Hilaire Belloc's historical studies are remarkable works, particularly his works on English authors and historical personages, because he combines a very rare combination of qualities that he brings to his criticism. I think it comes from his being raised in England and having a French father. I am prompted to say this by his study on John Milton, as Man and Poet (that there is a distinction between these two is the foundation of Belloc's book) which I found free on the World Wide Web. These qualities are:
(1) a kind of Gallic savage truthfulness that leads him to "out with it" in the most brutally unforgiving delineation of people's faults, but without malice. This leads some to call him misanthropic - witness his poem Carpe Diem for justification of this claim - but I think it is in fact the ironic French enjoyment of naked and uncomfortable truths that is coming out here.
(2) a love and understanding of the English language and the national character it embodies, not just as a great and economical prose writer, but as a critic.
(3) a detached and highly idiosyncratic political mind which combines a love of monarchy, the rights of peasantry founded on property and the ownership of the tools by which they earn their bread, and hatred of tyrannical oligarchy and the machinery of capitalism (he sees the two as tied together).
(4) this latter political understanding founded in a kind of fusion of the tradition of Anglo-Saxon liberty (which he loved) with Catholic principle and medieval political theory - and he finds justification for both in Catholic theology.
This is an unusual set of political and personal loyalties and loves hits one in the face quite dramatically when one reads his historical and biographical work. He doesn't see history in the usual English tradition (one gets to the heart of this tradition from the phrase in 1066 And All That, that Henry VIII was "a Good Thing but a Bad Man"), or see his characters through the accepted phrases about them. He seems to be utterly free of other people's accumulated mistakes and muddied thoughts: instead of talking about constitutional settlements and compromises, Belloc thinks in what he avers to be the concrete and enduring categories: Land, the Free Peasantry, the King and the Catholic Faith.
And in his book on Milton, instead of talking abstractly about his "high seriousness", he points simply to his lack of humour, and monumental selfishness. Like all of Belloc's insights, it is a shock, a jolt: always before one has heard people talk of Milton's pride, his great defect - but Belloc seems to stand outside all that talk about his pride as a defect in his character (which is otherwise left rather vague), and gets to the heart of what his character was like. It is painful, not least because all the little things one has heard about Milton but not quite imagined in a living personality suddenly fall into place, one is struck by the horrible plausibility of it, and it seems inescapable because of Belloc's unvarnished way of saying it.
Having grown up with a kind of hagiography of Cranmer and his martyrdom, I experienced the shock of Belloc's approach for the first time in full when I read Belloc's biography of Henry VIII's Archbishop. I am still not sure if Belloc's Cranmer is a wholly fair portrait, but it certainly makes me reconsider.
Which reminds me of an idea for a brief historical study that I once mentioned to a friend and which I wish someone competent would carry out. I think that the statesmen and martyrs of sixteenth century are usually badly paired off and compared. St Thomas More, for example, gets contrasted with William Tyndale (probably because they exchanged polemic). It seems more apt to me to compare More with Cranmer, and Tyndale with the Jesuit martyr Campion, a double character study of four executed men worth writing, I think. The first two were statesmen who tried to work within the corridors of power to bring about their ends and to stretch their duty of loyalty as far as they could allow; the second pair were "undercover agents", labouring and striving while hunted.