I hate it when I have to say goodbye.
Last night I finished Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies, sequel to Wolf Hall. I became so enthralled with these books that towards the end I started to read slowly.
As a Catholic by background, I have been interested in the Reformation for years. I always found Thomas Cromwell more intriguing then King Henry. I wanted to know more about this man who could push aside the Pope and make his own laws. He seemed to possess a rationale that was not of his era.
I looked up his letters and translated his writings. I loved looking at the slant of his handwriting; sometimes I would try to imagine him sitting at his small desk in 1535, scribbling a new piece of legislation into the night.
When I first told a friend I was reading Wolf Hall, I was met with some teasing. She thought the book was another historical soap (proof she has never read Mantel). But I can see her thinking. I always felt like the Reformation was overshadowed by King Henry’s saga of endless marriages.
Thankfully Mantel does not write historical romance. She is a beautiful writer and her interpretation reads accurately. She covers almost a decade of Cromwell’s career at court and writes the narration through his eyes. I found both books shrewd and political, which I doubt isn’t far from Cromwell’s character. I don’t like politics, but I am in awe of anyone who can rise from a poor background and rattle a King’s court. He was like a black sheep lurking among noblemen, discreet but forceful. He was also fearless.
Monarchy is ridiculous and thankfully obsolete. Cromwell’s story alone is proof kings and queens ruled only by name. I think it is easy to interpret Tudor England like a fairy tale. Most stories of this time revolve around castles and courtly love, coronations and jousts, witchcraft and burnings, intrigue and ladies in masques. The history reads like a medieval storybook.
Everything medieval stopped with Thomas Cromwell. He was a politician but hated aristocrats. He wasn’t superstitious. His training as a lawyer influenced his writing and thinking. His rise represented what the new England needed to be: a nation built by businessmen, by intellectuals, and other well-rounded men who have seen the world and think rationally.
Mantel’s books proved what I have always thought: Cromwell was a man I could meet today. Because of her I could see his world and finally share his company.