"'So now get up!' Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now.” One more kick in the side from his drunken father knocks the wind out of him and young Thomas Cromwell is left there in the cold. The year is 1500 in Putney, England, the day that young Thomas fled his cruel ironmonger father and took to the seas to eventually become an expert in banking and finance under the tutelage of the Frescobaldis, a powerful Florentine merchant banker family; fight for the French; study law; become fluent in French, Latin and Italian and become King Henry VIII’s right-hand man and the 1st Earl of Essex, Master Secretary and Viceregent of Spirituals.
Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall is a very ambitious and lengthy accounting of the life and times of Thomas Cromwell and how he became the powerful chief architect of the Protestant Reformation. This is definitely not recreational reading or the typical “costume drama” historical fiction. But if you can keep all the characters and locations straight, it is well worth the effort. The author paints an incredibly vivid portrait of this very important man in British history, his family who was very dear to him, as well as other influential men of the time, particularly Cardinal Thomas Wolsey and Sir Thomas More (it seems that every other man of that time was named Thomas). Told with compassion and surprising humor, Cromwell’s commitment to the freedom of England and his influence on the events that led to the creation of the Church of England were the endgame of this powerbroker of Tudor England.