45. – 558.) Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel – I do not often seek out book prize winners but Wolf Hall, the 2009 Man Prize winner, was everywhere in bookstores at the end of last year and early this year. Universally well reviewed and featuring powerful characters from English history I was drawn to the saga.
Thomas Cromwell barely survives brutal lout for a father. His exceptional intelligence and a supportive sister allow him to escape from the village.
By the mid-1520’s he is a lawyer for Cardinal Thomas Woolsey, Chancellor of England for King Henry VIII. In this position Cromwell embodies the role of lawyer as counselor rather than advocate. He is a skilled adviser to the Chancellor manipulating the complex dynastic politics of the Tudor court.
With history having already determined the ultimate fate of the characters I had a continuing feeling of impending doom knowing the future of many characters as the King strives to end his marriage to Queen Catherine and wed the calculating Anne Boleyn. None foresaw the schism within the Church and resulting upheavals coming from that quest.
Anne Boleyn is Cromwell’s equal in royal maneuvering, patiently manipulating the king, coolly moving forward to achieve her goal of marriage to the king. Cromwell, in dealing with Boleyn, shows yet another lawyer’s skill in never compromising is representation of the Cardinal while maintaining a close relationship with the aspiring Boleyn.
Cromwell upholds a lawyer’s obligations to a client by remaining loyal to the Cardinal even when his client is cast aside by the King. While never compromising his loyalty Cromwell assists the King. Recognizing Cromwell’s blend of integrity and skill, the King makes this commoner his primary legal adviser.
In this position Cromwell reveals he is also a fine legal craftsman as he drafts the laws that eliminate the Pope as head of the Church in England.
Cromwell is the man who gets things done enabling the king to have his new queen.
With a new Queen in place and the Church under control Cromwell further demonstrates his overall mastery of the legal profession by his skillful advocacy in prosecuting Thomas More.
Seeing Thomas More portrayed as a cruel and rigid administrator fully ready, even eager, to burn as heretics the men and women wanting to read the Bible in English was a jarring contrast from More’s image in the movie A Man for All Seasons. He inexplicably becomes principled to the point of martyrdom after Henry has been made head of the English Church.
I did find the use of “he” rather than “I” by Mantel for Cromwell disconcerting in structure when Cromwell speaks as an “I” rather than a “he”.
Mantel does brilliantly portray a man who rises from humble origins to great positions because of his intelligence and physical presence. He moves comfortably among the aristocracy uncaring of their disdain for his background. Mantel’s Cromwell is a vivid figure. He loves his family.
Above all he is a consummate lawyer using all his many talents on behalf of his clients. I will be interested in how he deals with Boleyn’s trial in the sequel. Cromwell was a reluctant prosecutor of More whose stubborn refusal to compromise meant death. Cromwell will not be able to so easily justify his role in trying and executing Boleyn to allow the King to wed again.
From the author’s skill in portraying Cromwell as a lawyer I thought she might have had legal training. Reading about her after completing the book confirmed she studied law. Hardcover. (Dec. 3/10)
Curious about other views of More and Boleyn I turned to my Folio Society Notable Historical Trials to read of the trials of More and Boleyn.