Thomas Cromwell and Calais

Bernard, G.W. (2007) Thomas Cromwell and Calais Southampton University Website, pp. 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.

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ePrint ID: 48792
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Date Event
12 November 2007Published
Date Deposited: 15 Oct 2007
Last Modified: 16 Apr 2017 18:21
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