Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex

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Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex as played by James Frain

Born c. 1485 - Executed July 28, 1540 by Order of King Henry VIII

Character's Backstory: Born in Putney, London in 1485, the son of a brewer/blacksmith who was known for illegal and drunken behavior. Over the course of several years, Thomas was a soldier in the French army in Italy, a clerk in the Netherlands, and a lawyer in London. On his return to England he worked as a lawyer before joining the service of Thomas Wolsey. In 1523, Cromwell was elected to the House of Commons; two years later he helped Wolsey dissolve some small monasteries. When Wolsey fell from grace in 1529, Cromwell was hurriedly elected burgess for Taunton so he could remain in government service. There were striking similarities between the two men - both managed to remain favorites of the mercurial Henry VIII for years; both were despised by the older nobility who coveted their influence with the king; both sought to reform the creaky medieval bureaucracy of Tudor government; both were highly intelligent and well-versed in international affairs. And both, ultimately, fell from Henry's favor with spectacular speed. In the end, the king preferred to listen to the old nobility. But Cromwell and Wolsey were also markedly different in many ways. Cromwell was the architect of the Henrician Reformation, while Wolsey fell because he served two masters--the king of England and the Pope.

After the death of Jane Seymour, Cromwell arranged for Henry's marriage to Anne of Cleves, a move that joined England with the German Protestant states. The marriage was a failure, and Cromwell's enemies used Henry's displeasure with Cromwell to their advantage. Thomas Cromwell was eventually beheaded for heresy on the day that Henry married Katherine Howard.

Gentility: Born a 'commoner.' Evidently a self-made lawyer.

Member of English Parliament, Henry VIII's chief minister, Master of the Jewel House, Earl of Essex.

His career progressed as follows:
1531 - Member of the Privy Council
1532 - Master of Court of Wards and Master of Jewel House
1533 - Chancellor of the Exchequer
1534 - King's Secretary and Master of the Rolls
1535 - Vicar-General
1536 - Lord Privy Seal and Baron Cromwell of Oakham
1537 - Knight of the Garter and Dean of Wells
1539 - Lord Great Chamberlain
1540 - Created Earl of Essex

(and many more titles too numerous to name)

Personality Type:
Ruthless and ambitious. Methodical, detached and calculating. Henry VIII called him a "good household manager" and his "most faithful servant." He was an opportunist who disliked papal authority.
"the Lord Privy Seal was the whipping-boy for everyone who disliked his prince's doings. He was detested as a social climber, as a Protestant, as the scourge of the great abbeys and monasteries, and, above all, as a successful politician who controlled the good things of political life. Though Cromwell more often than not spoke for his master and not himself, he alone won the hatred inspired by Henry's rough and tactless policies." ~Lacey Baldwin Smith

Signature Look: Dour and clerical.

Endearing Traits:
Effective and efficient in government. He was a kind master, and a staunch friend; and he possessed all the outward graces of the Renaissance period. He was not vindictive, and his atrocious acts were done in no private quarrel, but in what he conceived to be the interests of his master and the state. Where those interests were concerned he had no heart, no conscience and no religious faith; no man was more completely blighted by the 16th century worship of the state.

Annoying Traits: Motivated by financial gain. Does whatever will get him ahead, no matter who he has to pull down or kill to get there.

" the king knaveth him twice a week and sometimes knocks him well about the pate; and yet when he hath been well pumelled about the head and shaken
up as it were a dog, he will come out of the Great Chamber shaking off the bush with as merry a countenance as though he might rule all the roost"; the king 'hath called my lord privy seal villain, knave, bobbed him about the head and thrust him from the Privy Chamber"
~ George Paulet 1538, a commissioner in Ireland and brother of William Paulet - Controller of the Household.

"Cromwell scrambled out of the wreckage of Wolsey's fortune. His enemies said the cardinal had given him a magic jewel which gave him power over Henry, but more likely Wolsey had given him a list of hints for dealing with a petulant, volatile and increasingly costly monarch. Henry soon regretted the hounding to death of his cardinal; he wanted him back, just as years later, after executing Cromwell, he wanted him back, too. The "gorgeous young lady" [[[Anne Boleyn]]] had her head severed, wives came and went, some violently, Henry died swollen and monstrous and perhaps a little mad."

~ Hilary Mantel (author of Wolf Hall) <a class="external" href="" rel="nofollow" target="_blank" title='Guardian Article "The Other King"'>Guardian Article "The Other King"</a>

Thomas Cromwell as played by James Frain

Cromwell's signature

"No Lord or gentleman in England bears love or favour to my Lord Privy Seal (Cromwell) because he is a great taker of money. He will speak, solicit or do for no man but all for money" - George Paulet 1538

"Cromwell is constantly rising in power, so much that he has now more influence with his master than Cardinal [Wolsey] ever had. Nowadays, everything is done at his bidding"
- Ambassador Chapuys to Charles V 1535

"Most gracious prince I cry
for Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"
~ Cromwell to Henry from the Tower of London

" [An] eyewitness reported some especial words of advice Cromwell dispensed to the courtiers he saw in the press of the crowd near the scaffold:

Gentlemen, you should all take warning from me, who was, as you know, from a poor man made by the king into a great gentleman and I, not contented with that, not with having the kingdom at my orders, presumed to a still higher state. My pride has brought its punishment.
I confess I am justly condemned and I urge you, gentlemen, study to preserve the good you possess and never let greed or pride prevail in you.
Serve your king, who is one of the best in the world, and one who knows best how to reward his vassals...

Cromwell then knelt down on the straw and made his peace with his maker: O Lord, grant me that when these eyes lose their use, that the eyes of my soul may see Thee. O Lord and father, when this mouth shall lose his use that my heart may say "Father into your hands I commend my spirit".

He stood up and told those with him on the scaffold : 'Pray for the prince and for all the lords of the council and for the clergy and for the commonalty [people]. Now I beg you again that you will pray for me'

Taking a last long look around, Cromwell spotted his old friend Sir Thomas Wyatt the Elder in the front ranks of the shifting and pressing crowd. He called out : Gentle Wyatt, goodbye - pray for me. Wyatt imprisoned in the downfall of Anne Boleyn, immediately dissolved into tears. ' Do not weep', Cromwell added, 'for if I were no more guilty than you were when they took you, I should not be in this pass'.

With that, he told the executioner: "Pray, if possible, cut off the head with one blow, so that I may not suffer much'. It was a faint hope. The headsman was called Gurrea , 'a ragged and butcherly wretch' and moments later he botched the execution; some claimed he was deliberately chosen because of his lack of experience. It seems likely that his axe stroke missed Cromwell's neck and bit deeply into the back of his skull; one account grimly talks of two executioners 'chopping the Lord Cromwell's neck and head for nearly half an hour'.

The arrogant Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey and the son of Cromwell's arch enemy Norfolk, sneered : "Now is the false churl dead, so ambitious of others' [noble] blood. These new erected men would, by their wills, leave no noble man a life.' Trimuphantly, he pointed to the process of attainder, the Minister's own personally devised weapon against traitors, as being the instrument of his eventual downfall : "Now he is stricken,' he said, 'with his own staff"
~ from Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchison 2007



Family Members:
Father: Walter Cromwell
Mother: Katherine Glossop (Also known as Clossop)

Elizabeth Wykes (1489–1527)
May have died from sweating sickness.

Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell. Was married to Elizabeth Seymour (Jane Seymour's sister). Elizabeth Seymour Cromwell served as a maid of honor to Anne Boleyn., then became Chief Lady in Waiting to her own sister Jane. Elizabeth Cromwell also later served as a Lady in Waiting to Katherine Parr, who married Elizabeth's brother Thomas Seymour after Henry VIII's death.

Anne Cromwell. Died young, possibly from sweating sickness.

Grace Cromwell: Died young, possibly from sweating sickness.

Other Relatives:
Nephews: Sir Richard (Cromwell) Williams, Christopher Wellyfed

Niece: Alice Wellyfed

Sister-in-Law: Joan Williamson

Mother-in-Law: Mercy Prior

Grandchildren: Henry (*1538), Frances (*1544), Catherine, Edward, Thomas (*1552)


The Lord Protector of England, Oliver Cromwell (1599-1658), was descended from Thomas Cromwell's sister, Catherine Cromwell. Making Thomas Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell's great-great uncle.

Thomas Wolsey, who (in a way) helped him gain his position as chief adviser to Henry VIII.
The Boleyns - until he switched sides in the coup to bring them down
Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Wyatt
(in reality)
Richard Rich (in the series but not in reality)
Charles Brandon (in reality, not in the series)

Bishop Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
William Brereton (in reality)
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk (in reality)
Charles Brandon, 1st Duke of Suffolk (in the series but not in reality)
Sir Thomas More
Reginald Pole
The Catholic Faction
Francis Bryan
Edward Seymour


  • "...Wolsey is still keen enough to prosecute heretics, as we are called, who embrace the true religion." Episode VIII

  • "God is not just in church. He is everywhere. We do not need priests to speak for us. We can speak to Him ourselves, and - He will listen. There is no need for bells, and books, and candles. All you need is your soul." Season 3 Episode VII


LINKS To view/add more information on Thomas Cromwell click here :


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Thomas Cromwell as played by James Frain
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex
Portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger

Thomas Cromwell as played by James Frain
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex - The Tudors Wiki

Hans Holbein miniature c.1532/33

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See also: The Tudors Cast | The Tudors Episode Guide