Thomas Cromwell – a brief summary

Like his mentor Cardinal Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell came from a modest background: his father was variously a cloth merchant, fuller and blacksmith, and the owner of both a brewery and a hostelry (where he allegedly watered down the beer). Born around 1485 in Putney, Cromwell’s birthplace is now, ironically, where the Green Man public house stands. He acknowledged that he had been a ‘ruffian in his younger days’, when he left his family for the Continent and became a mercenary who marched with the French army. He later entered the household of the Florentine banker, Francesco Frescobaldi.

Thomas CromwellReturning to England, he married Elizabeth Wyckes and had three children. In 1523, he became a member of the House of Commons, and in 1524, he was elected as a member of Gray’s Inn and entered the service of Cardinal Wolsey. He served Wolsey as his lawyer and was heavily involved in the dissolution of nearly thirty monasteries, which raised the funds to found both The King’s School, Ipswich and Cardinal College, Oxford. When Wolsey fell from power in 1530 he was appointed to the Privy Council.

(Pictured: Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein the Younger, c1532).

Thomas Cromwell was possessed with genuine reforming zeal and a loathing for what he perceived to be the superstitions and corruptions of the Catholic monks. Along with his fellow Protestants, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cranmer, he was instrumental in the achievement of the break with Rome. At the height of his career, Cromwell was central to the annulment of the marriage to Catherine, the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, the execution of Thomas More, and the dissolution of the monasteries. In 1536 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Cromwell of Wimbledon, and in April 1540 he became Earl of Essex. Yet his support for the disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves led to his abrupt downfall in 1540, followed by his botched execution on 28 July 1540 and his head on a pike on London Bridge. He was 55 years old when he died.

That other famous Cromwell, Oliver Cromwell, the Parliamentarian leader during the English Civil War and later Lord Protector, was a great-great-grandson of Thomas Cromwell’s sister, Katherine Williams, whose husband assumed the Cromwell name.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas Cranmer and Thomas More.

Thomas More – a summary

A dominant intellectual force of his generation, a devout Catholic and lawyer whose interests extended to philosophy, statesmanship and humanism, Thomas More was born 7 February 1478, the son of Sir John More, himself a successful lawyer and judge. Thomas studied at Oxford and then Lincoln’s Inn before being called to the Bar in 1502. Elected to Parliament in 1504, he became increasingly influential as an adviser to Henry VIII. In 1521, he assisted Henry in writing the Assertio, a formal response to the Protestant radical Martin Luther’s attack on Catholicism. In 1523, More became the Speaker of the House of Commons, and succeeded Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529.

Thomas MoreMore became increasingly worried about Henry’s leanings towards the Protestant Reformation, which he considered to be heretical. He had earlier assisted Wolsey in preventing the spread of the writings of Luther, and was later to suppress the use of William Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament in churches. His spiritual life is reputed to have included practices such as wearing a hair shirt next to his skin and occasional self-flagellation.

(Pictured: Sir Thomas More painted by Hans Holbein the Younger, 1527).

In 1530, More refused to sign a letter from leading churchmen and aristocrats to Pope Clement VII requesting the annulment of Henry’s marriage to Catherine, and by May 1532 he was forced to resign as Lord Chancellor. After refusing to attend the coronation of Anne Boleyn a year later, he was charged with accepting bribes and conspiracy but successfully defended himself. When he and John Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, refused to take the Oath of Supremacy or to acknowledge that Catherine’s marriage was lawfully annulled, he was arrested for treason in 1534 and imprisoned in the Tower of London.

God’s servant first

In July 1535, More was brought to trial. A lawyer to the last, he sought to rely on the legal precedent that ‘who is silent is seen to consent’ and he argued that he could not be convicted of high treason for failing to take the Oath of Supremacy if he did not expressly deny that the king was the Supreme Head of the Church. However, the Solicitor-General Richard Rich testified that More had made such a denial in his presence, and although this testimony was highly dubious, it took just fifteen minutes for the jury to find More guilty. Mounting the steps of the scaffold on 6 July 1535, More said ‘see me safe up and for my coming down, I can shift for myself’, and declared that he died ‘the king’s good servant, but God’s first’. In 1935, Pope Pius XI canonized both Thomas More and John Fisher.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell.

Thomas Cranmer – a brief summary

In 1503, at the age of 14, Thomas Cranmer was sent to Jesus College, Cambridge, where he was later ordained and named as one of the university’s preachers, and became an admirer of the humanist Desiderius Erasmus. From 1529 onwards he was involved in advising Thomas Wolsey on the theological issues surrounding the ‘King’s Great Matter’, Henry VIII’s need to find a better wife than Catherine of Aragon to provide him with a son and heir.

Cranmer and Anne Boleyn

Thomas CranmerIn 1532 Cranmer was appointed the resident ambassador at the court of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, but unsurprisingly he was unable to persuade Charles to support the annulment of his aunt Catherine’s marriage. Despite this failure, Cranmer was appointed the new Archbishop of Canterbury, a promotion secured by the family of Anne Boleyn, whom he had served as family chaplain. In June 1533 it was Cranmer who crowned Anne as queen.

When Thomas Cromwell accused Anne of various sexual infidelities in 1536, Cranmer expressed his doubts as to her alleged guilt in a letter to Henry, but it went unheeded. On 16 May he saw Anne in the Tower of London and heard her last confession before pronouncing her marriage to Henry null and void the following day.

In 1539, Cranmer wrote the preface to the new Great Bible in English. He also officiated in the wedding ceremony of Henry and Anne of Cleves, and led the synod which quickly annulled the marriage.After Thomas Cromwell’s execution, Cranmer assumed a prominent political position, being delegated the tricky task of telling Henry about the marital indiscretions of Catherine Howard. When several conservative clergymen plotted against him in 1543, Henry showed total support for Cranmer and the plot failed. Cranmer acted as an executor to Henry’s final will, and grew a beard, partly in mourning for the king and partly to signify his rejection of the old Catholic Church.

Burnt at the stake

Mary Tudor (queen)When the death of Edward VI, in 1553, ushered in the Catholic ‘Bloody Mary’ (pictured) as queen, the conservative clergy were restored to power. Cranmer was arrested (along with fellow Protestants Hugh Latimer and Nicholas Ridley) and was left to languish in prison in Oxford for two years awaiting trial for heresy, during which Rome deprived him of the archbishopric. Despite a full recantation that should have led to a reprieve under Canon Law, Mary was determined to see him executed, as Latimer and Ridley were.

On 21 March 1556 Cranmer was expected to make a final humiliating recantation from the pulpit of the University Church, Oxford, but he deviated from the prepared script and renounced all his previous recantations, saying, ‘And as for the pope, I refuse him, as Christ’s enemy, and Antichrist with all his false doctrine.’

He was pulled from the pulpit and burned at the stake.

Henry VIIISimon Court.

Henry VIII: History In An Hour, published by William Collins, part of HarperCollins, is available in various digital formats, only 99p / $1.99, and downloadable audio.

See also Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell.

Imre Nagy’s re-interment, 16 June 1989, Budapest

In Budapest, on 16 June 1989, a solemn and symbolic ceremony was held. On this day, almost thirty-three years after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Imre Nagy was re-interred and, 31 years after his execution, honoured with a funeral befitting a man of his stature. Tens of thousands of people lined the routes and crowded into Heroes’ Square, paying their respects to the great man who, more than anyone, had symbolised the hope and the ultimate defeat of the Uprising.

Hungarian flagAlongside him, the coffins of four other leading participants of the Hungarian Revolution, and next to them, a sixth coffin – an empty one to commemorate all the victims of Soviet and communist repression during 1956. Shops and businesses were closed, schools given the day off. In the square, flowers and wreaths lay everywhere, Corinthian pillars were decked in black and white, Hungarian flags with the central Soviet emblem removed, and people with bowed heads, united by grief and ingrained memories.

Defeated

Imre Nagy had died exactly thirty-one years previously, on 16 June 1958, less than two years after the communists, with their Soviet masters, had quashed the uprising and re-established one-party rule.

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Galeazzo Ciano – a summary

In 1930, the dashing and rich 27-year-old Galeazzo Ciano married Edda Mussolini, daughter to the Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Six years later, he became Mussolini’s foreign minister. Yet, on 11 January 1944, on his father-in-law’s orders, he was executed.

© Copyright 2012 CorbisCorporationGaleazzo Ciano’s father had made a name for himself as an admiral during the First World War. An early supporter of Benito Mussolini’s, he built his fortune through some unethical business deals. Thus, Galeazzo, born 18 March 1903, was brought up in an environment of wealth and luxury, and inherited his father’s love for fascism. Father and son both took part in Mussolini’s 1922 ‘March on Rome’.

Diplomacy and Marriage

Ciano studied law before embarking on a diplomatic career which took him to South America and China. In between postings, on 30 April 1930, he married Edda Mussolini, hence becoming Mussolini’s son-in-law – facilitating a rapid rise up the promotional ladder. The couple were to have three children although Ciano, like his father-in-law, had numerous affairs. He was certainly disliked by his mother-in-law who, understandably, thoroughly disproved of his womanizing.

In 1935, Mussolini made Ciano his minister for propaganda. The same year, Ciano volunteered for action in Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia, serving in a bomber squadron and reaching the rank of captain. He returned to a hero’s welcome and in June 1936, aged only 33, Mussolini appointed him minister of foreign affairs, replacing Mussolini himself. (Ciano’s father, meanwhile, was serving as the president of the Chamber of Deputies, a post he held from 1934 to shortly before his death in 1939).

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Rudolf Höss – a Summary

Rudolf Höss was born to Catholic parents in Baden-Baden on 25 November 1900. His early life mirrored that of many of his generation who went on to adopt radical National Socialist views: he saw action in World War One and identified the Jewish community as having betrayed the Fatherland when Germany did not emerge victorious from the conflict. He joined the Nazi Party in 1922 and began working in the concentration camp system in late 1934; going on to play a key role in the implementation of the ‘Final Solution’ in the 1940s.

Dachau and Sachsenhausen

The first concentration camp in the Third Reich was established in 1933 to imprison people who were politically opposed to the new Nazi regime. Among the prisoners of Dachau were Jehovah’s Witnesses, who refused to swear allegiance to Hitler, and homosexuals, who were deemed subversive and a threat to a high national birth rate. The concentration camp system was administered by the Schutzstaffel (SS), an elite police corps led by Heinrich Himmler.

HossRudolf Höss, having recently joined the SS at Himmler’s invitation, began work as a guard at Dachau in November 1934. He also assumed an administration role and in 1936 became a lieutenant at the Sachsenhausen camp. At both Dachau and Sachsenhausen he was further moulded into the SS mind-set that orders were to be obeyed without question and that no compassion should be felt towards camp inmates, who were subjected to both physical and mental brutality on a daily basis.

In early 1940, Höss was awarded the promotion that would later make him infamous. With his wife Hedwig and their young family (they eventually had five children) he relocated to Poland to take charge of a new camp called Auschwitz.

Commandant of Auschwitz

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Karl Lody – a summary

Karl Lody was a German spy and the first to be executed in Britain during the First World War.

Karl LodyBorn in Berlin on 20 January 1877, Karl Hans Lody spoke perfect English with an American accent, having been married to an American and lived in Nebraska. Having obtained a US passport under the name Charles A. Inglis, which allowed him to travel freely, Lody arrived in Edinburgh on 27 August 1914. Staying in a hotel, he hired a bicycle and cycled each day to the docks at the Firth of Forth and Rosyth’s naval base, both of strategic importance during the First World War, in order to observe and take notes.

Snow on their boots

MI5, who had been monitoring letters sent abroad, intercepted Lody’s very first message back to the Germans. The address in Stockholm that Lody had used was well known to MI5, instantly arousing their suspicions. But they did not arrest him immediately, preferring, instead, to monitor his activities. Lody’s letters were usually signed ‘Nazi’, an abbreviation of the name Ignatz, the German form of Ignatius, and nothing to do with Adolf Hitler’s Nazi party which did not come into existence until after the war. (‘Nazi’ was also a generic term for an Austro-Hungarian soldier, akin to ‘Tommy’ for a British soldier or ‘Fritz’ for a German one.)

Many of Lody’s letters, some of which were coded, contained misleading information, which MI5 were more than happy to allow through. One example was Lody’s assertion that thousands of Russian troops had landed in Scotland on their way to the Western Front, which may have led to the infamous ‘snow on their boots’ rumour that gained popular currency in wartime Britain.

DORA

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Thomas Highgate – first British soldier executed during World War One

On 5 September 1914, the first day of the Battle of Marne, Thomas Highgate, a 19-year-old British private, was found hiding in a barn dressed in civilian clothes. Highgate was tried by court martial, convicted of desertion and, in the early hours of 8 September, was executed by firing squad. His was the first of 306 executions carried out by the British during the First World War.

Shot at Dawn memorialThe only son of a farm worker, Thomas Highgate was born in Shoreham in Kent on 13 May 1895. In February 1913, aged 17, he joined the Royal West Kent Regiment. Within months, Highgate fell foul of the military authorities – in 1913, he was he was upbraided for being late for Tattoo, and ‘exchanging duties without permission’. In early 1914, he was reprimanded for having a rusty rifle and deserting for which he received the punishment of forty-eight days detention.

(Pictured is the ‘Shot at Dawn’ Memorial, National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire).

First Battle of the Marne

On 5 September, the first day of the Battle of the Marne and the 35th day of the war, Private Highgate’s nerves got the better of him and he fled the battlefield. He hid in a barn in the village of Tournan, a few miles south of the river, and was discovered wearing civilian clothes by a gamekeeper who happened to be English and an ex-soldier. Quite where Highgate obtained his civilian clothes is not recorded but the gamekeeper spotted his uniform lying in a heap nearby. Highgate confessed, ‘I have had enough of it, I want to get out of it and this is how I am going to do it’.

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Imre Nagy – a summary

Imre Nagy is remembered with great affection in today’s Hungary. Although a communist leader during its years of one-party rule, Nagy was the voice of liberalism and reform, advocating national communism, free from the shackles of the Soviet Union. Following the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Nagy was arrested, tried in secret and executed. His rehabilitation and reburial in 1989 played a significant and symbolic role in ending communist rule in Hungary.

Imre Nagy plaqueImre Nagy was born 7 June 1896 in the town of Kaposvár in southern Hungary. He worked as a locksmith before joining the Austrian-Hungary army during the First World War. In 1915, he was captured and spent much of the war as a prisoner-of-war in Russia. He escaped and having converted to communism, joined the Red Army and fought alongside the Bolsheviks during the Russian Revolution of 1917.

Agriculture

In 1918, Nagy returned to Hungary as a committed communist and served the short-lived Soviet Republic established by Bela Kun in Hungary. Following its collapse in August 1919, after only five months, Nagy, as with other former members of Kun’s regime, lived underground, liable to arrest. Eventually, in 1928, he fled to Austria and from there, in 1930, to the Soviet Union, where he spent the next fourteen years studying agriculture.

Following the Second World War, Nagy returned again to Hungary serving as Minister of Agriculture in Hungary’s post-war communist government. Loyal to Stalin, Nagy led the charge of collectivization, redistributing the land of landowners to the peasants.

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Bombing Hitler: Georg Elser, Man Who Almost Assassinated the Führer – review

The date is 8 November 1939, the location – the Bürgerbräukeller beer hall in Munich. With their uniforms freshly-pressed, their buttons gleaming, their shoes polished, Hitler’s longest-standing comrades filed into the hall, their chests puffed-up with pride, their wives at their sides. This event, on this day, had become an annual occasion in the Nazi calendar, a ritual of celebration and remembrance. The climax of the evening, awaited with great anticipation, would be Hitler’s appearance and his speech in which he would praise and pour tribute on these self-satisfied men, his old-timers.

Bombing Hitler- The Story of the Man Who Almost Assassinated the FührerBut there was one man who awaited Hitler’s appearance with equal anticipation – but for entirely different reasons. This man was 36-year-old Johann Georg Elser, a carpenter. For Elser, a long-time anti-Nazi, had planted a bomb with the full intention of killing Adolf Hitler. And his bomb was due to explode half way through the Fuhrer’s speech.

Kill Hitler

Georg Elser had always been quietly defiant in his hatred of the Nazi regime – he’d supported the communists and, once Hitler was in power, refused to give the Nazi salute. He feared Hitler’s aggressive warmongering and foresaw the coming of war and resolved himself, in his own way, to do something to prevent it – and that was to kill Hitler.

Exactly a year earlier before the fateful night, on the 8 November 1938, Elser attended the same annual commemoration in Munich marking the anniversary of Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch of 1923. And it was this annual event, he decided, that would provide the perfect opportunity to implement his audacious plan. The following night, he witnessed first-hand the vicious Kristallnacht, when Nazis throughout the country terrorized Germany’s Jews in a concentrated orgy of killing and violence. Seeing for himself this state-sponsored anarchy merely confirmed for Elser that what he was doing was right.

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