Thomas Cromwell: A Life Kindle ↠ Thomas Cromwell:
- Thomas Cromwell: A Life
- Diarmaid MacCulloch
- 09 May 2017 Diarmaid MacCulloch
In many ways, this is an excellent history of Thomas Cromwell s place in the history of the church and religion in the 1520s and 1530s It has been meticulously researched and is highly convincing Admittedly, it is unnecessarily long and contains far too much, rather boring, detail But the author has done fine job.The only trouble is that the political and governmental biography of Thomas Cromwell is peripheral to the author s main interests which is ecclesiastical history So, each chapter is full of references to Cromwell s role as an evangelical reformer and the broader picture is quite thin and lost in the never ending references to religious history.So, in the end, I was disappointed and, in places, somewhat irritated. 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 foryears Hilary Mantel A masterpiece Dan Jones, Sunday TimesThomas 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 s After Wolsey s fall, Henry VIII promoted him to a series of ever greater offices, and by the end of the s 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 difficultDiarmaid 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 themFor 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 Who really was this man I studied him in depth, I thought, when writing a novel The Woman in the Shadows inspired by his wife and whilst writing this novel I realized by the 1520s Cromwell was most likely a closet evangelical, ambitious and pragmatic I wish I had read this biography then It is a considered, exquisitely researched and wonderful biography that shows delightful flashes of dry humour I am stunned by Diarmaid McCulloch s investigation which is in depth and his analysis which is solidly supported and penetrating All the players that touched Cromwell s life haunt this book s pages and are vividly described, both enemies and friends Historical Biography is very different from recreating these personalities for a novel Biographies can be dry This one is not that but it is intellectual and very erudite Once I appreciated its style I was captivated by it It certainly ought to win prizes I am so pleased to have read it Cromwell is not excused here but he s explained within the scope of the climbing the greasy pole at the Tudor Court, his work for Thomas Wolsey Thomas Wolsey himself is well analyzed here which is very important if one is to understand in part some of Cromwell s motivations We come to see a King who is changeable and obsessed, factions at court and importantly New Learning and an emergent English Reformation This last, Cromwell s involvement with evangelicals is important as he becomes less pragmatic and confident Eventually, see Cromwell struggling to survive and we understand his bad luck after the mistake with the Cleves marriage as well as the hawks in the background waiting to bring him down Simply Cromwell was human and there are many parts to a man I was thrilled to see him explained so fully in this superb biography Even so, Thomas Cromwell remains an enigmatic personality. I came to this book, like so many others, because of Hilary Mantel s novels about Cromwell, and also because I ve seen several television documentaries by Diarmaid MacCulloch, where he is always clear, interesting, humorous, obviously very knowledgeable, and doesn t talk down to the viewer one of the very best history presenters on present day TV As a consumer of this kind of information, but as someone with no formal historical training, I wanted to find out what Thomas Cromwell was really like.Well, you certainly learn a lot about Cromwell from this book, which as a non historian I would say is an evidence based chronicle of his public life almost entirely and his effect on the very turbulent times in which he lived Clearly MacCulloch knows a tremendous amount about his subject and has gone to the source documents to back up almost all the things he says It is clear that the book is a major achievement by a serious scholar and probably for other scholars contains a good deal of revisionist thinking, which of course passed me by completely There is a lot an enormous amount, in fact of very fine detail, which I personally found very difficult to follow simply remembering the names and relationships of the enormous cast of characters was for me pretty overwhelming MacCulloch s humour is not lacking, though often quite buried, sometimes emerging into the light, as in his discussion of the 10 Commandments but in the end my ambition to read the book like a novel, where one remembers the plot as the narrative goes on, defeated me Of course through the book one understands the outline of his career but very many of his activities just get lost in the detail Perhaps it was silly of me to want to read the book in this way, so I can t blame MacCulloch for my feeling of inadequacy.Another key problem for me was the context most of the book is about ecclesiastical shenanigans of one kind and another It is plain from the book that the church in Britain since the Middle Ages or even earlier had become a very complex and very corrupt organisation, with abuses like absentee priests, money moving around in distinctly un Christian ways, jobs and property being handed out for totally secular reasons, appalling punishments like burning being somehow thought of as being compatible with biblical teaching, actual pastoral care being a low priority for many priests, etc Although the monasteries disappeared during Cromwell s time, the church s enormous spider s web of privilege, influence and corruption on the whole it seems stayed intact For me, MacCulloch just didn t go out of his way to explain this monster enough it was great when he explained friaries, but that was an exception to his general assumption that his reader would understand the lie of the Christian land that Cromwell had to deal with at least it looked that way to me.Lastly, I was surprised how little was said about ordinary people MacCulloch shows that Cromwell s origins were not really as humble as Mantel suggests in her novels nevertheless Cromwell must have been quite near the bottom of society at some points We hear about his servants for example, but these aren t his groom, butler and chambermaid, but generally quite posh and well educated agents and employees we don t really see into his household at all, or get much of an idea what his life was like outside the office, as it were Maybe Mantel just had to make that part up because of the lack of documentary evidence.Anyway, did I find out what Cromwell was really like I would say dimly, rather than vividly Perhaps that s why people read novels.So, my recommendation to non historians is to read it slowly, make notes, and if you have the time I don t think I have, myself , refer to other books which will give you context about social and church life in sixteenth century Britain. This is the most frustrating book I have ever read It fails to describe or explain events, assuming, in merely commenting on them, that the reader already has a great deal of knowledge about the people, the acts of parliament, Henry VIII, the church and the Reformation.What narrative there is jumps around, informing the reader la Enid Blyton that we shall see When, after several chapters and a hundred other names it returns to a particular point, you are expected to reread the previous section or sections via a hyperlink if reading on a kindle as I did and put the various events and people together There is, on occasion, than one hyperlink on a single page Good luck with that.Most bizarrely, given the title, Thomas Cromwell A Life, there is very little focus on Thomas Cromwell himself, apart from the first chapter which is the most interesting of the book This was particularly disappointing to me as I was looking forward to the non Reformation stuff To the infrastructure To his manipulation of parliament To everything that was NOT part of Macculloch s personal interest in Cranmer and the church.In short, if you are looking to read a well written biography on a fascinating man this is not your book in my view.