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Think Malcolm Tucker as imagined by Hans Holbein. But was Thomas Cromwell really one of English history’s most corrupt and manipulative villains? Or was he, as Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch postulates here, ‘a pioneering and principled statesman’?
MacCulloch’s is a lively and supremely well-informed piece of devil’s advocacy but doesn’t quite make the case for Cromwell’s purity of vision. He did initiate the Protestant church’s separation from Rome. But that was only so his boss could get a divorce. He did institute a primitive version of the welfare state in the shape of Poor Law reform. But it was much more IDS than Clement Atlee. And he was also the first British minister to legally outlaw ‘the act of buggery’. So thanks for that, Thomas.
Still, it’s a very watchable affair – Cromwell’s life (and even death – it took the executioner half an hour to finally sever his head) was nothing if not eventful and MacCulloch recounts it with infectious relish.
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