The margins of my original copy of Wolf Hall are a mess of scribbles and the text is filled with underlines, squiggles, and asterisks. Here’s what I noted in Part II.
– “Master of the Rolls,” Wolsey says. “Did you know that or make it up?”
I love this line for several reasons: it’s never answered. Wolsey would be impressed either way. And it shows Cromwell’s immediate usefulness — if it only buys a day.
We know something of the actual scene from a biography of Wolsey written by his usher, George Cavendish: “The next day he tarried at home, expecting the coming of the Dukes of Suffolk and Norfolk, [who] came not that day; but the next day they came thither unto him; to whom they declared how the king’s pleasure was that he should surrender and deliver up the great seal into their hands, and to depart simplily unto Asher [Esher], a house situate nigh Hampton Court, belonging to the Bishoprick of Winchester. My lord understanding their message, demanded of them what commission they had to give him any such commandment? who answered him again, that they, were sufficient commissioners in that behalf, having the king’s commandment by his mouth so to do. “Yet,” quoth he, “that is not sufficient for me, without farther commandment of the king’s pleasure; for the great seal of England was delivered me by the king’s own person, to enjoy during my life, with the ministration of the office and high room of chancellorship, of England: for my surety whereof, I have the king’s letters patent to show.” Which matter was greatly debated between the dukes and him with many stout words between them; whose words and checks he took in patience for the time: in so much that the dukes were fain to depart again without their purpose at that present; and returned again unto Windsor to the king: and what report they made I cannot tell; howbeit, the next day they came again from the king, bringing with them the king’s letters. After the receipt and reading of the same by my lord, which was done with much reverence, he delivered unto them the great seal, contented to obey the king’s high commandment; and seeing that the king’s pleasure was to take his house, with the contents, was well pleased simply to depart to Asher, taking nothing but only some provision for his house.”
– During Wolsey’s term as Cardinal (1515-1529), there were three popes:
I gave you bad information last night when I said there were six popes. There were six popes during Wolsey’s ecclesiastical career (he was ordained in 1498), but just three during his term as Cardinal. I’ll list all six anyway:
Alexander VI (1492-1503) — Savanorola (of the Bonfire of the Vanities) was a thorn in Alex’s side, railing against papal misdeeds. When Savanorola’s list of demands for reform were read to Alexander, he’s reported to have laughed and laughed and laughed.
Pius III (1503 – 1503) — His is one of the shortest terms as pope (twenty-six days). He likely died from infection after surgery on his leg. Sixteenth century surgery. Not a lot of handwashing. The other interesting thing about Pius is he was not a priest when he was elected pope. In fact, he wasn’t ordained as a priest until eight days into his term as pope.
Julius II (1503 – 1513) — Of interest to us is a suggestion historian Barbara Tuchman makes in her book The March of Folly: that Julius (along with other Renaissance) helped speed along the Protestant Reformation because of papal abuses.
[The next three are the popes during Wolsey’s term as Cardinal]
Leo X (1513 – 1521) — The Reformation is really underway during Leo’s time. Martin Luther has published his theses, and, because of political difficulties with the German states, Leo wasn’t able to effectively stem the rise of Protestantism there. If you visit his Wikipedia page, you’ll learn (a) that Leo may have been homosexually inclined; and (b) Wikipedia has a page called “List of Sexually Active Popes.” Gey gezunt.
Adrian VI (1522 – 1523) — Adrian’s main goal was to unite Catholic Christendom against the Turks. (He also wanted to reform the papacy back to moral relevancy.) He was not a well-liked pope, and reports are that people rejoiced at his death.
Clement VII (1523 – 1534) — This is the pope whom Henry VIII dealt with, the one he wanted to see things his way about the issue with his marriage to his brother’s wife. He has been called “The Most Unfortunate of the Popes.” While the man has been described as good and pius, the Church lost a lot of power during Clement’s term. Protestantism had a firm hold. The city of Rome was sacked (which is mentioned in this section of Wolf Hall). And he loses England to Anglicanism.
– their pages are made of slunk vellum from stillborn calves
This is describing Wolsey’s gospels that he’s being relieved of. Wolsey’s detractors, especially at the end, called him a Butcher’s Son. This nod to symbolic detail is wonderful.
– the man who has ruled England, reduced
Cromwell isn’t thinking of Henry. He’s thinking of Wolsey. We meet Wolsey in the novel at the beginning of the end of his career. But we hear of earlier triumphs, like the Field of Cloth and Gold that Wolsey oversees, where Henry and Francis, king of France, met. It was a spectacle, and an expensive one at that. The hope was to align the two kings in friendship. It…didn’t work. Maybe I shouldn’t have called it a triumph. Anyway, my favorite thing about the Field of Cloth and Gold is that Henry, being his Most Henry, challenged Francis to a wrestling match — and lost.
But this raises the question about Henry’s monarchy that I asked last night: Is Henry a ruler? A figurehead? A mouthpiece for others’ ideas? Maybe he’s all of those. Henry did not have the benefit of England’s King School for Boys like his brother Arthur did. My opinion: Henry allowed himself to be guided by others, but then would also turn on those guiding him. He struggled with how much power he had, and how much power it was perceived that he had.
– “Right, Master Cromwell, price me by the yard!”
I just love the idea of a Wolsey fashion show. (Also, the recurring motif of fabric. Also, a demonstration of Cromwell’s legit skills.)
– William Gascoigne
We meet him in the first chapter of Part 2. Rumor at the time is that Wolsey’s illegitimate daughter, Dorothea, was the product of Wolsey and Gascoigne’s first wife.
– “It’s like you,” he says to Gascoigne, “to spread every story you’re told.”
Without giving too much away for those who are first-time readers, I’ll just say: pay attention to Cromwell’s thoughts about rumor and stories. I’ll argue later that it’s one of the key conflicts that Mantel uses to explore Cromwell. (For those who have read the book and want a little more about this, email me!)
– It’s hard to escape the feeling that this is a play, and the cardinal is in it.
For first-timers: Remember the first pages of the book, and that passage from Vitruvius about theater?
For seasoned readers: I can’t say more here except speaking of foreshadowing…
– “what my man Cromwell said in the House of Commons”
Cromwell was elected to the House of Commons as a Burgess (sort of like a neighborhood representative) in 1523 — but no one is sure of which district he represented. We get some of Cromwell’s wit in a passage from a letter he wrote to a friend about his experience:
“I amongst other have indured a parlyament which contenwid by the space of xvii hole wekes wher we communyd of warre pease Stryffe contencyon debatte murmure grudge Riches poverte penurye trowth falshode Justyce equyte dicayte [deceit] opprescyon Magnanymyte actyvyte foce [force] attempraunce [moderation] Treason murder Felonye consyli… [conciliation] and also how a commune welth myght be ediffyed and a[lso] contenewid within our Realme. Howbeyt in conclusyon we have d[one] as our predecessors have been wont to doo that ys to say, as well we myght and lefte wher we begann.”
In readable English:
“I amongst others have endured a parliament which contended by the space of 17 whole weeks where we communed of war, peace, Strife, constancy, debate. Murmured grudges, riches, poverty, penury, truth, falsehood, Justice. quiet deceit oppression Magnanimity active force, moderation, Treason, murder, Felony conciliation and also how a communities wealth might be edified and a[lso] continued within our Realm. However in conclusion we have done as our predecessors have been wont to do, that is to say, as well we might and left where we began.”
Cromwell, who understands money, spoke against increased spending on war. This’ll come up again in the book and that’s all I’ll say about that.
– “When the apprentices rioted, begged the king on my knees with tears in my eys to spare the offenders”
Wolsey is referring to Evil May Day, which happened on 1 May 1517. What were the apprentices rioting about? Foreigners in England taking their jobs. (Thank goodness no one is arguing about that anymore.)
Now, Wolsey is inflating his effect on Henry. What he fails to mention — and this is in character for Wolsey — is that a group of nobility got on their knees in front of the king to plead for some of the offenders. And it’s actually Katherine, Henry’s wife, who proved the tipping point.
A last bit of extra knowledge: Foreigners in Henry’s time, and up through Elizabeth, were called “strangers.” There’s a play from ~1519 called Sir Thomas More, written by two playwrights you’ve probably never heard of (unless you are a deep-diver into Elizabethan theater), Anthony Munday and Henry Chettle. However, later scholarship suggests that Shakespeare provided three pages of revision, including a speech More gives, “The Strangers Case”:
Grant them removed, and grant that this your noise
Hath chid down all the majesty of England;
Imagine that you see the wretched strangers,
Their babies at their backs and their poor luggage,
Plodding to the ports and coasts for transportation,
And that you sit as kings in your desires,
Authority quite silent by your brawl,
And you in ruff of your opinions clothed;
What had you got? I’ll tell you: you had taught
How insolence and strong hand should prevail,
How order should be quelled; and by this pattern
Not one of you should live an aged man,
For other ruffians, as their fancies wrought,
With self same hand, self reasons, and self right,
Would shark on you, and men like ravenous fishes
Would feed on one another….
Say now the king
Should so much come too short of your great trespass
As but to banish you, whither would you go?
What country, by the nature of your error,
Should give you harbour? go you to France or Flanders,
To any German province, to Spain or Portugal,
Nay, any where that not adheres to England,
Why, you must needs be strangers: would you be pleased
To find a nation of such barbarous temper,
That, breaking out in hideous violence,
Would not afford you an abode on earth,
Whet their detested knives against your throats,
Spurn you like dogs, and like as if that God
Owed not nor made not you, nor that the claimants
Were not all appropriate to your comforts,
But chartered unto them, what would you think
To be thus used? this is the strangers case;
And this your mountainish inhumanity.
– “One dog sated with meat is replaced by a hungrier dog who bites nearer the bone.
“This is Cavendish (whom we heard from earlier in this email that is 10 years long). Cromwell imagines Stephen Gardiner as the hungrier dog, in relationship to Wolsey’s sated-with-meat hound. But would it be wrong for the reader to think about Cromwell in this instance?
– The river shifts beneath them, dim figures in an allegory of Fortune. Decayed Magnificence sits in the center.
Turn to the front of your books again, you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England, where Mantel quotes from Magnificence, an Interlude, by John Skelton, c. 1520
– As they move upriver, the littoral ceases to alarm. It is not because, in Putney, Englishmen are less fickle. It’s just that they haven’t heard yet.
A line I love, about Wolsey’s escape from York Tower to Esher.
– “We’ll get him another. I know a man in Pisa makes them ten for five florins and a round dozen for cash up front. And you get a certificate with St Peter’s thumbprint, to say they’re genuine.”
This is Cromwell, consoling Cavendish after Wolsey gives Norris (not Percy, like I said last night, I AM HUMAN AND I NEED TO BE LOVED) his reliquary with a piece of the new cross in it to give to the king.
We see Cromwell’s Protestant leanings here, and Martin Luther also railed against not only the selling of religious forgeries, but the selling of indulgences. (You pay this much money to get rid of this much sin.)
Praemunire prohibited the assertion or maintenance of papal jurisdictions in England. This statute was passed during the reign of Richard II (1377-1399). So tensions with Rome did not start with Henry wanting a divorce. There was actual worry in England that the English answered more to the pope — a foreign ruler — than they would to their king. Wolsey is accused of praemunire because it’ll stick: he’s the representative of a foreign ruler in England, and he’s earned a lot of ill will from people for turning out monasteries and his increasing power.
– “I will send some people,” he says, “to sort the kitchens. They will be Italian. It will be violent at first, but then after three weeks it will work.”
Just a line I love.
– St Lawrence
There’s a passing joke Cromwell makes to Cavendish about getting “the coals on which St Lawrence was roasted.” I’m obsessed with saints and martyrs.
The story goes that Lawrence was martyred by being roasted over coals, and that at one point, like Giles Corey of his time, said, “Turn me over…I’m done on this side.” But it’s only a story, and it’s unlikely Lawrence was roasted over coals. It’s more likely a mistranslation: passus est (“he suffered”) for assus est (“he was roasted”).
– An Occult History of England
One of my favorite chapters in the book. The various mythological stories that are told throughout the chapter likely come from Geoffrey of Monmouth (1095 – 1155).
– (at least , we devoutly hope not)
Another curious interruption from someone not Cromwell. Anyone have any thoughts on these moments?
– strewing her sentences with French words when she pretends she can’t think of the English.
As I’ve said before, we’re (almost) always only in Cromwell’s head (see above). This is his characterization of Anne. But compare it to Part 1, where we learn that Cromwell often starts sentences in one language and ends them in another.
– Half the world is called Thomas.
Boy it sure is in this novel.
– and his shadow rises with him…his reach is long, his hand is like the hand of God.
This scene was mentioned in last night’s discussion, and it’s powerful. It’s going to echo several more times in the novel.
– He Thomas, also Tomoso, Tommaso, and Thomaes Cromwell…Which of these Thomases saw the blow coming?
A gorgeous passage about the mutability of Cromwell, and the different guises he has at his disposal, primarily developed protectively.
– Elizabeth Boleyn
She’s Anne Boleyn’s mother and, purportedly, or rumor-edly, the reliever of Henry’s virginity. Just throwing this in here because it’s always weird and upsetting.
– We shall have to develop a hand signal for “Back off, our prince is fucking this man’s daughter.” He is surprised the Italians have not done it.
Just a line I love.
– “Oh, I see, is it a play?”
The metaphor of court life as a kind of theater runs throughout the novel.
– Try always, Wolsey says, to find out what people wear under their clothes.
And as a reader, try, always, to remember this passage. It comes up a lot — as well as the metaphor of “borrowed robes” (Wolsey is dressed in a borrowed cloak when he flees York Tower). Keep an eye out for when one person’s clothing ends up on someone else.
– There are many precedents, the cardinal says, that can help the king in his current concerns. King Louis XII was allowed to set aside his first wife.
Yeah. About that.
Louis’s first marriage, to Joan of France, was forced on him by the then king, Louis XI. Oh, and Joan of France was Louis XI’s daughter, and Louis XII was his cousin.
When Louis XI’s successor, Charles VIII, died without leaving an heir, the throne passed to Louis XII. And Louis wanted Charles’s widow as his wife — both because of her beauty and because of the political alliance with Brittany. (Not Spears. The duchy.)
Louis’s annulment from Joan was complicated, much like Henry’s from Katherine. But there are also echoes of Anne Boleyn’s fall in Louis’s story too. Ultimately, Louis blamed Joan’s physical deformities and witchcraft, rather than trying to go the “we’re cousins!” route.
Ironically, the physical deformity/witchcraft argument stood up in court better than consanguinity (everyone knew about the familial relationship, but there were no documents supporting it) or the fact that Louis alleged to be 12 when he married, which would not have been legal, since the marrying age in France at that time was 14. The age thing, also, suffered from a lack of documentation.
– “Boleyn is not rich,” he says. “I’d get him in. Cost it out for him.”
“Right, Master Cromwell! Price me by the yard!”
– Thomas More says that the imperial troops, for their enjoyment, are roasting live babies on spits. Oh, he would! says Thomas Cromwell.
Again, pay attention to rumors, who is spreading them, and what their intent might be.
– Under his clothes, it is well known, More wears a jerkin of horsehair. He beats himself with a small scourge, of the type used by some religious orders. What lodges in his mind, Thomas Cromwell’s, is that somebody makes these instruments of daily torture. Someone combs the horsehair into coarse tufts, knots them and chops the blunt ends, knowing that their purpose is to snap off under the skin and irritate it into weeping sores. Is it monks who make them, knotting and snipping in a fury of righteousness, chuckling at the thought of the pain they will cause to persons unknown? Are simple villagers paid – how, by the dozen? – for making flails with waxed knots? Does it keep farm workers busy during the slow winter months? When the money for their honest labour is put into their hands, do the makers think of the hands that will pick up the product?
We don’t have to invite pain in, he thinks. It’s waiting for us: sooner rather than later. Ask the virgins of Rome.He thinks, also, that people ought to be found better jobs.
A couple of things:
1) Find out what people wear under their clothes.
2) Pay attention to Cromwell’s wonderment at the industry of religious self-torture. (For seasoned readers of the book, this is part of my argument that I allude to above, about the spread of stories, and the belief in those stories.)
– ‘Hush,’ Liz says. ‘Listen to the house.’At first, there is no sound. Then the timbers creak, breathe. In the chimneys, nesting birds shuffle. A breeze blows from the river, faintly shivering the tops of trees. They hear the sleeping breath of children, imagined from other rooms. ‘Come to bed,’ he says.
The king can’t say that to his wife. Or, with any good effect, to the woman they say he loves.
– Just a gorgeous, gorgeous passage.
– but her father was insane and believed he was made of glass.
This is Catherine Valois, wife of Henry V. Her father was Charles VI of France and he truly was not well. He reigned from 1380 – 1422. In 1393, he forgot both his name and that he was King of France. From 1395-96, he believed he was St George. When he went through his “I’m Made of Glass” phase, he had iron rods sewn into his clothing to protect him from shattering when he bumped into things.
Another episode in Charles VI’s court was the “Ball of the Burning Men.” It didn’t start out as a ball of burning men, but just your regular ol’ fancy ball. Charles was convinced, along with four other men, to dress like “wild men” in hairy costumes that used a lot of pitch to keep the fur in place. The king’s brother, Louis I, Duke of Orleans, arrived to the ball late, didn’t know about the “wild men” costumes, and grabbed a torch to get close to one to see who it was under the fur (and pitch). And he set pretty much everyone on fire. The king was saved when the Duchess of Berry threw her train over him and got him out of the ballroom. One man saved himself by jumping into dishwater. But the other four wild men all burned alive.
– An unknown woman brought a basin of water and washed the severed head; she combed its bloody hair.
The beheaded man is Owen Tudor, who married Henry V’s widow, Catherine Valois, whose father believed he was made of glass. He’s also the grandfather of Henry VII and the great grandfather of Henry VIII.
He was executed for being on the wrong side of the War of the Roses at that point. He did not think that he would be executed; he assumed he would be imprisoned. Moments before he was beheaded — when he realized what was about to happen — it is said he murmured, “that head shall lie on the stock that was wont to lie on Queen Catherine lap.”
The unknown woman shows up in the history, too: “a madde woman kembyd hys here and wysche a way the blode of hys face.” [A mad woman combed his hair and washed away the blood of his face.] She also lit 100 candles around his head.
The day this happened is called St Blaise’s Day. And what’s interesting about St Blaised is he was martyred by iron combs and beheading.
You should definitely look up Melusine on Wikipedia. It’s fascinating reading.
– If all the old stories are to be believed, and some people, let us remember, do believe them
Just an interesting point about how malleable “truth” is, and how much our belief in something gives it credibility — even if it isn’t actually credible.
– Someone says to him, what is in your little book? and he says, a few aphorisms, a few truisms, nothing we didn’t know before.
Compare that to later in this chapter, when Cromwell first meets Thomas More as a boy, and Thomas More’s answer to “what’s in your book” is “words, words, words.”
– And when he wakes, he has to learn the lack of her all over again.
Heartbreaking. We’re told constantly about Cromwell’s amazing memory.
– While you were in France, he says, my wife, Elizabeth, died.
Again, heartbreaking. Wolsey, self-centered in his failure in France, prattles on and on and finally has to be interrupted. And then, because Cromwell worries he has made things awkward, he changes the subject with unrelated questions.
– There cannot be new things in England. There can be old things freshly presented, or new things that pretend to be old. To be trusted, new men must forge themselves an ancient pedigree, like Walter’s, or enter into the service of ancient families. Don’t try to go it alone, or they’ll think you’re pirates.
New things would be uncomfortable in this fairly new Tudor dynasty. People would rather stick to what’s known and familiar.
– October comes, and his sisters and Mercy and Johane take his dead wife’s clothes and cut them up carefully into new patterns. Nothing is wasted. Every good bit of cloth is made into something else.
Just clothes being other things.
– if you are so lenient with yourself as to insist on living with a woman, then for the sake of your soul you should make it a woman you really don’t like.
Cromwell, being salty about Thomas More’s marriage. I lol’d out loud.
– She pulls off her cap; she twists the seed pearls in her fingers, and tugs at a strand of her dark hair, stretching it and pulling out its wave. She scoops up the rest of her hair, twists it and wraps it around her neck. ‘I could do that twice,’ she says, ‘if my neck were smaller.’
The “she” here is Anne Cromwell, and there’s some Anne Boleyn foreshadowing here that I’ll just leave for now. If you’ve read the book, or know the history, you’ll know why the line about “if my neck were smaller” has a chilling echo to it.
– He knows something bad is coming; its shadow moves on the wall.
An eerie echo of that early scene with Wolsey and Cromwell, where Cromwell leaps out of Wolsey’s grasp. (And what was Wolsey’s intent, do you think? Was it a joke? Was he going to shake Cromwell?)
– ‘In the masque, at York Place, do you remember … were you Beauty, or Kindness?’‘Oh …’ she smiles, ‘that must be, what, seven years ago? I don’t remember. I’ve dressed up so many times.’
‘Of course, you are still both.’
‘That’s all I used to care about. Dressing up. I remember Anne, though. She was Perseverance.’
We didn’t talk about the flirting between Mary Boleyn and Cromwell, but they are among my favorite interactions. Cromwell never remarries (spoiler), but he’s still able to be stirred.
Another thing: I saw Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies on Broadway (thanks to the wonderful kindness of the Bethesda Library Classics in Context group), and that masque is re-created on stage and Anne confidently strides to the front center stage and declares, “I’M PERSEVERANCE!” and reader, when I tell you I burst into tears, I burst. into. tears.
– Don’t ask, don’t get.
I use this phrase a lot. And it’s very erotic when Mary uses it on Cromwell. But then we later see that flirting interaction between Mary and Cromwell in a different light when her pregnancy starts to be common gossip, and Cromwell realizes she might have been trying to trap him, rather than romantically seduce him.
– Cromwell’s Will
I was unable to find any source to explain the very specific amount of money Cromwell left to Gregory (“six hundred and sixty-six pounds, thirteen shillings, and four pence.”)
– Where in the Gospels does it say “Purgatory”?
This harkens back to something Cromwell said in Part 1 — Show me where it says, in the Bible, ‘Purgatory’. Show me where it says relics, monks, nuns. Show me where it says ‘Pope’ — and I think shows Cromwell as a father beautifully. Why are my daughters, these loves of my life, sent to “a country of slow fires and ridged ice”?
– Tyndale says, now abideth faith, hope and love, even these three; but the greatest of these is love.Thomas More thinks it is a wicked mistranslation. He insists on ‘charity’. He would chain you up, for a mistranslation. He would, for a difference in your Greek, kill you.
He wonders again if the dead need translators; perhaps in a moment, in a simple twist of unbecoming, they know everything they need to know.
Tyndale says, ‘Love never falleth away.’
As much as we may love Cromwell, and as much as Thomas More is vilified in the novel — they’re human beings. Many Catholic critics of the novel felt that Mantel’s anti-Catholic stance corrupted her portrayal of More. And I’d just say two things: (1) This is Mantel’s Cromwell’s feelings about More, and More’s theology. (2) Mantel often uses More’s own positions. When we raise people on pedestals — whether it’s Cromwell as a misunderstood antihero, or More, as a Catholic hero and martyr — we miss out on who they are as human beings.
– there were two young men outside, asking for him by name.
This is from a recounting of Simonides’s story. Pay attention to “two young men” “asking for him by name.” It’s going to come up again.
– It is Cicero who tells us this story. He tells us how, on that day, Simonides invented the art of memory. He remembered the names, the faces, some sour and bloated, some blithe, some bored. He remembered exactly where everyone was sitting, at the moment the roof fell in.
Pay attention to this, too. There’s going to be a point where Cromwell is going to remember exactly where everyone was sitting at the moment the roof fell in.