Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Renaissance Man Who Could Get Things Done; THOMAS CROMWELL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF HENRY VIII'S MOST FAITHFUL SERVANT by Tracy Borman (Hodder, PS25)

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

The Renaissance Man Who Could Get Things Done; THOMAS CROMWELL: THE UNTOLD STORY OF HENRY VIII'S MOST FAITHFUL SERVANT by Tracy Borman (Hodder, PS25)

Article excerpt

Byline: MELANIE MCDONAGH

THE author of this latest biography of Thomas Cromwell is Tracy Borman but you could say its onlie begetter is Hilary Mantel, whose two novels about him, plus the RSC adaptations, have put him squarely on the middleclass radar. The author, apparently, had a "lively and enlightening email correspondence" with Ms Mantel. This, you might say, is the history to go with Wolf Hall -- at least until Diarmaid Macculloch, academic heavyweight, publishes his own, doubtless sympathetic life in a couple of years' time.

In one way, a positive take on Cromwell goes with the grain of modern sympathies. Cromwell was a blacksmith's son whose meteoric rise, as with Wolsey, got right up the noses of the aristocrats of Henry VIII's court.

Most modern readers would unhesitatingly side with the pleb. Then there's the Reformation, the dissolution of the monasteries and the break with Rome, in all of which his role can hardly be overstated. If you see all this as a good thing -- and most British secularists are cultural Protestants -- then you're going to be rooting for Cromwell just like Ms Mantel.

Certainly, there's enough in this engaging biography to bear out the Wolf Hall take on Cromwell as a bit of Putney rough trade crossed with a bona fide Renaissance man. He did knock about Europe as a soldier but experienced the lavish refinement of an Italian noble household while working for a Florentine merchant who picked him off the street. It gave him a Renaissance sensibility; he read Petrarch, spoke reasonable Latin and, remarkably, learned Greek.

Unfortunately he also read and absorbed Machiavelli. When he entered Wolsey's household, the cardinal, a butcher's son (the Church was a great enabler of social mobility) plainly saw a twin soul: someone who could get things done. Like the cardinal, Cromwell was a great entertainer and fond of jewellery. Cromwell's social side, his hospitality and unexpected charm come into their own here, not to mention his breathtaking ambition -- he married off his son to Jane Seymour's sister.

But there's wishful thinking too: a bid to make Cromwell into someone like us: a rationalist, a proto-feminist, a social reformer. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.