Wolf Hall Questions and Answers
by Hilary Mantel

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Why does More choose to die rather than accept breaking away from the Catholic Church? Would Cromwell be willing to die for his beliefs?

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In Wolf Hall, Mantel alters our portrait of the saintly Thomas More into something more sinister. More, in her portrayal, is willing to die rather than break away from the Roman Catholic Church. This is because he is a religious fanatic, a rigid ideologue with a narrow mind.

Cromwell is portrayed as the more humane figure in Mantel's telling. The child of an abusive butcher father and a self-made man, Cromwell is appalled at the lengths More is willing to go to in torturing people on the basis of their faith. As Cromwell reminds him when More protests he has harmed nobody, More hurt the Protestant Bainham very badly:

You forfeited his goods, committed his poor wife to prison, saw him racked with your own eyes, you locked him in Bishop Stokesley’s cellar, you had him back at your own house two days chained upright to a post, you sent him again to Stokesley, saw him beaten and abused for a week, and still your spite was not exhausted: you sent him back to the Tower and had him racked again.

Cromwell, who knows the New Testament by heart and is a learned and pragmatic Renaissance man, has little good to say about the hair-shirt wearing and, to his mind, vindictive More.

Cromwell is not willing to die for his beliefs: he is much more practical than that and would rather bide his time and get revenge on his enemies than throw his life away on a principle.

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