An effective organizer and administrator in Henry VIII’s England whose ideas and methods are still used by the British government of today, Thomas Cromwell was also notoriously greedy and corrupt, gathering power and wealth to advance himself and his family.
Cromwell rose to power to become Henry VIII’s most ascendant minister following the fall from grace of Cardinal Wolsey, chancellor of England and the king’s main minister for whom Cromwell worked as an assistant. Wolsey failed to obtain a divorce from the Pope for Henry and Catherine of Aragon so that the king could marry Anne Boleyn and father a male heir.
Cromwell helped Henry get rid of Anne Boleyn and acquire new wives - Jane Seymour, who died, then Anne of Cleves, whom Henry would divorce. He also assisted the king in financial and political matters that benefitted them both, knowing that he had to stay on Henry’s good graces or he would fall like Wolsey and others had. While Cromwell also counseled Henry in religious matters, but he was too liberal for Henry, who still favored many Roman Catholic practices. This, along with Cromwell’s failure regarding the marriage of Anne of Cleves, led to his downfall and ultimately his execution as a traitor.
Before Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from power, the chancellor dissolved some of the lesser monasteries to raise money to found some colleges. Cromwell would later remember this dissolution idea and employ it on a larger scale, becoming infamous for his role in the dissolution of the monasteries and other religious houses in England.
The British nobility despised this corrupt lower-class upstart willing to do favors when a bribe was paid him. Cromwell held back some of the wealth from the dissolved monasteries to buy and maintain the loyalty of others to himself. He was responsible for the destruction of many pieces of English art and architecture to get at the precious metals and jewels they contained and encouraged the destruction of many shrines in England, like that of St. Thomas ŕ Becket at Canterbury and St. Swithun at Winchester. He also destroyed some burial places of kings and queens; Henry didn’t care, as long as it brought him wealth. Cromwell was also behind the deaths of many of the first English martyrs who are held today as saints or blessed.
Robert Hutchinson’s wonderfully entertaining biography uses quotes from various sources of Cromwell’s time period. The author gives helpful monetary then-vs.-now equivalencies so that the reader has a better idea of how much money Cromwell was working with. The volume includes a centerfold of color images, endnotes, a bibliography, an index, a chronology and a list and short biography of major characters in the biography. The book jacket boasts an image of Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Hampton Court.
Robert Hutchinson is an expert on the Reformation in England and Wales and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. He is an associate tutor in church archaeology at the University of Sussex’s Center (England) for Continuing Education and is the author of many papers. He is the author of The Last Days of Henry VIII (2006), Elizabeth’s Spymaster (2007), and The House of Treason: The Rise and the Fall of a Tudor Dynasty (2009).