A SUNDAY TIMES, THE TIMES, DAILY TELEGRAPH, SPECTATOR, FINANCIAL TIMES, GUARDIAN, BBC HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR
'This is the biography we have been awaiting for 400 years' Hilary Mantel
'A masterpiece' Dan Jones, Sunday Times
Thomas Cromwell is one of the most famous - or notorious - figures in English history. Born in obscurity in Putney, he became a fixer for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s. After Wolsey's fall, Henry VIII promoted him to a series of ever greater offices, and by the end of the 1530s he was effectively running the country for the King. That decade was one of the most momentous in English history: it saw a religious break with the Pope, unprecedented use of parliament, the dissolution of all monasteries. Cromwell was central to all this, but establishing his role with precision, at a distance of nearly five centuries and after the destruction of many of his papers at his own fall, has been notoriously difficult.
Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography is much the most complete and persuasive life ever written of this elusive figure, a masterclass in historical detective work, making connections not previously seen. It overturns many received interpretations, for example that Cromwell was a cynical, 'secular' politician without deep-felt religious commitment, or that he and Anne Boleyn were allies because of their common religious sympathies - in fact he destroyed her. It introduces the many different personalities of these foundational years, all conscious of the 'terrifyingly unpredictable' Henry VIII. MacCulloch allows readers to feel that they are immersed in all this, that it is going on around them.
For a time, the self-made 'ruffian' (as he described himself) - ruthless, adept in the exercise of power, quietly determined in religious revolution - was master of events. MacCulloch's biography for the first time reveals his true place in the making of modern England and Ireland, for good and ill.
This meticulously researched biography of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII of England, from professor and historian MacCulloch (Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years) highlights Cromwell's legal abilities and the complicated and often fatal relationship between Tudor advisers and king. These advisers toiled away as Henry gained notoriety for his numerous wives, removing legal and societal obstacles from Henry's path to a legitimate male heir. An astute prot g of his predecessor Thomas Wolsey, Cromwell earned royal trust by contributing to the redefinition of his monarch's religious role ushering in the English Reformation and helping Anne Boleyn become Henry's second wife. MacCulloch's densely packed narrative argues for a more sympathetic view of Cromwell; in his portrayal, Cromwell's personal religious views dovetail sincerely with the Reformation, and crafting legal arguments around the mercurial Henry's whims was difficult. But this characterization is undercut by Cromwell's central role in the dissolution of monasteries, the execution of dissenters, and the destruction of Anne Boleyn despite their shared theological views. Cromwell's personal thoughts are largely lost to history due to a shortage of surviving letters, but MacCulloch threads Cromwell's notes and other contemporary sources along with modern historians' work to recreate his motivations. This comprehensive biography is ideal for passionate devotees of Hilary Mantel's historical novels, which also paint Cromwell in a forgiving light, and Tudor history buffs.
One for windbag academics. Off with his head