16. [Live] Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn: Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch (1536)

The Fall of Anne Boleyn

“I think Anne Boleyn’s fatal mistake was to snigger at the King in the presence of handsome young men. And I don’t think she did anything more than that.” - (Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch)


Thomas Cromwell, a self-described “ruffian”, was King Henry VIII’s chief minister in the 1530s. He was clever, driven and ruthless, qualities that have captivated novelists and historians for generations as they have attempted to capture his mysterious essence.


The year 1536 saw Cromwell at the peak of his career. As chief administrator of the realm he had vast and wide-ranging powers, but he also had enemies. Prominent among these was the King’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. In one of the most infamous episodes in all of English history, the spring of 1536 saw Cromwell and Anne in combat for their lives. The story concluded with Anne Boleyn’s execution at the Tower of London in May.


Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch and Thomas Cromwell

In this live episode of Travels Through Time, recorded at the Buxton International Festival, we revisit the high-wire act of Henry VIII’s court with Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch of the University of Oxford. Diarmaid is a hugely respected scholar of Tudor England and the Reformation and last year he published his authoritative Thomas Cromwell: A Life.


In three tantalising scenes, Diarmaid guides us through 1536 from Thomas Cromwell’s point of view. He shows us a plot, a rebellion and a triumph: scenes that take us to the very heart of one of the pivotal times in English history.


Scene One: 24 May 1536: Ambassador Eustache Chapuys and Thomas Cromwell debriefing after the execution of Anne Boleyn. The inside story of Tudor politics and Cromwell's quiet alliance with the Lady Mary against Queen Anne.


Scene Two: The moment (no direct information, so supposition necessary) around 3 October 1536 when King Henry VIII was told of the Lincolnshire Rising, after the government had been looking in the wrong place for trouble.


Scene Three: 22 December 1536: Thomas Cromwell sits in his house at the Rolls listening to the sounds of the magnificent procession of the King from Whitehall to Greenwich down Fleet Street. He and the King have apparently yielded to all the demands of the Pilgrims of the North and their leader Robert Aske is due to spend Christmas with the King. In fact, after the remarkable turnaround in November, the King is backing Cromwell and will betray the rebels.


Memento: The keyboard that Mark Smeaton played for Anne Boleyn


Thomas Cromwell: A Life by Thomas Cromwell by Diarmaid MacCulloch is now available in paperback from Penguin


Credits

Presenter: Peter Moore


Guest: Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch


Recording/Live Mix: Hannah Griffiths


Post production: Maria Nolan


More from History Today

Derek Wilson on Thomas Cromwell: Brewer’s Boy Made Good


Andy Holroyde on Predicting the Fall of Anne Boleyn


Suzannah Lipscomb on Who Was Henry VIII?