Despite ranking among the most influential people in English history, Thomas Cromwell has long eluded biographers and historians. In Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life
(Viking, 2018), though, Diarmaid MacCulloch
provides readers with the definitive study of this key figure in the English Reformation. Drawing upon the full range of the available archival material and his own deep understanding of the era, MacCulloch shows how Cromwell’s views and achievements often belie the historical reputation that has formed around him. The son of a yeoman, Cromwell emerged by dint of his abilities and language skills to become a trusted servant of the Lord Chancellor, Cardinal Wolsey, in the 1520s. When Wolsey lost favor because of his failure to obtain for Henry VIII an annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Cromwell survived and established himself as a trusted adviser to the king. By 1534 he cemented his position as Henry’s chief minister, becoming the political architect of England’s break with the Catholic Church and the English Reformation that followed. As MacCulloch demonstrates, Cromwell’s skills as a Parliamentary manager and his experience with Church affairs were key to his role in the events of the 1530s, though in the end his formidable skills proved insufficient when Cromwell fell out of Henry’s favor by the end of the decade and was executed without trial in 1540.