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The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell (Hardback)

P&S History Tudors & Stuarts Biographies 16th Century 15th Century

By Caroline Angus
Imprint: Pen & Sword History
Pages: 272
Illustrations: 20 colour
ISBN: 9781399095815
Published: 30th August 2022

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Thomas Cromwell was King Henry VIII’s most faithful servant, the only man the king ever openly regretted executing. But Thomas Cromwell came to royal prominence late in life, and had 45 years of family, friends and experiences behind him before catching Henry’s eye.

Born a common boy at a time of significant change in England in 1485, Cromwell grew up in a happy, close-knit family, before heading to Europe for dramatic adventures. Returning to England a decade later, Cromwell emerged with the skills of a lawyer and merchant, with the European language skills and connections to match. Marriage, children, friends, family and manor homes all furnished Cromwell’s life, a man happy and settled in London. But more beckoned for the Italian-Englishman, when a special friendship with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey grew, along with the attention of the king.

Tragic personal loss affected Cromwell, hidden behind the more-recorded professional accolades. But friendships remained throughout time, changes in allegiance and even religion. Men who had met the young Cromwell stuck close to him through the years, and Cromwell never forgot a single loyal friend. Cromwell’s desire to support his son saw Gregory become brother-in-law to the king himself, only for more tragedy to harm the ever-growing Cromwell family.

Far from the seemingly dour, black-clad, serious man, Cromwell lavished those around him with gifts, parties, extravagant games, entertainments, animals and outfits. But the glamour and beauty of Cromwell’s life would come to a sudden end, leaving a trail of devastated men and women, and an extraordinary manor home, Austin Friars, scattered to the wind.

Using a wide variety of primary material, this exciting biography weaves a new narrative on the indefatigable Thomas Cromwell, illustrating him more vividly than we've known him before.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A really enjoyable addition to Tudor research. Well written, well researched and faithful to its subject. Builds a strong image of Cromwell in context and particularly in relation to his network. Recommended.

NetGalley, Amy Licence

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex (c.1485-1540) was the chief minister to King Henry VIII of England. Often linked to the downfall of Queen Anne Boleyn, he was seen as a mastermind behind the English Reformation and the Dissolution of the Monasteries. His meteoric rise in favour earned him many enemies and he was blamed for the disastrous fourth marriage between King Henry VIII and Anne of Cleves resulting in his execution in July 1540.

Angus takes a sympathetic approach to Cromwell, building up a likeable, human depiction of one of the most enigmatic figures in Tudor history who has been maligned and treated as a monster due to the events that surrounded him.

I found the deep research into his life before he became "Henry's man" utterly fascinating, in particular his relationship with the Frescobaldi family.

While very detailed, this book is accessible to read and I found the tense build up to the final few months of Cromwell's life engrossing, highlighting just how fraught and complex the role of a courtier truly was and just how easy one could topple from their success.

NetGalley, Kirsty Whyte

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

My initial interest in the Tudors began with seeing the Showtime series of the same name. Instantly, I began adding more books to my library and I wanted to learn more and more. I already had an interest in art and literature from the Renaissance, and had read Sir Thomas More's "Utopia".
Caroline Agnus's book focuses on Thomas Comwell who was best known for establishing the Reformation and as an advisor to King Henry VIII. The book contained a lot of information and I think was a good jumpoff to later focus on specific people and events. I found the book readable and for this reason, the book did not feel dense. I'm sure the reader that picks up this book already has an interest in Cromwell; however, the book might be a little light for the serious history buff. I do believe this book marries well to the many fictional novels on the subject, such as the Hilary Mantel novels.

NetGalley, Lynn Eager

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

When we think about the men who surrounded King Henry VIII, a few names come to mind. Cranmer, More, Wolsey, and Wroithesley are just a few, but the man who is synonymous with the infamous king’s reign is Thomas Cromwell. The man who helped Henry get his divorce from Katherine of Aragon saw both the rise and fall of Anne Boleyn. He also assisted in the dissolution of the monasteries and brought reform to England with the break from the Roman Catholic Church. To modern audiences, it feels as if we know everything that there was to know about Thomas Cromwell’s public life, but what was he like in his private life when his friends and family surrounded him? Caroline Angus gives her readers an insight into Cromwell’s personal life in her latest book, “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell.”

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. I love finding new perspectives about historical figures, like Thomas Cromwell, so when I heard that Caroline Angus was writing this book, I was delighted. I wanted to see what new information this book could provide about Thomas Cromwell’s life.

Angus begins her new nonfiction book on Cromwell by showing the origins of the Cromwell family and how Thomas went from the son of a blacksmith to his journeys in Italy, especially in Florence. It is impressive to see how Thomas’ influential friends from Florence would help shape how he conducted business later on in life as one of King Henry VIII’s top counselors. Thomas must have been a polymath to achieve the astronomical rise to power that we see him go through that landed him in the workforce of Thomas Wolsey.

Under Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Cromwell’s private and public life became insanely busy as he gained the king's respect. He would be the principal architect for the dissolution of monasteries and helped Henry VIII gain his divorce from Katherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn. As Cromwell became a player in Tudor politics, he married Elizabeth Williams and had several children. As Cromwell’s family grew, so did Thomas’ roles at the court of Henry VIII. He was the king’s number one advisor and was asked to perform the most difficult tasks, like bringing the downfall of Anne Boleyn and breaking England from the Roman Catholic Church. In a way, Thomas Cromwell was the Tudor equivalent of Alexander Hamilton.

I enjoyed this book because we see Cromwell as a human being, not just some lofty historical figure. He was a man who climbed the social ladder with his talents and his connections throughout England and Europe. With every title and every bill passed, Cromwell gained new enemies, who would lead to Thomas Cromwell’s downfall after the disastrous marriage between Henry VIII and Anna of Cleves. His fall was so dramatically quick that even Henry VIII regretted killing Thomas Cromwell.

Angus’s passion for comprehensively telling Cromwell’s story for scholars and students of Tudor history shines through this book. Her research is meticulous as she balances Thomas’ public life and private life to tell the whole story of the legendary man. If you are interested in understanding the life of Henry VIII’s most faithful servant and trusted advisor, I recommend reading “The Private Life of Thomas Cromwell” by Caroline Angus.

NetGalley, Heidi Malagisi

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Having followed Caroline's Twitter updates on her progress with this book I was thrilled to get an advanced copy courtesy of Pen and Sword and NetGalley.

Cromwell is something of the Marmite of the Tudor era, many like him whilst many dislike him.
Personally I can't help but admire a man who rose so high from humble origins, working hard his entire life even to the end whilst held Prisoner in the Tower of London.

There are many books discussing Cromwell's rise and his relationship with Henry VIII but Caroline goes further, including his relationships with family and friends and how he never forgot his friends from before his rise to one of the most powerful men in the country. His earlier life is included and how he gained his language and legal skills through hard work, spending time abroad, particularly Florence.

Through his and others correspondence Caroline paints a picture of Cromwell as a loyal, generous and dedicated man, ensuring his kings wishes were fulfilled and his family maintained and supported.

However, Caroline does not try and depict Cromwell as an angel or convince anyone to change their opinion on him, and includes his faults to give a full insight into the mystery of the man.

I thoroughly enjoyed this and would go as far to say it has been one of my favourite books that I'll definitely read again in future.

NetGalley, Amy McElroy

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

I usually give biographies that use the title "The Private Life of [famous dead person]" a suspicious side eye, because it usually just means there is already a glut on the market of biographies of said person and they are just slightly re-arranging facts in an attempt to stand out.

Caroline Angus masterfully blows all expectations out of the water here with a true deep dive into the lesser known parts of Cromwell's life, digging deep into what his life was like before the bright spotlight was on him.

We get a real look into his domestic life here, thanks mostly to how blurred work and life was in his letters to and from those he did business with. For example, a tutor writes to Cromwell to complain about unpaid invoices, and also remarks on how Cromwell's young nephew is a handful because he keeps setting the bed on fire, a mental picture both hilarious and horrifying, and also, well, absolutely nothing to do with grand international policy.

We get quotes from letters, receipts, invoices, and memos, showing how insanely busy Cromwell became, basically running England and doing favors for everyone, large and small. Also, very telling is when the busy record falls silent for months, after first the death of his wife, and then the death of his daughters.

If Angus gets anything wrong, I would argue that she is perhaps a little too soft on Cromwell. She clearly is impressed by how much he got done in his lifetime, but i would argue that its important to remember that he destroyed as much as he created.

Then, when we get to the fateful final six months, Angus shows just how many plates Cromwell was spinning, and both the complexity and simplicity of his fall.

A fascinating and detailed biography of one of the most enigmatic personalities of the Tudor period.

NetGalley, Kara Race-Moore

Caroline Angus paints a sympathetic portrait of Thomas Cromwell, in which he becomes almost likeable. In previous decades, Cromwell has been regarded as rather a monster - corrupt, greedy and ruthless - but some of today's historians show another side of him. Here he is shown as being generous to his many friends and his family, enjoying entertaining, and as the true founder of the Anglican church. It's certainly interesting to have this new view of him.

Cromwell came from the family home of a beer seller,, making his way to become a lawyer and merchant in the Italian community of London, and then on to the very highest echelons of society, serving King Henry VIII. 'Quick, intelligent, and charming', he fell on his feet in Italy working as a legal clerk for a prominent Italian family, where he was influenced by Machiavelli. Through hard work, connections with aristocrats such as the Grey's and wiliness, he rose to be indispensable to the King, working on his Great Matter. But even the cleverest of men can fall from the top (especially when they work for a tyrant) as Cromwell was to find out.

This is an extremely enjoyable book, thoroughly researched, and easy to read, certainly much easier than Dairmaid MacCalloch's heavy tome which I am wading through at the moment. I liked seeing this other side of Cromwell, including his sympathy towards Princess Mary and his friendship with Chapuys.

NetGalley, Lisa Sanderson

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Thomas Cromwell is known for being the mastermind of Anne Boleyn's downfall and death, as well as the implementation of the dissolution of the monasteries. That was the peak of his power, which dropped drastically when King Henry VIII became extremely unhappy with wife number 4, who Cromwell championed. Caroline Angus gives the reader a detailed history of his life before those infamous events, and how he acquired the skills that endeared him to Cardinal Wolsey and King Henry VIII. One thing that became clear from reading about his early years: Cromwell was a human chameleon. He adapted himself to whatever situation he was in politically and personally. In some ways, that's a good thing...but in the end, his changeability cost him in the most expensive and irreversible way. For fans of Tudor history, like myself, this is definitely a worthwhile read about one of the period's most intriguing figures.

NetGalley, Mariama Thorlu-Bangura

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

Cromwell lived on the edge all his life as a boy from Putney, a soldier in Italy a banker, and finally master statesman. This fascinating book enlarges on the influences and his experiences. the role of languages and ideas. This is a well-.researched book,, knowledgeable and extremely readable. It shows Cromwell as a family man. who gave support and was supported in return. I recommend this book to everyone who wants to know more than just facts. A larger-than-life story.

NetGalley, LOIS ELIYAHU

As a scholar of this period, I was impressed with the detail and vibrancy of this text. The evocations of the 15th/16th century are thoughtful, particularly since we don't have a lot of records of Cromwell by his own hands. Angus here, following on her previous work, puts together a sympathetic and realistic portrayal of a man embroiled in one of the most famous courts in English history. While some historical texts can be dry, the prose here keeps readers' attention. If you enjoyed Wolf Hall or any other Tudor adaptation, you'll appreciate getting more of the history behind what Cromwell and his family went through.

NetGalley, Mary Truglia

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This was an enjoyable and informative book from beginning to end. It was well researched and exploded several myths I had accepted as fact. This is Cromwell, the man, not a saint or even a martyr.

NetGalley, Donna Pingry

Since encountering Thomas Cromwell in the brilliant Trilogy by Ms Mantel, I have become fascinated by the man who was and still is a big enigma after half a millenium.
The title suggests more on Cromwell's private life than on his politics, however, these two cannot be fully separated. In my opinion Ms Angus manages to supply a reader with enough of both, avoiding rumours or gossips as much as possible. I always find the period before Henry's marriage to Ann of Cleeves hardest to follow but this book provides a rather clear interpretation of Cromwell's involvement. What follows has always buffled me, beheading your best man at court sounds not responsible, to say the least.
Cromwell was a man surrounded by his extended family and friends and was a most loyal supporter to anyone who won his confidence.
I think this book is a perfect fit for anyone who would like to learn more about Cromwell but is not prepared for a scholar read.

NetGalley, Beata B. Reviewer

King Henry VIII's most loyal servant, Thomas Cromwell, was the only man the king ever openly regretted executing. However, Thomas Cromwell rose to royal prominence late in life, having had 45 years of family, friends, and experiences before catching Henry's eye.

Thomas Cromwell was born in 1485 as a common boy during a period of significant change in England, and grew up in a happy, close-knit family before heading to Europe for dramatic adventures. When he returned to England a decade later, he had the skills of a lawyer and merchant, as well as the European language skills and connections to match. Cromwell's life in London was filled with marriage, children, friends, family, and manor homes. But more awaited the Italian-Englishman as his friendship with Cardinal Thomas Wolsey grew, as did the king's interest.

Thomas Cromwell was affected by tragic personal loss, which was hidden behind the more publicized professional achievements. However, friendships endured despite changes in allegiance and even religion. Men who had met the young Cromwell remained close to him over the years, and Cromwell never forgot a single devoted companion. Cromwell's desire to support his son led to Gregory becoming the king's brother-in-law, only for more tragedy to befall the Cromwell family.

Cromwell, far from being the solemn, black-clad, serious man he appeared to be, lavished those around him with gifts, parties, extravagant games, entertainments, animals, and outfits. But Cromwell's life would end abruptly, leaving a trail of devastated men and women and an extraordinary manor home, Austin Friars, scattered to the wind.

This perfect book weaves a new narrative on the indefatigable Thomas Cromwell, illustrating him more vividly than we've known him before, using a wide variety of primary material.

NetGalley, Ece Karadag

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

An amazing and interesting look at the man behind Hillary Mantel’s trilogy and countless other Tudor books. This book is for anyone who is curious to know more about the Tudor statesman often portrayed as a villain to Thomas More’s hero.

NetGalley, Caroline Palmer

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

This book is very well written and plotted. It is easy to read and presents a balanced and more human representation to the historically maligned Thomas Cromwell. I was very glad to have read this book, for I have always thought that he was much misrepresented by history. It is easy to read and understand and will appeal to those interested in Tudor, medieval history, or just history in general. I very much enjoyed this book.

NetGalley, Joyce Fox

A good and entertaining biography about Thomas Cromwell, clearly outlying what is really known and what is speculated about Cromwell's life, particularly on his younger years. I learned quite a bit about this extraordinary personality revealing many and sometimes surprising facets. Highly recommended.

NetGalley, Christine Boos

About Caroline Angus

Caroline Angus is a New Zealand-based author raising four sons. Caroline studied history at Universitat de València, Spain, spending ten years dedicated to the Spanish Civil War and the resulting dictatorship. Caroline went on to study with King’s College London, specialising in Shakespeare and British royal history.


After a decade of writing fiction, including the Secrets of Spain series, focusing on the lives of Valencian interviewees between 1939 and 1975, and the more recent Queenmaker Trilogy, eleven years of Thomas Cromwell and his fictional attendant Nicòla Frescobaldi, Caroline is now creating non-fiction works on the surviving papers of Thomas Cromwell.

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