by Beth von Staats
If we are lucky, we have a friend or two in our lives, people so close that we just know if God takes us early they will look out always for our children. Gregory Cromwell, 1st Baron Cromwell of Oakham, son of the executed Thomas Cromwell, 1st Earl of Essex, had such great fortune. Two devoted friends, one closest to him, the other to his father, stepped up willingly, providing support and patronage to his children after his untimely death of the sweating sickness in 1551. Sadly, the same illness killed Gregory Cromwell’s mother and two sisters during his childhood years before.
The situation resulting from Cromwell’s death was quite overwhelming for his wife, Elizabeth, sister of the late Queen Jane Seymour. Not only was she left with seven of her own children, five by Cromwell and two by her first husband, Sir Anthony Ughtred, but also the four youngest daughters of her dead brother, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector. Though she ultimately remarried once more to John Paulet, 2nd Marquess of Winchester, securing the futures of children born of such complicated legacies was quite a task.
So just who were the men that “stepped up to the plate”?
Sir William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, was a very dear friend of Gregory Cromwell. Although how exactly they came together is not known, Lord Burghley’s first position at court was working diligently for Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset, when he was Lord Protector of the realm. Given Somerset’s close familial relationship with Cromwell, this seems like the most plausible connection between the men. In any case, the friendship clearly was a close one, with Cromwell describing Cecil in his last will and testament as “my especial and singular good lord”.
Sir Ralph’s Sadler’s relationship to Baron Cromwell is far better documented. Sadler, arguably as close to Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, as his own son, was raised alongside Gregory Cromwell at Austin Friars. Sadler later worked for Thomas Cromwell until Cromwell’s execution, enjoying his patronage and growing to great advantage in King Henry VIII’s court. After some initial difficulties post-Cromwell’s execution, Sadler rose further, knighted in 1542 and sharing the role of King Henry’s Principal Secretary. Sadler continued his service to the crown during the reign of King Edward VI as High Treasurer of the Army. In this role, Sadler, Somerset, and Cecil all came together at the Scottish Battle of Pinkie in 1547.
So, although Gregory Cromwell chose a life away from court politics, instead focusing his attention on his service in Parliament and his estate at Launde Abbey, his closest friends and family were highly esteemed courtiers. Through their affinity for him and his father, Cecil and Sadler patronized Gregory Cromwell’s children after his tragic death, opening doors otherwise closed. One of these children, named for English history’s most brilliant Parliamentarian, seized his opportunity and ran with it.
Thomas Cromwell, the third and youngest son of Gregory Cromwell and Elizabeth Seymour, had not only the given name but also the exhaustive work ethic and obviously high intellect of his magnificent grandfather. A Parliamentary member of the House of Commons for five consecutive terms from 1571 to 1589, Cromwell represented first Fowey in 1571, then Bodmin from 1572 to 1581, from there Preston in 1584, and finally Grampound from 1586 to 1588. The Fowey, Bodmin and Grampound appointments were secured almost assuredly through William Cecil, while the Preston appointment came through Ralph Sadler.
Unlike his Swiss Reformist and evangelically minded grandfather, Thomas Cromwell was a Puritan by religion, described as “the model type of parliamentarian, deeply versed in the history and procedure of the institution… eminently responsible, but fearless in defense of liberty.” Cromwell was exceptionally respected for his knowledge of Parliamentary procedure, resulting in his becoming one of the most valued and experienced committeemen of his time.
While serving in Parliament, Thomas Cromwell participated in over 100 committees, journaling the sessions of Parliament in 1572, 1576, 1581 and 1584. Cromwell’s journal diaries now rest at the Trinity College library in Dublin. The topics, issues, and concerns addressed through these varying committees illustrate many of the societal challenges of the Elizabethan Period, and include but certainly not limited to discussions about vagabonds, avoiding idleness, rogues, wharves and quays, relief of Vicars, forgery, slanderous practices, children of aliens, and most importantly, the Queen’s safety.
Like his grandfather before him, Thomas Cromwell had ample opportunity to speak before Parliament. For example, he spoke against a bill concerning the English-born children of foreigners and support of Paul Wentworth’s motion for a public fast and daily worship. He was also often chosen to report to Parliament the progress of committees he actively and enthusiastically participated in.
Although Cromwell sent Elizabeth, Regina hearty thanks for finally executing Mary Queen of Scots via Parliamentary motion, he also was not afraid to take her on if he believed the cause warranted. Evidently, Queen Elizabeth did not take kindly to Sir Anthony Cope presenting to the Speaker of the House of Commons a Puritan edition of the Book of Common Prayer, nor his bill abrogating existing ecclesiastical law. On March 13, 1587, Cromwell moved “to have some conference with the Privy Council of this House”, because he disagreed strongly with the queen’s command to imprison Parliament’s more extremely Puritan members who supported “Cope’s Bill and Book”.
To address the Queen’s reaction and Cromwell’s strong response, Parliament did what it still does best, established yet another committee, likely the most important Cromwell participated in. Cromwell dug in deep with great relish. Harking the memory of his grandfather, who once spoke with great clarity in opposition to King Henry VIII’s request for funding a war with France, Cromwell prepared thoroughly, researching precedents to show that Her Majesty had no right to imprison Sir Anthony Cope, Peter Wentworth and the others supportive of their cause. He argued the men’s principle liberties were violated and illustrated through long history Parliament’s role in disciplining its own members when such was appropriate. Thus, though his grandfather used Parliament to push the monarch’s agenda and ultimate supreme authority, he instead pushed back to limit it.
Beyond Thomas Cromwell’s Parliamentary service, he was appointed by the Privy Council to manage Norfolk affairs and quarrels, and then acted as a steward for his brother, Henry, 2nd Baron Cromwell, and later his nephew, Edward, 3rd Baron Cromwell. They were heavily in debt. Lucky him!
The father of nine children, Cromwell died in 1611, leaving the world his diaries, now historians’ most important source of Elizabethan Parliamentary law.
The History of Parliament, British Political, Social and Local History, CROMWELL, Thomas (c. 1540-1611), of King’s Lynn, Norf.,. The article was originally published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981.
Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project, England Under the Tudors, Sir Ralph Sadler (1507 -1587).
Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project, England Under the Tudors, William Cecil, Baron Burghley (1521-1598).