Thomas Cromwell's hoard of religious art

The 16th century politician who stripped England's monasteries of their wealth had his own stash of religious art, a recent study has revealed.

Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister, had dozens of religious artefacts in his London home, according to an inventory of his belongings.

Dr Nick Holder, of Exeter University, carried out the research which has been published in the Journal of the British Archaeological Association.

He said: “We think of Cromwell as Henry VIII’s henchman, carrying out his policy, including closing down the monasteries, and we know that by about 1530 Cromwell became one of the new Evangelical Protestants.

“But when you look at the inventory of his house in the 1520s, he doesn’t seem such a religious radical, he seems more of a traditional English Catholic.

“He’s got various religious paintings on the wall, he’s got his own holy relic, which is very much associated with traditional Catholics, not with the new Evangelicals. And he’s even got a home altar.”

The son of a London brewer, Thomas Crowell rose to become Henry’s VIII’s most powerful first minister. By 1633 he was Lord Chancellor, a post previously occupied by Thomas More.

Cromwell filled the king’s coffers by stripping the monasteries of their wealth. He engineered Anne Boleyn’s execution and King Henry’s marriage to Anne of Cleeves.

However, Cromwell fell from grace and, following charges of heresy and corruption, he was beheaded on 28 July 1540.

Picture © National Portrait Gallery

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