No doubting, not at all
A tale of two Thomases
Author’s note: I had to spend some time in hospital as the result of an infection. It knocked me down for a bit. I often think if I had to do it all again, I would become a Tudor Historian. Anyway, I don’t profess to be a Tudor scholar, I do have a BA in history and was inducted into Phi Alpha Theta, a history honour society. Here’s my take on two of the most interesting non-royal personages of Henry VIII’s reign.
Sir Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell are linked and often compared with Cromwell often coming up short. In the end, both lost their head as did many who served or married Henry.
More is often portrayed as being honourable and sticking to his beliefs (A Man for All Seasons) for example. More was brilliant and an early example of a Renaissance Man, but in an age where intolerance was par for the course; he was extreme.
Some historians (David Starkey) point to the reign of Henry VIII as the birth of modern Britain, citing Henry’s split with Rome as the first Brexit. I don’t agree with Starkey on a number of things, but he is a pretty, damn good historian. His books on Henry VIII (his thesis subject) are among the best in my opinion. And I read a lot of them.
I admit I need to read more about More, but I have read a number of solid books (Diarmaid MacCulloch, John Schofield and Tracy Borman) about Thomas Cromwell, who I find to be the more fascinating of the Cromwells.
With that said, I was given a copy of Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel as a gift and surprisingly, I really enjoyed it. I only read a few non-fiction books a year and recommend it.
I also enjoyed the serialization of the book, starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell. Cromwell isn’t an angel by any means. He’s a tough, working-class lad, who by his own intelligence, deviousness and hard work propelled himself near the top of class-ridden society.
It’s the depiction of More (played by Anton Lesser,) I find interesting. I know it’s fiction, but it’s hard to see the More, who frequently tortures and burns heretics (non-Catholics,) as the same man who wrote Utopia and was highly regarded by the European intelligentsia of the age. Cromwell also tortures (most notably Mark Smeaton into confessing he slept with then Queen Ann Boleyn. Adultery from the consort of the monarch was regarded as treason and treason meant death.
Cromwell, who had helped solve Henry’s “Great Matter” to facilitate the king’s marriage to Ann, which also resulted in the split with Rome. Every thing points to Henry remaining Catholic in all but name until his death.
More, who had been Henry’s friend as well as close advisor, sealed his own faith when he refused to take an oath supporting Henry as head of the Church of England. More is a saint in the Catholic Church.
Anyway, Cromwell was following Henry’s wishes and his own best interests when he helped in the downfall of Ann, who had failed to produce a male heir, although her daughter would become a powerhouse monarch (Elizabeth I.) But the rule of women wasn’t looked on positively in this era.
After the death of Queen Jane Seymour (who did produce a male heir in Edward,) Cromwell facilitated the marriage of Anne of Cleves to Henry. The increasing obese king wasn’t attracted to Anne and wanted out of the marriage.
It didn’t take much to bring Cromwell down, he was despised by the aristocracy, especially The Duke of Norfolk, Ann’s uncle by the way. Norfolk and his like took advantage of the situation and Cromwell was stripped of his titles and honours and sent to the Tower.
He followed More, Ann (and her supposed fellow adulterers) to the block and lost his head on 28 July, 1540.
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