By Charles Matthews

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

24. "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel, pp. 396-408

Part V, II, "Devil's Spit," Autumn and Winter 1533, through "...That howling you hear is only the Londoners."
"Call her Elizabeth. Cancel the jousts." It's Henry's way of acknowledging that Anne has failed to produce a son. But after Cromwell and Cranmer console him, "He smiles: and one can catch in flight, as if it were a bird with a strong-beating heart, the act of will that transforms a desolate wretch into the beacon of his nation."

The prophesying nun Elizabeth Barton has been brought to London to be grilled by Cromwell and others. Her real crime is not prophesying ill for Henry and Anne, but that she has gained followers from the Poles and Lord and Lady Exeter, claimants to the throne. Richard Riche, the Solicitor General, is present. "He looks at Riche and it is as if he can read his thoughts: Niccolò's book says, the wise prince exterminates the envious, and if I, Riche, were king, those claimants and their families would be dead." Riche wants to burn the nun, but Cranmer says, "she speaks this way because she has been taught to ape the claims of certain nuns who have gone before her, nuns whom Rome is pleased to recognize as saints. I cannot convict them of heresy, retrospectively. Nor have I evidence to try her for heresy." Riche says, "Burned for treason, I meant."

Cromwell's niece, Alice Wellyfed, has been keeping an eye on the nun, and says "she knows she is a fraud." She asks him why he hadn't brought her in for questioning before, and he explains that he wanted to see who was on her side. She says, "'I should like to see her before...' Before they kill her. Alice is no innocent in this world. Just as well. Look how the innocent end; used by the sin-sodden and the cynical, pulped to their purpose and ground under their heels."

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