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Thomas Cromwell

(c. 1485-1540)

Like Sir Thomas More, Thomas Cromwell is another character that history can't seem to agree on.

He has traditionally been considered a violent thug, because he was the man Henry VIII put in charge of the dissolution of the monasteries. So it was under his supervision that men stormed in and seized the treasures of monasteries all over England, destroying many beautiful buildings and other things along the way. In other eras, the same behaviour has been called looting and pillaging.

However, as the protagonist of Hilary Mantel's novels, 'Wolf Hall', 'Bring up the Bodies', 'The Mirror and the Light', Thomas Cromwell appears as a likeable and reasonable man, a good master and loyal friend. As with Sir Thomas More, it is difficult to reconcile these two accounts (though we have to remember that Hilary Mantel is writing fiction, which isn't necessarily the same as truth!).

One remarkable fact about Thomas Cromwell is that he rose to be one of the most important men in the land, despite being born the son of a blacksmith. In Tudor times, when family was everything, this was quite extraordinary, and it is something that Tobias mentions in The Falconer's Quarry.

Thomas Cromwell, painted by guess who? Yes, Hans Holbein the Younger!

Over time, Thomas Cromwell managed to make himself one of Henry VIII's most trusted advisors. He engineered Henry's divorce from Catherine, making way for his marriage to Anne Boleyn, and then helped to bring about Anne Boleyn's execution when Henry wanted to marry Jane Seymour. However, like so many powerful men in Tudor times, Cromwell made many enemies. Eventually, he fell out of favour with the king, perhaps because he arranged Henry's disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves. His enemies closed in, and in 1540, Henry had him executed.

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