“Half the world is called Thomas.” (page 62) There is Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, Chancellor Thomas More, Archbishop Thomas Cramner, Thomas Boleyn, and not forgetting our protagonist Thomas Cromwell. We enter Thomas Cromwell’s World briefly in 1500, when we see him, tired of the beatings by his blacksmith father, fleeing abroad with a group of wool merchants from the Low Countries.
The story resumes in 1527 where Thomas Cromwell is very much a self made man, a lawyer, who has travelled in Europe especially in Italy and he Low Countries, and is now Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s right hand man.
“I trained in the Florentine banks. And in Venice.”
The King stared at him. “Howard said you were a common soldier.”
Unfortunately, the Cardinal is between a rock and a hard place with the King’s women. Henry VIII despairs of his marriage of twenty years to Katherine of Aragon producing a male heir and wants to annul the marriage, he has his eye on Anne Boleyn having already tasted the fruits of her sister, that Other Boleyn Girl, Mary. The Cardinal has tried persuading the Pope to support such an annulment, unsuccessfully, so neither Katherine nor Anne Boleyn are happy with Wolsey and the king’s moods are volatile.
The majority of the book covers the short period from 1529 to 1535, which witnessed the famous changing of queens, as Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon is annulled to allow him to marry Anne Boleyn in the hope of producing a male heir. The change in Henry’s marital status sees the famous “defender of the faith“, who was praised by the pope for his critique of Martin Luther, breaking the ties of the English Church with Rome. A tumultuous time as heretics are spreading Luther’s ideas across Europe, the hunt is on for Tyndale, who dared to print an English translation of the bible. A false move could see you lose your head or being grilled on the stake. Meanwhile, hardened by the loss of his wife and daughters, Cromwell employs Machiavellian means to enter into the King’s confidence.
This is a lengthy read, some 600 pages with a large cast of characters, which along with a Royal Family Tree are thoughtfully included at the front of the book in case any reader gets lost.
My rating 4 out of 5
Read in April 2015