Wolf Hall Questions and Answers
by Hilary Mantel

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In what distinct ways does Cromwell usher in the middle class and the rise of the "everyman" in Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies?

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Mantel depicts Thomas Cromwell growing up with an abusive blacksmith father in a household with no wealth or family connections. When he decides to run away from home as a teenager, Cromwell heads to Dover, having to work his way there by his wits. For example, he gets rides by helping people load their carts or calm their horses.

From the start, Cromwell prospers because he is smart, practical, and resourceful, not because he was born to wealth or a title.

The Tudors were the first monarchs in England to set up an expanded government bureaucracy. In this meritocracy, what you knew and could accomplish mattered as much as birth and patronage, giving Cromwell his chance to rise. He is an example of the everyman without an aristocratic title who becomes successful in this new world.

Cromwell is often excoriated and looked down on for his humble birth by aristocrats or wealthier people at court who scorn his background while envying his wealth and influence—and in the second book in the series, Bring Up the Bodies, he gets revenge on some of his enemies who brought down his mentor, Wolsey. His outsider status allows him to prosper—for example, he has no scruples about helping Henry VIII dismantle the abbeys and other church properties once Henry takes over the church. Yet it also leaves him dangerously isolated as he rises in power. The novels therefore show both the benefits and the pitfalls of rising from nowhere to the pinnacle of government power.

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