This year I enjoyed the BBC’s wonderful adaptation of Wolf Hall a meaty historical drama about Thomas Cromwell; with a copy of the novel by Hilary Mantel waiting for me on my bookshelf. They have encouraged me to read more about the notorious character that inspired them. So it was lucky for me I got my hands on a copy of The Rise of Thomas Cromwell by Michael Everett.
Thomas Cromwell grew from humble beginnings as the son of a blacksmith to become a lawyer, a statesmen, to an Earl and the first minister of Henry VIII. Everett explains straight away that this is not a book looking at the height of Cromwell’s political career, which saw the fall of the king’s second wife Anne Boleyn, the reformation of the churches, closure of the monasteries, the debacle of the king’s fourth wife Anne of Cleves, and Cromwell’s subsequent fall from grace and execution. Instead Everett wants to go back and investigate how Cromwell gained his knowledge, work, skills and came to the notice of the king. Cromwell is a notorious character, who has historians torn, but through this book Everett has shown that Cromwell is a far more complicated character than simply villain or saint.
Theories have included that Cromwell schemed to make himself first minister, that he was a liberal reformer and the mastermind behind the reformation of the church and the break with Rome and the Pope, and that he was a corrupt minister which led to his charge of treason and subsequent execution. Everett definitely agrees Cromwell was an ambitious man however Cromwell also worked very hard, successfully collaborated with others and was a practical, loyal man who used to get the job done. It was these qualities that saw him subsequently find favour with Cardinal Wolsey, the Duke of York and finally the king. As for Cromwell being a liberal reformer there is no evidence either way for this. And while Cromwell is known to have taken gifts and bribes he doesn’t appear to have been anymore corrupt than any other minster of the time.
While this doesn’t cover some of the dramatic elements of Cromwell’s career I found the back story and all the small details of his life fascinating. I could go on and on with how many interesting facts and historical reference there are in this book, but I fear you may become sick of this post! I thought Everett crammed a lot into this book with an extensive use of Cromwell’s letters, historical records and cross examinations of other historians to back up his ideas. This was a slow read for me. It didn’t quite grip me like my previous non-fiction read Elizabeth I and Her Circle by Susan Doran did. That was mostly due to the fact I needed to take my time to absorb all the information. Plus while Thomas Cromwell is fascinating I don’t think he will ever over take my love of Elizabeth I as a person to read about.
I thought The Rise of Thomas Cromwell was a really interesting read and I would like to read more. I recommend it if your interested in English and Tudor history. I am looking forward to reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel even more now. Good read.
Thank you to the publishers for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.
Have you read this or Wolf Hall? Any recommendations of what I should read next?