Since the 16th century, we have been fascinated by Henry VIII and the man who stood beside him, guiding him, enriching him, and enduring the king's insatiable appetites and violent outbursts until Henry ordered his beheading in July 1540. After a decade of sleuthing in the royal archives, Diarmaid MacCulloch has emerged with a new understanding of Henry's mercurial chief minister, the inscrutable Thomas Cromwell.
His hugely impressive life of Cromwell ... employs...sources with an immensely painstaking concern to reconstruct the exact order in which events occurred and to ascertain who was where at any given time. He is also able to draw upon an abundance of scholarly writing on the period, much of it of very high quality ... Although his own writing is lucid, witty, and acerbic, MacCulloch’s extremely detailed book—with its careful argumentation, its large cast, and its intricate reconstruction of the networks, connections, and affinities at the court of Henry VIII—makes heavy demands on the reader’s memory and powers of concentration. MacCulloch knows his characters intimately ... But unlike a novelist, he cannot make things up when the evidence is not there. As a result, his narrative abounds in fascinating probabilities, most of them highly plausible but none of them certain. All too often he has to use words like 'maybe' or 'likely' or 'possibly' or 'perhaps.' He does, however, dispel much of the mystery that previously surrounded Cromwell’s early life ... it is hard to imagine that Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life, based on research spread over several decades, will ever be replaced.
A masterpiece of documentary detective-work, which buzzes with the excitement of a great historian immersed in archives, interrogating not only the thousands of papers Cromwell left behind, but also the gaps left by a (presumed) shredding of evidence as Cromwell’s partisans sought to save him from the king’s wrath at the end ... acute, elegant and devastating.
A major work of scholarship of the type that will reset academic understanding of Tudor politics for a generation...MacCulloch’s dry donnish humour lifts each page...part of MacCulloch’s skill is to introduce even the general reader to the thrill of a historian’s process.