Study Guide

Cromwell in Henry VIII

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Good friends are hard to find, and Thomas Cromwell might be Wolsey's only real friend. Sure, Wolsey has a bunch of buddies when he's high and mighty, but Cromwell is the only one who sticks around after Wolsey's star goes plummeting to the ground. He's dumfounded, and he calls Wolsey's departure from the court the "heaviest and the worst" news (3.2.465).

It's obvious the dude bums hard when his friend is kicked out, even though Wolsey really made his own bed. Cromwell doesn't know where to go or what to do once his friend is gone.

Wolsey's the one who rallies Cromwell, encouraging him to pick himself up and go back to Henry. He gives Cromwell some great advice—advice that he himself was never able to keep: be humble and honorable, and you can do no wrong. Cromwell responds: "[T]he King shall have my service, but my prayers / forever and forever shall be yours" (3.2.506-507). Cromwell seems to be the kind of friend to Wolsey that Henry wanted Wolsey to be to him: faithful, loyal, honest.

But Cromwell's real shining moment comes when he stands up for Cranmer. Everybody else is itching to have Cranmer imprisoned; it's Cromwell alone who resists. He tells Gardiner: "'Tis a cruelty / to load a falling man" (5.2.128-129). Looks like he took Wolsey's advice to heart, which means that even if Wolsey's deathbed change of heart was an act, it achieved some good results through Cromwell.

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