The Six Articles

In May 1539 the bill of the Six Articles was presented by Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk in Parliament. It was soon clear that it had the support of Henry VIII. Although the word "transubstantiation" was not used, the real presence of Christ's very body and blood in the bread and wine was endorsed. So also was the idea of purgatory. The six articles presented a serious problem for Bishop Hugh Latimer and other religious reformers. Latimer had argued against transubstantiation and purgatory for many years. Latimer now faced a choice between obeying the king as supreme head of the church and standing by the doctrine he had had a key role in developing and promoting for the past decade. (1)

Bishop Latimer and Bishop Nicholas Shaxton both spoke against the Six Articles in the House of Lords. Thomas Cromwell was unable to come to their aid and in July they were both forced to resign their bishoprics. For a time it was thought that Henry would order their execution as heretics. He eventually decided against this measure and instead they were ordered to retire from preaching.

On 10th June, 1540, Thomas Cromwell arrived slightly late for a meeting of the Privy Council. Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk, shouted out, "Cromwell! Do not sit there! That is no place for you! Traitors do not sit among gentlemen." The captain of the guard came forward and arrested him. (2) Cromwell was charged with treason and heresy. Norfolk went over and ripped the chains of authority from his neck, "relishing the opportunity to restore this low-born man to his former status". Cromwell was led out through a side door which opened down onto the river and taken by boat the short journey from Westminster to the Tower of London. (3)

Thomas Cromwell was convicted by Parliament of treason and heresy on 29th June and sentenced him to be hung, drawn and quartered. He wrote to Henry VIII soon afterwards and admitted "I have meddled in so many matters under your Highness that I am not able to answer them all". He finished the letter with the plea, "Most gracious prince I cry for mercy, mercy, mercy." Henry commuted the sentence to decapitation, even though the condemned man was of lowly birth. (4)

On 22nd July, 1540, Robert Barnes, William Jerome and Thomas Garrard, were attainted as heretics, a procedure which denied them the chance to defend themselves in court, and sentenced to death; their heresies were not specified. On 30th July, Barnes, Jerome and Garrard were burnt at the same time that three Catholics, Thomas Abell, Edward Powell, and Richard Fetherstone, were hanged, drawn, and quartered for treason. (5)

Primary Sources

(1) David Loades, Thomas Cromwell (2013)

Two days later, three of Cromwell's more obvious clients, who had been in prison since Barnes retracted his recantation on 30 March - Robert Barnes himself, William Jerome and Thomas Garrett - were burned at Smithfield. Barnes was certainly a Lutheran, but that had not prevented Cromwell from using him as a diplomatic agent no further back that the beginning of 1540. None of these men was guilty of the radical heresies with which they were charged, but it was deemed necessary as part of the campaign against Cromwell to represent him as the controlling force behind a dangerous heretical conspiracy - and these were the other conspirators, or some of them. Like him they were condemned by Act of Attainder, and Barnes at least proclaimed his innocence in his last speech to the crowd. He had never preached sedition or disobedience, and had used his learning against the Anabaptists. He did not know why he was condemned to die, but the true answer lay not in his own doings or beliefs, but in his association with Thomas Cromwell.

Student Activities

Elizabeth Barton and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Execution of Margaret Cheyney (Answer Commentary)

Pilgrimage of Grace (Answer Commentary)

Robert Aske (Answer Commentary)

Dissolution of the Monasteries (Answer Commentary)

Joan Bocher - Anabaptist (Answer Commentary)

Anne Askew – Burnt at the Stake (Answer Commentary)

Poverty in Tudor England (Answer Commentary)

Why did Queen Elizabeth not get married? (Answer Commentary)

Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)

Francis Walsingham - Codes & Codebreaking (Answer Commentary)

Mary Tudor and Heretics (Answer Commentary)

Sir Thomas More: Saint or Sinner? (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein's Art and Religious Propaganda (Answer Commentary)

Hans Holbein and Henry VIII (Answer Commentary)


(1) Susan Wabuda, Hugh Latimer : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(2) Peter Ackroyd, Tudors (2012) page 148

(3) Howard Leithead, Thomas Cromwell : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)

(4) Roger Lockyer, Tudor and Stuart Britain (1985) page 79

(5) Carl R. Trueman, Robert Barnes : Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004-2014)