After reading Wolf Hall by Hillary Mantel, I had wanted to learn more about Thomas Cromwell, albeit fictionalized. The Woman in the Shadows has fit the bill and more. McGrath paints a personal picture of the complex personality of the man who would become King Henry VIII's closest advisor. A Renaissance man: both gentle and violent, both loving and shrewd, both ambitious and giving. A solitary family man who would tutor at the desk of one of the most ruthless men in Henry's court, Cardinal Wolsey.
But the lens in which the complexity of Cromwell is revealed is that of his wife, Elizabeth Williams Wyckes . A woman as unique as her husband, she survives a loveless first marriage with widowhood serving not to destroy her but to emancipate her. Diving into the business which she learned from her father and inherited from her husband, Elizabeth shakes off the societal bonds of 16th century England, to prove to her naysayers as well as supporters that a woman's mind and temperament could equal a man's.
When her father begins to pressure her into another disastrous marriage, Elizabeth proves herself to be as adept in making her own love match as she is in the cloth business. While little is known of Cromwell's Lizzy, it appears that their union was a happy and fruitful one. She bore him three children and was his helpmate as he rose from his humble beginnings to become an irreplaceable associate of fellow low-born commoner, Cardinal Wolsey.
The book concludes before the greatest tragedy of Cromwell's life, the death in 1529 of Elizabeth and their two daughters. It is of course unknown how Cromwell's meteoric rise in Henry's court following the death of Wolsey was changed after the loss of his wife. It is possible that the real Elizabeth, like the fictionalized one, would have been able to rein in her husband's ambitions and entanglement with the mercurial English King. Maybe if his wife and young daughters had lived, the lawyer Tom Cromwell would have not found it so easy to become immersed in the court politics that would eventually lead to his falling out of favor with Henry. Or maybe Cromwell's drive for upward mobility was the only balm that could soothe the pain of the loss of his wife. As he told Elizabeth before their marriage as they watched a pair of swans, "You know they mate for life."
- Paperback: 400 pages
- Publisher: Accent Press Ltd; UK ed. edition (4 August 2017)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1786152290
- ISBN-13: 978-1786152299
- Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.4 x 19.8 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 390 g
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- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 365,153 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)