Wolf Hall Questions and Answers
by Hilary Mantel

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Why is it meant as an insult when Norfolk calls Cromwell a "person" in Wolf Hall? What is it about Cromwell that frustrates members of the nobility so much?

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When Norfolk refers to Cromwell as a "person," he is being sarcastic. The nobleman is actually emphasizing his opinion that Cromwell is a "nobody" who lacks status. He is merely a person, not any sort of lord. Similarly, Norfolke is trying to dehumanize the man by implying that he is not a person but less than one: an animal.

In Hillary Mantel's characterization, Cromwell stands out for his many distinctive traits. The combination of intelligence, perception, shrewdness, and discretion make him very well suited to serve the king in this challenging period. He also understands that his loyalty to the king is the source of his power and that this very loyalty sometimes requires him to be brutally honest. Although he certainly fears death—especially after Queen Anne is executed—his survival depends on his appearing fearless.

By extension, however, Cromwell stands for the changing society, especially the increasing importance of the individual and the challenges to the power of the Catholic Church. The nobles understand that Cromwell is a threat because he has the ear of the king at a vulnerable point. The fact that Henry circumvents the establishment reveals the growing weaknesses in the structure. Cromwell threatens not one individual nobleman or adviser but the entire system.

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