The novel starts off with a description of hawks soaring in the sky and swooping in to slaughter their prey. In the same manner, the novel closes off with an image of a fox attacking a hen coop. What is the significance of these animals and what do they symbolise?
Hawks tend to symbolise awareness, intelligence and a regal bearing. Possibly this is a sense of what is to come – the intelligent and ambitious Anne Boleyn losing awareness of her position as queen and what it relies on (Henry VIII’s love) and ending up being beheaded on the orders of her husband, the king. In the case of the fall of Anne Boleyn the fox represents Cromwell, and the hens are Anne and her faction who are brought down. However, this could also foreshadow what is to come for Cromwell when he becomes one of the hens, along with the rest of the reformist party, and they are attacked by the foxes (the conservative faction).
2. How has Cromwell’s upbringing influenced him to become the shrewd and ambitious man that he is? What is the significance of Cromwell refusing to adopt the coat of arms belonging to a noble Cromwell family even as he widens the chasm between his father and himself? How does Cromwell view family and how is it different from his own experience growing up?
I think the fact that Cromwell had such a difficult relationship with his father encourages him to get away and prove himself. He wants to be a better person than his father. I think this difficult relationship also enhances Cromwell’s ambition and desire for power – he wants to feel the power that he didn’t have when at the mercy of his father. Cromwell doesn’t want to be a part of the inherited nobility – his religious beliefs encourage the rise of self-made men, and promoting them on the basis of their abilities and not their wealth or title. I think Cromwell doesn’t want his own wife and children to experience the family life he had when he was younger – he tries very hard not to exhibit the same characteristics as his father did, and tries to create a happier home. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel”
What does Holbein’s portrait capture about Thomas Cromwell’s character that even Cromwell, himself, recognises? What kind of man is Cromwell? In the rapacious world of Wolf Hall, do you find him a sympathetic character, or not?
I think that Cromwell becomes more ambitious when he gets a taste of power. I think he likes to thwart those in power with his knowledge, like when Wolsey is demanded to give up the great seal. I think that Cromwell doesn’t come across as more sympathetic in ‘Wolf Hall’ than in other books featuring him, as we see the deaths of his wife and daughters, and the fall of his mentor in his own eyes, rather than the eyes of Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. I think he is a very caring person with a ruthless streak in his religious beliefs. I think Holbein’s portrait captures Cromwell’s essence in not flaunting his rising position, but still showing his power with the books and papers around him. It’s very clever that it’s not explicit, but it still shows the reined-in power.
What effect did Cromwell’s upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights?
I think that Cromwell’s relationship with his father affects a lot of his thoughts and actions now he is an adult. He seems to be very fixed on not ending up like his father, and having a better relationship with his children than his father had with him. He wasn’t brought up to a privileged way of life, so he can see more clearly than those at court the importance of promoting people for their abilities rather than their wealth and titles. He believes that, in the future, self-made men will have an important role in running the country, more so than the old nobility who represent the medieval period that has now been left behind – men like him represent the future. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel”
Henry VIII introduces Ambassador Chapuys to Jane Seymour, like it was her first time meeting him – she had been at court for some years serving both Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn, so would have met the ambassador before.
Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford, served as Jane’s principal lady-in-waiting – Jane Boleyn did serve under Jane Seymour, but the latter’s principal lady-in-waiting was actually her sister, Elizabeth Seymour.
Francis Bryan first appears in season 3 – he was actually active at court from 1528, and was instrumental in helping Cromwell to bring about the fall of Anne Boleyn, although this isn’t shown.
Francis Bryan threatening to beat Mary’s head against the wall until it was as soft as a boiled apple – these words were spoken to Mary, but it was before her mother had even died (season 2) and it wasn’t by Francis Bryan, but by either George Talbot or Thomas Howard, both staunch Boleyn supporters.
The women at the Tudor court all seems to wear crowns and tiaras – all women in the Tudor court would have worn hoods rather than these, even queens.
Parents: Walter & Katherine Cromwell (dates unknown)
Siblings: Katherine Williams / Elizabeth Wellyfed (dates unknown)
Noble Connections: Cromwell was first in the service of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, before moving into the service of Henry VIII. He was liked by Anne Boleyn, Henry VIII’s second queen, and assisted in achieving her marriage, as well as her execution 3 years later. His son, Gregory, married the sister of Henry VIII’s third queen, Jane Seymour. Cromwell also promoted the marriage of Henry VIII to Princess Anne of Cleves. Continue reading “Spotlight – Thomas Cromwell”
Throughout the book, Alison Weir shows how Katherine was raised to confirm to contemporary cultural and religious norms, and how this influenced her thinking and her actions. What impression did this make on you, and did it aid your understanding of her dilemmas and conflicts? Did this take on her story allow you to empathise more closely with Katherine’s choices?
I think that the standards and norms of 16th century England were very different to today. People believed very strongly in God and in the existence of heaven and hell and purgatory. They saw their lives on earth as a prelude to the afterlife. I think my background in history really helps me to understand the cultural and religious norms of the 16th century. I think that the understanding of the dilemmas and conflicts that Katherine faces in the novel depend on the contemporary culture and standards. You can’t understand Katherine’s motivations and feelings without understanding the context of the 16th century. I think that the emphasis on her religious devotions and the wellbeing of her soul were the central considerations for Katherine and understanding this made me understand more about what drove her to make the choices she did – she wasn’t being stubborn on purpose, she really believed she was saving her soul, and that of her husband. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – “Katherine of Aragon: the True Queen” by Alison Weir”
Tracy Borman, Thomas Cromwell: the Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2014) Hardback, ISBN 978-1-444-78285-1
Title: The title is pretty much what it says – a historical biography of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII’s servant, and the one that always managed to do what Henry wanted. Even when he was imprisoned at the end of his life, it was his evidence that enabled Henry to annul the Cleves marriage. He succeeded where Wolsey failed. Untold? You’ll have to read it to see what you think.
Preface: The preface includes a discussion of the influence of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies on the perception of Thomas Cromwell. This drives the need for a rehabilitation of Cromwell, not just seeing him as a villain. There is also a discussion of the popular Holbein portrait as a prelude to introducing the key sources. Key aspects of Cromwell’s character are also brought into play – pragmatism, loving husband and father, measured and ruthless.
Citations: There are clear citations throughout the text with links to the endnotes at the back of the book. There is plenty of information given within the endnotes – sometimes similar sources where you might find contrasting or supporting information, with all details so it is easy to track down. Endnotes are also divided down by chapter to make it even easier to find the section you want. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Thomas Cromwell’ by Tracy Borman”
David Loades, Thomas Cromwell: Servant to Henry VIII (Stroud: Amberley Publishing, 2014) Paperback, ISBN 978-1-4456-4001-3
Title: The title is pretty much what it says – a historical biography on Thomas Cromwell who, on the orders of Henry VIII, initiated the Break with Rome, arranged the execution of Henry’s second wife, Anne Boleyn, and the dissolution of the monasteries. He was definitely Henry VIII’s servant.
Preface: The preface is very short, only two pages long. It gives the basic background of how Cromwell grew out of Wolsey’s disgrace to become Henry’s chief minister, and showed him how to get his divorce away from the Roman Catholic Church. Nothing is mentioned about sources at all.
Citations: There are no footnotes at all. There are reference points in the text, and a list of endnotes at the back of the book. Plenty of information is given about the sources used, and the endnotes also include some information not necessary to the text, but that might prove interesting to readers looking for further information. Continue reading “Book Review – ‘Thomas Cromwell’ by David Loades”