Spotlight – Thomas Cromwell

Name: Thomas Cromwell

Title/s: Earl of Essex / Knight of the Garter / Lord Privy Seal / Baron Cromwell

Birth / Death: c.1485 – 28 July 1540

Spouse: Elizabeth Wyckes 1489-1528

Children: Gregory Baron Cromwell 1520-1551 / Anne Cromwell ?-1528 / Grace Cromwell ?-1528

Parents: Walter & Katherine Cromwell (dates unknown)

Siblings: Katherine Williams / Elizabeth Wellyfed (dates unknown)

Noble Connections: Cromwell was first in the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, before moving into the service of Henry VIII. He was liked by Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second queen, and assisted in achieving her marriage, as well as her execution 3 years later. His son, Gregory, married the sister of Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour. Cromwell also promoted the marriage of Henry VIII to Princess Anne of Cleves.

Events of their Lifetime: Death of Henry VII and accession of Henry VIII 1509 / Field of the Cloth of Gold 1520 / death of Cardinal Wolsey 1529 / marriage of Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn  and birth of Elizabeth I 1533 / executions of Thomas More and Bishop Fisher 1535 / execution of Anne Boleyn 1536 / marriage of Henry VIII and Jane Seymour 1536 / birth of Edward VI 1537 / marriage of Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves 1540

Controversy: The causes of Cromwell’s fall from power are often questioned – was it just the unfortunate marriage to Anne of Cleves, or was there a religious angle? Henry VIII tended towards Catholicism, where Cromwell was more of a Lutheran. Perhaps Henry didn’t like Cromwell’s reformist ideas. Cromwell was also involved in the fall of Anne Boleyn, but did he orchestrate the event, or just follow Henry’s orders?

Works of Fiction:

  • Madox Ford, Ford, The Fifth Queen (1908)
  • Mantel, Hilary, Bring Up the Bodies (2012)
  • Mantel, Hilary, The Mirror and the Light (release unknown)
  • Mantel, Hilary, Wolf Hall (2009)
  • Prescott, H.F.M., The Man on a Donkey (1952)
  • Sansom, D.J., Dark Fire (2004)
  • Sansom, C.J., Dissolution (2003)
  • Stevens, Anne, Winter King (2013)

Portrayals on Screen:

  • John Colicos, Anne of the Thousand Days, 1969, directed by Charles Jarrott
  • Ron Cook, The Other Boleyn Girl, 2003, directed by Philippa Lowthorpe
  • Franklin Dyall, The Private Life of Henry VIII, 1933, directed by Alexander Korda
  • David Fleeshman, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 2001, 2 episodes
  • James Frain, The Tudors, 2007-2009, 24 episodes
  • Iain Mitchell, The Other Boleyn Girl, 2008, directed by Justin Chadwick
  • Wolfe Morris, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, 1970, 3 episodes
  • Donald Pleasence, Henry VIII and His Six Wives, 1972, directed by Waris Hussein
  • Mark Rylance, Wolf Hall, 2015, 6 episodes
  • Danny Webb, Henry VIII, 2003, directed by Pete Travis
  • Kenneth Williams, Carry on Henry, 1971, directed by Gerald Thomas

Further Reading:

  • Block, Joseph, ‘Thomas Cromwell’s Patronage of Preaching’, Sixteenth Century Journal, 8 (1977)
  • Brigden, Susan, ‘Popular Disturbance and the Fall of Thomas Cromwell’, Historical Journal, 24 (1981)
  • Carlton, Charles, ‘Thomas Cromwell a Study in Interrogation’, Albion, 5 (1973)
  • Coby, Patrick, Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s Henchman (2009)
  • Elton, G.R., Thomas Cromwell (1991)
  • Elton, G.R., ‘Thomas Cromwell’s Decline and Fall’, Cambridge Historical Journal, 10 (1951)
  • Galton, Arthur, The Character and Times of Thomas Cromwell (1887)
  • Hutchinson, Robert, Thomas Cromwell: the Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister (2007)
  • Loades, David, Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII (2013)
  • Schofield, John, The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant (2008)
  • Williams, Neville, The Cardinal and Secretary: Thomas Wolsey and Thomas Cromwell (1975)


Thomas Cromwell
Arms of Thomas Cromwell


Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein c.1533
NPG 6311; Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex studio of Hans Holbein the Younger
Thomas Cromwell after Hans Holbein, currently in the National Portrait Gallery


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