Wolf Hall Questions and Answers
by Hilary Mantel

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What effect does Cromwell’s upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights?

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Thomas Cromwell was a famed lawyer and advisor to King Henry VIII. He is known for being instrumental and a driving force in bringing about the English Reformation.

In Wolf Hall, a fictionalized biography of Thomas Cromwell is presented in which he is depicted in a heroic and righteous light. Cromwell is born of a relatively modest family and grows up to become a wealthy lawyer and, later, a close advisor to King Henry VIII. In the novel, Cromwell, as a child, witnesses the execution by burning of a person accused of being a "heretic." Supposedly this potent memory, as well as his modest beginnings, shape Cromwell's views of the elite society that he is an integral part of as an adult.

Cromwell is depicted as a man who is interested in reformations and welcoming to changes within Christianity and English society. He positions himself as one critical of the elite that he walks amongst and of the staunch traditionalist elements of the Church. At the same time, Cromwell is absolutely loyal to the King and does not question his absolute authority over the Church (King Henry VIII declares himself as the inherent head of the Church of England).

Cromwell is depicted as one who could be likened to a wealthy, politically moderate Christian who is loyal to both church and state, while also remaining politically and personally flexible to changes, particularly ones that benefit his own rise in power and wealth.

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