This two part series was originally shown on 5Select during December 2021, presented by Tracy Borman from the Tower of London. It went beyond the cliched story of: the brewery in Putney, service to Wolsey, surviving him, the Dissolution, outmanoeuvring Anne Boleyn, setting up the Cleves “marriage” and being sent to the block to encounter an inexperienced headsman that she could have told us in two minutes and that fiction has covered many times. Borman went much further, detailing his father’s “rogue trader” reputation in several occupations, Thomas’ birth in the year of Bosworth, his wild youth and train of thought during his “apprenticeship”, showing the site of his house near Austin Friars, exploring his religious outlook and narrating his gradual supremacy as he became Earl of Essex just over three months before his attainder and dramatic truncation at Tower Hill, for which Henry VIII later expressed his regrets.
There were occasional lacunae. Wolsey, his mentor who was twelve years older, was the son of a butcher, not another brewer. The programmes could have been improved by visiting Ipswich where he very probably worked as the Cardinal’s secretary in what is now a cafe and where a car park commemorates him.