All page numbers refer to the 2012 hardback edition of Bring Up the Bodies, published by Henry Holt and Company, LLC.
‘Am I not a man like other men? Am I not? Am I not?’ (ix)
Before we get to the novel, before we even get to the Dramatis Personæ or table of contents, these are the words that greet us. Henry, throwing a fit about his virility.
Henry yelled “am I not a man” at Eustace Chapuys, who soon after wrote his account (which is the only account) of this scene to the Holy Roman Emperor (Charles V) in April of 1533: “And upon my observing to him that he could not be sure of that [conceiving] he asked me three times running: ‘Am I not a man like others?’ and he afterwards added: ‘I need not give proofs of the contrary, or let you into my secrets.’”
It sounds like something Henry would yell; but that doesn’t make it trustworthy. Chapuys doesn’t need to quote Henry accurately to get his truth across: he does not believe Henry has any intent in putting Anne Boleyn aside.
(And just a quick detour into other “proofs of the contrary.” The art critic John Ruskin married Effie Gray in 1848. It was not a happy marriage. Gray, with the help of her parents, fled Ruskin’s home and sued for annulment due to non-consummation. Ruskin, meeting with his lawyer and an ecclesiastical proctor, suggested he could prove, to anyone who asked, that he absolutely could prove his virility. As it’s unlikely that Ruskin meant that he would have sex with a woman in front of an audience, it’s more likely that he either intended to…you know what. Nevermind.)
The king refused all offers of substitutes. (4)
This is after Henry loses his hat while hawking near Wolf Hall. It’s a quick glimpse into the mind of a man who has never had to take anyone else’s existence into account.
Empathy is learned, not innate. It’s behavior that needs practice. But Henry is the king, and people can go far and accumulate great favors by insulating Henry from his actions. It’s a complicated stew of environment, culture, and inherent personality.
St Hubert (4)
Saint Hubert is one of the lucky ones who achieved sainthood without martyrdom, dying peacefully in 727 or 728.
He is the patron saint of hunting. This would irritate and frustrate Hubert if he were to ever find this out. His conversion story goes like this:
Wives die as wives do, and some men can withstand the loneliness, and some men cannot. After Hubertus’s wife died (giving birth to a son, also named Hubert, because there can never be too many, until you reach a Thomasine Capacity), he fled to the woods and devoted himself to hunting. Even on Good Friday.
One Good Friday, Hubert was in pursuit of a magnificent stag. However, when he finally had it in his sights, it turned to him with a glowing crucifix (maybe) or cross (maybe) between its antlers. (A crucifix has the body of Jesus on it. A cross does not. Catholics use crucifixes in their theology because of the spiritual and theological importance of the Passion of Jesus. Baptists, among others, venerate the empty cross because their focus is primarily on the resurrection.) God spoke to Hubert and told him to cease hunting, find Lambert of Maastricht, and devote his life to heaven, or risk eternal damnation. At that point, Hubert stopped hunting, ran to Lambert (who is now known as Saint Lambert, earning that title the hard way by being murdered), and spoke often against hunting.
Finally, up until the 20th century, the Catholic Church sanctioned the use of St Hubert’s Key to treat rabies. A St Hubert’s Key was a piece of iron — usually a nail, or a key, or a cone — that was pressed onto a dog’s bite to protect against rabies. And it sometimes worked! Probably because the “key” was heated before being applied to the wound, likely cauterizing it and stopping the spread of infection.
‘Cromwell has the skin of a lily,’ the king pronounces. ‘The only particular in which he resembles that or any other blossom.’ (5)
I’m paying attention this read-through to how often Henry, Cromwell, and others slip into Wolsey’s skin. Wolsey has made jokes like the above about Cromwell; here’s Henry, doing the same. Everyone in the novel gets to be Cardinal Wolsey for 15 minutes.
England has enjoyed 50 years of peace. This is the Tudor’s covenant; this is what they offer. (5)
The year is 1536 when Bring Up the Bodies opens. The Battle of Flodden, between England and Scotland, mentioned in Wolf Hall, where Katherine goes full metal and wants to send Henry (who is off leading his own battle as a member of the Catholic League in the War of the League of Cambrai, which tried to protect both the Pope and Italy) James IV’s head (she is convinced to settle for just the blood-cracked coat James was wearing), is in 1513. That doesn’t get us to 50.
Cromwell might be suggesting that England has been at peace with itself. The War of the Roses — pitting the English House of Lancaster against the English House of York, only for the Tudors to lay claim, legitimately or illegitimately as the crow flies — ends in 1487.
They search out and obliterate any trace of Katherine, the queen that was. (5)
Katherine occupies a curious liminal space: she both exists, and doesn’t. To Henry (and Cromwell), Queen Katherine no longer exists. And to Katherine, the Dowager Princess of Wales (the title Henry leaves her with) doesn’t exist either.
Some say he came up with the Boleyns, the queen’s family. Some say it was wholly through the late Cardinal Wolsey, his patron. (6)
Something I picked up on this read-through: We get Cromwell’s thoughts and point of view; we know various gossip about characters based on what Cromwell tells us; however, he never answers these questions. He just poses them, rhetorically. And maybe he doesn’t even understand his own luck. Maybe none of us really do.
When he saw the portrait finished he had said, ‘Christ, I look like a murderer’; and his son Gregory said, didn’t you know? (7)
We’ve discussed editorializing in written history; we should also make sure to pay attention to how art, too, influences us. Cromwell’s portrait is…maybe it needed one more pass. I’m also continually struck by how detailed and textured Holbein’s portrait of Thomas More is compared to Holbein’s portrait of Cromwell. Did More have more time to sit? Was Cromwell too busy?
and so he comes into his hall to find versions of himself in various stages of becoming (7)
This is a gorgeous metaphor for Cromwell’s mysterious past. (Curious how we don’t hear much from either Cromwell or Jesus until they’re in their 30s.)
His father Walter used to say, ‘My boy Thomas, give him a dirty look and he’ll gouge your eye out. Trip him, and he’ll cut off your leg. But if you don’t cut across him, he’s a very gentleman. And he’ll stand anybody a drink.’ (7)
One of the themes in Bring Up the Bodies is the reliability of memory, especially when there are multiple narratives about any one memory floating about. (This is made especially explicit later in the novel.)
Our first image of Walter is bathed in violence. And we carry that with us throughout Wolf Hall, Walter as a monster. And then we get this. And while I’m not trying to suggest that Cromwell’s abuse is now null and void because his father said a kind thing; I am suggesting that truth isn’t a discrete thing. And I think Mantel is saying that the idea of truth is as much a fancy as a lie is.
In this part of England our forefathers the giants left their earthworks, their barrows and standing stones. We still have, every Englishman and woman, some drops of giant blood in our veins. (8)
Why does Cromwell have these mythological memories of England?
Thomas Cranmer (9)
He is Archbishop of Canterbury — not to be confused with Thomas Wolsey, who was Archbishop of York. Whereas Wolsey (and, really, all archbishops up to Cranmer) were at least nominally Roman Catholic, Cranmer is a creature of the Boleyns, and represents the first stronghold of Reformation in England.
One of the reasons for Cromwell’s touch-and-go relationship with the Boleyns is religion. The Boleyns are evangelical; and Cromwell, as we’ve discussed, is complicated about his faith, but is understood after the fact to be a Lutheran-leaning Protestant.
The Boleyns hope that having an archbishop of their own making on the seat at Canterbury will help them climb even higher through the Court.
Eustache Chapuys (9)
He is an Imperial Ambassador for Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor. His initial mission in England was to work on behalf of the emperor, through Katherine, Henry’s first wife. And then, when Henry has his Moment of Conscience about his marriage to Katherine, Chapuys’s mission changes: he wants to stop the annulment and he wants to bring England back to Rome. Chapuys.
Chapuys’s predecessor was a man named Íñigo López de Mendoza y Zúñiga. (I’ll pause here to let you catch up after that long-ass name.) Íñigo had a tough time of it. On his way to England, he was arrested by the French for four months (or he wasn’t arrested, it just took four months to write his full name on the necessary documents) (that’s a joke); and then, once in England, he was imprisoned there, too, because of a lack of trust between Henry and the Holy Roman Emperor.
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor (9)
There’s a joke — if you allow only mildly funny things to be jokes — that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, Roman, or an empire.
The Holy Roman Empire starts in the late 10th century, with the Ottonian Dynasty. It mainly comprises Germany, Italy, and Burgandy (part of France). By the Tudor era, the Holy Roman Empire is firmly within the control of the House of Habsburg.
Charles V was a lot of things: Holy Roman Emperor, Archduke of Austria, King of Spain, Lord of the Netherlands, and Duke of Burgundy. He is also Katherine’s nephew, so the tension between Charles and Henry is as much familial as it is geopolitical.
Finally, the Habsburgs. I encourage you to just take a stroll through the Wikipedia page for the House of Habsburg. Click on any name and marvel at the genetics of inbreeding, paying close attention (like you could do anything else) at their chins and jaws. Specifically, look for pictures of Carlos the Witched. Carlos was so interbred that he had trouble eating and drinking. As he ailed towards death, live doves were split open over him (because medicine is what we want it to be). When that didn’t work, someone dug up the corpse of St Francis of Assisi and put that in bed with him. And that’s a wrap on Carlos.
Chapuys is exhorting his master in urgent dispatches to invade England (9)
And Cromwell knows this because he reads every piece of mail that leaves England. (Or so it seems. But Cromwell did have an impressive information/spy network. Letters from someone like Chapuys would absolutely have been read before being dispatched.)
Why didn’t anyone try to conquer England while Henry was on the outs with both Rome and the Emperor?
This is just a question I have in general. From this point in time, one can just say, “No one did because no one did.” However, in the moment, when a conquered England would bring any other nation into supreme favor with the Church and the Emperor, what kept anyone/everyone from attacking?
Scotland tried, in Katherine’s time, but for non-Catholic reasons, when they thought Henry was distracted. France has historically (until recently; like, 10 minutes ago) been England’s antagonist. And the Emperor was very busy trying to stay emperor. What ultimately probably saved England is that no one was all that organized, or with an open calendar, to take on Henry.
Are the novels stream-of-conscious? Who is the narrator?
I don’t know the answer to this. But I’d like to.
you couldn’t turn her out like that for much under thirty pounds (11)
One of the things I appreciate very much about the novels is the way Mantel uses motifs — much like, say, Wagner, with the anti-Semitism dialed waaay down. In Wolf Hall, Wolsey cheerily demands that Cromwell price him “by the yard.” The way Mantel demonstrates Cromwell’s categorizations of people — they’re usefulness, their worth, and their value — is masterful.
Are we always modern?
Modern doesn’t mean anything, except sometimes it means too much. We describe ourselves as modern — which we won’t be in 100 years. Or 500 years. But we want to prove ourselves against our past and we assume that we have modern ways of doing things, modern ways of thinking. But that’s reading our own understanding of our current moment into the past. Several have mentioned that Mantel “modernizes” Cromwell; but, instead, I think he was as modern as we are, and we just don’t like the idea that what makes us smart and interesting hasn’t changed in half a millenia.
He takes her mouse-paw in his vast hand. (11)
Note all animal imagery.
Francis Weston’s maligning of Cromwell’s daughters (13-14)
Because these are all Larger Than Life historical characters, we expect any action they are involved in to have tremendous import, and done with a design and end in mind. Historians do this a lot: take an event — the execution of five men — and believe that it was politically motivated to clear out the barren Anne and make room for Jane Seymour. But instead, couldn’t it just be entirely personal? Cromwell, as Mantel writes him, has justifications in his mind for the deaths of all the men accused of adultery with the queen — and they’re not entirely political. History often obscures the humanity of its players.
Mary Shelton (14)
“They say Shelton has been kind to the king in bed.”
Mary Shelton is invaluable to anyone interested in the 16th century poetry of Thomas Wyatt and other poets in the Tudor court. She is one of the three editors of the Devonshire Manuscript — a collection of poems from a variety of sources.
She also probably kept the king company while Anne was pregnant. He got real lonely sometimes.
There has been some confusion about this arrangement. For a time, it was assumed that Mary’s sister, Margaret, was the bed-warmer. Recent scholarship suggests that “Marg Shelton” in the records is actually “Mary Shelton,” the y in the handwriting being mistaken for a g.
There is no definitive way to know, really, if either sister was one of Henry’s mistresses.
‘We talk about who is in love with the queen.’ (14)
At this point, all Cromwell knows is that the king is growing disenchanted (heh) with Anne Boleyn, and seems to have taken a shine to Jane Seymour. This tiny drop, in Mantel’s version, may have given Cromwell a map to get Henry out of one marriage and into the other.
Edgar the Peaceable (16)
Edgar ruled for 16 years, starting in 959.
The story Sir John tells is…a historical oddity. No one is sure if it really happened or if it didn’t (sort of like, did Al Gore invent the Internet?), even though there is a monument to the murder called Dead Man’s Plack in Longparish, Hampshire, England.
Edgar’s wife, Ælfthryth, (the one schtupped by Æthelwald, before Edgar murdered him), was the first queen of England to be coronated.
That a Medici cardinal has been poisoned by his own brother. (27)
This is likely Ippolito de’ Medici.
Ippolito was the illegitimate son of Giuliano de’ Medici, Duke of Nemours. He was a regular correspondent of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, when he died. It was thought, at first, that he succumbed to malaria. And he actually may have died of malaria; that was not an uncommon thing to kill people.
Mantel uses the story that Ippolito was poisoned by his own brother. This is challenging, because Ippolito didn’t have a brother. But the story is he was either poisoned by his cousin, Alesandro de’ Medici; or by another cousin, Pope Paul III, who wanted Ippolito’s lands. (Also, the Medici family tree is more a long-armed shrub; maybe they were also brothers.)
Admit to a sniffle or a colic, and he will make up a herbal potion with his own hands, and stand over you while you swallow it. (29)
The French and English believed that their monarchs had a divine magic ability to heal people by the laying on of hands. (How classy does Alabama sound now?) Of course they argued over it. The English said that the first king in Christendom to lay hands was Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). The French say that Edward doesn’t count because his magical touching was politically, rather than divinely, motivated. The French insisted that the first king in Christendom to use the laying on of hands was Philip I (1059-1108).
There has been as much tension between religion and magic, as there is between science and religion.