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Thomas Cranmer, the martyr of Oxford, could not be a more difficult subject for the genre of the historical novel; he is not only an enigmatic figure (who has evaded more than one biographer--most recently Jasper Ridley's Thomas Cranmer-Oxford) but the knowns of his life are incomplete and he figured in an era crowded with factious political and doctrinal disputes. From the beginning of his diary, the form this novel takes, written just before his death, one is aware that he will be temporizing (compromising?) throughout the uneasy events to follow: ""I have never found certitude easy. Beliefs grow slowly in my mind, changing shape.... It is not a process that leads naturally to conclusion."" The reader too is left without any fixed conclusions: was Cranmer, cautious, forbearing, apologetic, as he appears here sometimes overcome by doubt or dismay, really guiltless? he was responsible for the persecution of Frith and Lambert; he was an unprotesting witness to his good friend Cromwell's fall and execution; he kept his own forbidden marriage secret for many years. While very loyal to Henry VIII at the beginning, when attached to his court, and valuable in invalidating his marital covenants, he does in the later years privately censor the King's indulgences. Perhaps where Cranmer seems least pragmatic is in his attempt to liberate the church from ""false doctrine and foreign exaction."" Even up to the last moment, when he dramatically burned the hand which signed his recantation, he is unsure whether he is a coward, a hypocrite, a martyr. Thus Cranmer, throughout Turton's careful resurrection of the man and the era, remains a very grey eminence indeed, shifting between the virtue of resilience and the vice of expedience. No Thomas, no Man for All Seasons.

Pub Date: Feb. 10th, 1966
Publisher: Doubleday