Wednesday, 21 January 2015

The Eyes have it

Well there you are, history rewritten - supposing you watched the first part of Wolf Hall. There was the saintly Thomas Cromwell, honest and upright, devoted to the English Bible, bearing nobly the death of his wife and daughters - oh, and he had wanted to teach her Greek too - how very Humanist of him! You might say just like Thomas More and his Family - except that here we have already been shown what a dastardly fellow More is .. at least in the opinion of convent-educated Hilary Mantel. Not content with blackening him, we also have seen her show Stephen Gardiner as a real snake in the grass.

Now in that I feel Ms Mantel has gone little too far; just because he upheld the faith which England had always held, she must show him as a complete rotter. The photography was marvellous, lots of chiaroscuro; not so the characterisation, all either utterly black or purest white.

The pity is, a picture is worth a thousand words; and we shall see many such pictures over the course of the next five episodes. They are likely to distort people's opinions for years to come.  For me, though, the more accurate picture is given us by a contemporary, rather than an embittered would-be historian. So which of these men would you sooner trust?

Thomas Cromwell

Or the persistent Catholic who preceded Cromwell to the block, and who has been declared a Saint of the Church?

Thomas More

Holbein saw them both; and I think the eyes have it, the eyes have it.

1 comment:

  1. Then Waldemar Januszczak in a BBC2 programme on Holbein said that he could not believe the revisionists who made Thomas Cromwell a Saint and vilified Thomas More - because Holbein had seen them, and shown what they were like. I wonder if he'd read this blog first?