Bringing to light the dangers of life in the service of Henry VIII.
As Borman (Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant, 2016, etc.), England’s joint chief curator of Historic Royal Palaces and chief executive of the Heritage Education Trust, shows, Henry was a complex figure: fiercely loyal, treacherously fickle, short-tempered, demanding, and self-absorbed. Ascending the throne at a young age, he had little time for the duties of a king and was more inclined to frolicking with friends and leaving official affairs to ministers. The first of these was Thomas Wolsey, a cardinal and ambitious genius with a flexible conscience. As with many of Henry’s favorites, Wolsey was also low-born. He encouraged Henry’s extravagant lifestyle and easily manipulated the foolish youngster. Wolsey lasted through the annulment crisis and marriage to Anne Boleyn, but he was the first of many to fall. Then, Thomas Cromwell stepped in and used his considerable legal talents to secure Henry’s will. Afterward, it was Anne who engineered a divide between Cromwell and Archbishop Thomas Cranmer over the dissolution of the monasteries. Eventually, Cromwell dominated both the political and spiritual affairs of the king. Thomas More was another highly intelligent servant to the king, but he could not support the king’s “great matter” of succession and was beheaded. Cranmer was one of the few who supported the king in all his whims and demands, generally keeping his own council. He was one of the few who survived the king’s whims only to die on Queen Mary’s orders. Henry’s penchant to favor the low-born reflected his ever increasing paranoia. They would never have an eye on seizing the crown, so Henry favored ability over nobility, and the noble-born worked tirelessly to undermine those favorites. Borman skillfully shows Henry maneuvering his men like chess pieces; when they opposed him, they suffered violent downfalls.
Henry eventually assumed control of his realm, but it was too little, too late. Tudor fans will enjoy this outside-in biography as a different view of a complicated monarch.