Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. 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?

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

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.

  1. 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”

Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 1


Henry VIII c.1520.
Henry VIII c.1520.

Jonathan Foyle.

April 1509 Henry VIII takes refuge in the Tower of London.

Public image – kills Empson and Dudley.

Coronation = cloth of gold, jewels on horseback, Hall’s Chronicle, Thomas More – lawyer commissioned to make a speech, “golden age”.

Humanism influenced More and Henry, also chivalry – Erasmus,

Eltham Palace – Henry was raised away from the centre of London.

Glenn Richardson.

John Skelton taught him Latin, French, etc. Influenced by Margaret Beaufort and William Blount Lord Mountjoy.

New learning – grammar, rhetoric, morals, history. History of his own ancestors.

1503 Prince Henry was betrothed to Katherine of Aragon.

Strength of the Tudor family – influence, wealth, power. Demonstrated by buildings like King’s College Chapel.

Propaganda. Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘Henry VIII: Patron or Plunderer’ Part 1”