By Charles Matthews

Saturday, April 24, 2010

28. "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel, pp. 475-532

Part V, II, "The Map of Christendom," 1534-1535. III, "To Wolf Hall," July 1535.
The closer I get to the end of a book, the faster I read....

Henry holds out the possibility of Lord Chancellor to Cromwell, but for the time being he takes the post of Master of the Rolls. The Master's house is ancient, built 300 years earlier "as a refuge for Jews who wished to convert." There he builds "a treasure room, a repository secure for any gold plate the king entrusts to him; whatever he deposits can quickly be turned into ready money." He is unsure about leaving Austin Friars, but he does so. He thinks about his properties and concludes, "All this is small stuff. It's nothing to what he intends to have, or to what Henry will owe him."
He is a good friend and master; this is said of him everywhere. Otherwise, it is the usual abuse. His father was a blacksmith, a crooked brewer, he was an Irishman, he was a criminal, he was a Jew, and he himself was just a wool-trader, he was a shearsman, and now he is a sorcerer: how else but by being a sorcerer would he get the reins of power in his hand?

A treaty has been made with the Scots, but now the Irish are rebelling.

Richard Cromwell "has proved a formidable man in the lists. It is more or less as Christophe says: biff, and they are flat.... He carries the Cromwell colors, and the king loves him for it, as he loves any man with flair and courage and physical strength."

"Thomas More is losing weight, a wiry little man emerging from what was never a superfluity of flesh."
More is now required to swear to the Act of Supremacy, an act which draws together all the powers and dignities assumed by the king in the last two years. It doesn't, as some say, make the king head of the church. It states that he is head of the church, and always has been.... It will be a treasonable offense to deny Henry's titles or jurisdiction, to speak or write maliciously against him, to call him a heretic or a schismatic.
More remarks that the "sweating sickness" has broken out among the troops in Ireland. Cromwell doesn't tell him that plague has, too, "or that the whole Irish campaign is a debacle and a money sink and that he wishes he had done as Richard said and gone out there himself." More asks about Tyndale, who is in hiding because on the continent "printers are branded and have their eyes put out, and brothers and sisters are killed for their faith, the men beheaded, the women buried alive." Cromwell urges More to take the oath.

"An idea has been floated that the infant Elizabeth should marry a son of France; the Boleyns really think this is going to happen." Anne is furious because she has learned that Mary Boleyn is pregnant and suspects that the king may be the father. Thomas Boleyn says, "She claims the child's father is William Stafford, and she has married him." Henry asks him, "My lord Wiltshire, can you not control either of your daughters?" Anne says that Mary "will sail about the court with her great belly, and pity me and laugh at me, because I have lost my own child."

Cromwell looks in on Mary, who is packing to move. Jane Seymour and Mark Smeaton are helping her. Jane Rochford is gloating, and says that her husband, George Boleyn, "will be sensible, as I am, that you have disgraced all your kin." Mary says that Anne holds on to the king with "whore's tricks" that don't "conduce to getting a child.... Seven years she schemed to be queen, and God protect us from answered prayers."

Cromwell's attraction to Jane Seymour continues. He feels restrained by his dead wife: "Liz, he thinks, take your dead hand off me. Do you grudge me this one little girl, so small, so thin, so plain?" With Mary leaving, Jane is returning to Wolf Hall.

Hans Holbein tells Cromwell, "The wives of England, they all keep secret books of whom they are going to have next when they have poisoned their husbands. And you are at the top of everyone's list."

Alice More comes to see Cromwell. She says, "my husband used to say, lock Cromwell in a deep dungeon in the morning, and when you come back that night he'll be sitting on a plush cushion eating lark's tongues and all the jailers will owe him money." She resents that More doesn't write to her but to her stepdaughter, Meg.

Henry gives Cromwell a new title: Vicegerent in Spirituals, "his deputy in church affairs."

Chapuys tells him, "There are rumors that La Ana is distraught. That Henry is looking at another lady." Cromwell reflects, "The fate of peoples is made like this, two men in small rooms."

Cromwell falls ill. When asked if he wants to confess, he's told that he should "or you will be thought a sectary." After a week, Christophe says, "they say le roi Henri is groaning as if he were in pain himself: oh, where is Cremuel?" The king comes to see him, awing the household. "Henry stretches out his arms and displays himself before the company: 'Forty-five in July.'"  Cromwell "notes the incredulous hush. It does the job. Henry is gratified." When Henry says he fears being invaded by the Emperor with Katherine on the Emperor's side, Cromwell says, "If that happens, ... I will be out of this chair and take the field, my own sword in my hand." After Henry leaves, Johane says,
"Henry is frightened of you."

He shakes his head. Who frightens the Lion of England?

"Yes, I swear to you. You should have seen his face, when you said you would take your sword in your hand."
Four monks are being executed: hanged, drawn and quartered, "the most horrible of all deaths." Henry asks Richmond, his illegitimate son, to attend. Richmond comes to Cromwell to ask him to take his place. Cromwell advises, "If you plead sickness, or fall off your horse tomorrow or vomit in front of your father-in-law, he'll never let you forget it.... Keep your eyes on the duke, and pattern your conduct on his." But Norfolk comes to Cromwell afterward claiming that one of the monks said "Jesus save us, poor Englishmen" after his heart was out.  Cromwell says this is impossible and that he knows so from experience. "The duke quails. Let him think it, that his past deeds have included the pulling out of hearts. 'I dare say you're right.' Norfolk crosses himself. 'It must have been a voice from the crowd.'"

Before the execution, Cromwell signed a pass for Margaret Roper to see her father, More. He tells More, "the men who died yesterday had followed your example, and refused to swear."

The pope elevates Fisher to cardinal. "Henry is enraged. He swears he will send Fisher's head across the sea to meet his hat."

Cromwell, Norfolk, Charles Brandon, Richard Riche and Audley go to see More in the Tower. More says he has heard that Tyndale has been arrested. Cromwell thinks, "Someone tempted him out of his have, and More knows who." More says, "The Emperor will burn him. And the king will not lift a finger to save him, because Tyndale would not support his new marriage." Cromwell says that when More accused men of being heretics and they would not talk, he tortured them. "If they were made to answer, why not you?" More does not recognize the law that would compel him to swear the oath. Brandon suggests that the king may not commute More's sentence to beheading from the more cruel method the monks suffered. "More quails; he curls up his fingers on the tabletop." Cromwell "notices this, detached. So that's a way in. Put him in fear of the more lingering death. Even as he thinks it, he knows he will not do it; the notion is contaminating." Cromwell threatens to take away More's books.

Anne Boleyn thinks that More's resistance is all about her: "he will not bend his knee to my queenship." Cromwell observes that Henry and Anne "are not the same couple from day to day: sometimes doting, sometimes chilly and distanced. The billing and cooing, on the whole, is the more painful to watch." When he says that putting More on trial will not be easy, Henry retorts,
"Do I retain you for what is easy? Jesus pity my simplicity, I have promoted you to a place in this kingdom that no one, no one of your breeding has ever held in the whole of the history of this realm.... I keep you, Master Cromwell, because you are as cunning as a bag of serpents. But do not be a viper in my bosom. You know my decision. Execute it."
When Riche reports that the books were taken away from More, who closed the blinds to his cell, Cromwell "can hardly bear it, to think of More sitting in the dark."

Cromwell visits More on the evening before Fisher's execution. He urges More to throw himself on the king's mercy, asserting that he is "not a cruel man." More replies, "He used not to be. He had a sweet disposition. But then he changed the company he kept." Cromwell notes the difference between them: More's mind is "fixed on the next world" with "no prospect of improving this one." It's the medieval man vs. the modern man. When he leaves, More has broken down at the prospect of being drawn and quartered. "Let me be killed cleanly. I ask nothing, but I ask that."

The night before the trial, Cromwell is visited by Dick Purser, "the boy whom More had whipped before the household at Chelsea, for saying the host was a piece of bread." Purser weeps, "in shame, in relief, in triumph that soon he will have outlived his tormentor."

At the trial, More shows contempt for Richard Riche, whom he calls "a gamer and a dicer, of no commendable fame even in your own house." It goes against him with the jury: "But are not drinking, dice and fighting more natural in a young man, on the whole, than fasting, beads and self-flagellation?" After More's conviction, Cromwell reflects on More's refusal to take the oath: 
It was loud with his treason; it was quibbling as far as quibbles would serve him, it was demurs and cavils, suave ambiguities. It was fear of plain words, or the assertion that plain words pervert themselves; More's dictionary, against our dictionary. You can have a silence full of words. A lute retains, in its bowl, the notes it has played. The viol, in its strings, holds a concord. A shriveled petal can hold its scent, a prayer can rattle with curses; an empty house, when the owners have gone out, can still be loud with ghosts. 
The novel ends with Cromwell and Rafe going to Wolf Hall to visit the Seymours.

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