Tuesday, 4 June 2013

The man Thomas Cromwell in the novel Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall seems to me a many-headed book, imagining a changing England, as it comes about though the influence of the King's favourite, master manipulator Thomas Cromwall. The court is probably in need of a revolution when he takes centre stage at the right hand of the king. It's a world where earls slimily ingratiate themsleves through spying and favours to get close to power. The intricate web of influence Cromwell weaves is built from his principles of balancing the books, a curiosity and a humanity that runs against many historical retellings of the character. My attempt to put these on paper is shown below.
Illustration © Richard Townrow 2013
The main draw of the novel for me is the strong characterisation of Cromwell, whether true or not. When someone needs to turn the tide of a political spat between Anne Boleyn and Henry VIII we know it is "he"; when Cromwell takes in young sons of other officials we know they are on the way to great things; when he dreams of the spectre of his wife Liz or pushes over former foes we identify with his losses and victories; often, we admire him, and often, we don't like him. He's as likely to ride roughshod over individual's conscience, and bend a man's will to fit his purpose to prop up the new queen and his new vision of England, as he is to show a generous hand with the power he accrues, assisting a French academic, helping abandoned widows, secretly supporting reformers as they spread copies of Tyndale's Bible (this last aspect being an invention of the author, I think). Either way he helps to forge a new England and the book is optimistic about that. It occurs to me that maybe, instead of being cynical about our country, we could ponder the kind of society we want to form - the kind that is diverse and progressive and comes to the aid of the underprivileged, and does not overlook injustice. Let's just not be too ruthless in pursuing our dreams...

No comments: