July 24, 2019
This is the second book in Field's Tudor series and although I have purchased the first one about Henry VII, I wanted to read this one first because I didn't know a lot about the story of Thomas Wolsey.
The story begins when Thomas is very young and becoming painfully aware of his place in society. Born in 1473, he is the son of a common butcher of modest means, ridiculed by the upper classes who attend mass with him and are jealous of his cleverness and academic wit. This becomes more apparent as Wolsey grows into manhood, completing his degree in divinity at the young age of fifteen and uses his skills and connections to work his way to becoming chaplain for the Archbishop of Canterbury. He soon finds himself in the service of King Henry VII who appoints him royal chaplain. When his son, Henry VIII becomes king, Wolsey is firmly entrenched as a valuable asset to the Tudor ruler and uses it to his great advantage, steering events in his favor while maintaining the needed reverence due to the King.
Because Henry VIII is still young and impressionable, he finds himself relying heavily on Wolsey's guidance and affirmation. In the beginning, Thomas is able to amass great wealth and power by making himself invaluable to the King. As time passes though, he finds Henry is growing into his own as a man and ruler and it starts to become more difficult to manipulate things in his direction. Henry grows increasingly more set in his ways and through a series of events with France and Spain, he and Wolsey begin to have conflicts that bleed into their previously trusting relationship. When the King decides to rid himself of Queen Katherine and marry Anne Boleyn, Thomas is expected to deliver the annulment necessary to make this happen. He cannot. And he finds himself in real danger from Henry's wrath.
I love that Field's books include real people presented in an authentic way so that I feel like I'm getting to know them and their thoughts, not just reading historical events. In this book though it caused me to be conflicted about the main focus because halfway through I really started to dislike Wolsey both as a man and as a religious figure. This is probably exactly what was intended and shows Field's capability as a writer. Unlike Simon de Montfort in The Conscience of a King, Wolsey does not come off as a sympathetic figure at all. We see him begin with promise, incredibly smart, talented, and impressive at a young age. As he grows more entrenched in royal favor and wealth he comes across as scheming and cynical. It makes it hard to feel badly for him when Henry turns on him.
I can't recommend these books enough if you need a good, solid, chronological timeline of English history. I can't wait to see what the future holds for Field's books as I'm really hoping for a series of books that take place surrounding events from de Montfort through the Tudor years. The three Edwards and Bolingbroke would be wonderful as they seem to be under represented in the historical fiction world. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series, Justice For the Cardinal, all about Thomas Cromwell and his devotion to Wolsey, his mentor, and the events after this book and Wolsey's downfall.