The Courier's Tale

by Peter Walker

Reviewed by Annis

The Courier's Tale by Peter Walker “For me the road was the road – and specifically the road to Italy”. The Courier’s Tale is narrated by Michael Throckmorton, a retired English gentleman living in Mantua. “Chiefly in my life,” he says, “I have ridden back and forth between England and Padua or Verona or Venice or Rome, almost always in service to the illustrious Mr. Pole.”

Papal emissary Cardinal Reginald Pole, of the blood royal and cousin to Henry VIII of England, is a persistent thorn in the king’s side, one that Henry’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, dearly wishes to pluck out. Formerly a favoured royal protégé, Pole has earned the monarch’s implacable enmity by condemning Henry’s divorce and repudiation of Papal supremacy: “through slaughter, you have acquired the title Head of the Church. You put your faith in torture and death for anyone who resists your lies”. Exiled in Italy, Pole survives several assassination attempts. Thwarted, the king unleashes his fury on Pole’s hapless family in England.

Throckmorton is the youngest son of staunchly Catholic English gentry. The guise of likeable lightweight serves well as a mask for this shrewd, engaging man who becomes Pole’s indispensable messenger, bodyguard and confidential agent. Over his years of service he observes events with a vigilant eye and keen sense of self-preservation. His acquaintance with luminaries of Renaissance Italy and his dealings with popes, kings, emperors, dukes and courtiers on Pole’s behalf give readers a lively insight into the effects of the English Reformation on both the Italian counter-reformation and the politics of France, the Holy Roman Empire and the Papacy.

Eloquent yet deceptively simple in style, The Courier’s Tale is also the Cardinal’s tale. Although brilliant and much admired, Pole is ultimately doomed to failure. His long-held hopes for a Catholic England peacefully reunited in allegiance to Rome turn to ashes in Queen Mary's bonfires of persecution. Once noted for his tolerance, Pole becomes forever linked with the religious tyranny he once denounced. (2010; 337 pages, including a list of Main Characters and a Note on Sources)

More about The Courier's Tale at Powell's Books or

Other novels about the English Reformation of Henry VIII:

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (2009), about Thomas Cromwell's role in the Reformation. Review or More info at Powell's Books

Dissolution by C.J. Sansom (2004), #1 in the Shardlake mystery series. More info

The Man on a Donkey by Hilda Prescott (1952), about the leader of the "Pilgrimage of Grace," a rebellion against Henry VIII's introduction of Protestantism. More info

Nonfiction about Cardinal Pole, the English Reformation and the Italian Counter-Reformation:

Reginald Pole: Prince and Prophet by Thomas F. Mayer (2007). More info

Italian Heresy and Obedience in Tridentine Italy: Cardinal Pole and the Counter-Reformation by Dermot Fenlon (1973). More info

Italian Reform and English Reformations, c. 1535-1585 by Anne Overell (2008). More info


Cardinal Reginald Pole, a biographical sketch at the Luminarium Encyclopedia Project

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