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Thomas Cromwell

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Thomas Cromwell
The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII's most Notorious Minister
By Robert Hutchinson
St. Martin's Press, 2009, 360 pages
ISBN 978-0-312-57794-0

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - June 25, 2010

This book offers readers interesting information about an important period of world history, a time when Papal power was reduced and England moved the world toward the Reformation.

Henry Tudor lived from 1491 to 1547. He served as King Henry VIII from 1509, from age 17, when he married his brother's widow, Catherine, against biblical law. He grew increasingly dissatisfied with her and wanted to divorce her against her will and the will of the Pope and many of his own ministers. He later married a total of five women one after another. The conflicts produced by his behavior resulted in the murders of many of his ministers, such as Sir Thomas More, who Henry felt opposed him. It also caused England to break with the Catholic Church which later canonized Thomas More.

Henry's marital misadventures also caused the elevation of the conniving frequently unscrupulous and cruel minister Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell rose to the second highest position in England, just lower than Henry. He supported Henry's matrimonial interests with "Stalinist efficiency." He also aided his master's second desire, the accumulation of wealth, with efficiency, stealing money from ministers and from the church.

The corpulent Cromwell was born around 1485, and by 1520 he became an advisor to Cardinal Wolsey, the Lord Chancellor who was arrested for treason in 1530, and who Cromwell abandoned at that time to pursue his own interests. Ten years later, after Henry granted him appointment after appointment, higher and higher, and becoming Lord Great Chamberlain in April 1540, Cromwell was arrested in June and executed in July. Cromwell had involved himself unwisely in Henry's affair with his fourth wife.

During his short period of absolute power, despite his misdeeds, Cromwell was able to make the Bible available to the common people in their own language. He "destroyed some of the superstitious flummery that pervaded much of the Catholic Church of the time through his attack on images, pilgrimages and shrines." He also reformed the machinery of administration in England laying the foundation for the creation of a civil service.

Hutchinson's history is filled with interesting details such as the bizarre story of the "Holy Maid of Kent" who fell into trances and rolled helplessly on the ground in animal dung while foolish superstitious people looked on, marveled, and said they were hearing pious words uttered by an angel. Such was religion during the age of Cromwell.

Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of fifteen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Rabbi Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House, www.gefenpublishing.com. The Orthodox Union (OU) publishes daily samples of the Targum books on www.ouradio.org.

Related Reviews:

England in the Later Middle Ages, by Maurice H. Keen.
A general survey textbook on English history from 1290 - 1485.

The Lives of the Kings and Queens of England, Edited by Antonia Fraser.
This outstanding reference book offers short biographical sketches of all the English monarchs since 1066, starting with William the Conquer and ending with the present day monarch of England, Queen Elizabeth II.

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