Blog, Wolf Hall

Mike’s Marginalia for Part VI


…and Charles Brandon is in the fens shouting at a door: For one thing, this just makes me laugh. But as a reminder, the door Brandon is shouting at is Katherine’s. She refuses to be moved from Buckden. “She will go nowhere, she says, unless he is prepared to break down the door and bind her with ropes and carry her. Which Charles thinks is a little extreme.” (Part 5, “Devil’s Spit”)

Marsiglio of Padua: He’s a 14th century scholar, and Cromwell is likely reading his Defensor pacis. Marsiglio, before Luther, challenged the idea of papal authority in matters outside of the Church. Specifically, Marsiglio wanted to show that the Holy Roman Empire was an absolute entity on its own, irrespective of the Papacy. Cromwell would probably be interested in Marsigio’s arguments in bolstering Henry’s attempts to secede from Rome. But I would be interested to see Marsiglio’s face when he was told that the King of England wanted to subvert Rome by naming himself the head not only of government, but of the church, in England. Probably he’d literally lose his mind.

‘We want some new bishops,’ Anne says. She names her friend Hugh Latimer. His friend, Rowland Lee. It seems after all she does have a list, which she carries in her head. Liz made preserves. Anne makes pastors.: Anne’s part of England’s religious reformation is often overlooked in favor of seeing her as a schemer for rank and position. But she worked at getting Evangelical bishops appointed, rather than Catholic ones. And these are just two.

Hugh Latimer: He is eventually executed by Mary I when she tries to keep England Anglican during her reign, and he is arrested for his reformist beliefs. According to one of Latimer’s biographers, “After the sentence had been pronounced, Latimer added, ‘I thank God most heartily that He hath prolonged my life to this end, that I may in this case glorify God by that kind of death’; to which the prolocutor replied, ‘If you go to heaven in this faith, then I will never come hither, as I am thus persuaded.'”

Rowland Lee: He fares a little better. For instance, he’s not executed for his beliefs. Wales, however, does not fare better under Lee. Cromwell assigns him to Wales to bring about law and order. In his five years in Wales, he hanged over 5000 Welshmen, earning the fun nickname “The Hanging Bishop.”

‘I would advise anyone to get a few more weeks of life, by any means they can.’: More of Cromwell’s self-preservation scheme. The self, in Cromwell’s moral universe, is valuable above all.

He had not wanted to leave London during such a busy parliament, but the king persuaded him.: It’s interesting to see Cromwell persuaded, in any way. Of course it’s his boss doing the persuading. Still.

Malekin: In the 12th century, in England, and not too long after a merman was caught near (and later escaped from) Orford Castle in Suffolk, a knight named Osbert fitzHervey settled into his home of Dagworth Hall with his wife, children, and, soon after, a fairy boy who called himself Malekin. This is all true. He kept family secrets, spoke English in the local dialect, but could also debate sermons in Latin. His voice was said to sound like that of a one-year-old.

Malekin wasn’t a changeling — a fairy child left in a cradle while the human child was magicked away — but a human child who had been abducted by fairies while his mother was working. (Some say she was spinning, some that she was in the fields and disturbed a fairy ring.) While no one saw Malekin, everyone knew what he must look like.

(While no one has ever seen the merman of Suffolk — sometimes called the Wild Man of Orford — Malekin is still heard and almost seen in the nooks and crannies of Dagworth Hall.)

A dry little laugh, incredulous. ‘I was a baby at the breast when I was married into France. Then to the Emperor, into France again, to the king, to his first son, to his second son, to his sons I have lost count of, and once again to the Emperor, or one of his cousins. I have been contracted in marriage till I am exhausted. One day I shall really do it.’: Women as pawn pieces, but who also fight for their rights as pawn pieces, fascinate and inspire me. We may see Katherine and her daughter, Mary, as intractable and stubborn: but their titles are the only thing they own — and women didn’t really own things until 10 minutes ago, so they really didn’t own the titles they had. Which is why both fight so hard to be recognized as Queen and as Princess/heir.

‘And look, Gregory, it’s all very well planning what you will do in six months, what you will do in a year, but it’s no good at all if you don’t have a plan for tomorrow.’: More of the philosophy of Thomas Cromwell. You can’t very well achieve things in six months or a year if you can’t survive until tomorrow. So survive until tomorrow until the tomorrows add up.

‘We know his reasons. All Europe knows them. He is against the divorce. He does not believe the king can be head of the church. But will he say that? Not he. I know him. Do you know what I hate? I hate to be part of this play, which is entirely devised by him. I hate the time it will take that could be better spent, I hate it that minds could be better employed, I hate to see our lives going by, because depend upon it, we will all be feeling our age before this pageant is played out. And what I hate most of all is that Master More sits in the audience and sniggers when I trip over my lines, for he has written all the parts. And written them these many years.’: I think it’s worthwhile spending some time on this passage. Whether or not Mantel believes this about Thomas More, Cromwell, in her novel, believes this of Thomas More. Do you think it’s a true assessment of Thomas More’s reasoning and character? Or is Cromwelll simply baffled by a man willing to die for a principle, rather than survive for all of them?

‘Oh, for Christ’s sake!’ he says. ‘A lie is no less a lie because it is a thousand years old. Your undivided church has liked nothing better than persecuting its own members, burning them and hacking them apart when they stood by their own conscience, slashing their bellies open and feeding their guts to dogs. You call history to your aid, but what is history to you? It is a mirror that flatters Thomas More. But I have another mirror, I hold it up and it shows a vain and dangerous man, and when I turn it about it shows a killer, for you will drag down with you God knows how many, who will only have the suffering, and not your martyr’s gratification. You are not a simple soul, so don’t try to make this simple. You know I have respected you? You know I have respected you since I was a child? I would rather see my only son dead, I would rather see them cut off his head, than see you refuse this oath, and give comfort to every enemy of England.’: Another passage worth chewing on. This is Cromwell, talking to More. Mantel gives Cromwell some great lines here: “You call history to your aid, but what is history to you? It is a mirror that flatters Thomas More.” Also, “You will drag down with you God knows how many, who will only have the suffering, and not your martyr’s gratification.”

‘I have been married half a year,’ Rafe says, ‘and no one knows, but you know now. I have married Helen Barre.’ ‘Oh, blood of Christ,’ he says. ‘Beneath my own roof. What did you do that for?’ Rafe sits mute while he says it all: she is a lovely nobody, a poor woman with no advantage to bring to you, you could have married an heiress. Wait till you tell your father! He will be outraged, he will say I have not looked after your interests. ‘And suppose one day her husband turns up?’: He does turn up.

To refresh your memory, Helen Barre shows up at Austin Friars with her two daughters. She doesn’t know what has happened to her husband; she thinks he might be dead. Eventually, Cromwell tells her that he has information from a reliable source that her husband drowned. And she marries Rafe Sadler. They were very happy together, and had children of their own. And that should be the end of it.

About five years after Cromwell’s execution (SPOILER!), Helen Barre’s drowned husband shows up, undrowned.

Rafe had to have Parliament pass a bill that legitimized his children with Helen, because Parliament initially declared that Helen’s first marriage was a good and valid one. The bill took a lot of effort and money; but in the end, Helen’s marriage to her first husband was declared void, and her marriage to Rafe a legitimate one.

What happened to Helen’s first husband after this? That’s your writing prompt for this week.

‘When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman?’: This is taken from a sermon by John Ball, a 14th century priest who predates the better-known John Wycliffe as a reforming influence in England by roughly 10 or so years.

The sermon is given shortly after Ball was released from prison (he was often imprisoned for his preachings, which went against Church teaching, and he was eventually excommunicated), to members of the Peasants’ Revolt. And anticipating your next question:
The Peasants’ Revolt was actually a series of revolts over various social inequalities, a lot of them exacerbated by the Plague affecting Europe from 1346 to 1353. Here is a fuller passage from Ball’s sermon to the peasants:

When Adam delved and Eve span, Who was then the gentleman? From the beginning all men by nature were created alike, and our bondage or servitude came in by the unjust oppression of naughty men. For if God would have had any bondmen from the beginning, he would have appointed who should be bond, and who free. And therefore I exhort you to consider that now the time is come, appointed to us by God, in which ye may (if ye will) cast off the yoke of bondage, and recover liberty.

Soon after this sermon, Ball was once again arrested, sentenced to death, and then hanged, drawn, and quartered.

“The Map of Christendom”

The court is amused to hear how the Romans have celebrated Pope Clement’s death. They have broken into his tomb, and dragged his naked body through the streets.: Well, not really.

One thing that Mantel does spectacularly is “put you there.” It’s what makes the novel feel so real and immediate. But sometimes, Mantel, to do this, has to report rumor as truth. Pope Clement’s body was not dragged through the streets of Rome — but Henry and his Court would have loved that story.

Clement was not a popular pope. He was considered mainly responsible for the sacking of Rome, or at least the bulk of the violence during the sacking. (He was a Medici, and they got saddled with a lot of blame. Some deserved, some not — just like all God’s precious children.)

His body was stabbed as it lay in state. And there actually was a plan to drag Clement’s body through the streets — but a cardinal, a Medici relative, stopped them.

This house was founded three hundred years ago, by the Henry that was then; he built it as a refuge for Jews who wished to convert. If they took this step – advisable if they wished to be preserved from violence – they would forfeit all their possessions to the Crown. This being so, it was just that the Crown should house and feed them for their natural lives.: Oh boy.

Again, Mantel is giving us what would have been believed at the time, and not exactly what was at the time.

Henry III had the Domus Conversorum built in 1232. It was a place to house Jews that had converted to Christianity. But it…’s complicated.

In the 13th century, Jews in England were considered the property of the Crown. One way to receive even a modicum of protection against antisemitism, Jews were expected to offer loans at incredibly reduced rates, and were also required to pay exorbitantly higher taxes than Christians.

But soon, Jews were essentially banished from England. In doing so, they forfeited their property, and, whatever they couldn’t flee with. Jews that wanted to remain in England had to convert to Christianity — but were still required to forfeit all of their property. This is why the Domus Conversorum became necessary: it provided a communal living, substandard housing, and low wages.

‘Tyndale would be safer in London,’ More says. ‘Under yourself, the protector of error. Now, look at Germany today. You see, Thomas, where heresy leads us. It leads us to Münster, does it not?’: Thomas More is referring to the Münster rebellion.

This was a rebellion of Anabaptists who took over the town of Münster and ruled it for a little over a year, starting in February 1534 and lasting until June 1535.

Who were the Anabaptists? I’ve got you.


The history of Anabaptists is complicated, because they were often classified as part of the reformation movement in Europe, while Anabaptists themselves believed they were an entirely separate (and correct) off-shoot of Christianity. Their big belief (later absorbed by traditional Baptists) is in “Believer’s Baptism.” For Anabaptists, baptism needed to be something an adult believer asked for. This is in opposition to “Infant Baptism,” which remains common in Catholic churches, and some other denominations.

Anabaptists also weren’t crazy about the term “anabaptist” — which means “to baptize again.” Since any baptism performed on someone who could not knowingly ask for it, and understand its ramifications, wasn’t a baptism to begin with, there was no second baptism, but only the first Believer’s Baptism.

There are still some Anabaptists out there, mainly as Mennonites, Amish and Hutterites.

they are held in dread by a tailor called Bockelson, who has crowned himself King of Jerusalem: Actually, Bockelson crowned himself the king of the New Jerusalem, which just so happened to be…Münster. This is part of the Münster rebellion, mentioned above.

‘And if you don’t want to say them I can put them to you in writing.’: This begins a long monologue of Cromwell’s to Thomas More, trying to get him to sign the paper naming Henry the head of the Church in England, and Anne as his rightful wife. I call it “The Last Temptation of Thomas More” and it is a beautifully chilling trick of rhetoric on Cromwell’s part.

But my sins are my strength, he thinks; the sins I have done, that others have not even found the opportunity of committing. I hug them close; they’re mine. Besides, when I come to judgment I mean to come with a memorandum in my hand: I shall say to my Maker, I have fifty items here, possibly more.: This is when Cromwell is stricken with fever. I love this glimpse into his value.

When I was seven the Cornish rebels came up, led by a giant, do you remember that?: The Cornish Rebellion was in response to tax increases levied by Henry VII to fight wars in Scotland. (The Cornish…did not win.)

It is unclear who the giant is that Henry is referring to. It’s possibly Michael An Gof, one of the leaders of the Cornish rebellion along with Thomas Flamank.

‘I have never understood where the line is drawn, between sacrifice and self-slaughter.’ ‘Christ drew it.’

‘You don’t see anything wrong with the comparison?’
: This exchange between Cromwell and More is just extraordinary.

Some said the world would end in 1533: A German monk and mathematician named Michael Stifel said this. In 1532, he anonymously published a book titled A Book of Arithmetic about the AntiChrist. A Revelation in the Revelation. The book predicted the end of the world would occur at 8AM (local time?) on October 19, 1533. As usually happens in these scenarios, a small group of followers, many whom had sold their homes and farms in anticipation of the apocalypse, joined him atop a hill near the Austrian city of Lochau to await the end. When it didn’t come the villagers became enraged and Stifel was placed in protective custody.

Tyndale has been, not just taken, but betrayed. Someone tempted him out of his haven, and More knows who.: We do too. It was a man named Henry Phillips, likely hired by John Stokesley. John Stokesley was vehemently anti-heretic, which he would consider Tyndale to be. Did More know? It’s unclear. But he would not have been mad about the results.

‘When you interrogated men you called heretics, you did not allow evasion. You compelled them to speak and racked if they would not. If they were made to answer, why not you?’ ‘The cases are not the same. When I compel an answer from a heretic, I have the whole body of law behind me, the whole might of Christendom. What I am threatened with here is one particular law, one singular dispensation of recent make, recognised here but in no other country –’: More’s justification for his practices. This is followed by:

He cuts in on him, incredulous. ‘You do nobody harm? What about Bainham, you remember Bainham? You forfeited his goods, committed his poor wife to prison, saw him racked with your own eyes, you locked him in Bishop Stokesley’s cellar, you had him back at your own house two days chained upright to a post, you sent him again to Stokesley, saw him beaten and abused for a week, and still your spite was not exhausted: you sent him back to the Tower and had him racked again, so that finally his body was so broken that they had to carry him in a chair when they took him to Smithfield to be burned alive. And you say, Thomas More, that you do no harm?’: And this always makes my heart jump into my throat.

Henry stirs into life. ‘Do I retain you for what is easy? Jesus pity my simplicity, I have promoted you to a place in this kingdom that no one, no one of your breeding has ever held in the whole of the history of this realm.’ He drops his voice. ‘Do you think it is for your personal beauty? The charm of your presence? I keep you, Master Cromwell, because you are as cunning as a bag of serpents. But do not be a viper in my bosom. You know my decision. Execute it.’: There’s a poem by Anne Sexton with the line, “Anne, Anne, flee on your donkey!” And that’s what I want to yell at Cromwell right now: FLEE ON YOUR [redacted] DONKEY.

Your task is to kill me. Mine is to keep alive.: A beautifully economic summation of More’s situation.

“To Wolf Hall”

More sniggering when some clerk made a slip in his Latin: Oh, More, you crazy diamond.

we edit their writings, we rewrite their lives: Oh do we now, Hilary?

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