Wolf Hall is the first installment in Hilary Mantel's trilogy about English statesman Thomas Cromwell. He became one of Henry VIII's chief ministers and served the king until, like many of the king's advisers, he became discredited and was executed at the Tower of London in 1540. Mantel's novels seek to make Cromwell a hero and, unlike popular tradition, he is held in higher regard than Sir Thomas More, who was also executed by the king. Mantel reveals three important values displayed by Cromwell, including family, loyalty and compassion.
Despite the fact Cromwell was brutally abused by his blacksmith father as a boy he is quite a loving father. In the books opening scene he is kicked and beaten by his father. Cromwell, however, displays none of these traits with his two young daughters who he reads to and encourages to be well educated. In one particularly poignant scene, which proves as foreshadowing, one of his daughters is wearing angel wings. He is also a loving husband. Unfortunately his wife and daughters succumb to the sleeping sickness which ravaged England in the 1520's.
Cromwell shows loyalty, first to Cardinal Wolsey. Cromwell is instrumental in securing suitable living quarters when the Cardinal is stripped of his duties as Lord Chancellor. He is also loyal to Henry and to Anne Boleyn. He works to secure the divorce Henry sought after Catherine of Aragon was unable to give him a son. He also becomes friends with Anne and secures her confidence in the midst of the political intrigue surrounding Henry's attempted divorce.
Cromwell is compassionate. In one of the book's most powerful scenes, Cromwell, as a boy, witnesses the burning of a religious heretic. It is a gruesome spectacle and Cromwell remembers it the rest of his life. As adviser to the king he advises against both war and executions. He even attempts to save More, who has firmly criticized and belittled Cromwell, from the executioner.
Mantel's second book in the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies, charts the downfall of Anne Boleyn. The Mirror and the Light, the third installment, has yet to be published.
Wolf Hall is a 2009 novel by English writer Hilary Mantel. It is also currently a BBC mini-series. The story takes place from 1500 to 1535. It is a historical fiction based on Thomas Cromwell's rise to power in Henry VIII's court. Cromwell was a key and important advisor to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, the advisor to the King.
The book and TV series both attempt to portray a more positive vision of Thomas Crowell (as opposed to traditional historical interpretations). Instead of portraying him as a calculated, evil man who became rich and powerful via bribery and deception, Wolf Hall portrays him as a smart man doing his best in a tough political and religious environment. The story is shedding a new yet fictional light on a dark portion of history through humanizing a key player in King Henry VIII's court.
Mantel, H. (2009). Wolf Hall. London: Fourth Estate.