Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Tackling Tudor Thomases, One At a Time: Today's Thomas - Cromwell

"Cromwell, Cromwell, Cromwell! Why is it always about Cromwell?" 
 
Everyone's seen the Brady Bunch, right?
If you aren't familiar, the catch-up is this: in the oh-so Seventies "The Brady Bunch," there's a blended all-American family, navigating the ups and downs of life in a squeaky-clean suburb of Los Angeles. 
Big sister is named Marcia; ongoing theme = middle sister, Jan, is jealous of Marcia's popularity both at school and at home. 
In one episode, Jan wails, "Well, all day long at school I hear how great Marcia is at this or how wonderful Marcia did that! Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"
the brady bunch animated GIF
What does this have to do with Thomas Cromwell?
If Cromwell is Marcia, every man who served the King was Jan at least once in their career.

Thomas Cromwell was unbelievably slick, smart and sneaky.
No one could keep up with him.
And it pissed them off to no end. 

Example: Thomas Cromwell is the Marcia Brady to Henry Norris's Jan Brady. 
Henry Norris, Groom of the Stool for ten (ten!) years. Steadfast, loyal, not above handing Henry VIII the 'nether regions towel' followed by reporting the king's bowel movements so that the realm could relax, knowing the king's plumbing was in working order. 

Then there's Thomas Cromwell; ambitious, and certainly not above elbowing anyone aside who got in the way of his agenda, which by extension, was also the king's agenda.
(And by that, I mean the king could always be convinced that Cromwell's agenda was also in the best interest of the King.)
"Just tidying up after the executioner. .  "
So when the King's love for a son got bigger than his love for his wife, Cromwell made sure Anne Boleyn would lose her head, then systematically built a legal case that she'd been cheating on the King with Norris (and four other 'Jans') and in two short days of executions, cleared the decks at the Tudor court better than Alice ever did at the Brady's. 

After the heads had been piked and the blood mopped up, all the top jobs serving the king (previously held by the unlucky four) were suddenly vacant.
Interest applicants, see the King's man Cromwell.

That's just one example of the Jan/Marcia comparison in the Henrician (don't you just love that word?) court, but it's a good one. 
Henry Norris was the top of the pyramid guy in Henry VIII's most innermost circle of bros, going back for generations in the families. 
Top. 
No one was higher, no one had more personal, persuasive contact with the king.
Then Cromwell came along, and Marcia'd poor Henry Norris right in front of the bus of an executioner with a block of wood. 
Not only did Norris never see it coming, he was forced to submit to having his head sliced off at the neck, all because Anne Boleyn made a stupid, snippy joke at his expense.
Cromwell made it all happen.

Within the last five or six years, Cromwell's reputation got an overhaul when writers reinterpreted research done on the life of Cromwell.

To that, I say, whateverdoodle.

The current revisionist version of Henry VIII's favorite Royal Fixer has probably got a little truth to it, but I'm not buying it.
It's never a bad idea to consider a different side to things, but the fact is, Thomas Cromwell was slick, smart and sneaky.
Like Marcia Brady, Cromwell's ambition and sucking up to those in a position to help him achieve his goals made him popular - in the thinnest of ways. 

The way things got done in the court system were so often through knowing the social rules, sticking to them, and being pleasant. 
Grumblers risked getting sidelined when it came to having personal favors granted, or their family members promoted to better and better jobs, or being named to posts that paid a ton for very little actual work. 
No one likes a grouch.
Having seen what Cromwell made happen, the smart ones smiled thinly and stayed far, far out of his way. 
Cromwell was tolerated - but never really accepted. 
His reputation was that he might not help you, but he could and would hurt you.

And no one could quite figure out why it was always about Cromwell. . . so they all simmered quietly in the background, waiting for their chance to collectively strike. 
Watching and waiting until years later, things finally fell into place for them.