Just managed to finish Wolf Hall the award winning book by Hilary Mantel. Set in Tudor England it charts the rise of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister. I have always been fascinated by history and the Tudor periods is one of the most important for an understanding of Britain.
Out of this period arose colossus such as Cranmer, Shakespeare and Tyndale. Three people who helped to define and mould the English language.
On the political front the rise, starting under Henry VII, of those from none noble backgrounds rose apace (although this can be overdone given how small the nobility was in the 15th century).
And in the background the inherent instability of the monarchs. All the Tudors faced real threats to their thrones and it was unsurprising that Henry VIII was so desperate to have a male heir.
The book is very good, albeit a work of fiction, in portraying the key characters. Thomas More is dealt with more sympathetically than I would but, given the authors Catholic upbringing, far from a hagiography. Henry is given depth, Anne Boleyn as continually plotting.
Of course, the key character, Thomas Cromwell, emerges a rounded character formed by his upbringing and experiences. Often not given a positive character by many writers (people often compare Thomas More and his principles standing up to Henry VIII to Thomas Cromwell executing the King’s wishes).
But Thomas Cromwell helped to forge a united kingdom in an age of turbulence. He helped to chart a way through the disputes of the 16th century that helped keep England largely stay at peace (especially when you compare this to France and its wars of religion or Germany). No small achievement. He foreshadowed the Elizabethan settlement that meant that England never had the rabid state sponsored anti-clericalism of say France.
The book manages to capture the ups and downs of the era and how quickly one persons fortunes could alter. A fascinating book and worthy winner of last year’s Man Booker prize.