Cromwell, Thomas

(ca. 1485-1540)
   English politician who rose from humble origins to become a trusted servant of King Henry VIII's most powerful government minister, Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. After Wolsey's fall from power in 1529, Cromwell replaced him and became even more powerful. His efficiency and decisive personality soon made him the dominant person in political life. He arranged the divorce of the king from Queen Catherine of Aragon; the acquiescence of both Parliament and the clergy in declaring Henry head of the English church and abolishing papal authority; the suppression of the monasteries and the confiscation of their properties by the crown; and the publication of the first English-language Bible to appear with the approval of the government and clergy. Modern historians have often regarded the administrative agencies that he created to administer the former monastic lands and establish royal control over the church as a decisive step away from the personal administrative structure of the medieval monarchy to a more impersonal and institutionalized administration that foreshadows modern English government. Cromwell's own religious views leaned toward Protestantism, but as a servant of a king who continued to favor Catholic doctrine even after his break with Rome, he had to move slowly and cautiously. He collaborated with the new archbishop of Canterbury, Thomas Cranmer, to authorize the official English Bible, to modify some of the doctrines of the medieval church, and gradually to introduce the doctrines of Continental Protestantism. In these efforts, Cromwell employed the services of a number of writers with humanist backgrounds and arranged for the publication of English translations of works of Erasmus and other humanists who had favored reform of the church and had sharply criticized ecclesiastical corruption.
   Cromwell was raised to the peerage as earl of Essex, but his foreign policy of close relations with the German Protestant princes, culminating in the marriage of the king to the German princess Anne of Cleves, whom the king found unacceptable, led to his sudden fall from power in 1540. He was arrested, attainted by act of Parliament, and executed. Yet both his administrative reforms and his transformation of the English church into a national institution under the control of the monarch endured.

Historical Dictionary of Renaissance. . 2004.

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