Book Review – ‘Thomas Cromwell’ by David Loades


David Loades 'Thomas Cromwell'
David Loades ‘Thomas Cromwell’

David Loades, Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2014) Paperback, ISBN 978-1-4456-4001-3

Title: The title is pretty much what it says – a historical biography on Thomas Cromwell who, on the orders of Henry VIII, initiated the Break with Rome, arranged the execution of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and the dissolution of the monasteries. He was definitely Henry VIII’s servant.

Preface: The preface is very short, only two pages long. It gives the basic background of how Cromwell grew out of Wolsey’s disgrace to become Henry’s chief minister, and showed him how to get his divorce away from the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing is mentioned about sources at all.

Citations: There are no footnotes at all. There are reference points in the text, and a list of endnotes at the back of the book. Plenty of information is given about the sources used, and the endnotes also include some information not necessary to the text, but that might prove interesting to readers looking for further information.

Contents: The contents page is very clear. The chapter titles tell you the area and period under discussion. The book isn’t entirely chronological, but begins with his childhood and upbringing and ends with his execution. The chapters in between discuss his various different roles at court. An interesting addition to add a chapter on historiography, and outline the existing evidence and arguments.

Professor David Loades
Professor David Loades

Genre/Audience: This is a historical biography looking at Cromwell’s role in wider events in England, specifically to do with the religious situation. I don’t think that it is intended for a general audience. There are some complex issues religious ideas in particular discussed and Loades does assume you know the general background to the period.

Concepts: The main focus is, understandably, on religious matters. Was Cromwell responsible solely for the Break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries? Did he arrange Anne Boleyn’s downfall on his own initiative? Were these things done on the orders of Henry VIII? Why did Henry VIII suddenly turn against him? The historiography chapter offers an insight into past works on Cromwell, and the various existing arguments.

Sources: As well as the end notes (see ‘citations’) there is a fairly comprehensive bibliography, cataloguing primary and secondary sources. The primary sources include archival manuscripts, printed contemporary works and letters. The secondary sources are a good mix of articles, historical biographies, survey texts and religious books.

Illustrations: There is one section of illustrations, including sketches, portraits, paintings, statues, maps and places. Overall it constitutes a good selection. Each is labelled and there is further information on them at the back of the book, including where they came from originally and where they can now be found.

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

Other works: There are several other works in existence on Thomas Cromwell including Thomas Cromwell: the Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister by Robert Hutchinson, and Thomas Cromwell: the Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman. Other works by David Loades include Henry VIII, The Boleyns: the Rise and Fall of a Tudor Family, The Six Wives of Henry VIII, The Tudors: History of a Dynasty, and The Tudor Queens of England.

My Rating: 17/20

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