Thomas Cromwell: A Life

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9781846144295: Thomas Cromwell: A Life
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A SUNDAY TIMES, THE TIMES, DAILY TELEGRAPH, SPECTATOR, FINANCIAL TIMES, GUARDIAN, BBC HISTORY BOOK OF THE YEAR

'This is the biography we have been awaiting for 400 years' Hilary Mantel
'A masterpiece' Dan Jones, Sunday Times

Thomas Cromwell is one of the most famous - or notorious - figures in English history. Born in obscurity in Putney, he became a fixer for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s. After Wolsey's fall, Henry VIII promoted him to a series of ever greater offices, and by the end of the 1530s he was effectively running the country for the King. That decade was one of the most momentous in English history: it saw a religious break with the Pope, unprecedented use of parliament, the dissolution of all monasteries. Cromwell was central to all this, but establishing his role with precision, at a distance of nearly five centuries and after the destruction of many of his papers at his own fall, has been notoriously difficult.

Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography is much the most complete and persuasive life ever written of this elusive figure, a masterclass in historical detective work, making connections not previously seen. It overturns many received interpretations, for example that Cromwell was a cynical, 'secular' politician without deep-felt religious commitment, or that he and Anne Boleyn were allies because of their common religious sympathies - in fact he destroyed her. It introduces the many different personalities of these foundational years, all conscious of the 'terrifyingly unpredictable' Henry VIII. MacCulloch allows readers to feel that they are immersed in all this, that it is going on around them.

For a time, the self-made 'ruffian' (as he described himself) - ruthless, adept in the exercise of power, quietly determined in religious revolution - was master of events. MacCulloch's biography for the first time reveals his true place in the making of modern England and Ireland, for good and ill.

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Review:

Thomas Cromwell has famously defied his biographers, but no more. Diarmaid MacCulloch's book is subtle, witty and precisely constructed. He has sifted the vast archive to clear away the accumulated error, muddle and propaganda of centuries, allowing us to see this clever and fascinating man better than ever before, and in the mirror of his times. This is the biography we have been awaiting for 400 years (Hilary Mantel)

Balances a wealth of particular detail with a consistent grasp on the larger story, and holds the attention for the whole of its formidable length ... a model of classical historical biography at its finest (Rowan Williams New Statesman)

Triumphant and definitive ... a masterpiece of documentary detective-work, which buzzes with the excitement of a great historian immersed in archives (Dan Jones Sunday Times)

Anyone looking for the true story of Wolf Hall will be challenged, but also mightily rewarded (Jessie Childs Guardian)

MacCulloch's skill is to introduce even the general reader to the thrill of a historian's process ... and, golly, can MacCulloch make a Tudor paper-trail seem exciting (Kate Maltby Financial Times)

Meticulous and magisterial ... If this is not the definitive biography, I don't know what that would look like (Peter Marshall Literary Review)

Thrilling ... A human drama replete with sickening bloodshed, intrigue, torture and treachery (Robert McCrum Observer)

Captivating and definitive ... MacCulloch gives us depth and perspective on the contradictions and inconsistencies of a man who improvised just as much as he choreographed his way to power (Marcus Nevitt Spectator)

This book is the counter-weight to fiction and speculation, a formidably detailed and precise account ... This book is the work of an internationally renowned historian at the top of his game (Lucy Wooding Times Literary Supplement)

From the Back Cover:

Thomas Cromwell is one of the most famous - or notorious - figures in English history. Born in obscurity in Putney, he became a fixer for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s. After Wolsey's fall, Henry VIII promoted him to a series of ever greater offices, and by the end of the 1530s he was effectively running the country for the King. That decade was one of the most momentous in English history: it saw a religious break with the Pope, unprecedented use of parliament, the dissolution of all monasteries. Cromwell was central to all this, but establishing his role with precision, at a distance of nearly five centuries and after the destruction of many of his papers at his own fall, has been notoriously difficult.

Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography is much the most complete and persuasive life ever written of this elusive figure, a masterclass in historical detective work, making connections not previously seen. It overturns many received interpretations, for example that Cromwell was a cynical, 'secular' politician without deep-felt religious commitment, or that he and Anne Boleyn were allies because of their common religious sympathies - in fact he destroyed her. It introduces the many different personalities of these foundational years, all conscious of the 'terrifyingly unpredictable' Henry VIII. MacCulloch allows readers to feel that they are immersed in all this, that it is going on around them.

For a time, the self-made 'ruffian' (as he described himself) - ruthless, adept in the exercise of power, quietly determined in religious revolution - was master of events. MacCulloch's biography for the first time reveals his true place in the making of modern England and Ireland, for good and ill.

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