By Charles Matthews

Friday, April 2, 2010

6. "Wolf Hall," by Hilary Mantel, pp. 77-95

Part II, II, "An Occult History of Britain," 1521-1529, continued, from "Now the cardinal's many bags are packed for France..." through "... A boatman whistled back from the river."
The cardinal prepares to leave for France and negotiations on the king's divorce, and talks to Cromwell about the mythic and real origins of the Tudors. Before he leaves, the cardinal also talks about his enemies, and the stories that he has "a ring which enables its owner to fly, and allows him to encompass the death of his enemies. It detects poisons, renders ferocious beasts harmless, ensures the favor of princes, and protects against drowning." Wolsey says he wishes he knew which one it was, and if he did he'd have one copied for Cromwell. And Cromwell tells him,
"I picked up a snake once. In Italy."
"Why did you do that?"
"For a bet."
"Was it poisonous?"
"We didn't know. That was the point of the bet."
"Did it bite you?"
"Of course."
"Why of course?"
"It wouldn't be much of a story, would it? If I'd put it down unharmed, and away it slid?
Unwillingly, the cardinal laughs. "What will I do without you," he says, "among the double-tongued French?"

The horrible event in the Cromwell household occurs after the cardinal leaves for France: Liz Cromwell dies, apparently of the plague that has been spreading in the summer heat. The household is put in quarantine, and Cromwell spends a month at home, reading. One of his books is by Machiavelli. "Someone says to him, what is in your little book? and he says, a few aphorisms, a few truisms, nothing we didn't know before." But no one else in the household, including his daughter Anne and Grace, gets sick, and when the weather cools in September the family can reunite to mourn Liz.

He recalls his return to Putney, where he met his father again and he him he was studying to be a lawyer, which angered Walter Cromwell: "If it weren't for the so-called law, we would be lords." Which, Thomas thought, was "an interesting point to make. If you get to be a lord by fighting, shouting, being bigger, better, bolder and more shameless than the next man, Walter should be a lord." He also recalls running away to Lambeth, where his uncle John was a cook for Cardinal Morton. "One of the pages was pointed out to him: Master Thomas More, whom the archbishop himself says will be a great man, so deep his learning already and so pleasant his wit." (Once again, the "whom" in that sentence should be "who.") More, he is told, is fourteen, which may be twice his age -- which he still doesn't know. "At Lambeth he follows the stewards around and when they say a number he remembers it; so people say, if you haven't time to write it down, just tell John's nephew. He will cast an eye on a sack of whatever's been ordered in, then warn his uncle to check if it's short weight."

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