The ‘moving spirit’ of the English Reformation was a skilful and far-sighted statesman, writes Geoffrey Elton.
Thomas Cromwell was born about 1485; he died on the scaffold in July 1540. Of the 55 years of his life, the first 25 are quite obscure, illuminated only by some romantic stories with a thin substratum of fact. His father was a shearman of Putney who seems to have possessed a quarrelsome temper.
Thomas, thrown early on his own resources and without the career in the Church that so often rescued low-born ability from oblivion, made his way abroad; he travelled through France and Italy, served as a soldier in the Italian wars, may have seen the Pope, made lasting friends with some eminent Italian merchants, and then set off home again, with the beginnings of a fortune acquired in a thoroughly unconventional fashion.