Thomas Cromwell as a hero and Thomas More as a sort of villain. Talk about your role reversals. Cromwell is usually portrayed as a greedy, grasping, power-hungry villain while More is a loyal, loving, family man who sticks by his principles in the face of enormous pressure. In Wolf Hall, however, Mantel tells of a Thomas Cromwell who was very modern in his thinking. He was loyal, efficient, very family oriented, and surprisingly humane. Mantel’s More, however, is a self-righteous hypocrite, which has always been a part of my view of him. He was misogynistic, where Cromwell treated the women of his household as equals.
One thing that amused me about this book was how Mantel used the most farfetched rumors of the day. For instance, the one about the King sleeping with Elizabeth, Mary, and Anne Boleyn. In reality, the King himself said “Never with the mother.” I’ve also never read anything to suggest that Henry continued to sleep with Mary after he married Anne. With Mistress Shelton, yes, and probably with Elizabeth Carew at around that time as well, but not Mary Boleyn. It does, however, make for an interesting comparison with the scandalous events within the Seymour family at Wolf Hall, which actually happened.
I was also interested with Cromwell’s dealings and interactions with the King’s Gentlemen. Especially Norris, Brereton, Weston, and Boleyn. I’ve always wondered why Cromwell chose those particular men with which to bring down Anne. George Boleyn was rather obvious, though sensational, as was Thomas Wyatt, but why the others? Hilary Mantel provides the reasons for what comes later. She also tells us what he had against Mark Smeaton.
Fortunately, there’s to be a sequel, tentatively titled The Mirror and the Light. I can’t wait to read it. I’m just dying to know how Cromwell resolves his feelings for Jane Seymour in the face of the King’s affections. There’s also the fall of Anne, Jane’s queenship, and Anne of Cleves to go before Cromwell ends up on the block.
Wolf Hall is a fascinating, thought-provoking read, giving us a fresh look, from a new, different perspective, on one of the most tumultuous times of English history.
ad0000: 4.5 out of 5 stars