Monday, November 14, 2011

Wolf Hall

Thomas Cromwell was only a distant relative of the more famous Oliver Cromwell. I suppose we know most about him from A Man for All Seasons in which Leo Mckern played him as a fat and ugly villain against the saintly Thomas More of Paul Scofield.

Hillary Mantell's 2009 Booker Prize winner, Wolf Hall presents a very different figure. It is historical fiction, of course, but it does fit with my own prejudices. First of all, this is a wonderful read and I must try out more of her books.

Cromwell was the son of a blacksmith who was abused by his father. He left home at the age of 16 after a particularly bad beating. He went abroad and worked in the French Army and for Italian bankers and Dutch merchants before training as a lawyer. He was a very clever man who was fluent in nine languages including Welsh. It was said that he could recite the whole of the Vulgate New Testament in Latin.

On returning to England he made himself useful to Cardinal Worsley, the Lord Chancellor. Worsley himself was of lowly origins, being the son of a butcher. His means of rising in Society was through the Church; he became a Cardinal. Henry VIII got rid of him on the pretence of divided loyalties. In fact, it was because he could not secure him an annulment of his first marriage, something that Cromwell did succeed in, at the expense of divorcing himself from the Catholic Church.

I think that Cromwell was a true Reformer, albeit a pragmatic one. He supported Tyndale's testament in English and looked after, as best he could, the reformers within his merchant colleagues and among Cambridge scholars.

You have to consider Henry's position. It was only 25 years since the end of the Wars of the Roses and his position as King was easily threatened by Pretenders. The succession had to be secured. England was then a small country without the resources of France, Spain or the Holy Roman Emperor (basically Germany). He liked the glamor of war, but he couldn't afford to fight one. Cromwell's power base was his access to foreign loans, but how could they be repaid? Obviously from the dissolution of the monasteries, which were rich, corrupt and useless. Cromwell's Protestant heart was glad to dissolve them. Thomas More turns out to be an evil character, who was jesuitical in his reasoning, cruel to his opponents and unpleasant to his own wife.

The book ends with Cromwell powerful. More beheaded, and Anne Boleyn miscarrying. There will be a sequel.


Manu Manickvel said...

i always did like Cromwell too, doc, just for his attitude and shear guts.

Manu Manickvel said...

Why do you use American spelling, doc? Just because most of he world does? :(

Terry Hamblin said...

Because the majority of my readers do.

Manu Manickvel said...

Oops - i meant the sheer guts of Oliver Cromwell; and yes doc i do recall you mentioning in your blogs the reason you use American spelling...