By Charles Matthews

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

4. "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel, pp. 39-53

Part II, I: "Visitation," 1529
Cardinal Wolsey has been dismissed as Lord Chancellor and Cromwell and others are helping him move from York Place, which the king has taken over for Anne Boleyn, to an empty and unprepared house at Esher.

The ousting of Wolsey from York Place is overseen by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk, although Cromwell is able to delay it with a few legal technicalities. When Suffolk, Charles Brandon, protests, Cromwell observes, "That's like Suffolk; to think the letter of the law is some kind of luxury." Wolsey hugs Cromwell, "his face gleeful," when he succeeds in putting off the move for a day, but "it is the last of their victories and they know it."

Also participating in the move are Sir William Gascoigne, the cardinal's treasurer, and George Cavendish, the cardinal's gentleman usher. For Cromwell, "This is an indecent spectacle: the man who has ruled England, reduced." Wolsey puts on a brave face: "Everything I have, I have from the king. The king gave it to me, and if it pleases him to take York Place fully furnished, I am sure we own other houses, we have other roofs to shelter under." Gascoigne, however, comes in with the rumor that Wolsey is to be taken to the Tower of London. Cromwell puts Gascoigne in his place, however, and announces that they're going to Esher. But he observes, "It's hard to escape the feeling that this is a play, and the cardinal is in it: the Cardinal and his Attendants. And that it is a tragedy."

As they get in the boat to go upriver, "and not downstream to the Tower," the "hooting and booing" crowd that is watching Wolsey's disgrace protests. "It is then that the cardinal collapses, falling into his seat.... 'The multitude,' Cavendish says, 'is always desirous of a change. They never see a great man set up but they must pull him down -- for the novelty of the thing.'" But when Cavendish speaks disrespectfully of the king, Wolsey calls him "The gentlest, wisest prince in Christendom" and says he "will not hear a word against him from any man."

The cardinal is so fat that he has trouble mounting the mule he has always ridden, inspiring some jokes from his fool Patch, or Master Sexton, whom Cromwell dislikes. A rider approaches. It is Sir Henry Norris, one of the king's friends, who brings the cardinal a ring from the king. The cardinal falls to the ground and kisses the ring, then begins to cry. Cavendish is scandalized when the cardinal takes the chain from his neck and puts it around Norris's neck because it's a reliquary, "a piece of the true Cross," but Cromwell says he knows someone in Pisa who makes them: "a round dozen for cash up front," further scandalizing Cavendish.

Cromwell feels "an irrational dislike" for Norris, "and he tries to dismiss it, because he prefers his dislikes rational." But he's distressed by seeing the cardinal on the ground in the mud, by "Wolsey's unraveling, in a great unweaving of scarlet thread that might lead you back into a secret labyrinth, with a dying monster at its heart." And then there's a scene in which Patch protests because the cardinal decides to send him to the king as a gift.

They arrive at the cardinal's palace at Esher to find it in utter disrepair. And after they get the cardinal into a "bed worthy of the name," Cavendish and Cromwell talk about who will succeed Wolsey as Lord Chancellor. Wareham, the Archbishop of Canterbury, is too old. And Cromwell decides it won't be the Duke of Suffolk -- "in his view Charles Brandon is no brighter than Christopher the mule, though better at fighting and fashion and generally showing off" -- because "the Duke of Norfolk won't have him." He decides it will be Thomas More, despite his opposition to the king's divorce: "The king is known for putting out his conscience to high bidders. Perhaps he hopes to be saved from himself."

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