Thomas Cromwell was the Islamic State of his day
By Dominic Selwood
Forget Wolf Hall: this pathologically ambitious "ruffian" sent hundreds to the chopping block and destroyed England's religious and artistic heritage
On July 24, 2014, worshippers in Mosul were asked to leave one of the city’s most historic and famous buildings — an ancient Nestorian-Assyrian church that had long ago been converted into the Mosque of the Prophet Younis (biblical Jonah). The Islamic State then rigged the entire building with explosives, and blew it into oblivion. Tragically, it was a Shia mosque - one of many that have suffered the same fate.
The UK's current primetime TV fantasy blockbuster du jour is Wolf Hall. Everyone loves a costume drama, but there is a world of difference between fictional history and historical fiction. One dramatizes real people and events. The other is an entirely made-up story set in the past. The current tendency is to blur the two, which Wolf Hall does spectacularly.
Thomas Cromwell, whose life it chronicles, comes across as a plucky, self-made Englishman, whose quiet reserve suggests inner strength and personal nobility. Back in the real world, Cromwell was a “ruffian” (in his own words) turned sectarian extremist, whose religious vandalism bears striking comparison with the iconoclasm of Islamic State or the Afghani Taliban.
Thanks to Wolf Hall, more people have now heard of Thomas Cromwell, and this is a good thing. But underneath its fictionalized portrayal of Henry VIII’s chief enforcer, there is a historical man, and he is one whose record for murder, looting, and destruction ought to have us apoplectic with rage, not reaching for the popcorn.
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