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Thomas Cromwell:
English Reformation Victim--
(of What Goes Around, Comes Around)

From Wool to Wolsey

Thomas Cromwell's birth in 1485 was to a cloth worker and tavern keeper in Putney and his youth was spent starting as a mercenary soldier where he was overseas and continued there as an accountant and then merchant. In about 1512 he returned to England with a plunge into the wool trade. But, he finally settled on Law, and entered Parliament in 1523. He became legal secretary for Cardinal and Archbishop of York, first minister to the King: Thomas Wolsey (b. 1475?).

He was put in charge of the forceful subduing of lesser monastaries. Thomas Cromwell survived his mentor's disgrace and layoff in 1529; and the Archbishop's death in 1530 from chagrin. Wolsey was doomed to fail to get King Henry VIII's successful divorce from Catherine of Aragon, due to her powerful uncle and Emperor Charles V's pull with the Pope.

Architect of the Reformation

In 1531 Thomas Cromwell, however, became a member of the King's privy council office, which was to become more efficient under these two, and the next year he was Henry's chief minister; and it was in this position that he drafted most of the Acts that gives him this 'draughtsman' title. He started his role as Chancellor in 1533 which he continued for the rest of his career and life. One substantial contribution was obtaining from Parliament the officiating the King of England's role as supreme head of their Church. (Henry had been named Defender of the Faith from the Pope after his denunciation of Martin Luther earlier)

Cromwell had the previous experience precluding some of his actions in his next position as the King's vicar-general in 1535: visiting and appropriating the Roman Catholic lands mainly the monastaries, which already declining were gone by 1540 after founding the Ministries of Augmentations and First Fruits. Three heads of houses were executed, and Cuthbert at Durham and Becket's Canterbury shrines were dismantled. The Kingdom's sovereignty was extended (ruffling feudal lord's feathers at the same time) further into the North and into Wales and Ireland. His subordinate authorities' severity in carrying out this and the many regulations to ministers over conduct concerning worship, forbidding idolatry with statues and relics, led to the Pilgrimage of Grace protest in the North; but he did improve the registering of parishes. He was one of the first to use the printed word in a propaganda campaign. This was the time of the Ten Articles. He founded the Two Courts of Wards and Surveyors which provided superior tax collection. His presiding at Convocation took precedence over the Archbishop. The Act for Submission of the clergy passed in 1534 (putting all under the King). He was made a lord privy seal and a baron in 1536, the same year he ordered and English and Latin Bible to be available to all parishes, and promoted laymen's reading of the Word. He reformed the 'caesaropapism' and hammered home to Parliament the philosophy that the clergy may rule in the next Kingdom, but on earth they are to serve the King.

Long Reaching Effects

  1. The State was advanced over the Church, the King was:
    1. Guardian of Doctrine
    2. Guardian of Practice
    3. Judge of Doctrine
    4. Judge of Practice
  2. The State strengthened its authority over its subjects by equaling obedience to the Almighty to the same to His authorized Ruler
    1. Religious Instruction
    2. Influentual control over citizens
  3. Domestication of the clergy
    1. Abolished Clerical immunity
    2. Ended Clerical autonomous jurisdiction
  4. Endowments (Chantries) were taken from praying for the dead clergy
  5. Society as well as Church was reformed
    1. Removed Chantries
    2. Issued English Scriptures
    3. Refined the monastaries

The Bible Project

After William Tyndale (1494-1536) had been refused permission to begin a translation in the language of the people by Bishop Tunstall he had escaped to Europe. He moved around and worked for 12 interrupted years, subsidized by wealthy benefactors back in England until tricked at Antwerp so to be arrested by the Holy Roman Empire. His last dying prayer: "Lord, open the King of England's eyes" was going to be answered by Thomas Cranmer (1489-1556) and Thomas Cromwell. Because it was Archbishop Cranmer that had asked bishops in 1534 to start an authorized version he got Royal approval after seeing the version that Miles Coverdale (1488-1569) finished after his work when he was with Tyndale in Europe. Coverdale struggled with the sufficiency of the scholarship. There was another printing in 1537 by another Antwerpian friend of Tyndale, John Roger aka Thomas Matthew but this one had a problem being accepted by Cromwell because of it's overly Protestant notes.

In 1537 Cromwell received "the kinges most gracyous lycence" {sic} for The Matthew Bible so Coverdale was tapped to make a composite of those previous translations -- working with the best of Hebrew and Greek texts. This resulted in the huge Great Bible, published in 1539. In 1540, the year he was made Earl of Essex, a revision was published with what would be the standard text with more than twenty thousand copies distributed by the next year. Some conservatives were upset but the common people were so excited with the numerous books read out loud that Bible reading was banned by the Bishop of London during the sermon. The final irony was this bible was also authorized by that same Bishop Tunstall, now under Royal injunction, that used his condemned Tyndale's translations. By 1544 English liturgy was offered in all masses.

Divorce Court

Cromwell worked with Cranmer to get the ensuing invalidation of his wife (who was his brother's wife before his death in 1502), Catherine in English rather than Roman courts. In 1534 the Act of Succession was passed that called refusal of Henry's marriage to the pregnant (with Elizabeth) Anne as treason. She was found guilty of that same charge and adultry and was beheaded.

Sticking One's Head Out Too Far

Cromwell around 1539 formed an alliance with the Protestant Princes German Schmalkaldic League because he was trying to shore up its strength with some consolidation with other European Protestants. Cromwell arranged more political fortifications by introducing Henry to his fourth wife, Anne of Cleves, a North German Princess and competition to Holy Roman Emperor Charles V. Unfortunately for Cromwell, at this same time, Henry was having his ear bent by a Catholic faction wanting more traditional observances, and so the King issued the Six Articles whose composition was extremely Catholic. An enemy of Cromwell, the Duke of Norfolk took advantage of the King's displeasure at his marriage to Anne and the subseqent unraveling of the coalition (Francis I and Emperor Charles V had a short truce; Antwerp cut England's business off) and his desire to show his Catholicness. The Duke of Norfolk brought treason and heresy charges that were allowed to stick by the King. Using an Act of Attainder they condemned Cromwell and he was beheaded in London July 28, 1540.


Source: Southern Utah University Distance Learning (online)
A History of Christianity; K.S. Latourette, Harper and Row: NY, 1975
The Bible Through the AgesReader's Digest: NY, 1996
The Columbian Encyclopedia, 2001 (online)

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