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Thomas Cromwell: A Life

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  174 ratings  ·  50 reviews
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, such that in the 1530s he was effectively running the country for the King. That decade was one of the most momentous in Engl ...more
Hardcover, 1st U.K. edition, 752 pages
Published September 27th 2018 by Allen Lane
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4.05  · 
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 ·  174 ratings  ·  50 reviews


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Roman Clodia
Jul 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
As we would expect from MacCulloch this is a finely researched and detailed scholarly study of Cromwell. Given MacCulloch’s own research interests, it’s also one which reads Cromwell through his religious activities: here called ‘evangelical’ rather than the anachronistic ‘Protestant’.

If you want a personality study then this might disappoint: the sources simply don’t give us access to Cromwell the private man (for that go to fiction such as Hilary Mantel), so that when, for example, we learn t
...more
Juliew.
Mar 10, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: tudor
I want to say this seemed much more like a history of English Parliament and court happenings during Henry VIII's reign rather than a biography on Thomas Cromwell.Based supposedly on court records and Cromwell's archive of letters I found the lack of these glaringly obvious.While no doubt the author does present some I found the sections focusing on them quickly swept away while the author tended to move on rather than give a true study to them.I also found lots of secondary sources are used in ...more
Ivor Armistead
Nov 28, 2018 rated it liked it
Finished with, but not finished. I read a lot of English history and think of myself as a buff, but I gave up on this biography of Thomas Cromwell after a couple of hundred pages. I don’t question the books contribution to Cromwell scholarship, but it’s not an easy read. Hence the three star rating.

Hilary Mantel, where is volume three?
Czarny Pies
Mar 30, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers who know Tudor history very well.
Shelves: european-history
At the beginning of his biography of Thomas Cromwell (the chief Minister of Henry VIII from 1532 to 1540), author Diarmaid MacCulloch laments loudly on the tremendous gaps in the archival material. He then proceeds into 500 pages of daring inferencing which allows him to transform Thomas Cromwell with his thoroughly black soul into a great hero of the Anglican Church.
While singing Cromwell's praises, Diarmaid MacCulloch does acknowledge that Cromwell was a devious opportunist who advanced his o
...more
V.E. Lynne
Jan 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Thomas Cromwell has always defied biographers because so little is known of much of his life and many of his papers went missing, probably burnt, after his fall from power in 1540. Diarmaid MacCulloch has gone a long way toward redressing that situation by producing an exhaustive whopper of a book that gets as close as anybody is going to in portraying the life and career of Thomas Cromwell. There is quite a bit on his Putney childhood, and how it shaped his whole life, and the role that Italy p ...more
Trish
Oct 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Until Hilary Mantel wrote “Wolf Hall”, I had almost no knowledge of the extraordinary English “Reformation”; the Anglican Church only impinged on Scotland when that tyrannical Charles I and his son tried to impose their personal “papacy” on us, with murderous results.
Diarmaid MacCulloch has produced an informative and entertaining biography of Cromwell, who managed to survive working for that impossible, cruel, narcissistic, unpredictable King Henry VIII for longer than anyone could have imagin
...more
Marks54
Feb 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best critical one volume biographies I have ever read. It is a huge detailed book that covers everything relevant to a complicated and important life with great style and an admirable focus. This book requires much context and is not for everyone. Cromwell was one of the major figures in early modern British history and had aspects of his life that are relevant to Brexit era Britain as well as Trump era America, although I do not want to stretch the point too much.

Cromwell was
...more
Adrienne Dillard
Apr 08, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2019
This is a tome only for those who feel like getting deep and sweaty into the nitty-gritty...not only of Cromwell's life, but the inner workings of the Tudor government, both secular and religious. Highly detailed and vastly referenced. My only note is that the very brief mention of Jane Boleyn came across as inordinately contemptuous, which made that particular chapter difficult for me to read.
Tim and Popie Stafford
Jan 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
A very detailed, gossipy account of Cromwell that takes great care to reveal its sources, not just in footnotes but in explanation of what we know and don't know, and what documents reveal just what. Not easy reading, but given my ardent love of Wolf Hall, I found it very engaging.
Socraticgadfly
MacCulloch shows once again how and why he is the dean of British Reformation historians with this magnificent, magisterial biography.

At core, MacCulloch shows that, while there would not have been an English Reformation without Henry VIII and his concern for his succession (obviously) that Reformation happened as it did do to the activity of Cromwell more than any other single person. And, that was with Cromwell regularly pushing the bounds and envelopes of both his official power, and even mor
...more
Theodore Kinni
Sep 18, 2018 rated it liked it
If you want to know everything there is to know about Thomas Cromwell, this is the book: 5 stars. As it turned out, I didn't, and quit after 200 pages: 1 star
Joel Mitchell
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In his exhaustive portrait of Thomas Cromwell, the author focused largely on Cromwell’s overseeing and nudging the English Reformation in an Evangelical (i.e. Protestant) direction. The English branch of the Protestant Reformation was seemingly driven more by lust and greed than concern for godly living or doctrinal purity. However, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s thesis is that Cromwell was driven, at least in part, by real (but cautiously concealed) Evangelical leanings.

MacCulloch’s biography is built o
...more
Ian Houston
Mar 24, 2019 rated it really liked it
Like most of MacCulloch's work, his life of Cromwell is set to become a 'set text' for the subject. It's well-researched and well-written, but not something to curl up with for a jolly evening in. I read it in numerous 'nibbles', a few pages or a section at a time, rather than devouring it wholesale. The narrative gains pace as Cromwell's early life, his service with Cardinal Wolsey and his initial service with King Henry are examined in great detail. But then, just when Cromwell is at the heigh ...more
Peter
Mar 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
This is way too advanced a history to be read cold, I.e., without any background of the era or the people. Although the reviewer at the Financial Times spoke highly of it, I now realize such person probably read at Oxford or Cambridge, or, in any case has substantially more knowledge of this period of English history than little ol’ me. I found myself running into a deep forest of English place names, families and characters in the first 25 pages and thought I would stop while I could still see ...more
Johanne
Feb 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very good, very detailed. Not a light work and not a book to pick up if you are expecting behind the scenes at "Wolf Hall". This is solid, scholarly, biography, there are occasional flashes of wit but you need a good grasp of Tudor politics to hold on to this. Still, if you want to see the Tudor foundations of where we are now and the intelligent if sometimes erratic force behind them this is the book for you.
Caroline
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Well. This was interesting. As a historian of the English reformation, MacCulloch packs a lot of credibility, and I'm in no position to judge his assertions. Having said that - this was a slow but compelling read. (I have to say that my eye moved quickly through some of the discussions of how a certain person was connected in the webs of court and nobility to another; but that's ok...) His piecing together of what Cromwell might have been doing before he came back to England as a young man and g ...more
Ethan
Jan 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, christianity
Utterly magisterial and thorough exploration into the life of Thomas Cromwell.

Based on voluminous research of all existing primary and secondary sources regarding Thomas Cromwell, the author sets forth his thesis of Cromwell as having developed a religious faith highly influenced by the Nicodemians he encountered in his youth in Italy, and in so doing was able to work to build Tudor England as not only a modern state but specifically a more "evangelical" one. The author buttresses the argument b
...more
Colin
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I wavered on whether I should give this four or five, but in the end settled on five. I am not at all an expert in this domain, and I don't know enough about Cromwell to have a particular opinion on the picture MacCulloch presents of him, so this review should be read with as much scepticism if you like.

MacCulloch's book is a work of genuine scholarship: he has trawled through Cromwell's letters to build up a picture of his life, rather than just collated other work. I enjoyed the scans of and
...more
Toby
Mar 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
The day after finishing this superb biography I am conducting a funeral at the twelfth century Beauchief Abbey, dissolved by Cromwell's commissioners in 1538 (though happily having a second life as an extra-parochial place of worship). Beauchief was a small establishment, only housing a dozen or so monks, but it owned significant lands and mills in the prosperous countryside of Derbyshire and so was ripe for plucking by Tudor avarice.

Hilary Mantell has given us a very human Cromwell that draws o
...more
Maura Heaphy
Dec 29, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: abandoned
The library needs to have it back, so I'm taking an enforced break -- and putting my name at the end of the reservation list. So I may get it back next Christmas.

This is excellent, but very, very dense -- not for the faint-hearted. A fascinating insight into a man who remains a controversial figure in British history, almost 480 years after his death. Spoiler alert, Thomas Cromwell probably wasn't anything like the warm, cuddly, almost modern individual we know and love from Hilary Mantel's Wo
...more
Ruth Dipple
Feb 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As others have observed this is not an easy read but it well rewards the persevering reader. Naturally it is a work of impeccable scholarships, sometimes with witty or acerbic asides that bring the very detailed account to life. The book is particularly strong on assembling the web of influence and patronage that were a hallmark of Tudor politics, but it contains many genuine surprises too (for instance, the solidly administrative beginning of his career under Wolsey , and later hiss part in the ...more
Andrew Johnson
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I found this a fascinating read, and, as a general reader who is not a history buff nor a Tudor enthusiast, I have to disagree with all those who recommend it only for those types of reader.

One of the things I found most fascinating is the detail MacCulloch gives on the research behind the book, often pointing out in the main text (not just in the footnotes) his reasons for claiming other historians have misdated certain letters, and also drawing inferences from other sources not considered by o
...more
Jason Wilson
Dec 19, 2018 rated it really liked it
Traditionally a rapacious mercenary whose reputation has been rethought in recent years, Cromwell here emerges as a man who was ruthless when required by King Henry’s will, but as with more famous descendant Oliver , much more nuanced. He was loyal to his master Wolsey when the latter fall made it dangerous, and Machulloch credits this with his anti Boleyn feeling and his undoubtedly untruthful part in her fall .He also tried to protect some monasteries despite his dislike of them and pushed the ...more
Riet
Feb 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Een zeer goede en uitgebreide biografie van niet zozeer Cromwell (er is niet genoeg bekend over zijn persoonlijke leven) als wel van de Engelse Reformatie onder Hendrik VIII. Het is geen makkelijk boek, maar wel heel interessant. De simplistische opvatting uit onze geschiedenisboekjes over de "coup" van Hendrik VIII tegen de Rooms Katholieke kerk wordt goed weerlegd. Er was heel wat meer aan de hand dan alleen maar het ongeldig verklaren van zijn eerste huwelijk.
Dit boek is een mooie aanvulling
...more
Ionia
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
As is always the case with Diarmaid MacCulloch, this is a well-researched and painstakingly accurate portrayal of an important but often misunderstood historical figure. I doubt there will be many questions one could pose about Thomas Cromwell that this book could not answer.

I learned a lot of things that I wasn't aware of, and felt that this book clarified some grey area for me that had never quite made sense before. As a longtime researcher of Henry VIII, I have, of course, become quite famil
...more
LaShon Christen
Apr 16, 2019 rated it liked it
This book should be rated separately for research and readability. It deserves 5 stars for the level of detail in the research. Ultimately, those details made the book a tedious 3 star read. There was a cast of thousands and diversions through Europe so long that you could forget the book is about Cromwell. A few light-hearted "reader you will remember" lines could not inject any Jane Austen wit into the text.
Stuart Brown
Nov 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
Exactly what you’d expect if you’ve read any other of MacCulloch’s writing: an exhaustive, detailed, and careful biography of Cromwell, focussing largely on his role in promoting the English Reformation. Well written, with the well-judged flashes of style and humour that make MacCulloch so enjoyable.
Elisabeth Marksteiner
Apr 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is full-on history, not a filler for Wolf Hall... with that in mind, it is masterful. The narrative never falters despite, or because of the detail. The depth of Cromwell’s regard for his son shines out, as does the gratitude to Wolsey. I will re-read this with pleasure to try to put flesh on that wonderful picture in the Frick. Outstanding!
Joe Tristram
Nov 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think this was probably very good indeed. I don't usually read biography, so don't have anything to compare it with, but found it full of detailed information, written in a lively style. I picked it up because i was getting bored waiting for Hilary Mantel's third volume and wanted to know wage happens next : now I know!
Mervyn S Whyte
Dec 04, 2018 rated it really liked it
Usual tale of greed, money, sex and ambition. Only it's told in quite a dense, technical way. I wouldn't say it's the easiest of reads. And I don't have the subject knowledge to know how accurate it all is. But it's certainly very impressive. A well-researched, scholarly, account of one of the administrative genius's of English history.
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