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The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cromwell rose from a rough childhood to become King Henry VIII's most important adviser. Follow his rapid and startling path to power — and eventual downfall — with our slideshow.

  • 1503: After fleeing England to get away from his violent father at age 15, Thomas Cromwell surfaces in Italy, fighting as a mercenary for the French army in its battle against the Spanish at Garigliano | Credit: "Bayard sur le pont du Garigliano" by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux via Wikimedia Commons
    1503: After fleeing England to get away from his violent father at age 15, Thomas Cromwell surfaces in Italy, fighting as a mercenary for the French army in its battle against the Spanish at Garigliano | Credit: "Bayard sur le pont du Garigliano" by Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux via Wikimedia Commons
  • April 21 1509: Henry VIII becomes King at the age of 17 after the death of his father, Henry VII. He was widely regarded as intelligent, athletic and cultured. | Credit: "HenryVIII 1509" by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
    April 21 1509: Henry VIII becomes King at the age of 17 after the death of his father, Henry VII. He was widely regarded as intelligent, athletic and cultured. | Credit: "HenryVIII 1509" by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1515: Thomas Wolsey becomes a cardinal and Lord Chancellor, King Henry VIII's most powerful adviser. Cromwell obtains a position assisting Wolsey, and his career advances swiftly. | Credit: "Cardinal Wolsey Christ Church" by Sampson Strong (circa 1550–1611) via Wikimedia Commons
    1515: Thomas Wolsey becomes a cardinal and Lord Chancellor, King Henry VIII's most powerful adviser. Cromwell obtains a position assisting Wolsey, and his career advances swiftly. | Credit: "Cardinal Wolsey Christ Church" by Sampson Strong (circa 1550–1611) via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1529: After 20 years of marriage, Henry has been unable to produce a male heir with his wife, Catherine of Aragon. He seeks Wolsey’s help to obtain a divorce from the Pope, in order to marry his new love, Anne Boleyn. | Credit: "Anne boleyn" by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
    1529: After 20 years of marriage, Henry has been unable to produce a male heir with his wife, Catherine of Aragon. He seeks Wolsey’s help to obtain a divorce from the Pope, in order to marry his new love, Anne Boleyn. | Credit: "Anne boleyn" by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1533: Cromwell helps Henry break with the Roman Catholic Church, enabling him to divorce Catherine. After Henry marries Anne Boleyn, Cromwell quickly becomes his most trusted minister. | Credit: "Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01" by Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons
    1533: Cromwell helps Henry break with the Roman Catholic Church, enabling him to divorce Catherine. After Henry marries Anne Boleyn, Cromwell quickly becomes his most trusted minister. | Credit: "Cromwell,Thomas(1EEssex)01" by Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1536: After Anne Boleyn suffers several miscarriages, Henry -- still desperate for a male heir -- falls in love with Jane Seymour. Cromwell uses devious tactics to get Anne convicted of high treason, including charges of incest, adultery and witchcraft. Henry marries Jane a week after Anne is beheaded for her “crimes”, and Cromwell’s place as Henry’s right hand man seems secure. | Credit: "Family of Henry VIII c 1545 detail" by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
    1536: After Anne Boleyn suffers several miscarriages, Henry -- still desperate for a male heir -- falls in love with Jane Seymour. Cromwell uses devious tactics to get Anne convicted of high treason, including charges of incest, adultery and witchcraft. Henry marries Jane a week after Anne is beheaded for her “crimes”, and Cromwell’s place as Henry’s right hand man seems secure. | Credit: "Family of Henry VIII c 1545 detail" by Unknown via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1537: Jane Seymour dies after giving birth to Henry VIII’s longed-for son and heir, Edward VI. Cromwell searches Europe for a suitable fourth wife for the king, finally settling on German Anne of Cleves. Upon meeting Anne, Henry is dissatisfied with her looks, but Cromwell persuades the king to go forward with the marriage. | Credit: "Anne of Cleves” by Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons
    1537: Jane Seymour dies after giving birth to Henry VIII’s longed-for son and heir, Edward VI. Cromwell searches Europe for a suitable fourth wife for the king, finally settling on German Anne of Cleves. Upon meeting Anne, Henry is dissatisfied with her looks, but Cromwell persuades the king to go forward with the marriage. | Credit: "Anne of Cleves” by Hans Holbein the Younger via Wikimedia Commons
  • 1540: Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves is a disaster and to get it annulled he has to testify in court of his failings in the bedroom. Henry is embarrassed and furious; and Cromwell’s enemies seize the opportunity to move against him. He is charged with treason and corruption and executed at the Tower of London. | "Tower Hill scaffold location - Sign 4" photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) via Wikimedia Commons
    1540: Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleves is a disaster and to get it annulled he has to testify in court of his failings in the bedroom. Henry is embarrassed and furious; and Cromwell’s enemies seize the opportunity to move against him. He is charged with treason and corruption and executed at the Tower of London. | "Tower Hill scaffold location - Sign 4" photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net) via Wikimedia Commons

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