On this day in 1540 Thomas Cromwell was executed at the order of Henry VIII of England on charges of treason.
Cromwell was one of the strongest advocates of the English Reformation. He helped to engineer an annulment of the king’s marriage to the Spanish princess Catherine of Aragon, in order to allow Henry to marry his mistress Anne Boleyn.
After failure to obtain approval from the Pope, in 1534 parliament endorsed the king’s claim to be head of a breakaway Church of England.
Cromwell subsequently plotted an evangelical, reformist course for the embryonic Church of England from the unique posts of vicegerent in spirituals and vicar-general.
During his rise, Cromwell made many enemies, including his former ally Anne Boleyn; he played a prominent role in her downfall.
He later fell from power after arranging the king’s marriage to a German princess, Anne of Cleves. Cromwell hoped that the marriage would breathe fresh life into the Reformation in England, but it turned into a disaster for Cromwell and ended in annulment just six months later.
Cromwell was arraigned under a bill of attainder and executed for treason and heresy on Tower Hill on 28 July 1540. The king later expressed regret at the loss of his chief minister.