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Thomas Cromwell

A Life
Narrated by: David Rintoul
Length: 26 hrs and 38 mins
4.4 out of 5 stars (228 ratings)

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Summary

Penguin presents the audiobook edition of Thomas Cromwell by Diarmaid MacCulloch, read by David Rintoul. 

Thomas Cromwell is one of the most famous - or notorious - figures in English history. Born in obscurity in Putney, he became a fixer for Cardinal Wolsey in the 1520s. After Wolsey's fall, Henry VIII promoted him to a series of ever greater offices, and by the end of the 1530s he was effectively running the country for the King. That decade was one of the most momentous in English history: it saw a religious break with the Pope, unprecedented use of parliament, the dissolution of all monasteries. Cromwell was central to all this, but establishing his role with precision, at a distance of nearly five centuries and after the destruction of many of his papers at his own fall, has been notoriously difficult. 

Diarmaid MacCulloch's biography is much the most complete and persuasive life ever written of this elusive figure, a masterclass in historical detective work, making connections not previously seen. It overturns many received interpretations, for example that Cromwell was a cynical, 'secular' politician without deep-felt religious commitment, or that he and Anne Boleyn were allies because of their common religious sympathies - in fact he destroyed her. It introduces the many different personalities of these foundational years, all conscious of the 'terrifyingly unpredictable' Henry VIII. MacCulloch allows listeners to feel that they are immersed in all this, that it is going on around them. 

For a time, the self-made 'ruffian' (as he described himself) - ruthless, adept in the exercise of power, quietly determined in religious revolution - was master of events. MacCulloch's biography for the first time reveals his true place in the making of modern England and Ireland, for good and ill.

©2018 Diarmaid MacCulloch (P)2018 Penguin Books Ltd

Critic reviews

"This is the biography we have been awaiting for 400 years." (Hilary Mantel) 

What listeners say about Thomas Cromwell

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Enormously interesting and very entertaining.

A very enjoyable journey through Tudor politics and religion with one of the most intriguing characters of the period. Saint or sinner? Devoted royal servant or brazen chancer? This book throws some light onto a very complex man. Although long, this book is fast paced and I enjoyed the author's dry humour. I will be seeking out his other titles. The narrator of this audiobook was perfect for the job - very easy listening.

22 people found this helpful

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Impressive & worthwhile listening experience

An entertaining and well-researched biography of one of the most interesting and influential men of English history. The narration was magnificent too. Loved it. Bravo!

17 people found this helpful

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Stellar

Amazingly detailed and fascinating biography, which confirms some of the things we know about Thomas Cromwell, also explaining (and reassigning!) many things we think we know - about the man himself, his often capricious monarch, and various important players at and around the Court at this time. It's a painstakingly well-researched book. I have the hard copy as well, and have combined ear and eye from time to time. The reading, I might add, is perfect. A better choice of narrator could not have been made. Although a comprehensive and detailed account of Cromwell's life, it is by no means dull or stuffy. I have smiled and even chuckled, often whilst listening - and had more than one 'Ohhhh... of course!' moment. It's a long book, but never boring; and anyone at all interested in how Tudor bureaucracy functioned, how patronage worked, and the genuine causes and varied progress of the English Reformation is strongly encouraged to buy a copy now and start listening! Thank you, Audible!

12 people found this helpful

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Not to be confused with Wolf Hall

This is a meticulously researched book chronicling the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell in Tudor England. It is a fascinating tale. However it is written in very dense style and I often had to scroll back to remind myself of characters. This is not a historical novel, like Wolf Hall, so the Cromwell’s character and motivation is glimpsed and not expanded upon. It is a fine balance for an author of historical biography between academic rigour and kindling the interest of the lay reader. Personally I would have liked a little more on his loyalties and the reasons for his actions. A bit more speculation to accompany the information. It is an excellent book, I enjoyed it and it is well worth the reading.

8 people found this helpful

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Interesting

interesting story and great detail but feel the author misinterpreted the Irish element to the book

4 people found this helpful

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Superbly read

I came to this as a fan of Hilary Mantel's wonderful novels. What a labour of love, the research involved has produced a very thorough examination of Cromwell and his world. Given the amount of material that must have been destroyed after his fall this is an excellent portrayal of the man and his environment. Wonderfully relevant in our politically turbulent times. David Rintoul once again brings the material to life in a superb reading of the book. Recommended for anyone interested in Tudor and English history.

3 people found this helpful

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Highly recommended.

Diarmaid MacCulloch brings to life the enigmatic character of Thomas Cromwell and the turbulent world of Tudor England. He is particularly good at showing the major social, economic, religious and political factors at play. Some of his characters such as Thomas Moore, the Duke of Norfolk, John Fisher remain shadowy caricatures but he presents Cromwell as a multi-dimensional and fully developed character.

3 people found this helpful

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Excellent, informative biography

I wonder if even the English understand the events of their confused and bloodthirsty “reformation”? Hilary Mantel’s novels have certainly whetted my appetite for this era in their history. This is a witty and intelligent biography, well narrated by David Rintoul (as always), full of interesting anecdote and insights into the bizarre reign of the narcissistic, unpredictable, avaricious and vindictive Henry VIII, who had, unfortunately, more than 4/8 years to impose his changeable whims. I feel I comprehend much more about the origins of the Anglican Church, which I found mysterious (as a Presbyterian turned Catholic). MacCullough is unbiased in his account; he reveals the faults of his subject, and admits the better attributes of Cromwell’s enemies. Thomas Cromwell was evidently a man of great ability, given the extent and length of his service to a very touchy, cruel and capricious king. (I can just imagine Henry VIII’s Twitter account; fortunately communication was slower then, but the penalties for incurring his wrath were deadly.) I’m going to listen again soon- there were some memorable phrases I want to preserve.

14 people found this helpful

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Accessible Tudor History without gore

Most Tudor histories become fascinated by the execution and the axe, this biography concentrates on Cromwell’s considerable achievements in religion, administration, politics that amazingly remain unaltered for centuries. Religious controversy usually incomprehensible to the modern eye is explained in simple unpatronising language

6 people found this helpful

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Not What I Was Hoping For

This is a tremendously detailed and painstakingly researched book, a true work of a lifetime. However, for me, a mere ordinary mortal, it was not what I had hoped for in a biography of this fascinating character of the English reformation period. There's no way I can mark this book down in any way other than to reiterate that it wasn't for me. Alas, I found the writing as dry as a bone and the entire book to be more a work of the general historical events going on at the time with Cromwell as the reference point rather than a real insight into the man himself. To me, this is a book far better appreciated by other historians, researchers, academics, writers and people far more able to digest such high quantities of information. There are periods in this book where I wondered when Cromwell would be mentioned again. yes, the author kept returning to him, but then would head on out on a long and extended journey into the various and multi faceted implications of the effects of Cromwell's political actions and royal policies he helped formulate. For me, it was a bit like Cromwell was the root of a vast tree and the narrative would head off and explore all the branches, their interactions with each other, before returning to Cromwell again. Those excursions into the implications of Cromwell's decisions and actions would be so extensive at times, you might forget who the book was really a biography of. This was a hugely impressive work, but it wasn't right for me. I cannot objectively criticise such a staggeringly detailed tome of research other than to point out why I personally couldn't get on with it. As one other reviewer put it, this is a very dense read and there are just so many details that it's hard to get a broader picture of Cromwell's life and a sense of his character. Cromwell was a man with an amazing memory, highly organized and worked tirelessly for the king but I had hoped to learn more about his character, his foibles and the like. It appeared to me that this book had such a massively broad canvas, the focal character became rather lost in it all. David Rintaul was the perfect choice as narrator for this immense volume. His voice and delivery suited this type of material well, so a definite plus for this audio book. One thing that stood out to me was an error in chapter 15, I believe, that stated that Henry died in 1546 rather than 1547. I had initially wondered if the author was using the Tudor dating scheme that didn't see the new year on January 1st, but then noted that in the final stages of the book that he cited 1547 as the year of death for Henry. So, considering the monumental research and care taken to write this biography, I find it amazing that one of the most fundamental dates in this period was incorrectly quoted. As in Hillary Mantel's excellent last part of her Thomas Cromwell trilogy, the downfall of Cromwell was so rapid that that pivotal part of Cromwell's life was confined to the very last tiny proportion of this huge 27 hour audio book. This was very hard going for me and it became a labour of love to actually wade all the way through it to the end, but I felt i owed it to the subject matter and the efforts of the author to do so. Not an easy read for me at all. I came across many words I had never even heard of before!, but I am certain there are many out there that will be able to far better ingest the contents of this epic work.

1 person found this helpful