cover image Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life

Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life

Diarmaid MacCulloch. Viking, $35 (640p) ISBN 978-0-670-02557-2

This meticulously researched biography of Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII of England, from professor and historian MacCulloch (Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years) highlights Cromwell’s legal abilities and the complicated—and often fatal—relationship between Tudor advisers and king. These advisers toiled away as Henry gained notoriety for his numerous wives, removing legal and societal obstacles from Henry’s path to a legitimate male heir. An astute protégé of his predecessor Thomas Wolsey, Cromwell earned royal trust by contributing to the redefinition of his monarch’s religious role—ushering in the English Reformation—and helping Anne Boleyn become Henry’s second wife. MacCulloch’s densely packed narrative argues for a more sympathetic view of Cromwell; in his portrayal, Cromwell’s personal religious views dovetail sincerely with the Reformation, and crafting legal arguments around the mercurial Henry’s whims was difficult. But this characterization is undercut by Cromwell’s central role in the dissolution of monasteries, the execution of dissenters, and the destruction of Anne Boleyn despite their shared theological views. Cromwell’s personal thoughts are largely lost to history due to a shortage of surviving letters, but MacCulloch threads Cromwell’s notes and other contemporary sources along with modern historians’ work to recreate his motivations. This comprehensive biography is ideal for passionate devotees of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels, which also paint Cromwell in a forgiving light, and Tudor history buffs. Agent: Felicity Bryan, Felicity Bryan Associates (U.K.). (Oct.)