Wolf Hall Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary
by Hilary Mantel

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Part 1, Chapter 1 Summary

In 1500, Thomas Cromwell, a young boy of Putney, England, is being kicked and beaten by his father, Walter, who is a local brewer and blacksmith. Thomas cannot fight back and is oblivious to pain because he hurts all over. All he notices is the knotted twine that ties his father’s boot together. When the twine breaks, Walter curses his son and leaves off.

Thomas sinks into unconsciousness. When he awakens, he finds that he has made his way to the door of his sister, Kat Williams. Since his mother died, Thomas has viewed Kat as his mother. Married into the powerful Williams family, Kat hates her father for his violent tendencies. Now only Thomas is left at home to be the target of his abuse. Kat’s husband, Morgan, always vows to beat up his father-in-law but never seems to get it done.

As Kat cleans up Thomas, she berates both her father and her husband. Thomas needs to go back home, he says, even if just to take care of his beloved dog, Bella. Kat tells him that he should stay with them from now on.

When Walter shows up at their door, however, Kat realizes that she and Morgan will never have a moment’s peace with Walter always demanding that his son be returned to him to beat again. Thomas will never be safe. Kat can tell from the wounds that Walter must have used some weapon, perhaps a piece of broken glass from a bottle. Morgan says that bystanders saw him use a piece of wood.

Thomas realizes that he must leave Putney and perhaps try to be a ship’s boy or a soldier. Morgan points out that he is too big as a teenager to be a ship’s boy, which requires the small size of a youngster to climb the ropes and get into small places. Thomas decides he will go to the continent and find where a war is being fought.

Morgan and Kat give him some money, promising to take care of Bella. Thomas sets out, trying to avoid being seen with his bruised face. He makes his way to Dover, where he encounters three Lowland cloth merchants. He helps them carry their bundles on board the boat crossing the English Channel, and they take him along as a member of their party. He tells them of his background, and they are horrified at how badly the English treat their children. Thomas wonders that there is a place where parents do not beat their offspring.

Kat had given him a holy medal to protect him. In the middle of the Channel, Thomas drops it into the sea.