On 24 July, Thomas Cromwell wrote his final letter from the Tower, and discussed none of the issues you would expect. Those in the Tower who were awaiting execution generally knew their time was coming, and set about making sure their debts were paid. If found guilty of heresy and/or treason, or attainted (declared guilty without a trial), all possessions were forfeit to the crown, and so no will was required. Even so, many wrote notes asking for help for others, to pay bills or pass on messages. Sadly, nothing remains of Cromwell making preparations at the end of his life, or even how far in advance Cromwell knew of the end of his days. While Henry nicely planned his wedding to Katheryn Howard to coincide with Cromwell’s execution, precious few knew of the alignment, and certainly not Cromwell himself.
So the final letter written by Cromwell is one that centres on none of his situation. Rather, his letter to the Privy Council instead is over what is now called The Rochepot Affair. To cut a long story short and to simplify (I do explain it properly in my book), François de Montmorency, Sieur de la Rochepot (brother to the Constable of France, Anne de Montmorency) had a ship confiscated in London, on Cromwell’s orders in 1538. A year earlier, the ship of one of three which attacked and robbed German merchants (Easterlings). While the ship could be held for the crime of attacking the Germans, a second incident had occurred. The French were withholding Cromwell’s precious English bibles, which were printed in Paris, and Rochepot’s ship could be exchanged for the bibles. But after the French released the captive bibles and they went to England in 1539, Cromwell never released the ship, and it sat idle. Jurisdiction on the case, which would see the ship released, took time. Cromwell had no interest in Rochepot’s ship; it was merely a pawn. But the king of France argued that Cromwell kept the ship in order to plunder its valuable goods. There is no proof of this, and nor did even Cromwell’s biggest enemies, all also on the panel to oversee the ship’s release, accuse him, only the French. But as Cromwell was attainted, he became a good scapegoat in the saga of the ongoing litigation, and Cromwell’s final letter attempts to clear his name of any wrongdoing over the “prize” aboard the Rochepot ship.
CROMWELL TO THE LORDS OF THE COUNCIL, 24 July 1540 ( LP xv no. 910)
It pleases your good lordships to understand that I have read the letter sent to the king’s Majesty, sent from the French king, touching Monsieur de Rochepot, in which it appears that the French king supposes that, by my means, the said matter has not been ordered, and that I should have a great part of that prize. My lords, first, as I shall answer to God, I never bore favour in the matter otherwise than to justice appertaining, which was that Easterlings, who said they were, being in league with the French king, robbed by his subjects, desiring that forasmuch as their goods were safe within the king’s ports that they might have justice here. Whereupon, the matter was committed to the hearing of the Judge of the Admiralty, and the Proctor of Monsieur de Rochepot agreed and consented to the jurisdiction of the court, and so the French party as well as the Easterlings contended upon the matter as to whether it should be tried in France or England. Thereupon, as I remember a sentence was given that the matter should be tried in England, whereupon the French party departed and after sent hither an advocate of France, who took himself to be satisfied with the order taken, and also departed. After the ambassador, now present here, made suit to the king to have the matter remitted to be determined in France, at which time a consultation of learned men before the king’s honourable council was had at Gilford, and there it was thought that the king’s Majesty might, with his honour, remit the matter into France. But it was agreed on the king’s part that if the French king would send his commissary to a place indifferent, then his Majesty would the like and whatsoever should be determined there should be performed. My Lord of Norfolk, me Lord Privy Seal, my Lord of Durham and my Lord of Winchester were at that Council, and my Lord of London was at that time, being the king’s ambassador, fully instructed of the whole matter, but that ever I had any part of that prize or that I were promised any part thereof, my lords, assure yourselves I was not, as God shall and may help me. This, my good lords, I pray the eternal Redeemer to preserve you all in long life good health with long prosperity. At the Tower the 24th day of July with the trembling hand of your bedesman.
By this time, all that was left was for the execution, and Cromwell’s great final speech on the scaffold four days later.