Admiring Thomas Cromwell is a respectable way of expressing anti-Catholic feeling
by Fr Alexander Lucie-Smith
Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall propagates the myth that Britain became great once it had ditched Catholicism
It is some time since he dominated national life, but Thomas Cromwell is back in the news. Moreover, this new popularity of Cromwell is happening at the expense of St Thomas More.
Hilary Mantel is not the first person to acclaim Thomas Cromwell as a hero; he was certainly regarded as such by Professor Geoffrey Elton, the Tudor historian, who saw Cromwell, rightly perhaps, as a capable royal servant who, more than anyone else before or since, increased the power and prestige of the monarchy. Thanks to Cromwell, Henry VIII probably was more powerful than any of his predecessors, though this was not a position he preserved, throwing away as he did huge amounts of money on his French wars in the last years of his reign.
What does this attitude to Cromwell tell us about Miss Mantel and his other contemporary admirers? Rather than try and determine the rights and wrongs of the controversies of five centuries ago, what can we deduce about our own century?
First of all, we know that Cromwell, though he claimed to die a Catholic, was a hardline Protestant, and anti-clerical. Miss Mantel has told us that she does not care for the Catholic religion, into which she, like Cromwell, was born. While I very much doubt that contemporary Cromwell fever has anything to do with a renewed appreciation of the theology of Luther, it is possible that people are drawn to Cromwell today because he gave the Church, and its monks, a hiding. To admire Cromwell now is a respectable way of covering up good old-fashioned anti-Catholic feeling.
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