A leading figure during the English Reformation, Thomas Cromwell served as chief minister to King Henry VIII of England from 1532 to 1540. Employing his considerable legal talents, Cromwell helped to engineer an annulment of the King's first marriage to Katherine of Aragon. When the Pope refused to grant the annulment, Cromwell oversaw all the seismic religious reforms that followed Henry's break with Rome and establishment of the Church of England.
After the execution of Anne Boleyn and the death of Jane Seymour, Cromwell facilitated the arrangement of the King's fourth marriage to German Princess Anne of Cleves, hoping for a politically advantageous union. The remarkable diplomatic letter included in our sale from Cromwell to Doctor Nicholas Wotton discusses the furtherance of the fourth of King Henry VIII's six marriages - it reads:
"... by this berer yow shall receyve the kinges highness lettres conteyning his graces most gentle and princely affection toward the Duke of Cleves, with his graces divise for the encrease of their amytie which his highness doubteth not but yow woll so discreately handel and setfurthe as the same shall take effect wherein I assure you you shall doo the thing that shalbe muche to his Majestes contentaction and consequently not a Lyttle to your owne commodotie... handel the matier soo that... the Duke... takieth his graces most kynde offer in most thankfull parte and that his suite and desire is that it may please his highnes to procede... with all possible diligence and yet tempering the compassing of this purpose soo as they gather none occasion to thinke that this offre implyeth any other purpose thenne is expressed for that myghte cause them to take the same in lesse thankfull parte then it is woorthie - I have directyed my lettres of congratulacion to my ladie Annes grace whereby I doo exhote her to the nurrishement of the amytie bitweyn those princes to the greate honor bothe of the kinges Majestie her owne, and to the assuraunce of them and of their issew and posteritie... I doubte not but you wool so setfourthe the kinges Majestes presentes with goode and modest woords as the same shalbe by your discrection the more acceptable..."
Doctor Nicholas Wotton was an English diplomat and cleric, holding the offices of Secretary of State and Dean of Canterbury and York. In 1538-9, Wotton was one of the ambassadors sent to the Duke of Cleves to negotiate a marriage between Henry VIII and the Duke's sister Anne, and a union with the German Protestant Princes. After Henry's rebuke of Anne upon their meeting, Wotton remained in the King's favour, unlike Cromwell.
Henry's marriage to Anne lasted just six months, ending in annulment in July 1540. In disfavour due to Henry's dislike of Anne's appearance, Cromwell fell from power just months after being created Earl of Essex on 18 April 1540. His enemies at court, led by the Duke of Norfolk, convinced Henry that Cromwell was guilty of treason and heresy. Cromwell was arraigned under a bill of attainder, denying him a trail, and was executed on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540.
This historic letter marks a period of great political strength during Thomas Cromwell's career as cheif minister to King Henry VIII and, arguably, a document recording a pivotal decision in his life and service, which would ultimately lead to his execution.