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Thomas Cromwell: Villain or Victim?

Evening Program

Monday, October 26, 2020 - 6:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2102
$30 - Member
$35 - Non-Member
Thomas Cromwell, portrait by Hans Holbein (Frick Collection, New York)


  • This program is part of our Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
  • Platform: Zoom
  • Online registration is required.
  • If you register multiple individuals, you will be asked to supply individual names and email addresses so they can receive a Zoom link email. Please note that if there is a change in program schedule or a cancellation, we will notify you via email, and it will be your responsibility to notify other registrants in your group.


Was Thomas Cromwell, chief courtier of Henry VIII and architect of the English Protestant Reformation, a villain or a victim? Does he resemble more the pragmatic striver of Hilary Mantel’s bestselling trilogy of novels (Wolf Hall, Bring up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light) or the sinister nemesis of the martyr Sir Thomas More in Robert Bolt’s play and film A Man for All Seasons?

Like his famous distant relative Oliver, Thomas Cromwell provokes strong opinions. Scholars may disagree about Cromwell’s motives and his character, but it is clear he was determined to carry out his political agenda in the face of enemies of all stripes. Cromwell sought to consolidate royal power in both England and Ireland by establishing the new Church of England, dissolving the monasteries, and suppressing Irish rebels, and he succeeded until he incurred the enmity of the most dangerous resident of the court: the king himself.

Historian Jennifer Paxton explores the real story behind the intrigues of Henry VIII’s court, where religion, politics, bureaucracy, and yes, sex were entangled in a dangerous mix that led Cromwell to follow his enemy More to the scaffold.

Paxton is a clinical assistant professor of history and the director of the University Honors Program at Catholic University of America.


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This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.