Blog, Cromwell Trilogy, Hilary Mantel, The Mirror and the Light, Thomas Cromwell

TM&tL: Part I, Chapter 2, ‘Salvage’

When Adam delved and Eve span / Who was then the gentleman? (24): The first time we heard this ditty was at the end of Wolf Hall (in Part 6, ‘Supremacy’). 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 king whispers, ; Such freshness. Such delicacy. Such maidenly pudeur.’

‘I am happy for your Majesty.’ He thinks, yes, yes: but did you manage it?

‘I have come out of Hell into Heaven, all in one night.’ (24): There is nothing more mortifying to me than the idea of having a conversation about anything that happens between two people in a completely dark room that will anger God. It’s none of my business.

Here, Henry is echoing his elder (dead) brother, Arthur, who, when appearing before his gentlemen, said, ‘Bring me a cup of ale, for I have been this night in the midst of Spain.’ He also threw in a ‘It is a good thing to have a wife.’ Charmed, I’m sure.

This quip from Arthur is debated to this very day as part of the did-they-didn’t-they question of the consummation of Arthur and Katherine’s marriage. Katherine swore for her whole miserably proud life that she came to Henry a virgin; that Arthur did not, you know. But Henry and others latched on to what sounds like the jocular bravado of a young man insecure in his abilities.

Did they? Didn’t they? There is literally no way to know. It remains a mystery, and we should leave it there.

‘Gentlemen — and ladies too, I may say — have prompted me: Majesty, is it not time Master Cromwell received his deserts?’ (24): Who on earth is making Cromwell’s case for advancement to the king? What gentlemen? What ladies

Also, it’s possible gentlemen — and ladies, too — did ask for Cromwell to get his just deserts, but ironically, and Henry is dumb.

‘You know I have hesitated to promote you, only because your grip is wanted in the House of Commons. But[…]the House of Lords is equally unruly, and wants a master.’ (24): I thought maybe some of you might appreciate hearing what the House of Commons and the House of Lords are — both in Cromwell’s time and today.

House of Commons: A quick and not-super-accurate way to think of the House of Commons is as an ancestor of the House of Representatives in America. It’s not a perfect fit, only because, while both concepts evolved from the Bicameral Parliament of England (I’ll get to that, too), they also have drastically evolved away from each other. There’s a slight family resemblance, but no meritable common features.

The House of Commons, where Cromwell had been, had the primary duty of approving taxes proposed by the Crown (or monarch). Eventually, they also took up the responsibility of seeking redress for the grievances of the people (which were often related to the taxes that were approved so it’s a little bit like someone punching you in the face and then immediately calling for help for you).

In Cromwell’s time, members of the House of Commons included ecclesiastics, noblemen, and representatives of the counties. It starts, in 1341, as the House of Commons of England. In 1707, when the kingdoms of Scotland and England joined, it became the House of Commons of Great Britain. (It is during this period that the office of the Prime Minister is born.) In 1922, after gaining Ireland, but then losing all but Northern Ireland, it became the House of Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Bicameral Parliament of England: When England developed its Parliament, it was unicameral — just one house. This lasts from around the early 1200s to 1341. A unicameral parliament is just one body of political advisors that advised the king. In 1341, this unicameral body split into an upper house — the House of Lords — and a lower house — the House of Commons.

House of Lords: The House of Lords is made up of two kinds of lords: Lords Spiritual (bishops) and Lords Temporal (secular — also peers). Less involved in issues of taxation, this council was (is?) very much involved in legislating religious matters. To be a peer requires either you be of ancient lineage or to have a lifetime title bestowed on you. Cromwell is the latter.

[Many thanks to Shona, for setting me right.]

‘Ah. I thought it might be your king who is shamed. Considering the events of recent days. And what came out in the courtroom, about his lack of skill and vigour with the other one.’

‘We only have George Boleyn’s word for that.’ (24-25): So, hearsay is enough to kill a queen, but not enough to measure Henry’s bedroom abilities. Good to know, Crum.

the scent of lavender ripples into air like bubbles of laughter. (25): Just a gorgeous simile.

‘We only require[…]the merest word of reassurance. As to how you find yourself this morning.’ (27): This whole, ‘Did Jane and Henry have Mommy/Daddy Alone Time is just [chef’s kiss].

‘The point is[…]this…whatever, his desire, his command…does it conduce to getting a child?’

‘I wouldn’t have thought so,’ Jane says. (28): At this point she’s just effing with everyone, right?

‘She appears to be wearing all her jewels at once, like a Florentine bride.’ (28): Chapuys is maybe one of my favorite secondary characters.

Richard says, ‘Do you know that the king had Carew’s wife in his bed? Before Carew married her, and after?’

‘No!’ Gregory says. ‘Am I old enough to know? Does everyone know? Does Carew know they know? (30): Gregory is 15 or 16 years old and I love my Dumb Strong Son.

It was Fitzwilliam who came to him, last March, to spell out to him how the Boleyns were detested (31): See p. 176-178 of Bring Up the Bodies (2012 Henry Holt hardback edition):

Fitzwilliam looks at him: thoughtful, not without sympathy. ‘I don’t know, Crumb. You are not without support, you know.’

‘Forgive me,’ he says sceptically, ‘but in what way does this support manifest?’

‘I meant that you would have support, should you need it against the Boleyns.’

Time was a king lived under the eye of his court. He ate in the great hall, spoke out all his thoughts, shat behind a scant curtain and copulated behind one too. Now rulers enjoy solitude (31): I love this awareness of the transitory quality of modernity. We drift into this unconscious assurance that we are living in Peak Modern times; but of course in 50 or 500 years we’ll also be kings shitting behind a scant curtain and not know how backwards we are.

Suffolk says, ‘It’s in every tavern and marketplace. At the very instant Anne’s head leapt from her body, the candles on Katherine’s tomb ignited — without touch of living hand.’ The duke looks anxious to have it right. ‘You need not believe it, Cromwell. I don’t.’

Henry is irritable. ‘Of course not. It is a story. Where did it start, Crumb?’

‘Dover.’ (32): Did this happen?

Something happened.

We know about it from a letter ‘Some Frenchman’ sent to Cromwell; and this letter is recorded in an index of the Cotton manuscripts — the manuscripts collected by Sir Bruce Cotton* (1571 – 1631):

22. Some Frenchman, dependent on T. Cromwell, to the [s]aid Cromwell; reporting that the wax tapers about Q. Catherine’s tomb had been lighted of their own accord the day before Q. Ann [sic] was beheaded, &c. (Fr.) June, 1536   220. B. (Vitellius, B. XIV., p. 413)

One of Mantel’s hypotheses is the unreliability of the historical record for things like ‘true facts.’ People lie in letters, diaries, treatises, testimony, &c. Cromwell has a letter from Dover (the port that connects England to Calais, the part of England still clinging to France), and that letter gives an account that happened the day before Anne’s execution. But rumor is a game of telephone and the story traveled widely so that when Suffolk shares it with Cromwell and Henry, it’s the day of the execution.

[* Sir Bruce Cotton bought up a lot of manuscripts after the dissolution of the monasteries — including such fan favorites as Beowulf and the Arthurian romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight — and he kept them in an almost Eco-ian library. In the quote above, here’s what ‘Vitellius, B. XIV.’ means (from Wikipedia): ‘Sir Robert Cotton had organised his library according to the case, shelf and position of a book within a room twenty-six feet long and six feet wide. Each bookcase in his library was surmounted by a bust of a historical personage, including Augustus Caesar, Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Nero, Otho, and Vespasian. In total, he had fourteen busts, and his scheme involved a designation of bust name/shelf letter/volume number from left end. Thus, the two most famous of the manuscripts from the Cotton library are ‘Cotton Vitellius A.xv’ and ‘Cotton Nero A.x’. In Cotton’s own day, that meant ‘Under the bust of Vitellius, top shelf (A), and count fifteen over’ for the volume containing the Nowell Codex (including Beowulf) and ‘Go to the bust of Nero, top shelf, tenth book’ for the manuscript containing all the works of the Pearl Poet. The manuscripts are still catalogued by these call numbers in the British Library.’]

He made his first knife for himself, when he was a boy. (39): Keep an eye on this blade, folks.

‘I was not responsible for Anne’s death,’ he says. ‘She herself brought it about, she and her gentlemen.’ (44): That’s some real ‘guns don’t kill people’ nonsense, Crum, and you know it.

‘You are to become a milord. Baron Cremuel of–’


‘No,’ Chapuys says. ‘Choose some other place. One I can pronounce.’ (45): I! Love! Chapuys!

‘Even the usurper Richard, the Scorpion, was not as abhorred as this present king.’ (46): This would be Richard III. When he’s killed at the Battle of Bosworth Field in 1485, Henry Tudor/Henry VII, our Henry’s father, claims the throne.

As a reminder: there are a lot of powerful families who believe that Henry VII has no legitimate claim to the throne. That he stole it off of the dead York king, and then tried to bolster his claim by marrying into the York family. (Meanwhile, the Pole family and the Courtenay family, whom we see frequently in these books, actually are Yorks by blood and feel that the throne should be back in their family.)

Henry VII, and Henry VIII, would both have good reason to make Richard look as terrible as possible. A contemporary historian, John Rous, hoping to gain favor with the Tudors, gives us this (completely inaccurate, but very lasting) portrait of Richard III:

Richard was born at Fotheringhay in Northamptonshire, retained within his mother’s womb for two years and emerging with teeth and hair to his shoulders. … At his nativity Scorpio was in the ascendant, which is the sign of the house of Mars. And like a scorpion he combined a smooth front with a stinging tail. He received his lord King Edward V blandly, with embraces and kisses, and within about three months or a little more he killed him together with his brother. (f. 134v, History of the Kings of England)

He was small of stature, with a short face and unequal shoulders, the right higher and the left lower. (f. 135r, History of the Kings of England)

This King Richard, who was excessively cruel in his days, reigned for three years [sic] and a little more, in the way that Antichrist is to reign. And like the Antichrist to come, he was confounded at his moment of greatest pride. … For all that, let me say the truth to his credit: that he bore himself like a noble soldier and despite his little body and feeble strength, honourably defended himself to his last breath, shouting again and again that he was betrayed, and crying ‘Treason! Treason! Treason! (f. 137r, History of the Kings of England)

It doesn’t matter if Richard was as terrible as he is painted to be; it only matters that people believe that Richard is as terrible as he is painted to be. And my hero, Chapuys, suggesting that Henry VIII is more hated than the man he and his father have put a lot of effort into vilifying, is some Grade A shade.

‘But it must be acknowledged that there are men in England, the best blood of your nation, who remain loyal sons of Rome.’

‘Do they?’ he says. ‘How can that be? Because they have all taken their oath to Henry. The Courtenays have taken it. The Poles. They have recognised him not only as their king to whom they owe their duty, but as head of the church.’ (47): Another example here of Cromwell’s situational morality: do this thing, even if you don’t believe it, but then you have to perform that thing for the rest of your life, so why not just believe it?

‘His father was a friend of my old master, the cardinal.’

‘And he asked you to cover for his son’s delinquencies?’ Chapuys laughs.

‘I gave my word,’ he says stiffly.

‘I perceive such a promise is sacred to you. Why? When nothing else is sacred? I do not understand you, Cremuel. You are not afraid, when you should be afraid.’ (48): Cromwell’s sense of loyalty is curious and fascinating. And Chapuys’s question is never really answered. Having asked the question, is Mantel obliged to answer?

Call-Me hesitates. ‘I suppose he fell in with your wishes, and you need to show people that you can reward them for doing that.’

If you call it  reward, the life Thomas Boleyn will lead now. (49): As a reminder: his son and his daughter have been publicly executed. I even think we can say publicly murdered.

Calais is our last foothold on the mainland. Its pale is our last territory. (50): Once upon a time, England wasn’t a destructive empire-building colonizer. That starts in the 17th century.

‘They think Wyatt should have died for love?’ (52): A nice echo of Wolf Hall, Part Four, Chapter II, ‘Alas, What Shall I Do for Love’ — which is also the title of a song written by Henry VIII. You can hear it here.

Sweet herbs, frankincense: these drive off contagion in any season. (53): It doesn’t (unless it does. And in bad historical fiction, writers will make their protagonists somehow aware of this. Too aware. I think Mantel does a masterful job of making her characters as smart as they would be for their time.

But you cannot make a wife out of bonnets and sleeves; hold all her rings together, and you are not holding her hand. (54): Just gorgeous.

it ended the day More dripped to the scaffold, to drown in blood and rainwater. (55): Also just brilliant writing.

You will see Henry, profound in deception, take an ambassador’s arm and charm him. Lying gives him a deep and subtle pleasure, so deep and subtle he does not know he is lying; he thinks he is the most truthful of princes. (55): What are your thoughts about Cromwell’s psychological profile of Henry? Does Henry not know he’s lying? Or is it protective for Cromwell to believe that Henry doesn’t know he’s lying?

Gaze into the mirror of the future: the unspotted glass, specula sine macula. (58): Latin for an unblemished or stainless mirror.

Speaking of mirrors, the title of our book is The Mirror & the Light. So we should pay attention when mirrors or light are explicitly mentioned.

Mirrors and light are associated in art with Mary the virgin. (Cf this passage from the deuterocanonical-if-you’re-Catholic/apocryphal-if-you’re-Protestant Book of Wisdom: ‘She is a reflection of the eternal light, and a stainless mirror [speculum sine macula] of God’s majesty’ – Book of Wisdom (7:26).) Virginity — and the lack of it — are a great concern in Henry VIII’s court. Mirrors are also, paradoxically, a symbol of vanity and worldliness.

‘Poor woman,’ Wriothesley said. ‘I doubt she will be known at all.’ (59): This is not one of my favorite sentences in the trilogy. It’s too knowing. It feels like that moment in a movie about Olden Times where someone says, ‘A sled?! You’ll never make a picture in this town again, Orson Welles!’

‘And also,’ Rafe read, ‘she wishes Master Secretary to know that seven years after her death a great punishment — the nature of which she does not specify — will fall on the land.’ (59): In the novel, this is in a letter Kingston, Constable of the Tower, sends to Cromwell when Anne is still alive and imprisoned awaiting execution.

This curse first shows up in Bring Up the Bodies

Kingston hurries out to meet him; he wants to talk. ‘She keeps doing that. Her hands around her neck. And laughing.’ His honest gaoler’s face is dismayed. ‘I cannot see that it is any occasion for laughter. And there are other foolish sayings, which my wife has reported. She says, it will not stop raining till I am released. Or start raining. Or something.’ — Bring Up the Bodies: A Novel (p. 345)

The actual letters to/from Sir William Kingston are still with us — in fact, they were part of the Cotton collection I mentioned above. The collection was badly damaged in a fire in 1731, but it’s still mostly legible. Here is what Kingston wrote to Cromwell:

‘[she] sayd we shuld have now rayne tyll she ware [delivered out] of the Towre.’

Anne Boleyn was not executed for witchcraft — but the witchcraft story kept its legs, partly because the idea of a queen committing treason was a big ask.

‘God bless you,’ he had said. And he had kissed Lord Rochford, as one gentleman might, leaving another. ‘You will soon be past your pain.’ (61-62): What do you think about the case against Anne’s alleged lovers? What do you think Mantel thinks? What case does she prove?

He imagines the cart, the pile of corpses, a canvas over them smeared and stippled with blood; the boy’s hand tumbling out, as if wanting to be held. He says, ‘I only wanted Mark as a witness. Be he accused himself. I did not hurt him.’ (65): I…don’t know if I agree with Cromwell’s assessment of the Mark situation. Lay every example of ‘they did it to themselves’ next to ‘I must protect Wyatt at all costs.’

Wait. Is Cromwell now also someone who lies to himself, like he accused Henry of on page 55?

Bess Darrell (66): Elizabeth Darrell (1513-1556). She was a maid of honor to Katherine. She also did not take Oath of Supremacy. (That’s the oath everyone had to take saying that Henry is the head of the church in England.) This is the first time we’re meeting her, though.

Wyatt won’t speak his wife’s name, not if he can help it. He has a child with her, a boy, but God knows how he got it. (67): Wyatt’s wife is a woman named Elizabeth Brooke. (They’re all named Elizabeth, unless they’re named Thomas.) Theirs was not a happy marriage; ironically, Wyatt accused Elizabeth of adultery while probably having an affair with Anne Boleyn. Or at least wanting to. 

Wyatt dies young, freeing Elizabeth to marry Edward Warner. But! She was also on the shortlist to be the wife after Anne of Cleves falls through.

Court life!

‘Wyatt, why art thou such a fool? Thou servest for moonshine in the water a beggarly fugitive. Forsake him and become mine, who can reward thee.’ (67): Is anyone eloquent like this in the moment? 

This quotation is from an account written by George Wyatt (our Thomas Wyatt’s grandson) detailing his grandfather’s history, and it appears in a book published in the early 17th century. George was also the first biographer of Anne Boleyn.

Mantel has said, in other works (specifically A Place of Greater Safety), that ‘what goes onto the record is often tried out earlier, off the record.’ Here she seems to be suggesting that this tiny speech of Richard’s was well-known in his grandfather’s time.

The initials, he means, of Henry and the late queen: so fondly intertwined, like snakes breeding. (71): Mantel often uses snake/serpent imagery with both Anne and Cromwell.

‘And,’ Richmond says, ‘she was a witch.’ His fingers, restless, tug at the string of his cap. ‘Some people do not believe in witches. Though St Thomas Aquinas makes mention of them.’ (72): And here’s the mention, in Aquinas’s Summa Theologica, Part I, in the Fathers of the English Dominican Province translation:

Hence then when a soul is vehemently moved to wickedness, as occurs mostly in little old women, according to the above explanation, the countenance becomes venomous and hurtful, especially to children, who have a tender and most impressionable body. It is also possible that by God’s permission, or from some hidden deed, the spiteful demons co-operate in this, as the witches may have some compact with them.

‘Cromwell, how is it that Richard Sampson has been made a bishop? He has so papist a flavour I think I am chewing the Bishop of Rome himself.’ 

Cranmer says, ‘He made speed with the king’s annulment, that is why, it is his reward. Though I wish the king … I wish he had elected a period of reflection, between the two…’ his voice fades, ‘… before the new…’ He puts the papers down. He rubs the corners of his eyes. ‘I cannot bear it,’ he says. 

‘Anne was our good lady,’ Hugh says. ‘So we thought. We were much misled.’ (78): It’s interesting to consider the damage Cromwell has done to the cause of Reformation in England by killing Anne.

The Boleyn’s were evangelicals, which would have been very attractive to Henry, having just burned the bridge between himself and the Roman Church. Other evangelicals assumed that Anne would be able to lead Henry in their direction. (In part by giving him a song.)

With Anne executed, the evangelicals do not feel that there is anyone close to the king who can keep him on the path away from Rome. They certainly don’t trust Cromwell.

‘The temptation to cut off your wife’s head does not arise every year.’ (79): Henry: ‘Hold my beer.’

‘Pole,’ he says. ‘His book has come, out of Italy. (82): Pole is Reginald Pole. His family is one of the Old Families with a claim on the Tudor throne by reason of being Yorks by blood rather than Yorks by marriage. (Though Henry VIII is technically a York by blood, since his mother, Elizabeth, was a York through her father. However, Henry’s father and Elizabeth’s husband, Henry VII, traces his lineage back to Owen Tudor, a lowly page in the court of Henry V.)

The book in question wasn’t supposed to be a book. It was going to be a private correspondence between Pole and Henry where Pole would explain all the ways Henry was going to Hell. But then things got out of hand, as they do, and Pole ended up sending less a letter and more a book. In 1536, only a few copies were distributed; and then, in 1538, it was officially entered into the Vatican library with the full title Reginaldi Poli Cardinalis Britanni, ad Henricū Octavum Britanniae Regem, pro ecclesiasticae unitatis defensione, libri quatuor. Here’s an excerpt:

Now all Christendom calls for a General Council, and the King  must either with dishonour and damage flee to obey thereunto, or  with more danger answer there such causes as are laid to him. If  he return, no Christian prince would appear there with more honour.  The innovation he has made in the Church is the occasion of ruin  of the fairest member of the Church of God. If God made him  turn, his fall will be the happiest fall that was unto the Church these  many years, which may be a ready and high way to the reformation  of the whole. The end will be, in every man’s opinion who marks  the whole process, that God suffereth his Grace to fall, to make  him rise with more honour to the greater wealth of his own realm  and the whole Church.

And what was left of the old regime, after the battle was won, after Richard Plantagenet was dropped naked into his grave? Old King Edward’s sons vanished into the Tower and never came out. His bastards and daughters remained, and a nephew, a child not ten. After showing him to the people, the Tudor locked the child away. He never denied his title, Earl of Warwick: just denied him the right to threaten the new regime. (83): King Edward’s sons who ‘vanished into the Tower’ are the famous Princes in the Tower whom Richard III allegedly had killed. (The jury is fully out on this, still, over 500 years later.)

The ‘child not ten’ is Edward Plantagenet, 17th Earl of Warwick. He presented an actual threat to Henry VII, and was eventually executed (along with the pretender, Perkin Warbeck, and you should absolutely read about that fella).

‘It was not I caused Warwick’s death,’ Henry says. ‘It was not even my father, it was Katherine’s people.’ (84): No man in this novel ever wants to take responsibility for executing someone who they had executed.

‘I believe,’ he says, ‘that the Lady Mary regards your Majesty’s favour more than that of any bridegroom. Even if Heaven sent him.’ 

‘So you say. But then you always defend her.’ (84)

‘I ask myself, what did you know?’ The king’s eyes rest on him. ‘You do not seem amazed by it, I am sure.’ (86): Are these cracks in Henry’s regard for Cromwell, and an early (missed) sign of his falling out of favor?

There’s a passage I love very much from Madame Bovary: ‘As to Emma, she did not ask herself whether she loved. Love, she thought, must come suddenly, with great outbursts and lightnings—a hurricane of the skies, which falls upon life, revolutionises it, roots up the will like a leaf, and sweeps the whole heart into the abyss. She did not know that on the terrace of houses it makes lakes when the pipes are choked, and she would thus have remained in her security when she suddenly discovered a rent in the wall of it.’

He had once said to Cranmer, the dreams of kings are not the dreams of other men. (85): This is on page 227 of Wolf Hall:

‘You know what is written on the tomb of Arthur?’ 

Rex quondam rexque futurus. The former king is the future king.’ 

‘Your father made it sure. A prince coming out of Wales, he made good the word given to his ancestors. Out of his lifetime’s exile he came back and claimed his ancient right. But it is not enough to claim a country; it must be held. It must be held and made secure, in every generation. If your brother seems to say that you have taken his place, then he means you to become the king that he would have been. He himself cannot fulfill the prophecy, but he wills it to you. For him, the promise, and for you, the performance of it.’ 

The king’s eyes move to Dr. Cranmer, who says, stiffly, ‘I cannot see anything against it. I still counsel against heeding dreams.’ 

‘Oh, but,’ he says, ‘the dreams of kings are not like the dreams of other men.’

Henry walks to the window. ‘Get Reginald back here.’ (87): This is Cromwell’s ‘Wolsey’ moment: Do this impossible thing for me. Speaking of which.

‘Some of you councillors know more of my daughter’s mind than I do myself.’ Again, that tight smile: Henry is in pain. ‘Master Secretary promised me he could get her compliance—that he would make her swear the oath without stirring himself from Whitehall. But he too has failed me.’ (95): Katherine in a sense brought down Wolsey by refusing to be made an adulterer. Mary may bring down Cromwell, because she refuses to be labeled a bastard. Women are far more dangerous to Cromwell than almost any man.

He remembers the castle at Windsor, a day of baking heat; the year of our salvation, 1531. (101): The scene is also in Wolf Hall, pages 235-238.

He amends the phrase. ‘Don’t let our efforts be mentioned outside this room. The king must think she composed it herself. I write to … why do I write?’ 

… To open my heart to your grace … as I have and will put my soul under your direction … so I wholly commit my body … desiring no state, no condition, nor no manner or degree of living but such as your grace shall appoint … (109): Someone wrote this letter — Mary herself; or Cromwell, as Mantel plays it out — on 22 June 1536. Historians who think Mary wrote the letter herself point to Eustache Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador, as the one who convinced her it was in her own interest.

Here is the text of the letter:

Most humbly prostrate before the feet of your most excellent majesty, your most humble, so faithful and obedient subject, who has so extremely offended your most gracious highness that my heavy and fearful heart dare not presume to call you father, deserving of nothing from your majesty, save that the kindness of your most blessed nature does surmount all evils, offences and trespasses, and is ever merciful and ready to accept the penitent calling for grace, at any fitting time. Having received this Thursday, at night, certain letters from Mr Secretary to whom I had lately written advising me to make my humble submission immediately to your self, which I dared not, without your gracious licence, presume to do before, and signifying that your most merciful heart and fatherly pity had granted me your blessing, with the condition that I should persevere in which I had commenced and begun; and that I should not again offend your majesty by the denial or refusal of any such articles and commandments as it may please your highness to address to me, for the perfect trial of my heart and inward affection, for the perfect declaration of the depths of my heart.

First, I acknowledge myself to have most unkindly and unnaturally offended your most excellent highness, in that I have not submitted myself to your most just and virtuous laws; and for my offence therein, which I must confess was in me a thousandfold more grievous than it could be in any other living creature, I put myself wholly and entirely at your gracious mercy; at whose hands I cannot receive that punishment for the same which I have deserved.

Secondly, to open my heart to your grace, in these things which I have before refused to condescend to, and have now written with my own hand, sending them to your highness herewith, I shall never beseech your grace to have pity and compassion on me if ever you shall perceive that I shall, secretly or openly, vary or alter from one piece of that which I have written and subscribed, or refuse to confirm, ratify or declare the same, wherever your majesty shall appoint me.

Thirdly, as I have and will, knowing your excellent learning, virtue, wisdom and knowledge, put my soul under your direction, and by the same have and will in all things henceforth direct my conscience, so I wholly commit my body to your mercy and fatherly pity; desiring no state, no condition, nor no manner or degree of living but such as your grace shall appoint unto me; knowing and confessing that my state cannot be so vile as either the extremity of justice would appoint to me, or as my offences have required and deserved. And whatsoever your grace shall command me to do, touching any of these points, either for things past, present or to come, I shall gladly do the same as your majesty can command me.

Lord Privy Seal (115): What exactly is a Lord Privy Seal?

First, let’s start with the seals. The king has two official seals: the Great Seal of the Realm (used to approve state documents); and the Privy Seal (for documents of a more personal/private nature).

The Lord Privy Seal, as it says on the tin, is the minder of the king’s privy seal. England’s last working Lord Privy Seal was His Grace Walter Montagu-Douglas-Scott, 5th Duke of Buccleuch. After Walt, the position was ceremonial until eventually it became a sinecure. It’s held today by Natalie Jessica Evans, Baroness Evans of Bowes Park, who is younger than I am, and that doesn’t bother me even a tiny bit. I’VE DONE THINGS WITH MY LIFE, TOO, NATALIE. (She’s not that great in my lestist opinion. She was part of a think-tank that ‘champion[s] ideas that marry a pro-market orientation with concern for social justice’ and I will tell you this: social justice is not going to be found in any pro-market paradigm. Oh, and as to Walter Montagu-Douglas-Smith — he played cricket, officially becoming someone I Do Not Want to Talk to at a Party.)

By the way, Henry had seven Lords Privy Seal:

  • Richard Foxe (1487-1516): Started under Henry VII. Was eventually driven out by Wolsey.
  • Thomas Ruthall (1516-1523): Sebastian Giustinian, an Italian ambassador to England, described Ruthall as ‘singing treble to the cardinal’s [Wolsey] bass.’
  • Henry Marney, 1st Baron Marney (1523-1523): Died in office. Henry made him a noble (the 1st Baron of Marney) the same year he died — I guess from excitement? (It was not excitement, just regular ol’ old age.)
  • Cuthbert Tunstall (1523-1530): Tunstall supported Katherine in the Great Matter, so he already wasn’t going to stay in this job for very long. His support didn’t get him killed, though. He was Bishop of Durham under both Edward VI and Mary I. Under Edward’s reign, there was a move to legitimize Protestantism in England, and Tunstall wasn’t super fond of that. He ended up losing the Bishopric of Durham and was imprisoned in the Tower. When Mary claimed the throne, after the death of Edward, she was very excited to welcome Catholics back by making room for them and killing Protestants. After Mary’s death, Elizabeth took the throne (the last of the Tudors), liked the idea of being head of the church in England, and enforced the Oath of Supremacy (where you swear on a Bible that the monarch is the supreme head of the church). Tunstall found himself religiously out of favor again, and imprisoned, where he died, at age 85.
  • Thomas Boleyn, 1st Earl of Wiltshire (1530-1536): …so. (Thomas dies a few years after he’s relieved of his duties as Lord Privy Seal, and his children are executed.)
  • Thomas Cromwell (1536-1540): He was separated from his title.
  • William FitzWilliam, 1st Earl of Southampton (1540-1542): Was able to keep his job despite the fact that he wrote letters praising Anne of Cleves, especially with ‘the matter being so far passed.’ (Like, she was on the boat.)

A tide of crimson washes over the white linen. (116)

The hem of her skirt has soaked up the claret. (117): Two things are going on here. 

(1) Mantel is brilliant at getting some Bloody Mary imagery into these descriptions. This was a nickname bestowed on her by later Protestant writers who wanted to vilify the first ever reigning queen of England (though Lady Jane Grey and the Empress Matilda in the 1100s have their own rallying squad for that claim).

How bloody was Bloody Mary? It’s estimated she had 300 Protestants executed. And that may sound like a lot, but when compared to her father’s 57,000 people maybe it’s actually moderate?

(2) Mary Tudor left no heirs. In Wolf Hall, Cromwell notices Mary looking unwell and overhears her tell her mother that ‘it is her woman’s disorder.’ Mary had several pregnancies, but they either ended in miscarriage or were hysterical. She dies from possibly uterine cysts or ovarian cancer.

He thinks, I can pity you without entirely believing you. (118): I have turned this phrase over and over and will probably turn it some more for the rest of my life.

When sparrows build churches upon a green hill (120): I tracked this down initially to a catalog titled Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, of the Reign of Henry VIII (Vol. 14, Part 2). These aren’t the full documents, but more an in depth index into what a letter contained. This letter in question is from maybe December, 1539, under the heading ‘Priests’ Wives,’ on page 370. (The item above lists some things Henry believes are treason, including ‘minish[ing] or clip[ping] the King’s coin,’ killing or poisoning one’s master or sovereign, keeping ‘erroneous opinions against the Sacrament,’ and ‘14 other items.’) Here is the verse in the catalog:

When wrens wear woodknives cranes for to kill.

And sparrows build churches upon a green hill.

This bit of doggerel is originally Middle English, by the way. ‘The ‘Priests’ Wives’ section also includes this ditty:

Then put in priests’ wives your trust and confidence.

In Antwerp they slide the printed sheets of the gospels between the folds of bales of cloth, where they hide, white against white. (126): I find myself stymied here. The Bible is going to be used for terrible things — justifying slavery, ecological dominion, misogyny, homophobia — but I also find this freedom of ideas to be important. I both want them to be allowed to publish the Bible in English, and I don’t want them to publish the Bible at all?

Master of the Rolls (133): Another title we haven’t really discussed. The Master of the Rolls started as something of an archivist: his duty (it was a he in the 16th century) was to keep track of the Chancery documents. (‘Chancery’ is a type of legal court.) By Cromwell’s time, it had evolved into more of a judicial responsibility; rather than just keeping track of the rolls, there was some judicial duties with it too. The current Master of the Rolls in the U.K. is Sir Geoffrey Vos, who looks like a hobbit turning into a gollum.

She bedded her spouse in the temple of a heathen god, after which she was changed into a lioness. (138): Hippomenes is the suitor who lobs golden apples, given to him by Aprhodite as love tokens, at Atalanta while they are racing. This was for two reasons: He wanted to win the race in order to win her; and, he wanted to win the race because if he didn’t he would be executed, as all potential suitors were who raced against Atalanta and lost.

(There are several species of spider, by the way, where the male arrives at a lady spider’s web with a gift that he’s wrapped in silk. Sometimes, if he’s a Very Good Male Spider, the gift will be food. Sometimes, if he’s Not a Very Good Male Spider, the gift will be some grit and leafstuff. While the lady spider is preoccupied with opening her present, the male can race around and quickly mate with her — no awards for stamina for these little dudes — and be off before she thinks to eat him. Sometimes, though, in related species, the male wraps very tiny pebbles in silk and hits the female in her web before mating with her while she sits stunned.)

After winning the race, and winning Atalanta, Hippomenes forgot to give thanks to Aphrodite for the help. So one day, while Hippomenes and Atalanta were hunting (they were a weird couple and unpleasant to visit with), Aphrodite envelopes them in lust, and the couple, overcome with desire, fuck in a temple belonging either to Zeus or Rhea. In the Zeus version, it’s Zeus who turns the two of them into lions, being unhappy with the mess they left in his temple. In the Rhea version, Rhea may or may not care; she’s probably down for a good time. But Artemis gets pissed because Atalanta loses her virginity, a sacred state to the goddess of chastity. So she turns the couple into lions, and that’s the punishment. (Olden timey natural philosophers believed — for reasons that escape us — that lions could not mate with other lions, only leopards. This punishment would assure that Hippomenes and Atalanta would never fuck each other again.)

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