Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

bookshelves: published-2009, historical-fiction, lit-richer, autumn-2013, epic-proportions, re-visit-2015, winter-20142015, e-book, tv, tudor, booker-winner

Read from October 11, 2013 to February 25, 2015

Bettie’s Books

Re-visit via BBC2

Filmed at Berkeley Castle

Verdict after the first episode in the press is thumbs down but I enjoyed it.

1/6: Three Card Trick:

Thomas Cromwell’s patron Cardinal Wolsey is dismissed as lord chancellor and forced to flee his palace at York Place. The old noble families of England, jealous of their own right to advise the king, have long waited for this moment. His hopes of returning to the king’s favour lie with the ever-loyal Thomas Cromwell.

Eight years ago, when Cromwell started working for Wolsey, the cardinal made an enemy of Thomas Boleyn by chastising him for his daughter Anne’s far-from-virtuous reputation. As rumours circulated in court that Anne was secretly betrothed to Harry Percy, the cardinal insisted that no such match would be allowed.

Still lacking a male heir, the king is desperate for an annulment from his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, claiming she was not a virgin on their wedding day. To Cromwell’s dismay, the cardinal’s efforts to persuade the pope to grant the annulment are fruitless. An alliance between the pope and Katherine’s nephew, the holy Roman emperor, diminishes the cardinal’s position even further.

As Henry grows impatient, the pressure increases on the cardinal. To add to this, rumours reach the cardinal that the king’s new mistress is Anne Boleyn, who has sworn vengeance on him over Harry Percy.

Cromwell visits Anne, urging her that only the cardinal can secure what she wants, but Anne is unmoved. The duke of Norfolk, nervous of the cardinal’s continuing proximity to the king, insists that Cromwell tell Wolsey to travel north to his archdiocese in York. A desperate Cromwell finally meets directly with Henry, but the king is nothing if not ambiguous. Will he recall the cardinal or turn on him?

BBC 2: Wolf Hall Episode 2 of 6: Entirely Beloved: Cardinal Wolsey has been forced out of court to travel north to his archdiocese in York. For Thomas Cromwell, this is only a tactical retreat; in time the cardinal will regain the King’s favour. Wolsey urges Cromwell to find a way to get close to Anne Boleyn for she is the key to persuading the King to restore him.

Crromwell visits Thomas More and his family at their home in Chelsea. More is amiable but the atmosphere is tense. He is determined to clamp down on heresy and is convinced that Cromwell has Protestant leanings.

Anne Boleyn summons Cromwell, wanting to know if she has an ally in him. She is aware of letters sent between Queen Katherine and the cardinal which are tantamount to treason and is becoming impatient waiting for Henry. Cromwell observes her taking her frustration out on her ladies-in-waiting, including young Jane Seymour who Cromwell takes pity on.

The King starts to take notice of Cromwell. Henry admires his loyalty to the cardinal and appreciates the honest and open way Cromwell talks to him. An intimacy develops and Henry comes to rely on Cromwell’s advice.

There is then news from the north. The cardinal is arrested for treason by Harry Percy, a vengeful act for denying his betrothal to Anne Boleyn eight years earlier. The cardinal’s health deteriorates rapidly and he dies on the journey south to the Tower of London.

At court, a party is held to mark the demise of the Cardinal. Cromwell closely watches those that celebrate Wolsey’s death and as Cromwell is sworn in to the King’s Council, he swears vengeance on those that brought the cardinal down.

Episode 3: Although he has no official title, Cromwell is relied on more and more in the running of the king’s affairs. Cromwell manoeuvres a bill through Parliament acknowledging Henry rather than the pope as head of the Church of England. This is the first step in Cromwell’s plan for Henry to grant his own divorce from Katherine of Aragon.

A major obstacle to Henry’s marriage plan arises when Harry Percy’s wife claims her own marriage is unlawful on the grounds her husband had previously made a binding contract of marriage with Anne Boleyn. With the cardinal now dead, the Boleyn family looks to Cromwell to fix Harry Percy, a task Cromwell approaches with relish, remembering how Percy helped bring the cardinal down. As Anne and Cromwell become allies, Anne secures him a formal position in the king’s household. The king and his court, including Cromwell, head to Calais to meet with the French king, expecting that he will pledge his support of the Bill and Henry’s marriage suit.

At a dance, Anne flirts with the French nobility to Henry’s evident fury. She and Henry argue violently, but when they are reconciled Henry finally pledges himself to Anne before witnesses. Henry marries Anne upon their return to England and she is crowned queen. Even in her moment of triumph, and as Cromwell congratulates her, Anne knows the old noble families hate her and will never accept her. Anne is pregnant and leaves court to begin her confinement. She has achieved what she wanted, but it has come at a cost. As Cromwell is all too aware, Anne must now produce a male heir or risk suffering Katherine’s fate.

Episode 4: The Devil’s Spit: Anne gives birth to a baby girl, Elizabeth, and Henry does little to hide his disappointment. Anne is aware that her power in court rests on producing a male heir and in her paranoia cracks appear in her relationship with Cromwell. The ‘Holy Maid of Kent’, Elizabeth Barton, has been prophesising that if Henry marries Anne Boleyn he will die within the year. Cromwell’s spies know that she is touting new candidates for the throne – the old Plantagenet families whom the Tudors displaced and supporters of Katherine who are loyal to Rome. Cromwell interviews the Holy Maid but counsels the king to show mercy to her supporters. However, until Henry has a male heir, the Tudor line remains vulnerable. Cromwell decrees that everyone in public life must take an oath to recognise Henry’s supremacy as head of the church and the legality of his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Thomas More advises his family to take the oath but, despite pressure from Cromwell, will not take it himself and is committed to the tower. More is tried, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Cromwell did not want him dead – he wanted to bend More’s will and make him take the oath, but More’s stubbornness left him with no choice. Recovering from serious illness, Cromwell plans the king’s royal progress to include a trip to Wolf Hall, the home of Sir John Seymour and his daughter Jane.

Episode 5: Crows: The Act of Supremacy has declared Henry supreme head of the church in England. But the Holy Roman Emperor, and his ambassador, Eustache Chapuys, have refused to recognise either his new title or his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

Cromwell visits Katherine. She is growing frail and tired and she longs to see her daughter Mary. Cromwell pities Katherine and tries to persuade the King to allow Chapuys to visit her, but Henry refuses – until the Emperor acknowledges Anne as his lawful wife, Henry will not make any allowances on diplomacy.

With Anne pregnant again and away from court, Henry begins to take notice of Jane Seymour. The Seymours enlist Cromwell’s help in their dealings with the King.

Anne is aware that Cromwell is conspiring with the Seymours and reminds him that she made Cromwell who he is today. When Katherine dies, Anne celebrates – Katherine had always been blamed for Anne’s failure to produce a male heir and Anne is now certain her pregnancy will deliver a boy.

The King takes part in a jousting tournament and is nearly killed. Cromwell becomes acutely aware that he owes his position solely to Henry and that without the King’s support his enemies would destroy him. Mercifully Henry makes a full recovery but, in the shock at the news of his fall, Anne miscarries.

Henry fears that he will never have a son with Anne, convinced that she is cursed and that he was tricked into marriage by her. He wants a new wife and, as ever, Cromwell is tasked with delivering this.

6/6: Masters of Phantoms: Anne accuses Cromwell of betrayal when she finds out he tried to protect Mary and not Elizabeth at a time of crisis. But Anne’s power is dissolving rapidly and her enemies are gathering.

Anne argues with Jane Rochford but in her anger Anne divulges that the musician Mark Smeaton and the nobles Francis Weston and Harry Norris have all declared their love to her, a treasonable offence.

Jane Rochford takes great pleasure in reporting these events to Cromwell. She further insinuates that her husband George Boleyn’s unhealthy sexual appetite extends to his sister. Cromwell is dumbfounded by such accusations, but brings Mark Smeaton in for questioning. Smeaton foolishly boasts of his own exploits with the Queen, and under duress starts to spill other names including Norris, Weston and William Brereton. Cromwell now has enough information to act and these men together with Anne and George Boleyn are brought to the Tower of London.

As Cromwell visits each gentleman in his cell, he thinks back to Cardinal Wolsey’s demise and remembers how each of Norris, Weston, Brereton and George Boleyn had cruelly mocked his master. Cromwell has exacted the ultimate revenge.

Anne is also found guilty and sentenced to death. But with so many heads removed, who now stands between Cromwell and the King?

Thomas Cromwell Mark Rylance
King Henry VIII Damian Lewis
Anne Boleyn Claire Foy
Cardinal Wolsey Jonathan Pryce
Duke of Norfolk Bernard Hill
Thomas More Anton Lesser
Stephen Gardiner Mark Gatiss
Rafe Sadler Thomas Brodie-Sangster
Harry Percy Harry Lloyd
Jane Rochford Jessica Raine
Johane Williamson Saskia Reeves
Mary Boleyn Charity Wakefield
Richard Cromwell Joss Porter
Gregory Cromwell Tom Holland
Jane Seymour Kate Phillips
George Cavendish Robert Wilfort
Duke of Suffolk Richard Dillane
Henry Norris Luke Roberts
Thomas Cranmer Will Keen
Frances Weston Jacob Fortune-Lloyd
Sir Thomas Boleyn David Robb
Thomas Wriothesley Joel MacCormack
Mark Smeaton Max Fowler
William Brereton Alastair Mackenzie
George Boleyn Edward Holcroft
Writer Peter Straughan
Producer Mark Pybus
Director Peter Kosminsky

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