How significant were the actions taken by Thomas Cromwell in strengthening royal authority in the short-term?
by smasha123 (student)
Sasha GrovesCandidate Number: 1119Centre Number: 15205 How significant were the actions taken by Thomas Cromwell in strengthening royal authority in the short-term? As chief minister to Henry VIII between 1533 and 1540, Thomas Cromwell ‘laid [religious] foundations that did not crumble for centuries’, and as a result, permanently changed the course of English history. There is therefore no doubt that Cromwell played a significant role in the events which defined the 1530’s, although there is debate regarding whether it was the King or his Minister who orchestrated such changes. This essay will assess the short-term significance of Cromwell’s actions, by considering the consequences up to twenty years after they were undertaken, and analyse the effect that they had on Henry’s royal authority in terms of the increase in his power as King. It will consider Cromwell’s involvement in religious policy in bringing the church under Royal control and dissolving the monasteries, and his role in moulding Henry’s government into an efficient administration and increasing the importance of statute law. Cromwell’s actions certainly strengthened Henry’s authority in the short-term by extending royal sovereignty, increasing the status of parliament and ensuring that religious changes were enforced without opposition. Whilst the English Reformation was part of the wider process of the European Protestant Reformation, it is Cromwell who is often attributed as its main driving force in England. Described by Elton as ‘the most remarkable revolutionary in English history’, only Cromwell could devise a way out for the King who desired decisive action to secure a male heir, and consequently, dynastic stability. The Reformation itself was a series of complex processes and manoeuvrings which asserted secular control over Catholicism by supressing its institutions and breaking with papal authority. Regardless of interpretation, it is accepted that Cromwell was at the very least responsible for drafting the legislation which formalised England’s break from Rome. Elton believes that Cromwell ‘seized the unique opportunities presented by Henry’s marital problems’ to turn England into a unified, independent sovereign state. An excerpt from the introduction to the 1533 Act in Restraint of Appeals, written by Cromwell himself, supports this view. It states that the ‘realm of England is an Empire’ which ‘has been accepted so in the world’, to be governed by ‘one supreme head and King’. This Act argued that Englishmen should not have an automatic right to appeal to Rome on issues of religion since England was an independent
This is a preview of the whole essay
political body in which all power derived from the monarch. Cromwell, acting as the King’s chief minister, passed the Act through Parliament to appear as though the will of the people had been listened to, as an alternative to Henry imposing the Act on his deeply religious subjects. We can assume that the source is useful since it is a statute and therefore has a legal authority, and the fact that it was written by Cromwell raises the possibility (coupled with Elton’s thesis), that Cromwell himself spearheaded the Reformation. However, one must be aware of Cromwell’s possible agenda in orchestrating this change because this could challenge its reliability since we do not know Cromwell’s true intentions and whether it was passed more for his own gains. Since the break from Rome extended royal sovereignty across the kingdom,  the notion that Cromwell himself engineered the events of the Reformation increases the significance of his role in drafting the legislation as Henry’s power was clearly asserted. Cromwell was also responsible for drafting the 1534 Act of Supremacy which established the absolute sovereignty of the King-in-Parliament and stripped the Pope of his jurisdiction over the English Church.  The Act itself states that ‘the king’s Majesty justly and rightfully is and ought to be the supreme head of the Church of England’. It can be argued that this contemporary source is useful since it illustrates the very roots with which the secular arm of power became dominant over its ecclesiastical rival within Henry’s reign. However, whilst it illustrates Parliament’s intention, the Act alone is not evidence that Henry’s authority was truly strengthened since it is not known how it was received by his subjects in the localities. It is clear that Cromwell was of importance in formalising the recognition of Henry as a constitutional monarch and the divinely appointed supreme head of an independent Church of England; although it is not clear to what degree he was responsible. However, it is irrefutable that he had at least a partial role to play and the large extent to which royal authority was increased in the King’s realm is evidence that Cromwell’s action in drafting the primary legislation of the break with Rome was of paramount significance. Cromwell was also instrumental in dissolving England’s monasteries. Scarisbrick describes the process as the ‘first function of a Supreme Head empowered by statute “to visit, extirp and redress”’. Pollard on the other hand raises the notion that it was in fact Cromwell who was said to ‘rule everything’, since whilst all three were done, it was the hand of Cromwell (acting as Vicegerent) who undertook the task and gained the wealth of England’s monastic order for the King. The presence of the many monasteries in England was a remnant of papal jurisdiction and a reminder of the survival of Catholic ideals despite England’s break with Rome. In 1535, Cromwell ordered his most trusted servants (including Leigh and Layton), to compile information on and assess England’s monastic houses (resulting in the Valor Ecclesiasticus), and by 1540 all religious houses were closed. An extract from Cromwell’s Inspectors at Ramsey Monastery in 1535 makes it clear as to how the poor behaviour of a few monks could be used as a justification to dissolve the monasteries. It states that the ‘dormitory is in a state of disrepair’ and that the monks ‘sometimes shoot arrows in the fields in unbecoming attire’. Cromwell’s enquiry into the monasteries was perhaps intended to prove that the monasteries were corrupt and required reform. Therefore, one must be aware of the possible bias of this contemporary source since elements may be exaggerated in order to ‘collect incriminating data that could be used to manipulate Parliament into authorising mandatory dissolution’. An extract from the Dissolution of the Lesser Monasteries Act 1536 further emphasises this notion, suggesting that ‘Manifest sin, vicious, carnal and abominable living, is daily used and committed’. This extract is useful for providing an insight into why the monasteries were perhaps dissolved, although it is likely to be biased as Cromwell desired to suppress the monasteries and therefore it may not be wholly reliable since he intended to convince Henry. As evidence shows, Cromwell was of pivotal importance in the dissolution of the monasteries. Aside from the Pilgrimage of Grace, Henry faced little opposition, and regardless of Cromwell’s agenda it is clear that his actions had a discernible impact upon royal authority. The suppression of the monasteries strengthened the crown’s position and even just a proportion of a regular monastery’s ‘income of £136,000’ per annum proved immensely valuable to the crown, as seen by the creation of the Court of Augmentation to deal with the former monastic lands. Cromwell alone also created a revised machinery of government whose principle was a bureaucratic organisation in place of the personal control of the royal household. This meant that Henry could rule as Supreme Head of state with the power to not only regulate laws and courts, but also to determine doctrine and ritual. Cromwell furthermore made the English Reformation enforceable via the utilisation of statue law; through which he (and therefore Henry) controlled all parts of the realm. Elton states that parliamentary statute was deemed universally binding and was ‘to be obeyed’, which in turn rendered canon law subordinate. An excerpt from the 1534 Act of Dispensations supports this, in which it explicitly declares that canonical sanctions were insufficient since they ‘be but humayne’, and so did not represent a superior law by which statute must be judged. This Act is reliable in showing how parliamentary statute became important since it has a legal authority and was simply intended to make clear the supremacy of statute law above the law of Christendom. However, one must be aware that statute law was deliberately empowered to suppress opposition and therefore its supremacy was a given. Furthermore, Cromwell’s role in the honing of the Treason Act, in which treason became ‘any comment against the Church was seen as a comment against its head’ was particularly effective in dealing with the Pilgrimage of Grace. In this way, statute law became the most public and authoritative way for Henry to embody his new changes. To conclude, in orchestrating the solution to the King’s ‘Great Matter’, Cromwell singlehandedly revolutionised the relationship between the Church and the State and as a result, clearly strengthened Henry’s royal authority. It would be fair to suggest therefore; that Cromwell’s radical proposal which finally gave the King hope was perhaps the sole reason for his ascent to prominence. Cromwell’s role in the Reformation was crucial in asserting England’s autonomy as a national sovereignty by bringing the church under Royal control and governing the lives of the King’s subjects in the realm under one power alone. However, it was arguably Cromwell’s empowerment of parliamentary statute, in reducing canon law to being ‘contrarious to the….Crowne regal jurisdiccion’, which ensured that Henry’s changes could not be met with such fierce resistance that they resulted in failure. Part A - 1553 words  Elton (1978), pg 295.  All historians agree that Cromwell played a significant role but it is debateable whether Cromwell merely responded to the opportunities that Henry VIII presented him with, or whether events would have considerably differed without his presence.  However, England’s Reformation was devoid of great religious reformers such as Luther and Calvin.  Scarisbrick argues that whilst Henry was ‘often helpless without his servants’ (pg 304), the Reformation was due to Henry’s motivations and wishes rather than Cromwell’s, and that it was simply Cromwell’s genius which fulfilled his desires.  Dawson (1993), pg 180.  For 15 years Cardinal Wolsey was arguably as powerful as the King but he could not solve the King’s ‘Great Matter’ (a divorce from Catherine of Aragon).  Dawson (1993), pg 180.  Anderson and Imperato, (2001), pg 126, Source E.  Whereby elements of anti-clericalism already existed. (It had listed grievances against the Church as early as 1529).  Furthermore, the 1536 Act of Union with Wales reorganised local government in the principality and the borderlands of the marches. The 1536 Act against Liberties and Franchises further prevented franchises and liberties offering general freedoms from the King’s officers and laws.  It can be argued that Cromwell could have achieved divorces and supremacies with the aid of and behalf of any King, but that Henry could never have achieved what he did without his chief minister.  This was government by the King. Some of the King’s functions, particularly the making of the law, were carried out in Parliament rather than by the King alone.  This allowed Lutheran principles to make their way into the Church and led to the birth of Puritanism.  Henry VIII’s Act of Supremacy (1534) – original text. http://www.britainexpress.com/History/tudor/supremacy-henry-text.htm  Scarisbrick, (1968), pg 337  Pollard, (1902), pg 255 Cromwell was appointed as Vicegerent in Spirituals in January 1535. This meant that the power of the church was also passed to a layman (Cromwell) who exercised the extensive powers vested in the Supreme head to make bishops comply with the King’s will.  Henry VIII himself was not opposed to monasteries as such but his policy was anti-papal, whereby he saw monasteries as a foci of papal jurisdiction and resistance to the break with Rome. Cromwell on the other hand was anti-monastic and sought abolition on the grounds of superstition (monasteries, shrines, veneration of saints and images, pilgrimages, purgatory).  Source D, www.ecclesbourne.derbyshire.sch.uk/ecclesbourne/content/subsites/history/files/Year%2520Seven/The%2520Closing%2520of%2520the%2520Monasteries.doc  Quote by Guy, as found in Armstrong, (2008), pg 121  Original text of the Act, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dissolution_of_the_Lesser_Monasteries_Act  Hayward, (2009), pg 254.  The royal household tended to breakdown when the King was not active and powerful. Bureaucratic institutions did not depend on the King’s personal efforts and functioned effectively regardless of what the monarch was like.  Elton, (1982), pg 238.  Elton, (2003), pg 232.  http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/cromwell_law_order.htm  Elton, (2003), pg 232.