In this story we join Cromwell as he helps Henry VIII maneuvre his way out of his 1000 day marriage to Anne Boleyn and the machinations that evolve as a result involving the innocent and the not so innocent indiscriminately as long as the King's wishes are met.
The former Queen Katharine is dying - still not allowed to see her daughter the Lady Mary who schemes and has her own followers, Anne is on the way out and Jane Seymour the pale, lifeless one in comparison to the vivacious Anne has caught the King's interest and is on the way in and Elizabeth is still a toddler with Fitzwilliam the bastard son also on the horizon.
Europe in general have not accepted the King's second wife calling her a concubine and the greater majority of the English people also dislike her thinking she is "foreign" and the English nobility have never quite forgiven her relations for their overbearing and grasping ways starting with her brother and father. Add to this mercurial mix, the fact that Henry is obsessed with begetting a son and Anne's failure to produce one is just driving Henry away (not that he needs very much in that line anyway!). Cromwell realises that not only is the need for an heir important to Henry but Anne's increasingly reckless behaviour with a number of young men are going to lead her to her doom sooner than later and even though he tries to warn her, the warnings go unheeded.
The story more than about Henry and Anne and the turbulent times they live is is about Cromwell's machinations to get one marriage (Katharine) annulled, get a second put aside for whatever reason possible so that the King can be accommodated for a third time. His own head being on his shoulders depends on whether he pulls it off or not and how he goes about it is not the King's concern.
The absolute cruelty of Henry VIII will be forever remembered, particularly as he wants to come across as a benign, benevolent leader whereas he is a megalomaniac who wants what he wants and wants it now. Cromwell is a murderer who hangs on to power and makes a fortune in the process. Not a pleasant bunch of characters but a book which for lovers of history is a must read.
I found the book slow in the beginning and only warmed to it half way through. The ending was brutal but that is history.