A faithful historic rendition of the years Thomas Cromwell rises to power first under Cardinal Wolsey, then King Henry VIII. This account is the first of a trilogy, now finished, with the first two winning the Booker Prize. An acclaimed BBC mini-series brings the book even more to life. A story for all ages, reviewed in the Guardian and NYTimes, here a couple of takes on issues at the edge of the story: the printing of books and paper notes.
You get a really good picture of life in 1530s England under Henry VIII and his court with this book. Court politics aside, money and banking aside (both ample topics), we get a glimpse of how the printing press, tied to Luther and Protestantism, is infiltrating and changing England and Europe.
Cardinal Wolsey sees this early on and gains power and wealth by decommissioning monasteries, mostly full of corrupt monks, and using the proceeds to establish colleges at Oxford. You can see the power move from church to university.
When Tyndale translates the Bible into vernacular English, it becomes a target of the King, trying to maintain credit and credibility among the Catholic kings of Europe, to which he is indebted. With his annulment to Katherine, daughter of Ferdinand and Isabelle, things get confusing. But the disruptive nature of books in the hands of regular people is well noted by Cromwell, who tries to manage his fortune around that fact.
The other notable part of this book (for me) is Cromwell’s fascination with the Memory Palace, which he learned in Italy, and commissioned a sort of memory machine by the Italian (Name begins with C), now moved to Paris. He goes on about a box, or chest, with drawers, and drawers within drawers, each with a book in it, and each with more drawers inside, linked from the text to another book. There is an eerie resemblance to Vannevar Bush and his concept of linked texts in As We May Think. Evidently, though, this is an adaptation of a system to remember things, Method of Loci, where lists are remembered by assigning them places, so it is also called a Memory Palace.
I plan to take a short break and start book 2 of the trilogy in about a week, on my daily walks up the hill to the park, then winding down through the cemetery. The audiobook version read by Ben Miles is excellent. Also looking to find a place to watch the BBC mini-series (It’s on Amazon, 4 Episodes, each about 90 minutes).