Book Review: Thomas Cromwell and House of Treason

Thomas Cromwell is infamous for his role in the dissolution of the monasteries and other religious houses in England during the reign of King Henry VIII. He had worked as an assistant to Cardinal Wolsey, chancellor of England and the main minister for the king. Wolsey had dissolved some of the lesser monasteries to raise money to found some colleges. Cromwell would later remember this dissolution idea and use it on a larger scale.

Thomas Cromwell: The rise and fall of Henry VIII’s most notorious minister by Robert Hutchinson. (New York : St. Martin’s Press. 360 pages. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-57794-0. $29.99.) Tells the story of Cardinal Wolsey’s fall from power over his failure to obtain a divorce from the Pope for Henry VIII who wanted to put away Catherine of Aragon so that he could marry Anne Boleyn and obtain a male heir. Cromwell then rose to power to become Henry’s most important minister. He assisted Henry to get rid of Anne Boleyn and to get new wives, Jane Seymour who died and then Anne of Cleves whom Henry divorced. Cromwell also helped Henry in financial and political matters which benefitted them both. Cromwell knew that he had to stay on Henry’s good graces or he would fall like Wolsey and others had done. He also assisted Henry in religious matters, but he was too liberal for Henry who still favored many Roman Catholic practices. This and Cromwell’s failure with the marriage of Anne of Cleves led to his downfall and his execution as a traitor.

Thomas Cromwell was a great organizer and administrator. Many of the ideas and methods he installed in the English government are still used by the British government of today. Greedy for power and wealth, he used his position to advance himself and his family. He was hated by the nobility who saw him as an upstart since he came from the poor class of England. He was corrupt and willing to do favors when a bribe was paid him. He held back some of the wealth from the dissolved monasteries and used some of it as bribes for others to keep them loyal to him. He was responsible for the destruction of many pieces of English art and architecture in order to get at the precious metals and jewels they were made of. He encouraged the destruction of many shrines in England like that of St. Thomas a Becket at Canterbury and St. Swithun and Winchester. He also destroyed some burial places of kings and queens, but Henry did not care as long as it brought him wealth. Cromwell was behind the martyrdom of many of the first English martyrs who are held today as saints or blessed.

Robert Hutchinson’s wonderful and entertaining book will keep the reader very interested and unwilling to put it down. Hutchinson uses quotes from various sources from Cromwell’s time period. He gives an equivalent for monetary amounts in his story so that the reader will have a better idea of how much money Cromwell was working with. There is a centerfold of color images. There are endnotes, a bibliography, and an index. There is a chronology and a list and short biography of major characters in the biography. The book jacket has an image of Thomas Cromwell, King Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn, and Hampton Court.

Another wonderful book about the same time period, and by the same author, is House of Treason: the rise and fall of a Tudor Dynasty (London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009. 340 pages. Hardback. ISBN 978-0-297-84564-5. $32.77). This one is on the noble Howard family of England during the reign of the Tudors. This family was involved in the government of England because they were a high ranking family with royal blood which got some into trouble. The early dukes at times became too proud of their blood line and were seen as competitors with the King or Queen who were jealous of their prerogatives. This was because the Howards might have had a better claim to the throne than did the Tudors since they had Plantagenet connections. Some of the Dukes of Norfolk ran afoul of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I and were executed for treason. Hutchinson describes all the intrigues and excitement this family got into. One of the Howards, Philip Howard, Earl of Arundel, died in the Tower of London after having becoming a Catholic and was canonized a saint in 1970 by Pope Paul VI. The Howard family continued to have Catholic leanings which got some into trouble with the government. This is where the book ends, with the advent of the reign of the Stuarts and the Howard family surviving the Tudors

Robert Hutchinson is an expert on the Reformation in England and Wales and a Fellow of the Society of Antiquities. He is an associate tutor in church archaeology at the University of Sussex’s Center (England) for Continuing Education and is the author of many papers. He is the author of The Last Days of Henry VIII (2006), Elizabeth’s Spymaster (2007).

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