Henry VIII’s Enforcer

I wanted to write about the Thomas Cromwell documentary that was on the other night as part of BBC2′s Tudor Court Season, ”Henry VIII’s Enforcer: The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell”. Cromwell’s enduring image in history is one of a mindless thug who pillaged and dissolved monasteries, drove a wedge between England and Rome and thought nothing of removing his rivals. In the programme Professor Darmuid MacCulloch argued that Cromwell was so much more than this, that he was in fact a great statesman, religious reformer and a self-educated visionary who, motivated by religion and a desire to serve the country, laid the foundations for our modern state.

I’ve summarised MacCulloch’s main arguments below:

  • Cromwell was employed to sort out a problem for the Guild of St Mary in Lincoln. They were making most of their money from selling indulgences at the Boston Stump (church) but their licence was about to expire. Cromwell travelled to Rome, arranged a chance meeting with the Pope and got the licence renewed. Cromwell’s reputation as a fixer grew but he also saw first-hand how corrupt the Church could be.
  • Cromwell joined Wolsey’s household and quickly moved up the ranks by showing Wolsey how effectively he could get things done. Wolsey was also from humble origins and wanted other poor boys to have opportunities so he set about opening Cardinal Colleges in Ipswich (his home town) and Oxford. Cromwell was able to make this happen by closing down 12 monasteries for each College – his previous legal work had shown him how just much wealth there was in the church! Continue reading

Finding out more about Anne Boleyn

Following on from my post on ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’ I thought it would be useful to suggest some further reading for anyone interested in finding out more about Anne.

The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn: The Most Happy – Eric Ives

Eric Ives brilliant book is seen by many as the definitive biography on Anne Boleyn. Expertly researched as you would expect from the leading expert on Anne it is a fascinating read and definitely one for the collection. Eric was a real Anne supporter and was very much of the view that Cromwell was responsible for her downfall. In the book he explores all the evidence in detail and makes a compelling argument in favour of this theory. Ives book is so much more than just an account of Anne’s downfall, it also provides detail on her early life, courtship with Henry and involvement in religion and politics. We don’t have much evidence on Anne ‘the person’ or her early years but Ives painstakingly put’s together everything we do have to paint a full and detailed account of her life.

Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions – G W Bernard

G W Bernard’s biography of Anne couldn’t be more different to Eric’s as he is of the opinion that Anne was guilty of adultery, which he also argued the case for in ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’. Such is the difference of opinion between Bernard and Ives that they spent much of the 1990′s debating the subject in historical journals and when this book was published in 2011 it was seen by many as an attempt by Bernard to reignite the argument. As a huge fan of Anne Boleyn I totally disagree with what I’ve heard from Bernard but I am yet to read his book. Whilst I don’t believe it will sway my own opinions I definitely intend to read and review the book in the future as I think it’s important to hear all sides of an historical debate, however flimsy or sensational you believe the arguments to be! Continue reading

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Thomas Cromwell Holbein 250x300 The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Was Thomas Cromwell responsible for Anne’s death?…….

I thought I would give a review of the BBC2 documentary ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’ which was shown last night. The programme was part narrative, with actors re-enacting scenes leading up to Anne’s death, and part debate giving historians and writers the opportunity to air their opinions and give their interpretation on the evidence of what caused Anne’s downfall. The circumstances surrounding Anne’s death have been the subject of historical debate for years caused, in part, by the lack of any real evidence to support any one theory conclusively. It was summed up perfectly on the programme by Suzannah Lipscomb who said “there’s just enough evidence to keep historians guessing but just enough gaps to make sure they can never finally get to the solution”. Other historians who featured on the show were David Starkey, G W Bernard and Greg Walker, they were also joined by writers Alison Weir, Philippa Gregory and Hilary Mantel.

I summarise the four main theories below:

1. that Anne was guilty of adultery
2. that Thomas Cromwell plotted her downfall
3. that Henry VIII wanted her out of the way
4. that her words, rather than her actions, made her appear guilty to Henry

I’m going to give a run down of the opinions of the historians as best I can and will add my personal views at the end too. Continue reading

BBC2′s Tudor Court Season

Anne Boleyn Hever 222x300 BBC2s Tudor Court Season

Anne Boleyn – portrait on display at Hever Castle

BBC2′s Tudor Court Season of programmes starts tonight at 9pm with a documentary on the fall of Anne Boleyn called ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn‘.

Other documentaries to be screened over the next couple of weeks are:

  • Henry VIII’s Enforcer: The Rise And Fall Of Thomas Cromwell – 24 May 9pm
  • Henry VII: Winter King – 30 May 9pm
  • Time Traveller’s Guide to Elizabethan England – 31 May 9pm
  • The Most Dangerous Man In Tudor England (about William Tyndale and the reformation) – 6 June 9pm

Anne Boleyn was the first Queen in Britain to be executed and tonight’s programme explores the reasons why she had to die. Due to the fact that none of the evidence conclusively proves any of the theories this is a topic that continues to seriously divide opinion amongst historians. Continue reading

The Other Boleyn Girl


Author: Philippa Gregory

The Other Boleyn Girl is the story of the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn, told through the eyes of her sister Mary, the Boleyn girl of the title. It is a historical novel, full of romance, intrigue and excitement. It also explorers the relationship between the sisters and the role of women in Tudor times, illustrating just how little control women had over their own destiny’s and what they do to try and overcome that.

In the book Mary Boleyn is the younger of the two sisters and catches the eye of the young King Henry VIII when she is presented at court. Her father, Thomas Boleyn, and powerful uncle, the Duke of Norfolk, see this as the perfect opportunity for them to gain power and favour with the King and coerce Mary into sleeping with him, telling her it’s all for the good of the Boleyn family.

Mary and Henry VIII end up falling in love and begin a passionate affair but it doesn’t take long for Henry VIII’s eye to wander to Mary’s older sister, Anne Boleyn. Seeing this unfold and fearing they will lose the influence they have over Henry VIII if he takes a mistress from another powerful family, Thomas Boleyn and the Duke of Norfolk actively encourage the union, something Anne is only too willing to oblige them with as she has her own fierce ambitions.

250px Other Boleyn Girl 196x300 The Other Boleyn GirlAnne finally ends up marrying Henry VIII after a long courtship and this is played out in the background of Mary’s own story. The book is written in the 1st person so you are seeing things constantly through Mary’s eyes and how she thinks and feels about her situation. After her affair with Henry VIII Mary must still be serve her family’s interests and is at Anne’s side when her life begins to unravel as the pressures of surviving in the treacherous Tudor court take their toll. All the while Mary is secretly yearning for a more simple life and begins a touching romance with William Stafford who is a commoner, which causes Mary more trouble with her family.

Anne is portrayed in the book as being ruthless and manipulative, someone who will stop at nothing to achieve what she wants, including taking Henry VIII away for her sister (and his wife!). She isn’t written in a sympathetic light and many of the negative stereotypes about her are used, such implying that there is something unnatural about her relationship with her brother George. Research has discredited a lot of these claims and many people, myself included, believe Anne to have been a passionate and intelligent lady who was desperate to cling on to the position she had risen to and whose downfall was a result of the political power games and religious upheavals happening at the time rather than her own wrongdoing. That said, she is still a very interesting character in the book and it definitely makes you want to find out more about the real Anne Boleyn. Continue reading