Wolf Hall Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary
by Hilary Mantel

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Part 1, Chapter 2 Summary

In 1527, Thomas Cromwell, now in his forties and a lawyer attached to Cardinal Wolsey, journeys back to London from Yorkshire. He has been observing conditions there on behalf of the cardinal, who is also the Archbishop of York but has never been there. Cromwell encounters Stephen Gardiner, who is also in the service of Wolsey but is Cromwell’s enemy. Gardiner sees him over the Thames to Wolsey’s residence.

Cardinal Wolsey teases Cromwell about two things: Cromwell’s imaginary demand for food out of season and his supposed immorality as he travels about the country. Cromwell is now married but lived with a woman in Antwerp when he was there. Wolsey also has a son as well as a daughter, although he took the vows of celibacy. His children are kept secret with his daughter in a convent and his son as a scholar.

Wolsey discusses with Cromwell King Henry’s desire to rid himself of his wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, who has failed to give him a living son during their eighteen years of marriage. Wolsey, blaming the queen for the lack of a male heir, has placed himself in charge of finding the king a more complacent wife.

Wolsey recounts for Cromwell Katherine’s arrival in England twenty-seven years previously. She had traveled along a rough journey and was kept in hiding when she landed in Britain. The old king demanded to see her, fearing that the Spanish monarchs had sent him a hideous monster to marry the British heir. He was, however, struck by her beauty, as was all the English court. Arthur, her intended, died soon after their marriage. Katherine was kept in England for seven years before Arthur’s brother Henry married her, although he was several years younger than she.

Now Henry seeks a release from the papal decree that allowed him to marry his brother’s wife. He claims that her marriage to Arthur was never consummated, and so he married a virgin. Now, he wants a woman who will give him a son. Cardinal Wolsey has several in mind. Stephen Gardiner is to be sent to Rome to ask the pope for an annulment.

Wolsey goes to bed, bidding Cromwell to write a letter to the Duke of Norfolk assuring him that he has not sent an evil spirit after him. Cromwell does so, although he also makes clear that it is the cardinal’s right to do so if he ever feels the need.