Q&A With Tracey Borman

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Tracy Borman
We spoke to author Tracy Borman ahead of her appearance at York Literature Festival where she’ll discuss Thomas Cromwell, the subject of her recent biography
'It's as much about the personal anecdotes and the material that brings him to life as a character, not just the revolutionary events that he was responsible for at the heart of Henry VIII's court'

What can people look forward to at your talk?
I'll be telling them about the real Thomas Cromwell, who is very much the man of the moment because of the BBC production of Wolf Hall. I have written a biography of Cromwell which came out last year [Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII's Most Faithful Servant] and it tells the story of the private man, not just the public figure, so I'm also going to be talking about that. Anybody who has watched or read Wolf Hall or even if they haven't but are interested in Cromwell the man, that's what I'm going to be revealing to them.

It's as much about the personal anecdotes and the material that brings him to life as a character, not just the revolutionary events that he was responsible for at the heart of Henry VIII's court. There will also be the chance to ask me questions and I'll do a book signing afterwards. I'm really looking forward to it, I love York and I'm from Lincoln originally, so I have visited many times and I can't wait to come back.

Can you tell us about Cromwell’s link to Yorkshire?
Cromwell's main connection with York was through his first and most powerful patron Cardinal Wolsey, who was Archbishop of York, and he also spent his final days in and around York. He became quite unpopular in Yorkshire though, because he dissolved the monasteries including some of the greatest in Yorkshire, so I'm not sure he'd be very popular there today!

What’s your background?
I've got a PhD in History, I have been a writer for quite a few years and I'm also joint Chief Curator for Historic Royal Palaces, the charity that looks after Hampton Court and the Tower of London.

How was your interest in Thomas Cromwell sparked?
I'm a Tudor historian first and foremost so I knew of Cromwell and I'd always thought of him as the villain, a dark and dastardly character – that's certainly what I was taught at school. I then read Wolf Hall when that came out and it just gave such a different portrayal of Cromwell that even though it was a fictional portrayal, it inspired me to find out more about him and discover the truth about Cromwell. I think Hilary Mantel's portrayal of Cromwell is incredibly authentic, he's a surprising character and certainly not the one-dimensional villain that he's always portrayed to be.

How did you conduct your research for the biography?
I spent a lot of time in the British Library where much of the original correspondence is held, I always believe in going back to the original letters because they tend to contain so much more than you find in printed works. Reading his letters was fascinating and revealed a lot about his character as well as what he orchestrated in government. Then I filled in the gaps with works written on him.

Why do you think Cromwell is an important figure?
He is one of the most significant figures in English history. It's thanks to him, that the Church of England was created, he started a revolution in government; he was an extraordinary visionary and drove through the Reformation in England, and without Cromwell we would've been many years behind the rest of Europe and I think we would be a very different country even to this day.

Can you tell us a surprising fact about Cromwell?
I think the fact that he's seen as a really bureacratic figure but actually just how humerous he was could surprise people. He was a bit of a party animal and he liked to hold parties at his houses as a very genial host – he spent the equivalent of £120,000 a year on wine, he had jesters and entertainers and the finest food and wine for his guests. He was the sort of man you'd want at your dinner party, which is not the kind of man you find in the pages of history books!

Your biography was released a day after the first episode of BBC's Wolf Hall – have you seen any of it? If so, what do you make of it?

I'm a massive fans of the series. I think it's an amazing portrayal and very true to life so I can't wait for the third book and maybe another TV series. It was a nice coincidence that my book was out around the same time and so anyone wishing to find out the real story, having seen the television programme, could then read my book.

Catch Tracy Borman in York for her Thomas Cromwell: Henry VIII's Right Hand Man talk in Temple Hall, York St John University, on 26th March at 2pm. For more information and to find out how to book tickets, head to www.yorkliteraturefestival.co.uk/event/thomas-cromwell-henry-viiis-right-hand-man

Published in: March 2015

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