We caught up with historian Diarmaid MacCulloch to find out what we can expect from his talk, Thomas Cromwell: A Life, at our Winchester History Weekend 2018…


Q: What can audiences look forward to in your talk at our Winchester History Weekend 2018?

A: A new Thomas Cromwell, emerging from my scrutiny of the whole range of manuscripts in his vast surviving archive without paying attention to the echo chamber of historians from the 16th century to the present day.

Q: Why are you so interested in this period of history?

A: It was one of the great turning points in the history of Great Britain and Ireland, for better or worse. What was virtually a failed state under England’s 15th-century rulers stabilised, and the kingdom began making a reality of its decayed claims to authority in the neighbouring island of Ireland. The Protestant Reformation was embraced, and conditions were created for a union with England’s ancient enemy, Scotland. We live in the slipstream of all this.

Winchester speaker programme: Download timetable here
Audience at Winchester History Weekend 2017.

Q: Tell us something that might surprise or shock us about this area of history…

A: It’s a shock to discover that Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn – despite both being supporters of the Reformation – loathed each other. She obstructed his rise to power, and in return he orchestrated her downfall and death.

Q: What is your favourite ‘little-known fact’ from history?

A: One of the last relations of the emperors of Byzantium, Theodore Palaeologus, ended up living in the Cornish village, Landulph. His monumental brass of 1636 in the parish church records that he married the daughter of a Suffolk gentleman with the surname Balls.

Q: Which three historical figures would you invite to a dinner party and why?

A: The religious reformer Martin Luther (1483–1546), the English writer Ben Jonson (1572–1637) and Henry VII's mother, Lady Margaret Beaufort (1443–1509). The first two were great talkers, and Beaufort – arguably the most successful politician of the 15th century – would have the authority to tell them to shut up when they got carried away with their own wit.

Q: If you had to live in any historical time period, which would you choose and why?

A: None of them, because of the dentistry. If I had to, I'd make it the hunter-gatherer era, before we started messing up the world.

Q: Which history book(s) would you recommend (excluding your own)?

A: Tony Judt's Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 (2010). It is one of the great stories of achievement and hope in human history; how Europe rebuilt itself from ruins and embraced democracy, reason and fairness as political principles. It’s a pity about what happened next, but all may not be lost.

Diarmaid MacCulloch will be speaking about Thomas Cromwell at BBC History Magazine’s Winchester History Weekend on Friday 5 October. To find out more about his talk and to book tickets, click here.


To read more about the festival and other speakers, click here.