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

The Last Days of Anne Boleyn

Was Thomas Cromwell responsible for Anne's death?.......

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 - portrait on display at Hever Castle

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