HILARY MANTEL: There has always been a mismatch between what Thomas Cromwell has meant to historians and what he has meant to the general public — and that’s the case whether they’re novel-readers or theatregoers or filmgoers. For some academics in the past, Cromwell has been nothing but a cynical hatchet-man: clever but destructive. There is a far more interesting, vital, creative figure that the great Tudor historian Geoffrey Elton uncovered — or, some people say, created. . .
There are several problems with a biographer, which the novelist also shares. Cromwell’s early life is mostly off the record, and it exists as a set of interesting traditions and almost folk tales rather than a set of verifiable facts. And, in the second phase of his life, when he’s working for Cardinal Wolsey, he begins to come on the record; and then, in the third phase, as secretary to the King, and in effect Henry VIII’s first minister for almost a decade, he doesn’t just come on to the record, he is the record: his work is everywhere; his eye, his hand are everywhere.
Paradoxically, that makes it difficult, because it’s too big to pin down. He ranges across every department of government. Accordingly, biographers have tended to think of him in compartments; so, there’s Cromwell and the Church, Cromwell and finance, and Cromwell and Parliament. And you readily see what happens. You can’t section a human being like that. So, a sense of a man being in there vanishes.
— Paul Monk (@Revd_Paul_Monk) August 3, 2019