Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex (1485 – 1540), was a prominent English lawyer and statesman who worked his way through the ranks to chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540. Cromwell supported the English Reformation. He helped engineer an annulment of the King’s marriage to Catherine of Aragon, so that Henry could marry his mistress Anne Boleyn. Supremacy over the Church of England was officially declared by Parliament in 1534. In 1536 Cromwell supervised the Church from his posts of vice-regent in spirituals and vicar general. Through those positions, he organized visitations of England’s churches, monasteries, and clergy to conduct a census in 1535 to enable the government to tax church property more effectively. The information was actually used to close the smaller religious institutions and later the larger ones. The final abbey was closed the year of Cromwell’s death.
Cromwell’s rise to power made him many enemies, especially among the conservative faction at court. He was a protégé of Archbishop Cranmer but turned his back on his sponsor when he fell out of favor with Henry and was executed. Cromwell rose to power but fell from Henry’s favor after arranging the King’s marriage to a German princess, Anne of Cleves, in attempt to strengthen the Reformation. Henry was dissatisfied with her appearance and obtained an annulment after six months. Henry couldn’t behead a princess, so named Anne his dear sister. Anne was content to live her solitary life but was often at Court and helped raise the royal children.
Besides the problem with Anne of Cleves, Henry, uncomfortable with the Cromwell’s pushing further reformations, preferred the traditional services. Cromwell was subjected to a bill of attainder and executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill in 1540. He was decapitated and his head placed on a pike on London Bridge. The King later expressed regret at having lost his minister but there were always others waiting in the wings. Tomorrow, This Author’s Pen Rita Bay