This is a companion piece to go along with music I wrote and recorded earlier this year for “Austin friars.” (You can listen to it here.) Austin Friars was the home of Thomas Cromwell, a top adviser to King Henry VIII, and one of the most powerful men in England at the time, until other court advisers, jealous of his power, forced him out and he was imprisoned and eventually beheaded by the King.

For the best portrayal of the character, please see the three books about him written by Hilary Mantel: “Wolf Hall,” “Bring Up the Bodies,” and “The Mirror and the Light.”


Twisting down dark rooms inside a house
that no longer exists, to times before it was real
dark rooms, dark rooms, no hallways
the smells of times hundreds of years past

all the wealth and all the power
concentrated here, at the heart of a sun
the tobacco, the meat, the wine, the flour
the sugar and all the currents of an empire

delivered daily for something so mundane
upkeep for those long at the top of the heap
the kitchen fires burning for the man and for
the guests that make up the planets in orbit

around the man who rose from the mud
and the muck to stand behind the King’s neck
to lean down and whisper knowingly and
lovingly with awe and fear into the King’s ear.

He rose there and fought off the warfare of those
who jealous of his place plotted weekly
and weakly to remove him and send him
back to the dirt, the poor dirt, soiled poverty

and he not tired of fighting fought also against gales
of the King’s arbitrary anger, pain growing inside him
festering in his royal thigh, in a mind, in a heart
grievance-plagued at having everything

and nothing of what the King really desired
burning like firestorms and turning many around him
loved or not into bare atoms returning them
some headless to the dust from which they came.

In each dark room I flew, a drone from the future
cameras all eyes and all ears listening for the ghost
of the man I wanted to meet, to see, to hear
not knowing what form I would find him

maybe a head taller, maybe a head shorter
he who begged three times for the King’s mercy
and found none, found himself at the cut of an axe
as others he had helped to send there.

There, there, huddled in the corner, in the dark
of a dark room, so dark I can’t see, though I am a ghost
too, as are we all, but I could feel the shape of the room
in which many powerful men had planned

and maybe in this same dark room he spoke
in memories of things he could not say in public
or in the hearing of the King, away from the ears of
all who would turn, all who would hate, all unforgiving.

This was his home, his Austin Friars
where all these things and none of these things
could be whispered, away from the ears of those
who would not understand all his inner hearts.

“I dreamed,” he said when I found him
still in his form of the height of his power
but most filled with fear, the man at the top
so easy for enemies to sight and target him there

“I dreamed, I dreamed,” said he, the man who laid
the foundations for the modern state of the state
who beheld in a future gaze times in which Kings fade
and kingdoms become countries

“I dreamed, I dreamed, I dreamed,” he said
his arms around his knees, then out feeling for a light
a candle, something to pierce the black, but not so sure
he wasn’t already a ghost, and his head an illusion

“I dreamed, I dreamed, I dreamed, oh how I dreamed,”
said the man who for love of God fought against God
who for love of a church fought against the church
who destroyed many, but felt himself pure.

I comforted him, powerful man, small child,
adviser to a King, receiver of a father’s cruel blows
I comforted him, in his confusion of when and where he was
his last real memory, waiting in the Tower

for the executioner’s drunken axe, his enemies
thinking to hobble the headsman as a joke
to make a mess of separating his head from his body
his letters begging for mercy ignored.

I comforted him, “I am from history,” I said,
“and I can tell you, if it soothes, the King came to
regret losing you, destroying you, killing you
he turned his anger and wrath burned hot

‘Why did you make me destroy my one honest councilor!’
the King screamed at the lesser lights
who then bent to his ear, as the festering wound grew
and grievances became unclimbable mountains.”

“The King was sorry,” I told the figure huddled
in the dark corner of one of his many rooms
his Austin Friars, where he could whisper
secret things from his doubting heart

his loves lost, wife and daughters taken by a God
he had fought to love, and then the woman
he could not love but he loved deeply
but his wounds of loss were too deep

“Your hard work bore fruit,” I comforted him
with these words, to settle his restless soul
to help him see that those dark nights in the Tower
that ended with his death, were worth it at last

in the eyes of history, many years of history
that he would never know
though I knew his grieving heart
would never be quieted, his pain too great

his sorrow, his regret, his questioning of his God,
the many nights he tossed and turned
watching his mentors and friends and loved ones
be marked and destroyed one by one

by an angry King whom he loved regardless
by an arbitrary God whom he loved regardless
it seemed to him that all those he loved
were killed by all those he loved.

But he loved them still, because that was his time
in which such men had but one power to answer to
one King who held all in his hand
whereas today I have many powers

and have to answer to many Kings,
none of whom love me or care for me
or care what happens to me
but so long as I am a zebra in a herd I am safe.

“I dreamed, I dreamed, I dreamed, and kept on
dreaming, and dreaming,” he whispered to me
barely aware I was there, a suspicion growing in him
at long last he was but a ghost I made.

“What did you dream?” I asked, behind his neck
leaning to whisper into his ear with awe and fear
“What did you dream, oh so long ago
here in this home of many rooms and no halls?”

“I dreamed,” he said at last, at long last,
“I dreamed I went to heaven.
God was not there.
There was just us.”

Rob Archer, Los Angeles, November 2, 2021