Cromwell, an Easterling, and Arras tapestries

In 1524 a Hanseatic merchant or “Easterling” petitioned one Thomas Cromwell, then a relatively obscure “jobbing lawyer” (as MacCulloch calls him), but who’d just entered into the service of Cardinal Wolsey. The merchant, Edward Smyttyng, was “privileaged within the Sanctuarye of Sainte Peter of Westminster” – he doesn’t say why he was in sanctuary, but he mentions creditors hounding him, so it was presumably for debt. Smyttyng petitioned Cromwell in his capacity as “counsaillour unto the lord legate’s noble grace [ie Wolsey]”; he wanted Cromwell to act as intermediary, to persuade Wolsey to grant him a letter of protection so that he could leave the sanctuary without being arrested.

Smyttyng was a dealer in pieces of “Arras” – large tapestries depicting scenes from scripture or literature. He needed to redeem, he said, some tapestries wrongfully detained from him by a number of other merchants, at least two of them also merchant strangers. He told Cromwell that Anthony Duodo (a Venetian merchant) was holding two of his cloths, one “of the storye of Christes Mawndye & the other of the praying of hym in the gardeyn.” Could the latter tapestry be the one at the top of this post, just recently sold at Sotheby’s? It was no doubt similar in any case.

Herman Hulseman – probably another Easterling – had another of Smyttyng’s cloths, this one depicting “the Storye of Jhesus bering the Crosse” (worth £125: these were not cheap). This one below is too late to be the same cloth, but maybe it looked something like this:

Smyttyng asked Cromwell to persuade Cardinal Wolsey to buy these cloths of Arras for himself: he offered them at fire-sale prices, hoping thus to be able to pay off his debts and leave the sanctuary permanently.

Wolsey was evidently really into tapestries – he had hundreds, the largest collection in the kingdom. Perhaps Smyttyng had dealt with him before, and certainly he had a likely customer. There’s nothing indicating, though, Cromwell’s or Wolsey’s response to Smyttyng’s plea.

TNA, SP 1/33, fol. 62 (L&P, 4/1:429); and see this on Wolsey and tapestries. Top image

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