Henry VIII, the Reign
Henry Bourcheir Dead from a Broken Neck in Fall – Norfolk Has Henry’s Ear
The Duke of Norfolk, on his return to England, set out for London, the court and Henry. However, Cromwell stopped him on the pretext of a case of the plague in Norfolk’s household and the danger of him bringing it to court. The duke scribbled his disagreement in a return-of-post note dated 1 April 1540.
Henry was famously unhappy with his marriage to Anne of Cleves and it he blamed Cromwell for the mismatch. His discomfort, however, had almost certainly been eased by now, if not some months before, by Catherine Howard.
The degree to which Henry blamed Cromwell for this particular matrimonial mess is confused by the elevation of his first minister to the earldom of Essex in April 1540.
Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex, fell from his horse, broke his neck and died on 4 April 1540, and a fortnight later (on 18 April 1540) Cromwell was granted his earldom. William Parr (brother of Katherine), who had married Bourchier’s daughter, had expected to receive the honour (and did eventually receive it).
The award of the title certainly came as a surprise to the French ambassador; however, Cromwell seems to have fostered some ancestral connection with the Bourchiers, and it seems likely that Henry had promised him the Earldom of Essex upon Bourchier’s death– sometime beforehand and so Cromwell took for himself what had already been pledged.
Henry was dissatisfied with his German wife but the young Howard girl was making up for that and of course Cromwell’s secret machinations with the confederation of Lutheran states had not yet been revealed.
Thus far at least Cromwell had prevented Norfolk from interfering with his elevation to the nobility but he could not keep Norfolk away from Henry indefinitely; after all, the duke’s young niece was attending to the king’s needs and fancies.
When the inevitable meeting did take place, the duke told Henry about his meeting with Francis and explained that neither Francis or Charles intended to attack England; their common enemy was the Lutherans in Germany.
The duke reminded Henry that, in his capacity as head of the Church of England, he had helped to draft the Six Articles and that everything Cromwell was doing was flying viciously in the face of what Henry had enshrined in law.
Norfolk told Henry that Cromwell was using the new coastal fortifications as a device to cause Henry to worry about an attack and that really they were being built for offensive purposes to control the Channel and separate Germany and Spain. He asked Henry why, with all this reinforcement along the coast, had Hull not been fortified.
Francis, said Norfolk, was Henry’s friend and had allowed Charles through France to reach Germany to save them all from the clutches of the Lutherans. It was time Henry realised what his minster was doing.
Norfolk told Henry that Holbein had been coerced into painting a flattering portrait of Anne of Cleves and that her brother intended to join the Schmalkaldic League for protection from Charles’s anticipated attack to reclaim Guelders. The king, he claimed, had married into the Lutheran cause, hoodwinked into it at Cromwell’s behest.
To this he added that England would be at the forefront of a confederation of northern European states – an alliance from Penzance to Prague – that rejected the authority of landed aristocracy and was ruled by those who were prepared to rise through commerce and work, those preordained by God and not those of inherited wealth and good deeds. Cromwell would lead this new commonwealth and in a year or two it would not lie in the king’s power to resist; there would be no king, but in his stead a Lord Protector of the Commonwealth.
Cromwell was a man of low birth who derided the established nobility. He flouted commodity laws and he was a heretic. He daily acted without the king’s authority and furthermore he intended to usurp the king’s power in its entirety and rule through Parliament.
Norfolk delivered an impassioned warning that Cromwell intended to fight the king in armed combat if he did not ‘turn’ and support his ambitions to reduce the established church and its traditions to rubble and ruin. Henry’s very life was in jeopardy.
The duke lamented that it had become apparent that all prospects of a marriage for Henry’s daughter Mary had been thwarted because Cromwell intended to marry her himself – Henry must act urgently.
‘Give the royal sanction to me and the Bishop of Winchester and we will save you and your kingdom!’
Thus, Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, and Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester, were empowered.
On 10 June 1540 Cromwell was arrested in the Council Chamber at Westminster. Confronted by Howard, he was accused of treason. Charles de Marillac related the events in his despatches to France: ‘The duke of Norfolk having reproached him with some “villennyes” done by him, snatched off the order of St. George which he bore on his neck, and the Admiral [John Russell], to show himself as great an enemy in adversity as he had been thought a friend in prosperity, untied the Garter.’
Cromwell was taken to the Tower. His house was searched and an inventory of his goods taken. And then Marillac says, ‘Next day were found several letters he wrote to or received from the Lutheran lords of Germany. Cannot learn what they contained except that this King was thereby so exasperated against him that he would no longer hear him spoken of, but rather desired to abolish all memory of him as the greatest wretch ever born in England.’
While in the Tower, ‘the greatest wretch ever born in England’ documented sufficient evidence for Henry to have his marriage to Anne of Cleves annulled, thus ending all connections with the Germans. Parliament passed a bill of attainder against Cromwell on 29 June 1540.
Cromwell had been Earl of Essex less than two months when he was arrested. He was executed for treason on 28 July 1540 and Henry married Catherine Howard, the Duke of Norfolk’s niece, on the same day.
With this the demise of Henry VIII’s fourth wife, the Cromwell era ended and a brief Norfolk and Gardiner epoch began. The royal sanction, however, for the time being was somewhat diluted.
Henry in his own hand declared that the marriage was never consummated.
Probably since before the lady from Germany set foot in England, he had been occupied by Catherine Howard and thus now the Howards held the royal sanction.
Notes and Links Part 42
War preparations given up and attention turned to jousts, touneys and pastimes – Queens coronation at Whitsuntide. LP 401
Barnes recantation LP 411
Norfolk’s disagreement about coming to court. LP 442
Cromwell counterworking the kings aims for settlement of religion. LP 765
Marillac to Francis I about Cromwell's wrong doings:LP 766
The duke of Norfolk having reproached him with some “villennyes” LP 804
Henry in his own hand declared that the marriage was never consummated. LP 825
Cromwell's attainder - summary
Cromwell's attainder - in full