I am not fond of Thomas Cromwell

I confess. I have not read either of Hillary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall or Bringing Up the Bodies. Mea Culpa.

I’ve heard that they are excellent (and I am sure that they are), but I freely admit that I am afraid I will not enjoy them because I am not crazy for the protagonist, Thomas Cromwell.


Frankly, I actively dislike the bugger.

My dislike stems mainly from his part in the judicial murder of Anne Boleyn. Once an ally to this Queen, he later turned on her over her resistance to his over-zealous persecution of Catholic institutions in England, which he seems to have done less from religious conviction and more to fill the treasury of Henry VIII (and to subsequently line his own pockets). Anne wanted to break from the Vatican and to close down some of the most corrupt large monasteries and abbeys, but she wanted to keep the smaller, more honest, religious houses intact so they could function as schools and hospitals for their communities. She, being devotedly Christian, had no desire to throw the serviceable baby out with the dogmatic bathwater. Cromwell, however, appears to have just wanted the land and wealth of the newly dissolved religious houses so Henry could distribute it among those the King (and Cromwell) favored. When it became clear that Anne was willing to fight, Cromwell betrayed her, let Henry set up a love nest with Jane Seymour in Cromwell’s own rooms at court, and conspired with Jane’s faction to get Anne beheaded by exploiting Henry’s paranoia and altered mental state (which y’all know I think was caused by McLeod syndrome).

In my opinion Cromwell was as ruthless and manipulating a courtier who ever infested the royal palaces, so I just don’t see myself warming to his side of the story. Although I have to admit he could also be very kind to those who he felt were dependent on him, properly groveling, and/or useful, so there probably were some “good points” in his tale.

A miniseries based on Mantel’s books is now in the works. Mark Ryland as been cast as Cromwell. He’s an excellent actor so that’s a very good thing. Nevertheless, I have to say that James Frain, the actor who played Cromwell in The Tudors, did a great job of making Henry’s go-to-guy a complex mix of smarmy, sneaky, vulnerable, and human; Mark Ryland will have a hard time topping it.  I have no idea how the screenplay will be scripted, or how true to history it will be. I suspect that, like The Tudors, a fair bit of historical accuracies will give way before the push of dramatic license and physical beauty.

It is clear that I am going to have to read the books.

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