EIGHT days after the imprisonment of Barnes and his two friends (April 12, 1540), parliament opened for the first time without abbots or priors.
Cromwell was thoughtful and uneasy; he saw everywhere occasions of alarm; he felt his position insecure. The statute of the Six Articles, the conviction which possessed his mind that the doctrines of the Middle were regaining an indisputable ascendancy over king, the wrath of Norfolk, and Henry’s ill-will on account of the queen whom Cromwell had chosen for him — these were the dark points which threatened his future. His friends were scattered or persecuted; his enemies were gathered about the throne. Henry, however, made no sign, but secretly meditated a violent blow. He concealed the game he was playing so that others, and especially Cromwell should have no perception of it. The powerful minister, therefore, appeared in parliament, assuming a confident air, as the everpowerful organ of the supreme will of the king. Henry VIII., man the of extremes, thought proper at this time to exhibit himself as an advocate of a middle course. The country is agitated by religious distensions, said vicegerent, his representative; and in his speech to the House he set forth on the one hand the rooted superstition and obstinate clinging to popery, and on the other thoughtless and impertinent and culpable rashness (referring doubtless to Barnes) that the king desired a union of the two parties; that he leaned to neither side; that he would equally repress the license of heretics and that of the papists, and that he ‘set the pure and sincere doctrine of Christ before his eyes.’ These words of Cromwell were wise. Union in the truth is the great want of all ages. But Henry added his comment. He refused to turn to the right or to the left. He would not himself hold, nor did he intend to permit England to hold, other doctrine than that prescribed by his own sovereign authority, sword in hand. Cromwell did not fail to let it be known by what method the king meant to bring about this union; he insisted on penalties against all who did not submit to the Bible and against those who put upon it a wrong interpretation Henry intended to strike right and left with his vigorous lance. To carry out the scheme of union a commission was appointed, the result of which, after two years’ labors, was a confused medley of truths and errors. f321 Strange to say, although Cromwell was now on the brink of an abyss, the king still heaped favors upon him. He was already chancellor of the Exchequer, first secretary of state, vice-regent and vicar-general of England in spiritual affairs, lord privy seal, and knight of the Garter; but he was now to see fresh honors added to all these. The earl of Essex had just died, and a week later died the earl of Oxford, who been lord chamberlain.
Hereupon Henry made Cromwell, ‘the blacksmith’s son,’ whom Norfolk and the other nobles despised so heartily, earl of Essex and lord chamberlain, and had his name placed at the head of the roll of peers.
Wealth was no more wanting to him than honors. He received a large portion of the property of the deceased lord Essex; the king conferred on him thirty manors taken from the suppressed monasteries; he owned great estates in eight counties; and he still continued to superintend the business of the crown. We might well ask how it came to pass that such a profusion of favors fell to his lot just at the time when the king was angry with as the man who had given him Anne of Cleves for a wife; when the imprisonment of Barnes, his friend and confidential agent, greatly compromised him, when, in addition to these things, Norfolk, Gardiner, and the whole Catholic party were striving to put down this parvenu, who offended them and stood in their way. Two answers may be given to this question. Henry was desirous that Cromwell should make great effort to secure the assent of parliament to bills of a very extraordinary character but very advantageous to the king; and it was his hope that the titles under which Cromwell would appear before the houses would make success easier. Several contemporaries, however, assigned a different cause for these royal favors. ‘Some persons now suspect,’ wrote Hilles to Bullinger, ‘that this was all an artifice, to make people conclude that he [Cromwell] must have been a most wicked traitor, and guilty of treason in every possible way; or else the king would never have executed one who was so dear to him, as was made manifest by the presents he had bestowed upon him.’ Besides, was it not the custom of the ancients to crown their victims with flowers before sacrificing them?
Henry was greedy of money, and was in want of, it, for he spent it prodigally. He applied to Cromwell for it. The latter was aware that in making himself the king’s instrument in this matter he estranging from himself the mind of the nation; but he considered that a great sovereign must have great resources, and he was always willing to sacrifice himself for the king, for to him he owed everything, and he loved him in spite of his faults. On April 23, four days after receiving from the king such extraordinary favors, Cromwell proposed to the house to suppress the Knights of St. John of Jerusalem, and urged that their estates, which were considerable, should be given to the king. This was agreed to by Parliament. On May 3 he demanded for his a subsidy of unparalleled character, namely, four tenths and fifteenths, in addition to ten per cent. the rents of lands and five per cent. on the value of merchandise. This also he obtained. Next went to the convocation of the clergy, and claimed from them two tenths and twenty per cent. on ecclesiastical revenues for two years. Again he succeeded. By May 8 the king had obtained through Cromwell’s energy all that he wished for.
On the very next day, Sunday, May 9, Cromwell received in his palace a note from the king thus worded: — f323 ‘HENRY R. ‘By the King. ‘Right trusty and well beloved cousin, — We greet you well; signifying unto you our pleasure and commandment is that forthwith, and upon the receipt of these our letters, setting all other affairs apart, ye do repair unto us, for the treaty of such great and weighty matters as whereupon doth consist the surety of our person, the preservation of our honor and the tranquillity and quietness of you, and all other our loving and faithful subjects, like as at your arrival here ye shall more plainly perceive and understand. And that ye fail not hereof, as we specially trust you. ‘Given under our signet, at our manor of Westminster, the 9th day of May.’
What could this urgent and mysterious note mean? Cromwell could not rest after reading it. ‘The surety of our person, the preservation of our honor’ are in question, said the king, We may imagine the agitation of his mind, his fears as to the result of the visit, and the state of perplexity in which, without losing a minute, he went in obedience to the king’s command. We have no information as what passed at this interview.
Probably the supposed that he had justified himself in his master’s sight.
On the following day, Monday, the earl of Essex was present as usual in the House of Lords and introduced a bill. The day after, parliament was prorogued till May 25. What could be the reason for this? It has been supposed that Cromwell’s enemies wished to gain the time needful for collecting evidence in support of the charges which they intended to bring against him. When the fifteen days had elapsed, parliament met again, and the earl of Essex was in his place on the first and following days. He was still in the assembly as minister of the king on June 10, on which day, at three o’clock, there was a meeting of the Privy Council. The duke of Norfolk, the earl of Essex, and the other members were quietly seated round the table, when the duke rose and accused Cromwell of high treason.
Cromwell understood that Norfolk was acting under the sanction of the king, and he recollected the note of May 9. The lord chancellor arrested him and had him conducted to the Tower. f324 Norfolk was more than ever in favor, for Henry, husband of Anne of Cleves, was at this time enamored of Norfolk’s niece. He believed — and Gardiner, doubtless, did not fail to encourage the belief — that he must promptly take advantage of the extraordinary goodwill which the king testified to him to overthrow the adversary of Anglican Catholicism, the powerful protector of the Bible and the Reformation. In the judgment of this party Cromwell was a heretic and a chief of heretics. This was the principal motive, and substantially the only motive, of the attack made on the earl of Essex. In a letter addressed at this time by the Council to Sir John Wallop, ambassador at the court of France, a circular letter sent also to the principal officers and representatives of the king, the crime of which Cromwell was accused is distinctly set forth. ‘The lord privy seal,’ it was therein said, ‘to whom the king’s said majesty hath been so special good and gracious lord, neither remembering his duty herein to God, nor yet to his highness... hath not only wrought clean contrary to this his grace’s most godly intent, and indirectly advancing the one of the extremes, and leaving the mean indifferent true and way which his majesty sought and so entirely desired; but also hath showed himself so fervently bent to the maintenance of that his outrage that he hath not spared most privily, most traitorously, to devise how to continue the same, and plainly in terms to say, as it hath been justified to his face by good witness, that if the king and all his realm would turn and vary from his opinions, he would in the field in his own person, with his sword his hand, against him and all other; adding that he lived a year or two he trusted to bring things to that frame that it should not lie in the king’s power to resist or let it, if he would; binding his words with such oaths and making such gesture and demonstration with his arms, that it might well appear he had no less fixed in his heart than was uttered with his mouth. For the which apparent most detestable treasons, and also for... other enormities... he is committed to the Tower of London, there to remain till it shall please his majesty to have him thereupon tried according to the order his laws.’ It was added that the king, remember how men wanting the knowledge of the truth speak diversely of the matter, desired them to and open the whole truth.
Nothing could be more at variance with the character and the whole life of Cromwell than the foolish sayings attributed to him. Every intelligent man might see that they were mere falsehoods invented by the Catholic party to hide its own criminal conduct. But at the same time it most clearly pointed out in this letter the real motive of the blow aimed at Cromwell, the first, true, efficient cause of his fall, the object which his enemies had in view and towards which they were working. They fancied that the overthrow of Cromwell would be the overthrow of the Reformation.
Wallop did not fail to impart the information to the court to which he was accredited; and Henry VIII. was delighted to hear of ‘the friendly rejoice of our good brother the French king, and the constable and others there,’ on learning the arrest of the lord privy seal. This rejoicing was very natural on the part of Francis I., Montmorency, and the rest of them.
As soon as the arrest of June 10 was known, the majority of those who had most eagerly sought after the favor of Cromwell, and especially Bonner, bishop of London, immediately turned round and declared against him. He had gained no popularity by promoting the last bills passed to the king’s advantage; and the news of his imprisonment was therefore received with shouts of joy. In the midst of the general dejection, one man alone remained faithful to the prisoner — this was Cranmer. The man who had formerly undertaken the defense of Anne Boleyn now came forward in defense of Cromwell. The archbishop did not attend the Privy Council on Thursday, June 10; but being in his place on the Friday, he heard that the earl of Essex had been arrested as a traitor. The tidings astonished and affected him deeply. He saw in Cromwell at this time not only his personal friend, not only the prudent and devoted supporter of the Reformation, but also the ablest minister and the most faithful servant of the king. He saw the danger to which he exposed himself by undertaking the defense of the prisoner; and he felt that it was his duty not recklessly to offend king. He therefore wrote to him in a prudent manner, reminding him, nevertheless, energetically of all that Cromwell had been. His letter to the king written the day after he heard of the fall of the minister. ‘I heard yesterday in your grace’s council,’ he says, ‘that he [Cromwell] is a traitor; yet who cannot be sorrowful and amazed that he should be a against your majesty, he that was so advanced by your majesty; he whose surety was only by your ; he who loved your majesty (as I ever ;thought) no less than God; he who studied always to set forwards whatsoever was your majesty’s will and pleasure; he that cared for no man’s displeasure to your majesty; he that was such a servant, in judgment, in wisdom, diligence, faithfulness, and experience, as no prince in this realm ever had; he that was so vigilant to preserve your majesty from all treasons that few could be so secretly conceived but he detected the same in the beginning?
If the noble princes of memory, king John, Henry II., and Richard II. had had such a counselor about them, I suppose that they should never have been so traitorously abandoned and overthrown as those good pious princes were... . I loved him as my friend, for so I took him to be;, but I chiefly loved him for the love which I thought I saw him bear ever towards your grace, singularly above all other. But now, if he be a traitor, I am sorry that ever I loved him or trusted him, and I am very glad that his treason discovered in time. But yet again I am very sorrowful, for who shall your grace trust hereafter, you might not trust him? Alas! I bewail and lament your grace’s chance herein, I wot not whom grace may trust.
But I pray God continually night and day to send such a counselor in his place whom your grace may trust, and who for all qualifies can and will serve your grace like to him, and that will have so much solicitude and care to preserve your grace from all dangers as I ever thought he had.’ f328 Cranmer was doubtless a weak man; but assuredly it was a proof of some devotion to truth and justice and of some boldness too, thus to plead the cause of the prisoner before a prince so absolute as Henry VIII., and even to express the wish that some efficient successor might be found. Lord Herbert of Cherbury thinks that Cranmer wrote to the king boldly; this is also our opinion. The prince being intolerant of contradiction, this step of the archbishop was more than was needed to ruin him as well as Cromwell.
Meanwhile, the enemies of the prisoner were trying to find other grounds of accusation besides that which they had first brought forward. Indeed, it seemed to some persons a strange thing that he who, under Henry VIII., was head of the church, vice-regent in spiritual affairs, should be a heretic and a patron of heretics; and many found in this charge an ‘occasion of merriment.’ They set to work, therefore, after the blow, to discover offenses on the part the accused. After taking great pains, this is what they discovered and set forth in the bill of attainder: 1. That he had set at liberty some prisoners suspected of treason; a crime indeed in the eyes of a gloomy despot, but in the judgment of men an act of justice and virtue. 2. That he had granted freedom of export of corn, horses, other articles of commerce; the crime of free which would be no crime now. Not a single Instance can be specified in which Cromwell had any present for such license. 3. That he had, a low-born man given places and orders, only that he was sure that the king would approve them. On this point Cromwell might reasonably allege the multiplicity of matters entrusted his care, and the annoyance to which it must have subjected the king, had he continually troubled him decide the most trifling questions. 4. That he given had given permission, both to the king’s subjects to foreigners, to cross the sea ‘without any search.’ This intelligent minister appears to have aimed at an order of things less vexatious and more liberal than that established under Henry VIII., and this respect he stood ahead of his age. 5. That had made a large fortune, that he had lived in great state, and had not duly honored the nobility. There were not a few of the nobles who were far from being honorable, and this great worker had no liking for drones and idlers.
With respect to fortune, Cromwell incurred heavy expenses for the affairs of the realm. In many countries he kept well-paid agents, and the money which he had in his hands was spent more in state affairs than in satisfying his personal wishes. In all this there was more to praise than to blame. But Cromwell had enemies who went further than his official accusers. The Roman Catholics gave out that he had aspired to the hand of the king’s daughter, the Mary. This would have been a strange and sympathetic union, between the Malleus monachorum and the fanatical Mary!
These groundless charges were followed by the true motives for his disgrace. It was alleged he had adopted heretical (that is to say, evangelical) opinions; that he had promoted the circulation of heretical works; that he had settled in the realm many heretical ministers; and that he had men accused of heresy to be set at liberty. That when anyone went to him to make complaint of detestable errors, he defended the heretics severely censured the informers; and that in March last, persons having complained to him of the preachers, he answered that ‘their preaching good.’ For these crimes, the acts of a Christian, honest and beneficent man, condemnation must be pronounced. Cromwell indeed was guilty.
The conduct of the prosecution was entrusted to Richard Rich, formerly speaker of the House of Commons, now solicitor-general and chancellor of the court of augmentations. He had already rendered service to the king in the trials of Bishop Fisher and Sir Thomas More; the same might be expected of him in the trial of Cromwell. It appears that he accused Cromwell of being connected with Throgmorton, the friend and agent of Cardinal Pole. Now the mere mention of Pole’s name would put Henry out of temper. Cromwell’s alliance with this of the pope was the pendant of his scheme of marriage with the lady Mary; the one was as probable as the other. Cromwell wrote from his prison to it the king on the subject, and stoutly denied the fable. It was not introduced into the formal pleadings; but the charge was left vaguely impending over him, and it was reasserted that he was guilty of treason. Cromwell was certainly not faultless. He was above a politician, and political interests had too much weight with him. He was the advocate of some vexatious and unjust measures, and he acted sometimes in opposition to his own principles.
But his main fault was a too servile devotion to the prince who pretended that he had been betrayed by him; and of this he had given a lamentable proof in the case of Anne Boleyn.
His enemies were afraid that, if the trial were conducted openly before his peers according to law, he would make his voice heard and clear himself of all their imputations. They resolved therefore to proceed against him without trial, and without discussion, by the parliamentary method, by bill of attainder; a course pronounced by Roman Catholics themselves ‘a most iniquitous measure.’ He ought to have been tried, and he was not tried. He was, however, confronted on Friday, June 11, the day after his arrest, with one of his accusers, and thus learnt what were the charges, brought against him. Conducted again to the Tower, he became fully aware of the danger which was impending over him. The power of his enemies, Gardiner and Norfolk, the increasing disfavor of Anne of Cleves, which seemed inevitably to involve his own ruin, the proceedings instituted against Barnes and other evangelists, the anger of the king — all these things alarmed him and produced he conviction in his mind that the issue was doubtful and that the danger was certain. He was in a state great distress and deep melancholy; gloomy thoughts oppressed him, and his limbs trembled. The prison has been called the porch of the grave, and indeed looked upon it as a grave. On June 30 he wrote to the king from his gloomy abode an affecting letter, ‘with heavy heart and trembling hand,’ as he himself said.
About the end of June, the duke of Norfolk, the lord chancellor, and the lord high admiral went to the Tower, instructed to examine Cromwell and to make various declarations to him on the part of king. The most important of these related to the marriage of Henry VIII. with Anne of Cleves. They called upon him to state all that he knew touching this marriage, ‘as he might do before God on the dread day of judgment.’ On June 30 Cromwell wrote to the king a letter in which he set forth what he knew on the .subject; and he added: ‘And this is all that I know, most gracious and most merciful sovereign lord, beseeching Almighty God... to counsel you, preserve you, maintain you, remedy you, relieve and defend you, as may be most to your honor, with prosperity, health and comfort of your heart’s desire... [giving you] continuance Nestor’s years... I am a most woeful prisoner, ready to take the death, when it shall please God your majesty; and yet the frail flesh inciteth me continually to call to your grace for mercy and grace for mine offenses and thus Christ save, preserve, keep you. ‘Written at the Tower this Wednesday, the last of June, with the heavy heart and trembling hand your highness’ most heavy and most miserable prisoner and poor slave, ‘THOMAS CRUMWELL.’ After having signed the letter, Cromwell, overpowered with terror at his future prospects, added: — ‘Most gracious prince, I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy.’ f334 The heads of the clerical party, impatient to be of an enemy whom they hated, hurried on the fatal decree. The parliament met on Thursday, 17, seven days after Cromwell’s imprisonment; and Cranmer, who had attended the sittings of the House of Lords on the previous days, was not present on this occasion. The earl of Southampton, who had become lord keeper of the privy seal in Cromwell’s place, entered and presented the bill of attainder against his predecessor. It was read a first time. The second and third readings followed Saturday the 19th. Cranmer, whose absence had probably been noticed, was present; and, according to his lamentable system, adapted to the despotism of his master, after having complied with the dictate oh his conscience by calling to mind the merits of Cromwell, he complied with the will of the king, and by his silence acquiesced in the proceedings of the House. The bill was sent to the lower House. It that the commons raised some scruples or objections, for the bill remained under consideration for ten days. It was not until June 29 that the commons sent the bill back to the peers, with some amendments; and the peers, ever in haste, ordered that the three readings should take place at the same sitting. They then sent it to the king, who gave his assent to it.
The man who was prosecuted had been so powerful that it was feared lest he should regain his strength and begin to advance with fresh energy.
The king, meanwhile, seems to have hesitated. He was less decided than those who at this enjoyed his favor.
Although the lord chancellor, the duke of Norfolk, and lord Russell had come to announce to Cromwell that the bill of attainder had passed, he remained still a whole month in the Tower. The royal commissioners interrogated him at intervals on various subjects. It seems even that the king sent him relief, probably to mitigate the severities of his imprisonment. Cromwell habitually received the king’s commissioners with dignity, and answered with discretion. Whether the questions touched on temporal or ecclesiastical affairs, he ever showed himself better informed than his questioners. f335 Henry sent word to him that he might write anything that he thought meet under his present circumstances. From this, Cromwell appears to have conceived a hope that the king would not permit his sentence to be executed. He took courage and wrote the king. ‘Most gracious king,’ he said. ‘your most lamentable servant and prisoner prostrate at the feet of your most excellent majesty, have heard your pleasure... that I should write... First, where I have been accused to your majesty of treason, to that I say, I never in all my life thought willingly to do that thing that might or should displease your majesty... What labors, pains, and travails I have taken, according to my most bounden duty God also knoweth... If it had been or were in my power, to make your majesty so puissant, as all the world should be compelled to obey you, Christ he knoweth I would, . . for your majesty hath been... more like a dear father... than a master... Should any faction or any affection to any point make me a traitor to your majesty, then all the devils in hell confound me, and the vengeance of God light upon me... Yet our Lord, if it be his will, can do with me as he did with Susan, who was falsely accused... Other hope than in God and your majesty I have not... Amongst other things, most gracious sovereign, master comptroller showed me that your grace showed him that within these fourteen days ye committed a matter of great secrecy, which I did reveal... This I did... I spoke privily with her [the queen’s] lord chamberlain... desiring him... to find some mean that the queen might be induced to order your grace pleasantly in her behavior towards you... If I have offended your majesty therein, prostrate at your majesty’s feet I most lowly ask mercy and pardon of your highness... Written with the quaking hand and most sorrowful heart of your most sorrowful subject and most humble servant and prisoner, this Saturday at your [Tower] of London. ‘THOMAS CRUMWELL.’ f336 Cromwell was resigned to death; and the principal object of his concern was the fate of his son, his grandchildren, and likewise of his domestic servants. His son was in a good position, having married a sister of the queen Jane Seymour. ‘Sir, upon my knees,’ he said, ‘I most humbly beseech your gracious majesty to be good and gracious lord to my poor son, the good and virtuous woman his wife, and their poor children and also to my servants. And this I desire of your grace for Christ’s sake.’ The unhappy father, returning to his own case, finished by saying, ‘Most gracious prince, mercy, mercy, mercy!’ Cromwell wrote twice in this manner; and the king was so much affected by the second of these letters that he ‘commanded it thrice to be read to him.’ f338 Would Cromwell then, after all, escape? Those who were ignorant of what was passing at court looked upon it as impossible that he should be sacrificed so long as Anne of Cleves was queen of England. But the very circumstances which seemed to them the guarantee of his safety were to be instead the occasion of his ruin.
Henry’s dislike to his wife was ever increasing, and was determined to get rid of her. But, as usual, concealed beneath flowers the weapon with which he was about to strike her. In the month of March, the king gave, in honor of the queen, a grand fate with a tournament, as he had done for Anne Boleyn; amongst the numerous combatants, who took part in the jousting were Sir Thomas Seymour, the earl Sussex, Harry Howard, and Richard Cromwell, of the earl of Essex, and ancestor of the great Protector Oliver. f339 One circumstance contributed to hasten the decision of the king. There was at the court a young small lady of stature, of a good figure and beautiful countenance, of ladylike manners, coquettish and forward, who at this time made a deep impression on Henry. This was Catherine Howard, a niece of the duke of Norfolk, now residing with her grandmother, the duchess dowager, who allowed her great liberty.
Katherine was in every respect a contrast to Anne of Cleves. Henry resolved to marry and for this purpose to get rid forthwith of his present wife. As he was desirous of being provisionally relieved of her presence, he persuaded her that a change of air would be very beneficial to her and that it was necessary that she should make a stay in the country. On June 24 he sent the good princess, who felt grateful for his attentions, to Richmond. At the same time he dispatched the bishop of Bath to her brother, the duke of Cleves, with a view to prepare him for the very unexpected decision which was impending over his sister, and to avert any vexatious consequences. f340 Cromwell, then, had no aid to look for at the hands of a queen already forsaken and ere long repudiated. He could not hope to escape death. His enemies were urgent for the execution of the bill. They professed to have discovered a correspondence which he had carried on with the Protestant princes of Germany. f341 Cromwell’s determination to offer no opposition to the king led him to commit serious mistakes, unworthy of a Christian. Nevertheless, according to documents still extant, he died like a Christian. He was not the first, nor the last, who in the presence of death, of capital punishment, has examined himself, and confessed himself a sinner. While he spurned the accusations made by his enemies, he humbled himself before the weightier and more solemn accusations of his own conscience. How often had his own will been opposed to the commandments of the divine will! But at the same time he discovered in the Gospel the grace which he had but imperfectly known; and the doctrines which the Catholic church of the first ages had professed became dear to him.
On July 28, 1540, Cromwell was taken to Tower Hill, the place of execution. On reaching the scaffold he said: ‘I am come hither to die, and not to purge myself... For since the time that I have had years of discretion, I have lived a sinner and offended my Lord God, for the which I ask Him heartily forgiveness. And it is not unknown to many of you that I have been a great traveler in this world, and being but of a base degree, was called to high estate; and since the time I came thereunto I have offended my prince, for the which I ask him heartily forgiveness, and beseech you all to pray to God with me, that He will forgive me. O Father forgive me!
O Son, forgive me! O Holy Ghost, forgive me! O Three Persons in one God, forgive me!... I die in the Catholic faith... I heartily desire you to pray for the king’s grace, that he may long live with you in health and prosperity.’
By insisting in so marked a manner on the doctrine of the Trinity, professed in the fourth century by the councils of Nicaea and Constantinople, Cromwell doubtless intended to show that this was the Catholic doctrine in which he asserted that he died. But he did not omit to give evidence that his faith was that of the Scriptures.
After his confession, he knelt down, and at this solemn hour he uttered this Christian and fervent prayer: ‘O Lord Jesu! which art the only health of all men living and the everlasting life of them which die in thee I, wretched sinner, do submit myself wholly unto thy most blessed will, and being sure that the thing cannot perish which is committed unto thy mercy, willingly now I leave this frail and wicked flesh, in sure hope that thou wilt, in better wise, restore it to me again at the last day in the resurrection of the just. I beseech thee, most merciful Lord Jesus Christ! that thou wilt by thy grace make strong my soul against all temptations, and defend me with the buckler of thy mercy against all the assaults of the devil. I see and acknowledge that there is in myself no hope of salvation, but all my confidence, hope, and trust is in thy most merciful goodness. I have no merits nor good works which I may allege before thee. Of sins and evil works, alas! I see a great heap; but yet through thy mercy I trust to be in the number of them to whom thou wilt not impute their sins; but wilt take and accept me for righteous and just, and to be the inheritor of everlasting life. Thou, merciful Lord! wast born for my sake; thou didst suffer both hunger and thirst for my sake; thou didst teach, pray, and fast for my sake; all thy holy actions and works thou wroughtest for my sake; thou sufferedst most grievous pains and torments for my sake; finally, thou gavest thy most precious body and thy blood to be shed on the cross for my sake. Now, most merciful Savior! let all these things profit me, that thou freely hast done for me, which hast given thyself also for me. Let thy blood cleanse and wash away the spots and foulness of my sins. Let thy righteousness hide and cover my unrighteousness. Let the merits of thy passion and blood-shedding be satisfaction for my sins. Give me, Lord! thy grace, that the faith of my salvation in thy blood waver not in me, but may ever be firm and constant; that the hope of thy mercy and life everlasting never decay in me that love wax not cold in me. Finally, that the weakness of my flesh be not overcome with the fear of death. Grant me, merciful Savior! that when death hath shut up the eyes of my body, yet the eyes of my soul may still behold and look upon thee; and when death hath taken away the use of my tongue, yet my heart may cry and say unto thee, “Lord! into thy hands I commend my soul; Lord Jesu! receive my spirit!” Amen.’ f343 This is one of the most beautiful prayers handed down to us in Christian times.
Cromwell having finished his prayer and being now ready, a stroke of the axe severed his head from his body.
Thus died a man who, although he had risen from the lowliest to the loftiest estate, never allowed himself to be seduced by pride, nor made giddy by the pomps of the world, who continued attached to his old acquaintances, and was eager to honor the meanest who had rendered him any service; a man who powerfully contributed to the establishment of Protestantism in England, although his enemies, unaware of the very different meanings of the words ‘Catholicism’ and ‘Popery,’ took pleasure in circulating the report in Europe, after his death, that he died a Roman Catholic; a man who for eight years governed his country, the king, the parliament, and convocation, who had the direction of all domestic as well as foreign affairs; who executed what he had advised, and who, in spite of the blots which he himself lamented, was one of the most intelligent, most active, and most influential of English ministers. It is said that the king ere long regretted him. However this may be, he protected his son and gave him proofs of his favor, doubtless in remembrance of his father.
Another nobleman, Walter, lord Hungerford, was beheaded at the same time with Cromwell, for having endeavored to ascertain, by ‘conjuring,’ how long the king would live. f346