Thomas Cromwell and Calais

Bernard, G.W. (2007) Thomas Cromwell and Calais. Southampton University Website, 1-111.


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In this paper, drawing on research in The National
Archives, I discuss the claim that Thomas Cromwell protected religious
radicals in Calais in the late 1530s. It has become a seemingly
impregnable orthodoxy that Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII's leading
minister, was a religious reformer, though exactly what kind is less often
considered. Whatever the finer points of his theological standpoint,
Cromwell is then confidently presented as pressing Henry VIII into ever
more protestant directions, and consequently leaving himself vulnerable
to the charges of religious radicalism that ultimately brought him down
in 1540. And on this view Cromwell supposedly used Calais as a sort of
laboratory or model for the religious reforms that he supposedly sought,
reforms that - it is asserted - went beyond what Henry VIII was willing
to accept in England. Such an account is, I aim to show, seriously
misleading. Cromwell emerges as the king’s servant, not as the leader of
some proto-protestant faction.
More positively, my study aims to offers intriguing insights into the
character of the church as it developed after the break with Rome. If
these events in Calais have too long been misunderstood, nonetheless
they have a wider significance. Here, as early as the late 1530s, we can
see features that would characterise church and state over a much longer
period, not least in the reigns of Elizabeth, James and Charles I. Here we
have fears of papists and papist plots, with suspicions that a leading nobleman in a position of authority and strategic importance, Lord Lisle,
Lord Deputy of Calais, owed greater loyalty to the pope than to the
monarch. Here we have fears of religious radicalism and the associated
undermining of social order as preachers were seen as ridiculing existing
church services. Here we have charges of papist sympathies by one side
and of religious radicalism by the other, dismissed in turn as exaggerated
or prejudiced. Here we have damaging accusations against those in
authority in church and state, of encouraging, or turning a blind eye to,
what they were expected to repress. Here we have royal government
somewhere in the middle, denouncing the pope and rejecting blatant
superstition, but also denouncing religious extremism. None of this was
trivial. Lives and liberties were at stake: those who fell foul of
accusations, whether well-founded, whether malicious, found themselves
subject to interrogation, trial, even death. Compared to the late 1530s,
accusations of popery and of religious radicalism were no doubt sharper
in the years following Queen Elizabeth’s suspension of Archbishop
Grindal in the late 1570s, and fears of popery and fears of religious
radicalism were undoubtedly more heightened and more persuasive in
1640-42. Yet this study of events in Calais in the late 1530s reveals,
already, the same potentially explosive mixture of divisions and
suspicions. Not just in the long run but also very immediately, all this
was the complex and often unhappy consequence of Henry VIII’s break
with Rome and the very distinctive reformation which he had embraced.

Item Type: Article
Related URLs:
Subjects: D History General and Old World > D History (General) > D111 Medieval History
Divisions : University Structure - Pre August 2011 > School of Humanities > History
ePrint ID: 48792
Accepted Date and Publication Date:
12 November 2007Published
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2007
Last Modified: 31 Mar 2016 12:25

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