Thomas Cromwell – The untold story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant by Tracy Borman

Thomas Cromwell is known to millions through Hilary Mantel’s best-selling Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.   But who was the real Thomas Cromwell?

Born a lowly tavern keeper’s son, Cromwell rose swiftly through the ranks to become Henry VIII’s right hand man.  A ruthless politician, he was also a loving husband, father and guardian, and a loyal and devoted servant.  With fresh research and new insights, Tracy Borman tells the story of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant.

As a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies I was eager to read Tracy Borman’s research into arguably the most famous Chief Minister to the Crown that has ever lived.   Thomas Cromwell’s involvement in the English Reformation and the rise and subsequent downfall of Anne Boleyn is widely known and recounted in detail in the book.   However, Tracy Borman’s exhaustive research into the archives provides further insights into Cromwell’s personality and his numerous brilliant accomplishments that fascinate the reader.

Thomas Cromwell’s meteoric rise from commoner to one of the most powerful men in England is well documented.  Widely travelled in his early life and a shrewd lawyer, he was plucked from obscurity to become a key part of Cardinal Wolsey’s household.

After Wolsey’s fall, Cromwell managed to secure favour with Henry VIII where his spectacular rise to power began.     Cromwell’s work on the Reformation swelled the Royal coffers significantly for which he was generously rewarded.  His accolades included Lord Great Chamberlain, Lord Privy Seal, Master of the Rolls, Principal Secretary and 1st Earl of Essex to name but a few.

The book recounts in detail Cromwell’s loyalty to the King throughout some of the most turbulent times of his reign and indeed British history.

While recounting these periods, Tracy Borman gives us a glimpse of the man behind the hype.    Whilst pragmatic and at times ruthless, Cromwell appears to have been a devoted husband, father and benefactor, known for his wit, generosity and love of the arts.    He was renowned for his work with the poor and disadvantaged and would regularly take time out of his punishing schedule for the King’s work to plan and instigate social and economic reforms to improve conditions for those less fortunate.   Whilst frugal, the book details the manner in which he ran his household, the education he organised for his son and nephew, his pastimes and even details of the food ordered for his kitchens.

The book recounts in detail Cromwell’s uneasy relationships with the various movers and shakers of Henry VIII’s court including Anne Boleyn, the infamous Duke of Norfolk, Stephen Gardiner and Eustace Chapuys.   Much was made of Cromwell’s humble origins and the fact that he presumed to raise his profile in the royal court did not sit well with the titled gentry such as the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk.

Ultimately it was a combination of religious ambition, politics, Henry VIII’s inconstancy and the conservative factions of the Court that proved to be Cromwell’s undoing and he was executed on Tower Hill in July of 1540.

Tracy Borman suggests that in his latter years, Henry VIII lamented the loss of his Chief Minister, referring to him as the ‘most faithful servant he had ever had’.

Despite Cromwell’s fall from grace, his son, Gregory and his nephew, Richard survived his fall and prospered under Henry VIII.  The next infamous Cromwell would not appear until 1599 in the guise of Oliver Cromwell, Richard Cromwell’s great grandson.

Thomas Cromwell’s skill as a lawyer lives on.    Only recently his Statute of Proclamations (allowing the monarch to make or change laws without further consultation with the House of Lords or Parliament) made headlines as its use is being considered as part of the British Government’s plans for Brexit.

Tracy Borman’s re-examination of Cromwell’s life and work is truly engaging and draws the reader in to reach past the traditionally accepted idea of Cromwell as shrewd courtier and ruthless schemer with tantalising glimpses of his private life as a husband, father and a charming and engaging loyal friend to many.

By Kate Hope

Visit Tracy Borman’s official website.

Follow Tracy on Twitter: @BormanTracy

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