Our famous grandfather died 11 October 1542. I wonder if he’d be honored to be so well loved and so well remembered. Let’s look at his last three years.
The fates of families were intertwined in the Tudor court. Our family was tied to Thomas Cromwell, the second most powerful man in England.
Politics vs. romance
In 1540 Cromwell made the mistake of matching Henry VIII with Anne of Cleves. It was a political match for the good of the country; but the king’s head was bent on romantic ideals.
Cromwell’s impressive PR machine was his downfall. Holbein’s painting a little too appealing, encouraging the king to fall in love with a woman who did not exist. When he met her, he didn’t like what he saw, felt or smelt. Froude wrote
“The German alliance was already shaking at its base: the court was agitated and alarmed; the king was miserable.”
Unable to cancel the wedding without causing an international incident, Henry warned Cromwell” If it were not to satisfy the world and my realm, I would not do that I must do this day for none earthly thing.”
Henry’s EXTREME disappointment gave Cromwell’s enemies the edge they needed to effect his downfall.
In May of 1540, Wyatt (serving as ambassador to the Charles VI, Holy Roman Emperor in Europe) nearly begged to be allowed to come home.
The historian Simonds refers to Cromwell’s letters in describing the power of their relationship. “It is to ‘my very loving friend’ that these documents are addressed, and in like fashion subscribed. In fact Cromwell had ever been ‘good lord’ to Wyatt, as the expression ran, and it was not improbable that the ruin of his powerful patron might involve his own.”
The fall of our most powerful family friend
[The following is mostly from Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchison, 2007 – link at bottom]
Cromwell stood 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”
Awaiting the inevitable
After Cromwell’s execution, Wyatt returned to Allington. According to old accounts, his mistress Elizabeth Darrell was there, along with his son and daughter-in-law. (Elizabeth had been a loyal maid to Queen Catherine of Aragon.)
Bishop Bonner renewed old attacks on Sir Thomas; the powerful Cromwell wasn’t around to protect him any longer; and the king’s health was such that he was increasingly paranoid, more open to believing lies about loyal friends.
According to tudorplace.com – “Elizabeth Darrell was openly living with Wyatt, as his mistress, at Allington Castle in Kent, in Jan of 1541, when Wyatt was arrested. Because she was pregnant at the time, she was allowed to remain in one of Wyatt’s confiscated houses.”
(I’ll write the long and involved story of Bonner’s attacks and Wyatt’s response some other time. Just imagine how it felt to be so betrayed; again. He was not expected to leave Tower grounds alive this time!)
From prison he wrote his friend, Sir Francis Bryan:
SIGHS are my food : my drink is bitter tears.
Clinking of fetters would such music crave.
Stink and close air away my life it wears.
Pure Innocence is all the hope I have!
Rain, wind, or weather judge I by mine ears!
Malice assaults that Righteousness should have !
Sure I am, BRYAN ! this wound shall heal again
But yet, alas! the scar shall still remain!
In July of 1540 Henry annulled his marriage to the physically undesirable Anne of Cleves (on mutually acceptable grounds) and hooked up with a sweet young bubblehead. His new queen, Katherine Howard, was a cousin of Anne Boleyn and our Elizabeth Brooke.
Let it be said that the king was no prize. His old jousting wound had never healed and you smelled him before you saw him. Previous injuries restricted most activities except boffing and eating; he was immense and getting old before his time.
Naturally he was flattered to have an attentive young new queen on his arm. When she pleaded for Sir Thomas’ pardon, Henry allowed it. (She had pleaded on behalf of others and been denied.)
The king granted his release from prison on the condition that he would take his wife back. Understand that they had already been separated for about 15 years. Henry expected Thomas to live a “conjugal” life with her; if he didn’t – if he was found to have relations with others – he would suffer death and confiscation of property.
This was strange because men HAD mistresses, wives were sent away and couples lived openly in adultery. It was no big deal. Nicola Shulman (in Graven With Diamonds – link at bottom) says “Wyatt’s condition is the only example of its kind in his time.”
Shulman suggests Henry may have given in by pressure from the Howards – relatives of the Brookes, who wanted Thomas to accept financial responsibility for his estranged wife. They’d been after him to pay up for years.
Did he obey? According to Tudorplace.com; “following his release from the Tower, he returned to his mistress.”
Is it possible Henry gave him a wink and a slap on the back? If not, he was risking tremendous wealth for love. Because Henry did what he had done before after imprisoning his old friend for no good reason; he added to his estates and allowed him back into his circle of trust.
When Henry beheaded his young queen for adultery, Thomas acquired the lands of her lover, Thomas Culpeper.
At this time Marillac, the French ambassador described Sir Thomas as “one of the richest gentleman in England, having an income from his patrimony of six to seven thousand ducats a year.”
The final mission
The following year Henry refriended Spain and resumed war against France. Thomas accompanied the king at Dover and was made captain of 300 men in Calais, where he defended the city while new fortifications were built. Sir Thomas was expected to be named Vice-Admiral of the English fleet.
When the Spanish envoy arrived in Falmouth ahead of schedule, Sir Thomas rushed to meet him, changing many horses along the way. He was known to have crushing headaches. He wasn’t feeling well, the sun was bright and the weather unseasonably warm for October.
Shulman quotes his friend John Mason as gently accusing him of “having more regard for the royal mandate than his health.” Shulman says there was another reason for his speed. Elizabeth Darrell and their young son were nearby.
He collapsed of great fever at the house of his friend Sir John Horsey. Shulman hopes he sent for Elizabeth so they could say their final good-byes.
On 11 October, 1542 he died. Per Shulman, he “is thought to have become the first tenant of a family vault which Horsey was preparing for himself at the great church in Sherborne.”
The church register describes him as “‘vir venerabilis’. The ‘inquisitio post mortem’, dated 8 Jan 1542-3, enumerates vast estates in Kent
(34 Hen. VIII, Kent, m. 90).
We can pay our respects by visiting the abbey online:
(I see we have other ancestors buried at that abbey.)
Sir Tom’s two Elizabeths
Sir Thomas left some of his properties to Elizabeth Darrell with “right of reversion” to their son Francis. During the reign of Queen Mary, Elizabeth Darrell finally received the legacy left to her by her beloved Queen Catherine of Aragon. (It had been withheld by Henry VIII.) According to Tudorplace.com Elizabeth Darrelle married Robert Strowde in 1554.
Elizabeth Brooke – finally free – married Sir Edward Warner, Lord of the Tower. Warner was implicated in Sir Thomas Wyatt the Younger’s rebellion; when Elizabeth became queen, she restored his position and family fortunes. Elizabeth and Edward died during the reign of Queen Elizabeth.
Links to books quoted:
Thomas Cromwell by Robert Hutchison
From $4.77 used:
Graven with Diamonds by Nicola Shulman
From $5 used: