's true friend, he always gives potential opponents a fair warning and a relatively neutral, unbiased viewpoint. Cromwell is a very ambitious man, but still desires genuine political change as well as personal power; he is not hesitant to show admiration for his opponents (such as Catherine of Aragon and Sir Thomas More) when he feels it. Although loyal to Henry, he is often privately irritated with the king for repeatedly throwing away effective and loyal ministers. In this, he is very like Thomas More (though Cromwell is a staunch Protestant reformer and More was a devout Catholic) but is much more unscrupulous with his actions and keeps his true beliefs much more closely guarded. He has the complete favour of the King after such a long string of successes, but unlike Cardinal Wolsey he is much more diplomatic in communicating with members of the King's court. On the other hand, Cromwell is much quicker to resort to violent and repressive measures than Wolsey was when he sees it fit, believing in ends justifying means; he is a highly effective interrogator. In time, like so many ministers before him, this tactic earns him many enemies.
However, while he is a very ruthless politician, Cromwell does not enjoy cruelty as Edward Seymour and Sir Francis Bryan do. He turned away in disgust when witnessing the brutal executions of Mr. Roose (2.01) and John Lambert (3.06), and although he had Mark Smeaton tortured (2.09), he clearly hated the experience and repeatedly urged him to confess and end his suffering (although he knew the charges against Mark were false). Although he betrayed Anne Boleyn and Cardinal Wolsey without hesitation, in both cases he privately showed remorse for doing so, as both of them had greatly helped his rise at Henry's court.
Despite being hated by the overwhelming majority of Henry's court, even his enemies have some regard for Cromwell. During episode 3.04, Edward and Jane Seymour observed Cromwell accepting financial bribes from new noblemen he was appointing over lands confiscated from the monasteries he had closed down; the Seymours observed that this practice ensured the loyalty of such 'new men' to both the King and to Cromwell. While Jane was disgusted by such an underhand policy, Edward (despite seeing Cromwell as a rival in power) remarks to her, "You have to appreciate how clever he is." Cromwell is indeed a master organizer, able to complete many complex tasks at once while efficiently delegating others to his subordinates.
Cromwell's private life is seldom delved into, as he has no noble background; he mentions to Charles Brandon that he served as a mercenary soldier during continental wars in Italy, demonstrating that he still holds military skills when he beats Brandon in an archery contest. In Season Two he states that he is currently married and has a son, Gregory, although his two daughters died in the sweating sickness outbreak of 1528 (episode 1.07); his wife is briefly glimpsed in episode 2.08. However, historically Cromwell's wife Elizabeth died in the same outbreak as their daughters. In Season 3, Gregory Cromwell is married and becomes a father himself in the season finale, making Thomas Cromwell a grandfather before his death. In contrast to his ruthless, unpredictable court persona, Cromwell is shown to be an affectionate father and a genuine believer and promoter of a more liberalized, Protestant church; Gregory reciprocates his father's love and tearfully attends his execution.
Historically, Thomas Cromwell was the son of a brewer/inkeeper and blacksmith from Putney, though little is known about his youth. He was somehow able to afford an education at Cambridge University, most likely thanks to his father's merchandise. Cromwell traveled abroad serving as a mercenary in several wars on the continent; it is likely there that Cromwell first encounterd and developed an interest in Lutheranism. On returning to England, he set himself up as a merchant and lawyer ( which were considered appropriate posts for a well-educated commoner) and later married; he had a son, two daughters and an illegitimate daughter. Cromwell's intellect and efficiency was eventually noticed by Thomas Wolsey, and he was taken in as the Cardinal's protege. His meteoric career began when he was appointed the King's secretary; after Wolsey's fall, Cromwell was able to escape the disgrace of his former mentor and enter the King's household. After he successfully manipulated Parliament in favor of the Royal Supremacy, Cromwell became King Henry's most favored advisor, amassing a huge fortune and great political power through the various offices Henry gave him. His most significant acts of Reform included the authorization of the Bible in English, the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries, and the break with Rome. Unlike in The Tudors, Cromwell did not become Lord Chancellor after Thomas More's resignation (he was Chancellor of the Exchequer, which essentially made him Treasury Minister); however, the new Chancellor Thomas Audley was an ally of Cromwell's and usually deferred to him.
Ultimately, however, Cromwell made many enemies while in power (like his initial allies the Boleyns, whom he turned upon when they lost King Henry's favor). After Henry's disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves (which Cromwell had arranged) he was arrested by the Court on Henry's authority and charged with treason under a bill of Attainder that accused him of sheltering heretics. Unsurprisingly, Cromwell was found guilty of treason and executed, with his vast fortune- like those of the monasteries he had attacked- going to the Royal exchequer. Nonetheless, Henry later expressed regret for the loss of his "most faithful servant", and subsequently restored some of Cromwell's property to his son Gregory- five months after Cromwell's death, Henry ennobled Gregory as Baron of Oakham, and he was later knighted by Henry's successor Edward. One of Cromwell's grandsons (also named Thomas) sat as a Member of Parliament during the Protestant reign of Elizabeth Tudor.
Thomas Cromwell is also a distant ancestor of Oliver Cromwell, who became Lord Protector of the Commonwealth after King Charles I of England was executed during the English Civil War; Oliver Cromwell is the great-grandson of Thomas's nephew and ward, Richard Cromwell.
- "As Your Majesty well knows, kings are set above the law. They are answerable to God alone, who annointed them."
- Thomas Cromwell: "You condemn all Reformers as heretics, then?" Sir Thomas More: "Wolsey was far too soft on them. I intend not to be." Cromwell: "...Will you burn them?"
- "...And, on your way there, Mr. Cranmer, you'll be able to visit the city of Nuremberg... the first city wholly run by Lutherans and reformers, a city free of idolitry and Papal superstition. (pause) I shall look forward to your report."
- Charles Brandon: "Who are you, Mr. Cromwell? I feel I should know, but somehow... I don't." Cromwell: (smiles) "I am...exactly as Your Grace finds me. I serve the King to the best of my ability, nothing more." Brandon: "Someone told me you were once a mercenary soldier." Cromwell: "Indeed- I saw some action, in my youth. As did Your Grace, I believe." Brandon: "But I was never a soldier of fortune. If I displeased the King, it was in a good cause." Cromwell: "I'm sure- though others might argue differently." Brandon: "Like you?" Cromwell: (smiles) I would never have the temerity to argue with Your Grace." Brandon: "Not to my face, anyway." (Cromwell shrugs)
- (To Anne Boleyn, after giving her a book of Protestant dogma) "Always and ever, be cautious as to whom you show this. You must know that it might be accounted heresy even to possess it... and Wolsey is still keen enough to prosecute heretics, as we are called who embrace the true religion."
- "I've never been interested in reforming religious houses. My only interest... lies in destroying them."
- Thomas Cromwell: "I know you have a great sympathy for the Dowager Princess Catherine of Aragon." Charles Brandon: "Don't you?" Thomas Cromwell: (pause) "Actually, I do. I'm not heartless, whatever some people think- quite the contrary. But... I serve the King."
- Thomas Cromwell: "I am preparing for an emergency session of Parliament, with Your Lordship as Lord Protector and Queen Anne as Regent, in the event of Princess Elizabeth's coronation." Thomas Boleyn: "Bah! Kings had no need for Parliament in the old days!" Thomas Cromwell: "These are not the old days, My Lord."
- (spoken multiple times, to several of Anne Boleyn's ladies) "You live in close proximity with the Queen...have you ever seen her entertain men in her rooms?"
- Thomas Cranmer: "If the Queen is condemned, is not our Reformation in danger?! Has she not been our great champion, our advocate?!" Thomas Cromwell: "Yes- and now, she is our greatest liability. (pause) The King is waiting for Your Grace to find a reason his marriage to Queen Anne should be declared null and void- he awaits your verdict."
- (to Cranmer) "Sometimes, to combat evil, Your Grace, one must consort with the Devil."
- "We shall impose martial law upon the whole of the North!"
- (bitterly) "In his heart, the King has always been a true Catholic, except for this one doctrine: that he would have neither Pope, nor Luther, nor any other man set above him."
- (to a pageboy who sees him praying in his office, rather than in church) "Do all of our reforms mean nothing to you? God is not just in church. He is everywhere. We do not need priests to speak for us. We can speak to Him ourselves, and - He will listen. There is no need for bells, and books, and candles. All you need... is your soul."
- "I am no traitor! I am no traitor!" - to the King's council as they arrest him.
- (at the end of his final letter to King Henry, from the Tower) "Most Gracious Prince, I humbly cry for Mercy- Mercy- Mercy."
Quotes about CromwellEdit
- Cardinal Wolsey: "You are of obscure stock- but then, so am I. This should not be held against you."
- Robert Aske: "Cromwell is the Devil's man- of this, I am more sure than ever."
- Edward Seymour: "Mr. Cromwell is one of the richest men in England- and now one of the most powerful...You have to appreciate how clever he is."
- Henry VIII: "I mourn... Cromwell's death. (The Council looks at him in disbelief) Yes, I mourn him! I mourn him, now that I perceive that my counsellors, by light pretext and by false accusations...made me put to death the most... faithful servant that I ever had."
- "Last year, Cromwell had to turn on his own power base, the Boleyns, because of Anne Boleyn's unpopularity with the King- and because, Cromwell ultimately does what the King requires. And so, Cromwell followed orders and had them...removed from Court. In Season Three, he comes up against the forces of those who think he is completely wrong- and, that what he is imposing from above is in fact a kind of tyranny. What Cromwell pushed through Parliament in the 1530's was... the most radical series of reforms in British history. They'd smashed the Catholic Church's power, they'd confiscated the land, they were destroying the monasteries." - James Frain, Cromwell's actor, in a Season Three interview
- "The biggest mistake that Cromwell made was that he allowed the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He told Henry that the people wanted it; the people didn't want it, and Henry got blamed." - Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Henry's actor, in a Season Three interview