All About History


It’s easy to conjure up an image of Thomas Cromwell, one of the most famous figures of the Tudor era, gleefully counting piles of coins at his desk as monasteries burn in the background. One of his enemies, Cardinal Reginald Pole, even described him as “an agent of Satan sent by the devil to lure King Henry to damnation”. Yet should Cromwell, whose actions changed the course of English history, be remembered in this way?

Little is known about Cromwell’s early years. He was born around 1485 and raised in Putney, the son of a brewer and a gentlewoman. He later moved to Italy, joining the French army as a mercenary during the Italian Wars, before entering the household of Francesco Frescobaldi, a Florentine banker.

In 1515, Cromwell returned to England and married Elizabeth Wyckes, with whom he had three children, Gregory, Anne and Grace. Sadly, Elizabeth and her daughters died in 1529. By 1520, he had his own practice as a legal adviser in London, and three years later he joined the House of Commons as a burgess.

Cromwell’s legal skills, time in Italy and experience with land conveyance soon attracted the attention of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Lord Chancellor. Wolsey hired Cromwell to manage the negotiations and legal work of his numerous projects, including the building of his new college at Oxford and a grammar school in Ipswich. Thirty small monasteries were controversially dissolved to fund them, with Cromwell selling off the lands and goods. Wolsey was impressed with his efficiency and Cromwell quickly became one of his most senior and trusted advisers.

Although Cromwell worked for a Catholic, he harboured an interest in evangelism and was secretly in touch with dissenters and Protestants during this period, even though it was extremely dangerous. He secretly began promoting the English Reformation before it had even started, going as far as to hire Protestant academics

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