Thomas Cromwell was born in 1485, the same year as the Battle Of Bosworth which ended The War Of The Roses. He was a blacksmith’s son. He had a modest childhood and left London for Europe when he was a teenager. He spent much of his early adulthood in Europe, firstly engaging in war in the French army. Later on he became an accountant and merchant in Italy. He returned to England around 1512, studied law and married a wealthy widow. In 1520, he took a major career move, he became legal secretary for Cardinal Wolsey who was in service to Henry VIII. Wolsey became Cromwell’s mentor and quickly elevated his career. In 1523, Cromwell became an MP, where he greatly extended the power of the house.However, Wolsey was to fall out of favour with King Henry due to his failure of brokering the divorce between Henry VIII & Catherine of Aragon. Wosley died in 1530 on his way to stand trial for treason. Cromwell was upset due to his friend’s demise but for the impending end of his own career.
After this huge setback, Cromwell had to earn the king’s confidences directly. He rose quickly after creating an intelligent method so that Henry could divorce Catherine. By 1532, he was the Henry’s chief minister. He was Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1533, Vicar General in 1535 and Lord Privy Seal in 1536.The Pope had refused to annul Henry’s marriage to Catherine. To get around this, Cromwell suggested Henry make an alliance with Rome and place himself as head of an English church. Thus came The Church Of England. The alliance with Rome led to the closing of hundreds of religious houses. Between 1536 and 1540 Cromwell administered over the destruction of eight hundred monasteries, with their wealth passing to the British Royal Family. He was well-rewarded. Henry personally appointed him to the Order of the Garter and then created him the title, Earl of Essex in 1540.
His spies reported from all parts of England, Scotland and Wales. His powers (Henry’s powers) seemed limitless. He was responsible for the arrest and execution of Sir Thomas More in 1535. He had been avid burner of heretics. Amongst Roman Catholics, he is known as Sir Thomas More.In 1540, Cromwell persuaded Henry to marry Anne of Cleves. She was a German princess who was a member of a Protestant defensive alliance. Henry had executed his second wife, Anne Boleyn while his third wife Jane Seymour, had died following child-birth. Cromwell hoped that the marriage to the German princess would secure support against the Catholic Holy Roman Emperor, and strengthen the bonds of Protestantism. The marriage was a disaster and the alliance failed. In order to invalidate the marriage, Henry had to give demeaning proof of its breakdown in a church court. He was angry and revoked his backing from Cromwell.
Powerful men always make perilous mistakes. He was a spider and had generally been distrusted, disliked and revered by many in Henry’s court due to his arrogance and working-class origins. He was still a commoner in the eyes of many. The Duke Of Norfolk and Cromwell had never seen to eye-to-eye. Not long after being raised to the Earldom of Essex, he had his final battle with the Norfolk, his fate was sealed. He was charged with heresy, treason and corruption. He pleaded for mercy but was executed at the Tower of London nonetheless on 28 July 1540.
A Song Of Ice & Fire author, George R.R Martin may have based the character Petyr Baelish off Thomas Cromwell. The parallels are uncanny such as: both being from a working class background and bettering themselves. Petyr Baelish is from a tiny piece of land in The Fingers of The Vale. His family knew Hoster Tully and they sent him to Riverrun to be raised with the Tully children; Edmure, Catelyn & Lysa. This was his taste of the finer things.
In comparison Thomas Cromwell knew The Boleyn Family. That was his foot in the door. They both have spies in their employ. The final parallel is that they are both married into wealth. Cromwell married a wealthy widow, Elizabeth Wycks and Petyr Baelish married Lysa Arryn of The Vale. He married her for political status but made her think that he loved her and then he eventually killed her and made himself Lord Of The Vale. In A Clash Of Kings, he thwarts Varys’ plans to give Sansa Stark to the Tyrells. A loose comparison could be when Cromwell scuppers the attempt to create the alliance between England and Germany by attempting to marry Henry VIII & Anne Of Cleves.
I will finish with a comparison between the ranks. I mentioned earlier that Cromwell achieved: Chief Minister (1532), Chancellor Of The Exchequer (1533), Vicar General (1535) and Lord Privy Seal (1536). Baelish rose through the ranks through the chaos of war. “Chaos isn’t a pit, chaos is a ladder….”. Baelish achieved Lord Paramount of the Trident, Lord Of Harrenhal, Lord Protector of the Vale & Master of Coin (formerly).
“A very small man can cast a very large shadow”
It seems this quote is personified through Petyr Baelish.