Rating: 5 stars
I found the Tudors dull at school. That put me off reading Wolf Hall for ages. Then I took the plunge and found Hilary Mantel’s fictionalisation of the court of Henry VIII absorbing. So much so that I wanted to read something factual. Tracy Borman’s book really hit the spot for me. It’s a well researched, balanced and human biography. You can tell that Borman feels favourably towards Cromwell, but she’s not blinkered about his flaws. She weighs the available evidence well, and makes her case in a readable but not dumbed down way. I didn’t like real Cromwell as much as I liked fictional Cromwell, but I think that’s in Borman’s favour. She brings forward evidence of his personability among family and friends, but doesn’t shy from acknowledging his ruthless approach to securing his court position and his influence on the government of England. He comes across as not quite the full sociopath, but a definite micromanager who would do well in today’s capitalist world. I’d sum him up as a ruthless charmer who shook up the establishment and had a good run for someone dependent on the favour of a megalomaniac.
In the acknowledgements, Borman admits to being inspired by Hilary Mantel’s novels. It was a delight to discover that Mantel’s imagined Cromwell is grounded in fact, even if Borman’s Cromwell is a less romantic figure.