“My special tender friend”: The Long History of More and Cromwell
April 12, 2015 5 Comments
I ran across this earlier this year when Wolf Hall was running in the UK. Since it is running now on Masterpiece Theater, it seems a good time to bring it forward. It’s very good television, just don’t confuse it with objective history, it’s not, there’s a fair amount of propaganda in it.
Here’s Dr. Joanne Paul:
I like to think of More and Cromwell on some sort of bizarre historical seesaw. It seems that when one is up, the other is inevitably down. In A Man for All Seasons, More is the glorified protagonist, so Cromwell becomes the conniving enemy. In Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, Cromwell is the hero, or at least antihero, and so More is given a less sympathetic portrayal.
Much of what we think we know of their relationship comes from More’s earliest biographers, who were keen to place the two men in precisely this sort of opposition. For instance, it is from More’s first biographer, William Roper, that we get the story of More, upon his resignation as Chancellor, advising Cromwell: “you shall, in your counsel-giving unto [the King], ever tell him what he ought to do, but never what he is able to do…. For if a Lion knew his own strength, hard it were for any man to rule him”. And Cromwell, in Roper’s version, teases and flatters More while he is in the Tower, prompting his reflections on “eye flattering fortune”
But how much do we really know about More and Cromwell – their relationship, what they thought of one another? We know the end of the story – or we think we do – the two men face off, and Cromwell wins, until he too is cut down. But is that the right way of thinking about it?
The two were probably born about the same time only about 5 miles apart; More in Cheapside, Cromwell in Putney. Neither came from particularly prestigious roots, More’s ancestors were brewers, bakers and candlestick makers, Cromwell’s father was a blacksmith and merchant. The main difference between the two men’s early lives seems to have been their paternal fortunes. More’s father was an up-and-coming lawyer, Cromwell’s was a brute and a drunk.