Danny Dyer: How Eastenders actor is related to ‘most controversial man in British history’

The Eastenders star traced his ancestry on the BBC programme ‘Who Do You Think You Are?’ back in 2017 and discovered that he was a direct descendent of Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell, who lived from 1485-1540, was a lawyer and statesman who served as chief minister to King Henry VIII. He was one of the strongest supporters of the English Reformation, which saw Henry VIII break from Rome and set up the Church of England.

Starting from humble beginnings, Cromwell rose in power throughout his lifetime, but ran into trouble when a coup among nobles had him arrested and held in the Tower of London.

He was eventually beheaded on the orders of the King, who later expressed regret as his decision.

Cromwell was seen as a villain pulling the strings by my many historians through the ages, but has recently been rehabilitated as an incredibly intelligent man who climbed up from nothing to being the second most powerful man in the land ‒ for a time, at least.

Danny discovered he was related to Thomas through his 11x great-grandfather Robert Gosnold, who fought on the side of the royalists in the English Civil War.

Robert’s mother was Anne Tollemache, whose father was Lionel Tollemache, so Danny went to meet a distant relative, Lord Tim Tollemache, at Helmingham Hall ‒ the stately home still belonging to the Tollemache family today.

Lord Tollemache told Danny: “Lionel Tollemache’s wife Catherine Cromwell was the great-granddaughter of Thomas Cromwell, and he was Henry VIII’s greatest statesman and supporter and courtier.”

Danny was astounded at the news and even kissed a picture of Catherine, informing the Lord: “I’m going to put the lips on her, Tim.”

He told the programme: “So Danny Dyer is a direct descendant of Thomas Cromwell. I can’t believe it, I don’t know what to say.”

Danny then went to Hampton Court Palace to find out more about his 15x great-grandfather, where he met with Tracy Borman, who wrote the 2014 book ‘Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant’.

Ms Borman said: “Congratulations, you’re related to the most controversial man in British history!

“In recent times we’ve grown to love Thomas Cromwell but he was always the villain of history.

“The man you love to hate.”

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They entered the Great Hall, the centrepiece of the Palace and Ms Borman showed Danny a portrait of Cromwell, painted by the most famous portrait painter of the age, Hans Holbein the Younger.

The historian noted: “I think, actually, there is more than a passing resemblance.”

She added: “This portrait’s got a lot to answer for because I think it’s largely due to this that people see him as a villain.”

Danny agreed, saying: “He does look pretty sinister there, looking at somebody like he’s about to have them executed or something.”

Danny told her that the fact that Cromwell’s blood is running through his veins “excites [him] a lot”.

Ms Borman explained how Cromwell had very humble origins, born in 1485 in Putney, a place which, at the time, was “full of cutthroats and criminals” ‒ in other words it was “not a place you would want to be after dark”.

Cromwell’s father was a blacksmith and brewer who was always in trouble with the law.

According to Ms Borman, 99 percent of people in Henry VIII’s court were from noble backgrounds, so Cromwell’s case was “extraordinary, an absolute phenomenon”.

Danny reflected on Cromwell’s rise to the top, saying: “So he’s managed this unbelievable rise from where he came from to be sitting with Henry, from the slums to there.

“I mean, mine is a much more small comparison, but I’m from the slums, if you like.”

Unfortunately for Cromwell, it all went horribly when Cromwell was taken to the Tower of London on charges of treason and heresy.

Mr Borman described it as a “coup” by his enemies at court, particularly the Duke of Norfolk, who had managed to persuade the King that Cromwell was plotting against him.

In June 1540, Cromwell was executed by beheading on Tower Hill in front of a huge mob.

Before he died however, he had managed to arrange a marriage between his son Gregory and Jayne Seymour’s sister ‒ Elizabeth Seymour ‒ who are Danny’s 14x great-grandparents.

Ms Borman added: “I never thought I’d meet anyone who’s actually related to Thomas Cromwell, that’s extraordinary.”

It is believed that Danny will be temporarily leaving Eastenders, as his character Mick Carter prepares to sell the ‘Queen Vic’ pub.

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