Thomas Cromwell is known to millions as the leading character in Hilary Mantel's best-selling Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. But who was the real Cromwell?
Born a lowly tavern keeper's son, Cromwell rose swiftly through the ranks to become Henry VIII's right-hand man, and one of the most powerful figures in Tudor history. The architect of England's break with the Roman Catholic Church and the dissolution of the monasteries, he oversaw seismic changes in our country's history. Influential in securing Henry's controversial divorce from Catherine of Aragon, many believe he was also the ruthless force behind Anne Boleyn's downfall and subsequent execution. But although for years he has been reviled as a Machiavellian schemer who stopped at nothing in his quest for power, Thomas Cromwell was also a loving husband, father, and guardian; a witty and generous host; and a loyal and devoted servant. With new insights into Cromwell's character, his family life and his close relationships with both Cardinal Wolsey and Henry VIII, joint Chief Curator of Historic Royal Palaces Tracy Borman examines the life, loves, and legacy of the man who changed the shape of England forever.
©2014 Tracy Borman (P)2014 Hodder & Stoughton
The book is good and the main reader excellent however the readers for the various quoted writers are poor. Why it was felt necessary in such a book to do this I'm not sure. I am half way through and cringe each time I sense a quote is soon to begin. It detracts from an otherwise decent audio book.
"Great book, spoiled by appalling production."
No, I couldn't recommend to anyone as the narration completely spoiled the book. It is very upsetting when a good book is rendered un-listenable-to because of atrocious narration.
I have listened to these actors before and would do again but what was the producer/director thinking in this instance?
I have never returned a book because of the plot or the writing - it's always the narration that makes or breaks the experience for me. I wish the producers of this audiobook had bothered to listen to it before sending it out into the world. It is a great shame for the writer whose efforts are trashed in this way.
"Spoiled by additional narration"
The book - yes. The audiobook - no.
No memorable moment. Overall a good book.
The main narrator is fine, no criticism of him. The additional voice actors used to read the quotations from letters etc are atrocious and seriously detract from an otherwise good audiobook. As another reviewer has said, the choice of accents is peculiar with French and Spanish being reduced to a sort of hybrid that sounds like neither. Cromwell's voice paints a picture of him as a rather slow-witted headmaster. All of them sound very camp. The book would have been infinitely better if the quotes had been read without accents and in a plain, authoritative voice.
No, except to go back to re-reading Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies.
Not in its current form
Sadly, the jarring accents
A different narrator or, the same without the attempt at regional and European accents.
I believe Ms. Borman to be an excellent author - she is one of the few authors today who has a terrific way of immersing the reader/listener into her narrative, a real feel for the period. I bought this title because I have enjoyed her previous work enormously but was deeply disappointed and became, over time, annoyed by the cringe making accents. It truly detracts from the wonderful story - I will buy the written book
"Works best as an accompaniment to Mantel"
A nuts and bolts biography which suffers from a combination of laughably random voice talent and the fact that Tracy Borman doesn't write as well as Hilary Mantel. However, it offers interesting nuggets of background detail that add to the picture of Cromwell presented in Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies and I returned to both of those audio-books after listening to this with an enhanced sense of the man himself and the Tudor court.
For a fuller critique of the way in which this book was written you could look at Diarmaid MacCulloch's excellent Guardian review of 3rd September 2014 but in short when Cromwell's family were ordered to hand over his papers just before his trial they offered up a mountain of his in-coming mail while destroying anything still in their possession that the man himself wrote. The sheer volume was such that Henry the 8th's agents didn't spot the ruse until it was too late. So we don't really get to hear Cromwell's voice and it's frustrating because many people who knew him insisted that he was funny, loyal, charming, street-smart and learned.
As a substitute the producers of this audiobook decided to recruit some "voice-talent" to read the letters that we do have from Cromwell, the Duke of Norfolk and various ambassadors. Bewilderingly however they decided that Cromwell; a low-born London tear-away should be voiced by a very posh geriatric. The Duke of Norfolk on the other hand; famously patrician and obsessed with his social standing; is voiced here as a west country yokel. And the kindest thing that can be said about the bloke who voices the ambassadors is that he obviously had it on good authority that they were all incredibly camp.
In the credit column Borman offers a thorough and listenable account of what's known about the man himself, his life before he became a courtier and the various pieces of domestic, religious and political business he conducted for Henry the 8th. The main narrator does a good job and the choice your left with is whether to buy this as a slightly plodding book about a deeply interesting man or an interesting accompaniment to Hilary Mantel's wonderful Tudor series.
"A wonderfully balanced view of Cromwell"
Yes, I will probably listen to it several times over because of all the information contained in it.
The fact the author tried to provide a very balanced view. Following Hilary Mantel's books, there seems to be a fashion to make Cromwell into this wonderful person; alternatively to make him into an evil, scheming person. This book is the first to actually acknowledge he had both sides of those character traits.
It did take me a while to get used to the narration but (unlike a previous view) I did enjoy the use of different actors to read the letters - in some places where one letter was in response to a previous, I think it would have been a very difficult listen without this. However, I couldn't work out if it was the author's writing style or the narration tone but I had a slight problem with the style in terms of it returning to 'old style historical' - degree-thesis or history book style. I'm not sure if someone simply interested in history would have got to the end.
I have a VERY big problem with writing and teaching styles that reduce our history to a quotation of one-dimensional stark facts - many years ago this almost killed any interest in learning history. I was so fortunate to have an amazing mum who showed our history in such a way that even as a very young child I'd stand in wide-eyed, open-mouthed, stunned amazement at all our historical sights. Then I went to learn history formally and was almost killed by the boredom ("...the reign of Richard III was followed by Henry Tudor, who in turn was followed by Henry VIII. His reign was followed by Elizabeth I who in turn ...").
We've fortunately had many authors who have moved away from the degree thesis/history book style presentation and show history in that jaw-dropping way my mum does ...and I so wanted this work to be done in this way. But it does veer towards the old style, and this is my reason for four not five stars. I DO hope you'll buy it though and persevere because the information given and the views of the characters are well presented.
But I found I wanted to rewrite this work to re-inject all the emotions - it describes Cromwell trying to be loyal to Wolsey, his former master, and support him where he could and hints at his frustration with Wolsey. And yet in reality that situation must have been a nightmare for Cromwell (and is supported by the letters, so it's not as if the facts don't support this emotional turmoil): Wolsey switching between a man prostrating himself, begging even grovelling forgiveness of Henry, and yet his immediate return to devious manipulation as soon as any inch is given. The evidence for this frustration in Cromwell is plainly there in the letters and yet 'historical writing style' removes this emotion. Cromwell was risking his own life in trying to be loyal and champion Wolsey; yet Wolsey obviously had no care for that fact, his only interest being his own restoration - yet this incredibly interesting emotional interaction ends up flatlined. How can we, as a culture, possibly reduce a fascinating interaction between three people where one and possibly two could die if it falls the wrong way to mediocre statements? We should have been hanging on to the edge of our seats at that interaction. The number of senior statesmen during the Tudor period who managed to navigate this successfully and keep their lives/heads intact for a long career could probably be counted on one hand or less, and yet the incredible excitement and danger of this interaction is always lost.
I enjoyed the portrayal of Anne Boleyn, which I feel is probably the more honest. But Henry is reduced to a cardboard cut-out raving tyrant, when his own position is fascinating, incredibly vulnerable and complex. He IS constantly subject to manipulation by clever statesmen all fighting their own corners and trying to bring down others for their own ends. He must have been operating in an atmosphere of total despair. It's very easy to make light of the farces that became his marriages but he must have been living every day looking at Spain and France and realising he would plunge the country into possible destruction without an heir. Then he looks at his courtiers and correctly sees a bunch of people only interested in their own ends - isn't it the human element that makes history fascinating? How would you react if you have built Wolsey up to then see the true agenda behind what he was doing? And to then also have a group of your courtiers baying for his blood and watching what you are going to do. And when you've walked down that path with Wolsey, to then seem to see Cromwell potentially doing it also? Cromwell should have understood more than anyone the potential impact of the Cleeves marriage after having to resolve the Boleyn issue (and the impact it had on his predecessor). Yet he obviously either couldn't be bothered or didn't care (possibly now holding no respect for his master) to pay attention to the details (you don't even find out that she's not good looking/has personal hygiene problems?). What response would you expect to illicit from your king? Whilst tyranny became part of who Henry was, to write him off purely as a tyrant does not do him justice in the complexities of the issues involved.
The portrayal of Cromwell does start to show what is probably the more truthful balance in his character - kind, generous at home but capable of true brutality at work with no care for innocence or otherwise. Yet after all the hard work throughout to illustrate this balance, it does slip slightly in the Epilogue into the current fashion of viewing his death as perhaps 'unjust for a man kind to his servants/households/friends, etc'.
Cromwell was responsible for many innocent deaths; he showed no care for all the innocent men sent to their deaths in the Boleyn affair, and considering 'going to the block' sometimes took 8-10 hacks to remove a head it was no mercy over a traitors death. It was a terribly fearful and brutal thing. He sacrificed many, many other innocent lives to achieve his own ends or those of his king without a thought. Henry had no involvement in determining the terrible deaths of the priests - that was his viciousness alone. He was a vicious bully and had no conscience against seeking out the vulnerable and intimidating or executing them to achieve his ends. I fully believe that he had become so sure of himself, his arrogance made him believe he could do anything - that he was almost above the king. If it is true that he was setting his aim at a marriage to Henry's daughter Mary, then wasn't Henry right to remove someone obviously becoming a potential danger to him? Whether that required execution or not is debatable. But the fascination my mum always gave to me in history was as soon as you thought you'd understood someone, she would present another political side of the equation that tore down everything you thought you understood.
To me, the importance in writing historical works is to illustrate all these complexities, not write in a manner that inferred all these people were flat, unemotional cut-outs. They were emotional people like you/I. Cromwell's letter to Henry ending 'Mercy! Mercy! Mercy!' obviously shows his abject fear at the fate awaiting him and yet where I should have been desperate to return to listening it was reduced to something like 'Cromwell's fear is indicated by his closing statements ...'. INDICATED? I don't think you could do much more indicating.
I have really enjoyed this and I do hope you'll buy it and steel yourself to persevere if you do find it a bit 'degree-thesis'. Such wonderful research has been done and such interesting facts brought to light, I'm sure you'll enjoy it. I just think if they'd been given to my mum to tell I'd even now be sitting in my car open-mouthed in stunned shock.
"A Wasted Opportunity"
The production ruined a good, well written story. Introducing actors to speak the writers quotations gave the whole thing the quality of a village theatre production.
Story is fine, its history!
Let the main narrator tell the whole story. This is not theatre we dont need acting Thats for live productions
None the whole history needs to be written
The whole thing could almost be marketed as a dramatisation.
Amazing history brought to life from prime sources & excellent voice actors! Plus the Holbien portrait looks superb on my iPod when the book was playing🐾
Yes, a captivating and fascinating chronological journey through Thomas Cromwell's life and times. It was read brilliantly with an easy to listen to style and pace.
I absolutely enjoyed the whole book
It was read brilliantly with an easy to listen to style and pace.
"A very well written book"
The presentation of the data was intriguing. For the reading the narrator's voice alone would have sufficed. The various other voices disturbed the flow and the different accents rang false . They were totally unnecessary.
"Good listen and well researched"
Although the strange accents used to illustrate quotations was a little annoying, I don't think that it detracted from what was an enjoyable if lightweight book.
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