The Cromwell conjured by Mantel is deeply drawn to Tyndale’s Bible and Tyndale’s Lutheran theology—on the deaths of his wife and daughters, he reaches there for comfort rather than to the Catholic piety of his wife, to which he also publicly assents—but “to be drawn to” is not “to be committed to.” Cromwell’s religious convictions are elusive to us, but Mantel would have us see that they were elusive even to himself. (The same can be said for many of us.) What this Cromwell clearly does believe is that More’s theological and ecclesiastical certainties, and the fierce campaign against heresy that they engendered, are bad policy and immoral besides. He—he who is kind even to dogs and cats—flinches at More’s cruelties, and sympathizes with the Protestants simply because they are hunted down and persecuted. When he rises to be Henry’s chief minister, he becomes a remorseless enemy of the Church’s power not because he hates the Church but because he sees how thoroughly power corrupts, and wants to limit it wherever he can.
Again, in all these ways Mantel’s Cromwell is a characteristically late-modern Western man who happens to be living at the beginnings of modernity. By envisioning him so, Mantel has rendered much simpler the task of making the historical novel into a psychological novel. Could she have told the story of More, or for that matter Tyndale, in this manner? I think not. Author and protagonist merge nicely at this point: the True Believer remains inaccessible to them both.
There is one more sense in which this Cromwell manifests the late-modern experience: in repudiating the powers of the Church, he inadvertently, or perhaps half-consciously, throws that power to the State. For Cromwell, even Mantel’s Cromwell, does more than almost anyone in history to enable that transfer of authority. In limiting the power of the Church’s ministers to pursue and punish sinners, in transferring the right to define the condition of marriage from Church to King and Parliament, in making all property effectively the gift of the State, he creates almost from whole cloth the vast powers of modern government. And he grows increasingly aware of the portentous exchange he has made.
Past Present | Books and Culture. That’s from my review of Wolf Hall; I quote it here to extend the point made in my previous post. What strikes me now more forcibly than it did then is Mantel’s decision to make Cromwell sensitive to the sufferings of animals: not unusual in our time, but almost unheard of in the 16th century. Mantel’s Cromwell is late-modern through and through, almost a time traveler.