Wolf Hall  

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"In linking Cromwell with Camillo's innovations, Mantel explores the political power intrinsic to owning memory. Camillo was preeminent modernizer of memory and 'one of the most famous men of the sixteenth century' (Yates 1992: 135)."--Hilary Mantel: Contemporary Critical Perspectives (2018) by Eileen Pollard and Ginette Carpenter

‘Messieurs,’ he asks (music rising around them like a shallow tide, silver ripples of sound), ‘do you know of the man Guido Camillo? I hear he is at your master's court.’
De Selve and his friend exchange glances. This has thrown them. ‘The man who builds the wooden box,’ Jean murmurs. ‘Oh yes.’ ‘It is a theatre,’ he says.
De Selve nods. ‘In which you yourself are the play.’
‘Erasmus has written to us about it,’ Henry says, over his shoulder. ‘He is having the cabinetmakers create him little wooden shelves and drawers, one inside another. It is a memory system for the speeches of Cicero.’
‘With your permission, he intends it as more than that. It is a theatre on the ancient Vitruvian plan. But it is not to put on plays. As my lord the bishop says, you as the owner of the theatre are to stand in the centre of it, and look up. Around you there is arrayed a system of human knowledge. Like a library, but as if – can youimagine a library in which each book contains another book, and a smaller book inside that? Yet it is more than that.’
The king slips into his mouth an aniseed comfit, and snaps down on it. ‘Already there are too many books in the world. There are more every day. One man cannot hope to read them all.’

--Wolf Hall (2009) by Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall (2009) is a multi-award winning historical novel by English author Hilary Mantel, published by Fourth Estate, named after the Seymour family seat of Wolfhall or Wulfhall in Wiltshire. Set in the period from 1500 to 1535, Wolf Hall is a fictionalized biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII, through the death of Sir Thomas More. The novel won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.



In 1500, Thomas Cromwell, a young boy roughly 15 years of age, runs away from home because his abusive father, Walter Cromwell, nearly beats him to death. He decides to seek his fortune in France as a soldier.

By 1527 the well-travelled Cromwell has returned to England and is now a lawyer, a married father of three, and is highly respected as the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, with a stellar reputation for deal-making. His life takes a tragic turn when his wife and two youngest daughters abruptly die of the sweating sickness, leaving him a widower.

Cromwell is with the Cardinal in 1529 when the Cardinal falls out of favour with King Henry VIII due to his inability to negotiate an annulment between the king and his wife Catherine of Aragon. Cromwell manages to buy the Cardinal a little time before everything the Cardinal owns is repossessed and given to Henry's mistress, Anne Boleyn. Cromwell subsequently decides to relocate the Cardinal and his entourage to a second home in Esher.

Though he knows the Cardinal is doomed, Cromwell begins negotiations on his behalf with the king. During the course of his visits he meets the recently widowed Mary Boleyn, Anne's older sister, and is intrigued by her. Cromwell is eventually summoned to meet Anne and finds Henry's loyalty to her unfathomable.

Continuing to gain favour with both the king and Anne, Cromwell is shocked when he learns, a year after the event, that the Cardinal was recalled to London to face treason charges and died on the way. Cromwell mourns his death.

Despite his known loyalty to Wolsey, Cromwell retains his favored status with the king, and is sworn into the king's council after interpreting one of Henry's nightmares, about his deceased older brother, as a symbol that Henry should exert his power.

Cromwell continues to advise Anne, and works towards her ascension to queen in hopes that he will rise too. Just as the wedding appears imminent, Henry Percy, a former lover of Anne's, declares that he is her legal husband and still loves her. Though he knows what Percy is saying is true, Cromwell visits him on Anne's behalf and threatens him into silence, securing his position as a favourite in the Howard household.

King Henry takes Anne to France where, finally secure in her position, she and Henry marry in a private ceremony and consummate their relationship. She quickly becomes pregnant and Henry has her crowned queen in a ceremony which Cromwell organises with his usual perfection.

Historical background

Born to a working-class family of no position or name, Cromwell rose to become the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to the King. He survived Wolsey's fall from grace to eventually take his place as the most powerful of Henry's ministers. In that role he observed turning points of English history, as Henry asserted his authority to declare his marriage annulled from Catherine of Aragon, married Anne Boleyn, broke from Rome, established the independence of the Church of England, and called for the dissolution of the monasteries.

The novel is a re-envisioning of historical and literary records; in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons Cromwell is portrayed as the calculating, unprincipled opposite of Thomas More's honour and rectitude. Mantel's novel offers an alternative to that portrayal, an intimate portrait of Cromwell as a tolerant, pragmatic, and talented man attempting to serve King, country, and family amid the political machinations of Henry's court and the religious upheavals of the Reformation, in contrast to More's viciously punitive adherence to the old Roman Catholic order that Henry is sweeping away.


Mantel said she spent five years researching and writing the book, trying to match her fiction to the historical record. To avoid contradicting history she created a card catalogue, organised alphabetically by character, with each card containing notes indicating where a particular historical figure was on relevant dates. "You really need to know, where is the Duke of Suffolk at the moment? You can't have him in London if he's supposed to be somewhere else," she explained.

In an interview with The Guardian, Mantel stated her aim to place the reader in "that time and that place, putting you into Henry's entourage. The essence of the thing is not to judge with hindsight, not to pass judgement from the lofty perch of the 21st century when we know what happened. It's to be there with them in that hunting party at Wolf Hall, moving forward with imperfect information and perhaps wrong expectations, but in any case moving forward into a future that is not pre-determined, but where chance and hazard will play a terrific role."


Wolf Hall includes a large cast of fictionalised historical persons. In addition to those already mentioned, prominent characters include:


The title comes from the name of the Seymour family seat at Wolfhall or Wulfhall in Wiltshire; the title's allusion to the old Latin saying Homo homini lupus ("Man is wolf to man") serves as a constant reminder of the dangerously opportunistic nature of the world through which Cromwell navigates.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wolf Hall" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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