Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant

Written by Tracy Borman
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels have sparked a renewed interest in Thomas Cromwell, a man best known for engineering Anne Boleyn’s fall.  Reading this superb biography, one sees that Mantel stuck closely to the historical record.  Cromwell was charming, brilliant, kind in personal relationships, and also an utterly ruthless political operator.  He rose from blacksmith’s son to a place as Henry VIII’s right-hand man, playing key roles in the English Reformation and in reshaping the Tudor state.  He was executed in 1540, but almost as soon as he was dead Henry mourned him as “the most faithful servant he ever had.”

The book is exhaustively researched and contains extensive quotations from primary sources as well as several pages of illustrations. Tracy Borman’s portrait of Cromwell is balanced, neither whitewashing him nor presenting him as an unmitigated villain.  Some of the details of Cromwell’s early life remain a mystery, and we can’t be sure to what degree he was striving to satisfy a demanding sovereign, as opposed to pursuing his own agenda.  Borman is always clear about what is actually known, and what, as an historian, is her best educated guess.  Those interested in Tudor history will especially enjoy this book.