Thomas Cromwell

c.1485-1540. English statesman. In early life he traveled widely, and his varied adventures produced a mind essentially functional and secular, and with considerable business and legal acumen. From 1520 he served under Wolsey* and survived his master's disgrace to enter Parliament in 1529. There he quickly made his mark and, though debate surrounds his precise contribution to Henry VIII's policies, it is clear that from 1532, when first he held high office, there is an ordered, creative intelligence not previously evident. The Henrician Statutes bear his stamp and especially the Act in Restraint of Appeals (1533), which is a concise statement of Erastian* principles held by Cromwell and culled from Marsiglio of Padua. By 1535 Cromwell was vicar-general and thus the effective controller of the church. The Valor Ecclesiasticus, which attempts to estimate the income of every cleric, is a typical example of his administrative genius. He maneuvered the Dissolution of the Monasteries. He was created earl of Essex in 1540.

Cromwell's religious policies demonstrate a sympathy for Lutheran ideas. In particular he encouraged the translation of the Bible leading to the publishing of the Great Bible in 1539. His Injunctions of 1536 and 1538 reveal his dislike of superstitious practices and the importance of providing a Bible in every church. He stirred up conservative opposition, especially because of his Protestant leanings. His attempt to establish an alliance with Lutheran princes, by way of marriage, was unsatisfactory to the king in terms of foreign policy-the more so because of the unattractiveness of Anne of Cleves. The result was Cromwell's condemnation in June 1540 under the Act of Attainder for heresy and treason. He was beheaded the following month.

G.R. Elton, “Thomas Cromwell's Decline and Fall,” Cambridge Historical Journal, X (1951); idem, “King or Minister? The Man Behind the Henrician Reformation,” History 39 (1956); idem, “The Political Creed of Thomas Cromwell,” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society, 5th series, VI (1956); A.G. Dickens, Thomas Cromwell and the English Reformation (1959).