Hey, Tom remember your head?

On July 28, 1540 Henry VIII had Thomas Cromwell’s head cut off. Strange that he didn’t see it coming.

Cromwell, I mean. He was Henry’s chief minister from 1532 to 1540, in which capacity with various official titles he played a central role in Henry’s break with Rome and divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn, during which Henry had Thomas More’s head cut off (see July 7 in this series for a sharp denunciation of same, and then his divorce of Anne’s head from her body so he could marry Jane Seymour, a rather tasteless 11 days after Anne’s execution.

After Jane died of complications from giving birth to the sickly future Edward VI, Cromwell arranged for Henry to marry Anne of Cleves who was, at least in Henry’s opinion, offensively unattractive. They were soon divorced, Anne probably happy to escape with her own head still firmly anchored in place, and Henry turned on Cromwell for reasons that have never, formally speaking, become clear. The king married Catherine Howard the same day Cromwell was executed. And not 19 months later he had her beheaded.

Do you see a pattern emerging here? Apparently Cromwell didn’t, at least not in time. He thought the king just had a lot of bad people beheaded. But in fact the king had a lot of old friends beheaded. To be in a position of trust with Henry was a reasonably reliable precursor to be in a kneeling position with a wooden pillow… briefly. And if anyone should have realized the king was an unstable maniac, you’d think it would be Cromwell.

Or I suppose Henry. You’d think once you’ve had enough people beheaded, including two wives and two trusted councillors, you’d notice a pattern. But of course if you were that sort of person you probably wouldn’t stack dead former close associates like firewood in the first place.

Still, the person climbing over the pile to kiss such a king’s ring ought to have had some concerns about joining it one day.