Lord Cromwell In ‘Shardlake’ Explained: Is Cromwell Dead?

Even though the show Shardlake is purely a work of fiction, a few of the real-life historical events it’s based on make it more intriguing. The Reformation in England under King Henry VIII remains an important part of the history of England, and one of the key players in executing the reformation was Lord Cromwell. Serving as the principal advisor to King Henry, Cromwell shut monasteries down all over the country. In this article, we’re going to look into the depths of this ruthless and inhumane historical figure, portrayed by the wonderful Sean Bean.


Spoilers Ahead

Why did Cromwell conspire to execute Anne Boleyn?

Historically speaking, it was Anne herself who promoted Thomas Cromwell to be the King’s advisor. Anne supported King Henry’s religious and political beliefs, and she was an active part of the earlier stages of Reformation. After Elizabeth I’s birth, Anne suffered two miscarriages in 1534 and 1536. Henry was never a man who’d communicate with his wife to solve things. Just like his first marriage, now he needed an excuse to opt out of this one. Cromwell came in handy to devise a plan that would get rid of Anne and allow Henry to marry again. Cromwell and Anne Boleyn had different opinions about the money that was flowing in from the closing of the monasteries. While Anne wanted to help the people of England with the resources, Cromwell saw fit to pour everything into the royal treasury. Cromwell brought up accusations of adultery against the Queen, and her claims of being innocent weren’t enough for the King. In one of the most pivotal moments of the show’s final episode, Cromwell tells Matthew how Mark Smeaton was chosen, and his innocence only helped Cromwell’s men get a confession out of him. A young musician in Henry’s court, Smeaton spent his last days regretting his false admission, and soon he was executed too. Cromwell only framed the affair between them so that Anne Boleyn wouldn’t have the power to oppose his methods, and the King would get a shiny new wife for himself. 


Why did Cromwell select Shardlake for the job?

Cromwell lost his temper when he heard the news of Commissioner Singleton’s death. His assistant Jack suggests to him that he should now take it as a matter of urgency and find out what happened to Singleton. Cromwell calls up Shardlake, a renowned lawyer who’s only physically disabled to be stronger mentally. Cromwell commands Shardlake to go to the monastery to investigate the death and make them surrender, giving their monastery to the Crown and King Henry. Cromwell knew Shardlake was a capable man who’d fight tooth and nail to complete his task. To make sure Shardlake’s loyalty stays with him, he sends his trusted advisor, Jack Barak, along with him. 

What does Cromwell say about Shardlake’s initial findings?

Shardlake returns to London and finds out about the owner of the sword that beheaded Simpleton. It belonged to the late father of Mark Smeaton. Shardlake also shows Brother Jerome’s writings on Smeaton’s innocence. Cromwell pays little attention to Shardlake’s investigation and gets visibly furious when he says he’s investigating two more murders, along with the death of a monk. Cromwell only cares about the surrender of the monastery, and he advises Shardlake to focus on that rather than playing truth seeker. Cromwell thinks it’s alright to bend the truth to one’s will if it is beneficial. Similar to Jack Barak, Cromwell also asks for results, and Shardlake is told to make sure he acquires the surrender letter from the Abbott as soon as he can. Shardlake understands that Cromwell doesn’t care about the truth, and the fact that he can openly admit he chose Smeaton to be the sacrificial lamb for the King’s obsession with an heir tells a lot about his character. He’s evil inside and out, and the power bestowed upon him makes him entitled enough to get away with his evil deeds. 


How Did Cromwell Die?

The show ends with Brother Jerome embracing a severed hand and proclaiming that Cromwell would never have her. The rotten hand might be Anne Boleyn’s, and this might be Jerome’s way of keeping her close to him and not letting predators like Cromwell hurt her anymore. The show doesn’t show Cromwell’s fate, but it’s pretty clear that he’s alive and well and probably getting applauded by King Henry for successfully securing St. Donatus, one of the largest and most powerful monasteries in the country. Historically, Thomas Cromwell was accused of treason in July 1540. He was beheaded, and his dismembered head was placed on a spike in front of London Bridge. The other ministers, including Lord Norfolk were the perpetrators who led to Cromwell’s demise. 

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Aniket Mukherjee
Aniket Mukherjee
Aniket is a literature student pursuing his master's degree while trying to comprehend Joyce and Pound. When his head is not shoved in books, he finds solace in cinema and his heart beats for poetry, football, and Adam Sandler in times.

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