Finished it and have been reflecting on it ever since. I’m still not sure about the title, but of course the Seymours would loom large over the next stage of Cromwell’s life. I also liked the constant presence of Mark Smeaton, foreshadowing events to come as well. The final scenes of the novel were quite powerful. In the end, I found the depictions of both More and Cromwell utterly believable.
As I thought about the novel, I also thought more about my perspective on the 1530s, that first phase of the English Reformation. I suppose it’s safe to say my scholarly judgement was largely shaped by my own Protestant upbringing. In addition, my undergraduate senior thesis focused on the early English reformers’ attacks on the wealth of the church. In researching that project I read almost everything written in the 1520s and 1530s against the Catholic establishment and I gained a deep appreciation for the theological and ethical commitments of the early reformers like Tyndale, Frith, and Latimer. They had a vision of a church and state that were very different from the institutions that existed, and the ones that emerged in the course of the English Reformation.
Cromwell used those reformers to support his efforts to dissolve the monasteries. Of that there is no doubt. That the reformers’ ideals were not realized is also true. But somehow over the last 150 years or so, the Protestant side has tended to get the blame for what happened.
But between More and Cromwell, I suppose I would still choose Cromwell. For all of Cromwell’s faults, I find More’s choices, and his theological positions, deeply troubling.
It’s interesting finishing that book over the holidays when the attempted bombing of a Northwest flight is in the news and there is again talk about the use of torture in the media. Andrew Sullivan’s blog, as always, keeps a close watch on all of the outrageous statements by politicans and pundits. More’s problem, from my perspective, was his absolute sense of certainty. That’s always a danger, because if you know you are right, than any means you use will be justified.