By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

3. "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel, pp. 28-36

(Not quite ten pages today. I'm not used to books with short chapters -- I've been reading Proust, where the sentences are as long as chapters and the chapters are as long as books.) 

Part I, III: "At Austin Friars," 1527
A domestic scene at the Cromwells', in which we meet Liz Cromwell, get news about their son, Gregory, and learn that Thomas has a small dog named Bella -- which was the name of the dog he left behind when he ran away from home.

Liz seems to be a source of information for Cromwell: She reports that a friend of hers, the wife of a master jeweler, knows about the ordering of a big emerald for a woman's ring. "It must be the king, so we think. Nobody else in London would be in the market for a stone of that size. So who's it for? It isn't for the queen." Cromwell reflects that the cardinal will tell him.

Gregory Cromwell is "coming up thirteen" and at Cambridge, but is not much of a scholar: "He likes to be in the woods and fields and he likes to hunt." They hope he will be tall, and there's a reference to the king's being six foot two and the cardinal being able to "look him in the eye. Henry likes to have about him men like his brother-in-law Charles Brandon, of a similar impressive height and breadth of padded shoulder."

In bed, Liz returns to the emerald. "I only ask because people say the king is wanting to do something very strange, and I can't really believe it. But that is the word in the city." Cromwell is surprised that the word has gotten out "in the fortnight while he has been north among the slope-heads." (He doesn't much care for Yorkshire, "which smelled of unwashed men, wearing sheepskins and sweating with anger.") Liz opines that "half the people in the world will be against" the king's divorcing Katherine. "He had only thought, and Wolsey had only thought, that the Emperor and Spain would be against it." Liz's point is that women will be against it.

We learn that Liz has been married before, and that she reads her prayer book although he encourages her to read Tyndale's translation of the New Testament, which they keep under lock and key -- "the pirated edition from Antwerp, which is easier to get hold of than the proper German printing." He is acquainted with William Tyndale, "a principled man, a hard man, and Thomas More calls him the Beast." He wants to ask More, "Why does everything you know, and everything you've learned, confirm you in what you believed before? Whereas in my case, what I grew up with, and what I thought I believed, is chipped away a little and a little, a fragment then a piece and then a piece more." He questions such Catholic doctrines as Purgatory as unbiblical, along with "relics, monks, nuns" and "Pope." But he agrees with the cardinal that "it would be better if Luther had never been born, or better if he had been more subtle." Wolsey's attitude toward heretics is that he "will burn books, but not men."

Liz's father was Henry Wykys, also from Putney, who recognized Cromwell as Walter's son, and says of Thomas, "by God, there was no one rougher than you when you were a boy." Cromwell had helped Wykys on  legal matter and then advised him on his business, the wool trade, taking him to Antwerp, where they met the three old men who crossed the channel with Cromwell when he ran away from home. When Cromwell helps make the business profitable, Wykys marries him to his widowed daughter.

At the end of the chapter, Cromwell "pats his wife, kisses his dog," and is off to work for the cardinal.

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