The quote on the cover states: “If you loved Wolf Hall, you will delight in The Courier’s Tale“, I did like “Wolf Hall” by Hilary Mantel a lengthier book than “The Courier’s Tale” with more intricate Machiavellian scheming. Whilst “Wolf Hall” focused on Thomas Cromwell and the period of King Henry VIII’s reign, where he went from being married to Katherine of Aragon to his marriage to Anne Boleyn, “The Courier’s Tale“, is slightly later with a longer time frame, focusing on Cardinal Pole and his courier Robert Throckmorton and extending from Anne Boleyn sitting on the throne to the end of Queen Mary’s Reign.
The Courier’s Tale is easier to follow than Wolf Hall, having not such a confusion of Thomases. Thomas Cromwell is again a key player but Thomas Wolsey, Thomas More and Thomas Boleyn are absent.
Our story starts with the courier, our narrator boasting of the speed he gets messages across Europe from his master Reginald Pole, King Henry’s cousin in Italy to England. Pole like Wolsey before him is sought to bring about a reconciliation between the King and the Pope, a difficult position to be in, as the Church of England moves away from Rome and Pole becomes a cardinal and a favourite in the running to be a future Pope.
The book is well researched and gives insight into the period, but it is less of a page-turning story than the amazing “Wolf Hall.” It seems the author is trying to offer an apology for Pole, putting him across as a peaceful scholar rather than a key prosecutor for “Bloody” Mary.
It is always welcome to me to have a great artist re-imagined, here Michelangelo is a minor player in the story. Michelangelo incorporates in his artwork contemporary figures visiting Hell along with the satanic Machiavelli. Throckmorton is not above a little Machiavellian scheming of his own, being at one time, simultaneously in the service of both Cardinal Pole and Thomas Cromwell.
The book also leaves us to speculate, what might have happened if Pole had been made Pope, an election to which he, like Hillary in our own time, looked sure to win. Could an English pope have healed the schism between the Church of England and the Vatican? Pole was also in the running to marry Queen Mary, but was delayed from leaving the continent so Philip of Spain could marry her.
My rating 3 out of 5