Thomas Cromwell

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I have been a great traveller in this world, and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate.

Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (c. 1485July 28, 1540) was an English statesman, King Henry VIII's chief minister 1532–1540.


  • I amongist other haue Indured a parlyament which contenwid by the space of xvij hole wekes wher we communyd of warre pease Stryffe contencyon debatte murmure grudge Riches pouerte penurye trowth falshode Justyce equyte discayte opprescyon Magnanymyte actyuyte force attempraunce Treason murder Felonye, consyli... and also how a commune welth myght be ediffyed and a[lso] contenewid within our Realme. Howbeyt in conclusyon we haue d[one] as our predecessors haue been wont to doo that ys to say, as well as we myght and lefte wher we begann.
    • Letter John Creke after the dissolution of the unproductive Parliament of 1523 (17 August 1523), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume I: Life, Letters to 1535 (1902), p. 313
  • Tyndall (who assuredlie sheweth himself in myn opynyon rather to be replete with venymous envye rancour and malice then with any good lerning vertue knowlage or discression).
    • Letter to Stephen Vaughan (May 1531), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume I: Life, Letters to 1535 (1902), p. 336
  • Where by divers sundry old authentic histories and chronicles, it is manifestly declared and expressed that this realm of England is an Empire, and so hath been accepted in the world, governed by one Supreme Head and King having the dignity and royal estate of the imperial Crown of the same, unto whom a body politic compact of all sorts and degrees of people divided in terms and by names of Spirituality and Temporalty, be bounden and owe to bear next to God a natural and humble obedience.
  • My lord, you had showed yourself of much more patience—I will not say of much more prudency—if ye had contented yourself with their lawful appeal and my lawful injunctions and rather have sought fully to instruct me in the matter than thus to desire to conquer me by shrewd words, to vanquish me by sharp threaps [assertions] of Scripture which, as I know to be true, so I trust to God—as great clerk as ye be—ye allege them out of their place.
    • Letter to Nicholas Shaxton, quoted in G. R. Elton, England Under the Tudors (3rd edn., 1991), p. 442
  • For if credence shuld be gyven to euery suche lewd person as wold affirme himself to haue reuelations from god what redyer wey were there to subuert al common we[l]thes and good orders in the worlde... As for the late lord of Cauntreburys seying vnto you that she had many greate visions, it ought to move you never a deale to gyve credence vnto her or her reuelations.
    • Letter to Nicholas Shaxton on Elizabeth Barton (February 1534), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume I: Life, Letters to 1535 (1902), pp. 375-376
  • Suerly my lord I suppose this had been no greate cause more to reiect the one than thother for ye know by histories of the bible that god may by his reuelation dispense with his own Law, as with the Israelites spoyling the egiptians and with Jacob to hue iiij wifes, and suche other.
    • Letter to John Fisher (February 1534), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume I: Life, Letters to 1535 (1902), p. 376
  • [Y]e shall herwith receive the kinges hieghness letteres addressed vnto you to put you in remembraunce of his hieghness travaelles and your dieuty touchinge ordre to be taken for preachinge to thintente the people maie be taught the truthe, and yet not charged at the begynnynge with ouer manney Nouelties, the publication whereof onles the same be tempered and quallified with moche wisdome doo rather brede contention Deuision and contrarietey in opinion in the vnlerned multitude, then either edifie, or remove from them and oute of their hartes suche abuse as by the corrupt and ynsauery teaching of the bishoppe of Rome, and his disciples haue crept in the same.
    • Letter to an unknown bishop (7 January 1537), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume II: Letters from 1536, Notes, Index (1902), pp. 111-112
  • I do not cease to gyue thankes, that it hathe pleased hys goodnes to vse me, as an instrument and to worke somwhat by me, so I truste, I am as ready to serue hym in my calling to my litel power, as ye ar preste, to wryght worse of me then ye owght to thinke. My prayer is, that God gyue me no longer lyfe, then I shall be gladde to vse myn office in edificatione, and not in destructione.
    • Letter to Nicholas Shaxton (March 1538), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume II: Letters from 1536, Notes, Index (1902), p. 129
  • I thinke that like as the Kinges Maieste cannot better or more hieghly advaunce thonour of god ne more prudently prouide for his owne suretie and the tranquilitie of his Realme domynyons and subgietes thenne in the discrete and charitable punishment of suche as doo by any meane Labour and purpose to sowe sedicion, diuision & contention, in opinion amonges his people contrary to the trouthe of goddes worde and his graces most christien ordenaunces... And therefore myne opinion is that you shal by all meanes diuise howe with charyte and myld handeling of thinges to quenche this slaunderous Bent as moche as you maye ever exhorting men discretely and without Rigour or extreame dealing to knowe and serue god truely and their prince and Souereign Lorde with all humilite and obedyence.
    • Letter to the Council at Calais (27 May 1539), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume II: Letters from 1536, Notes, Index (1902), pp. 223-224
  • The yvel (as you write therein truely) will labour to peruert the good, And even soo those that be well disposed wyll both lament the foly of the yvel and doo what they canne to make them better. He that eyther feareth not god ne esteameth the kinges Maiesties Iniunctyons preceptes, ordenaunces, and commandementes, is no mete herbe to growe in his Maiesties most catholique and Vertuous garden.
    • Letter to Lord Lisle and the Council at Calais (8 June 1539), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume II: Letters from 1536, Notes, Index (1902), p. 227
  • The king's majesty desires nothing more than concord...; he knows there are those who would stir up strife, and that in many places in his field tares have sprongen to harm the wheat. The forwardness and carnal lust of some, the inveterate corruption and superstitious tenacity of opinion of others, excite disputation and quarrels most horrible to good Christian men; one side calls the other papists, and the other again calls them heretics, both naughty and not to be borne; and that the less so because they miserably abuse the Holy Word of God and the Scriptures which the same most noble prince of his gentleness and for the salvation and consolation of his people has permitted them to read in the vulgar tongue. They twist God's sacred gift, now into heresy and now into superstition. [The king] favours nor one side nor the other but, as becometh a Christian prince, profess the true Christian faith [therefore the king desires the] true doctrine and rule of the Gospel shall be published clear and established [and] the pious observation of ceremonies shall be distinguished from the impious, their use taught and their abuse abolished.
    • Speech to the reassembled Parliament (12 April 1540), quoted in Journal of the House of Lords, Vol. I, pp. 128-129
  • I haue medelyd in So many matyers vnder your Highnes that I am not able to answer them all...but harde it ys for me or any other medlyng as I haue done to lyue vnder your grace and your lawse but we must daylye offende and wher I haue offendyd, I most humblye aske mercye and pardon at your gracyous will and plesure.
    • Letter to Henry VIII whilst imprisoned in the Tower of London (12 June 1540), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume II: Letters from 1536, Notes, Index (1902), p. 266
  • I am A Subiect and boorn to obbey lawse, and, knowing that the tryall of all lawse only consystethe in honest and probable wytnes.
    • Letter to Henry VIII (30 June 1540), quoted in Roger Bigelow Merriman, Life and Letters of Thomas Cromwell, Volume II: Letters from 1536, Notes, Index (1902), p. 273
  • I am come hether to dye, and not to purge my self, as maie happen, some thynke that I will, for if I should so do, I wer a very wretche and miser: I am by the Lawe condempned to die, and thanke my lorde God that hath appoynted me this deathe, for myne offence: For sithence the tyme that I haue had yeres of discrecion, I haue liued a synner, and offended my Lorde God, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgeuenes. And it is not vnknowne to many of you, that I haue been a great traueler in this worlde, and beyng but of a base degree, was called to high estate, and sithens the tyme I came therunto, I haue offended my prince, for the whiche I aske hym hartely forgeuenes, and beseche you all to praie to God with me, that he will forgeue me. O father forgeue me. O sonne forgeue me, O holy Ghost forgeue me: O thre persons in one God forgeue me. And now I praie you that be here, to beare me record, I die in the Catholicke faithe, not doubtyng in any article of my faith, no nor doubtyng in any Sacrament of the Churche. Many hath sclaundered me, and reported that I haue been a bearer, of suche as hath mainteigned euill opinions, whiche is vntrue, but I confesse that like as God by his holy spirite, doth instruct vs in the truthe, so the deuill is redy to seduce vs, and I haue been seduced: but beare me witnes that I dye in the Catholicke faithe of the holy Churche. And I hartely desire you to praie for the Kynges grace, that he maie long liue with you, in healthe and prosperitie. And after him that his sonne prince Edward, that goodly ympe, maie long reigne ouer you. And once again I desire you to pray for me, that so long as life remaigneth in this fleshe, I wauer nothyng in my faithe.
    • Speech on the scaffold on Tower Hill before his execution (28 July 1540), quoted in Edward Hall, Hall's Chronicle; Containing the History of England, during the Reign of Henry the Fourth, and the Succeeding Monarchs, to the End of the Reign of Henry the Eighth, ed. Henry Ellis (1809), p. 839

Quotes about Thomas Cromwell

  • The Act in Restraint of Appeals to Rome was a government measure, affected slightly by opposition from the church and not at all by parliament. A proposal to authorize the archbishops by act of parliament to dissolve the king's marriage was soon replaced by a comprehensive attack on papal jurisdiction in England. In Cromwell's hands, the preamble turned into an unhesitating statement of the theory which underlay the whole practice of Henry VIII and his government: the theory of the imperial crown of England sovereign within its own realm over both laity and church.
    • Geoffrey Elton, 'The Evolution of a Reformation Statute', The English Historical Revew, Vol. 64, No. 251 (April 1949), p. 195
  • The Reformation, then, was not the inevitable development of the text-books. Whether it would have come anyway it is idle to speculate; but it came in the 1530's simply because Henry's desire for his divorce was baulked by an international situation which made co-operation with the papacy impossible, and it came as it did because Thomas Cromwell produced a plan which achieved Henry's ends by destroying the papal power and jurisdiction in England and by creating in England an independent sovereign state. This policy was not present from the start; it had to overcome much caution and conservatism as well as fear of the consequences before its bold simplicity was permitted to develop. The Henrician Reformation reflects the ideas—one may say, the political philosophy—of Thomas Cromwell.
    • Geoffrey Elton, 'King or Minister? The Man Behind the Henrician Reformation', History, New Series, Vol. 39, No. 137 (October 1954), p. 232
  • I think now that in England under the Tudors (1955), attempting to restore him to view and show him in a truer light, I made some rather extravagant claims for him, though I stand by the essence of my opinions there. I still think that Cromwell was the most remarkable English statesman of the sixteenth century and one of the most remarkable in the country's history. I still think that he instigated and in part accomplished a major and enduring transformation in virtually every aspect of the nation's public life. And I still think that he was largely responsible for the fact that the medieval heritage of common law and representative institutions remained at the heart of England's modern government, until very recent times.
    • Geoffrey Elton, 'Thomas Cromwell Redivivus', Archiv für Reformationsgeschichte, 68 (1977), quoted in G. R. Elton, Studies in Tudor and Stuart Politics and Government, Volume Three: Papers and Reviews 1973–1981 (1983), pp. 373-374
  • The ix. day of Iuly, Thomas lorde Cromewel, late made erle of Essex...beyng in the counsaill chaber, was sodainly apprehended, and committed to the tower of London, the whiche many lamented, but mo reioysed, and specially suche, as either had been religious men, or fauored religious persones, for thei banqueted, and triumphed together that night, many wisshyng that that daie had been seuen yere before, and some fearyng least he should escape, although he were imprisoned, could not be mery. Other who knewe nothyng but truth by hym, bothe lamented hym, and hartely praied for hym: But this is true that of certain of the Clergie he was detestably hated, & specially of suche as had borne swynge, and by his meanes was put from it, for in dede he was a man, that in all his doynges, semed not to fauor any kynde of Popery, nor could not abide the snoffyng pride of some prelates, whiche vndoubtedly whatsoeuer els was the cause of his death, did shorten his life, and procured the ende that he was brought vnto.
    • Edward Hall, Hall's Chronicle; Containing the History of England, during the Reign of Henry the Fourth, and the Succeeding Monarchs, to the End of the Reign of Henry the Eighth, ed. Henry Ellis (1809), pp. 838-839
  • A good household manager, but not fit to meddle in the affairs of kings.
  • It is not unreasonable to argue that if Henry had been willing to carry out Cromwell's advice about using and husbanding his resources, and if he had not destroyed Cromwell in act of supreme folly, then by the time of Henry's death the English monarchy might have been strong enough to withstand the threats to its supremacy which the future was to bring. If Cromwell had succeeded in making Henry all-powerful, then the future history of England could have approached more closely to that of France under the Bourbons, and the English parliament suffered the same fate as the Estates General.
    • Joel Hurstfield, 'Queen and State: The Emergence of an Elizabethan Myth', in J. S. Bromley and E. H. Kossman (eds.), Britain and the Netherlands, Volume V: Some Political Mythologies (1975), p. 61
  • Far from being the ruthless Machiavellian of legend, Cromwell was a man possessed of a high concept of the 'state' and national sovereignty, and a deep concern for Parliament and the law; an administrative genius; one who may have lacked profound religious sense (though instinctively favourable to some kind of Erasmian Protestantism), but something of an idealist nonetheless. That the 1530s were a decisive decade in English history was due largely to his energy and vision. He was immediately responsible for the vast legislative programme of the later sessions of the Reformation Parliament – a programme not rivalled in volume and moment until the nineteenth or even twentieth centuries. He oversaw the breach with Rome and the establishment of the Royal Supremacy. He effected a new political integration of the kingdom and imposed upon it a new political discipline by making war on local franchises and the entrenched bastard feudalism of the northern and western marches, handling the final incorporation of Wales into English political life and giving Ireland a foretaste of determined English overlordship. He directed the immense operation of the dissolution of the monasteries.... Indeed, he left a deep mark on much of the machinery of central and local government. Finally, he was the first royal servant fully to perceive the power of that young giant, the printing-press.
  • [I have had many a talk with Cromwell] of god, of nature & of other polytyke & wordly thyngys [from which he has] geddryd more frute of truth then I have downe of any other man lyvyng syth I cam here to my cuntrey.
  • And shall I name one who hath been in our age, and wish him now to live to cure so great a canker? Would God England had a Cromwell: I will say no more.
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