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Servant or Indispensable Right-hand - Review of Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII by David Loades

Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII

by David Loades


I have titled this review ‘Servant or Indispensable Right-hand for the pure and simply reason that having read David Loades’ eye-opening and enlightening delve into Thomas Cromwell and his life my opinion of the man has radically changed; now I question how he was regarded by Henry VIII as well as the character of the man himself.

Thomas Cromwell was born in Putney or thereabouts, being a smith’s son whose mother was married afterwards to a shearman...”  -  John Foxe

I, like I suspect many if not all of us have always looked upon Cromwell as an upstart commoner who rolled into the Tudor court, caused plenty of trouble and did everything he could to line his own pockets. Our view of Cromwell being well and truly governed by film and TV series alike and shaped by the descriptions of those Anne Boleynophiles that have nowt good to say about him. Usually what you read of him in books about other Tudor celebrities is less than favourable, painting a very manipulative and nasty individual who is only interested in his own furtherment and care not a jot for those who have the misfortune to get in his way.

I must confess that I thought I was not going to learn anything different about Cromwell from this book, thinking in totally ignorance that we all know what he was about. This could not be further from the truth. Loades’ writing style sucks you straight in and is genuinely easy to read which turns Cromwell into a veritable page turning subject matter. Once you start this book you will not want to put it down as it will fire a quest to know more about who Cromwell was, where he came from and what his true intentions and nature were.

Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII opens up the man like an autopsy showing us what made him tick. Loades has used primary and secondary sources copiously and to good effect, drawing on first hand accounts, those of people in and around the Tudor court that may not necessarily have had direct contact with him, his peers and those who came after him. He also uses biographies written by more recent historians and scholars. All sources are gathered in one place and presented in a way that it is easily understood with relevant conclusions or hypothesises. Mr Loades seems to have decided to stay well away from making sweeping conclusions and leaves the facts speak for themselves. The reader can go with what is presented to them as to the person and his character or they can use what they read to draw their own conclusions; or indeed a bit of both.

I could be taking a risk here but I would guarantee that most who read this book will learn at least one thing they did not know about Cromwell. I am also almost as confident that you will change if not your whole outlook on Cromwell but at least some part of it, I know I did. Loades engages you and draws you into his subjects life, peeling back the layers and sometimes masks that time has covered Cromwell in or put on his true-self. History loves a bad guy and he is one of them, especially if you are an avid Anne Boleyn fan and follow the path and belief that he was responsible for her death and the downfall of the Boleyn faction. I cannot say if I could say even now whether I thought Cromwell was the complete instigator of the fall or just the tool used to implement it, but after reading this book I find myself swaying more to one option than the other. Nope, not going to say which side I’m leaning to as this review is not about that and I do not want to cloud anyones feelings on the subject after they finish the book.


Thomas Cromwell

Safe to say I would heartily recommend Loades’ look at Cromwell whether you love or loath the man. You will be entertained by this book and you will find it highly interesting. You will also learn a lot and may even change your mind on what he did, what he stood for and who is was as a person. I certainly now can refer you to the title of this review as I am left thinking that this vile, nasty man was more indispensable to Henry than most others and his death is definitely something that Henry regretted after the fact. I would also say that Cromwell did much good on the quiet, much work behind the scenes to soften the blow to some, worked to make a better ruler even. On the flip side Cromwell now comes across as someone who enforced the law thoroughly, though fairly it would seem, and would not hesitate to ‘off’ someone who did not tow the line if he felt it necessary.

It pleaseth his majesty to use me in then lieu of a councillor, whose office is as an eye to the Prince, to forsee and in time to provide remedy for such abuses ... as might else, with a little sufferance engender more evil in his public weal than could be redubbed with much labour.  -  Thomas Cromwell

Cromwell had friends, he had enemies, he had those he used and he had those who used him; all of these are explored in this book, no stone left unturned. You will not only travel through Cromwell’s life but also briefly (and relevantly) through those whose lives he influenced or had dealings with, and those who influenced and in some cases meddled in his. Supporters were there but so were those who could not abide this jumped up little upstart wafting around like something he was not - he was common and not noble in their eyes, never would be and this was a dangerous position for him which Loades highlights perfectly.

You will also be taken on a journey into Cromwell’s religious beliefs and where his religious loyalties lay. The information that is given to you may well surprise you. What you may have suspected to have been his ‘type’ of religion could be not what you expected. Would you think him a pious man? Would you think him a reformer? Read this book and you will find possible answers to those questions. Loades also looks into Cromwell's hand in the dissolution of the monasteries and exactly what he did and didn't do, what blame can be laid on his shoulders and where he actually tried to help those involved with the monasteries to be disolved.

To sum up, before I give into the urge to run through the whole book with you all, go and buy this book, read it, learn from it and you will not be disappointed. Enter into it with an open mind, willing to swayed from your set in concrete opinion of the person you thought Cromwell was and you may surprise yourself at the other end of it. David Loades has worked his magic again and this is one for your bookshelf, Tudorites and non-Tudorites alike. Enjoy!

Review by Darren Wilkins
The Tudor Roses

Book author - David Loades
Publisher - Amberley Publishing

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