Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister by Robert Hutchinson - review by Anne Somerset

Anne Somerset

An Agent Of Tyranny

Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister


Weidenfeld & Nicolson 368pp £20

Thomas Cromwell has had his apologists. The late Sir Geoffrey Elton hailed him as Henry VIII's not-so-evil genius, admiring him for his political vision and structural innovations in government. Yet even he could never make Cromwell an appealing figure, and for many he has remained the arch-villain of Tudor England. In this gripping and solidly researched biography, Robert Hutchinson zestfully presents the case for the prosecution. Cromwell is convincingly presented not only as a frighteningly efficient agent of tyranny but as a cruel and grasping individual whose contempt for justice and human rights transformed the kingdom into a near-totalitarian state. It is no defence that Cromwell's ruthlessness merely reflected that of his master Henry VIII, who ultimately repaid his servant's loyalty by casting him to the wolves. Hutchinson relates the story of Cromwell's downfall, like that of his career, with tremendous verve, and while it is hard to feel compassion, the account of how he was destroyed by 'the bloody laws' he had introduced reads like Greek tragedy.

Cromwell occupied high office for just under ten years, and it is astonishing what he achieved in that short time. Having avoided being dragged down when his first employer, Cardinal Wolsey, fell from power, Cromwell had entered the Privy Council by January 1531. His path to power was assured when

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