Literature / Wolf Hall

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/wolf_hall_6488.jpg
Wolf Hall is a novel by Hilary Mantel told from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, one of Henry VIII's favourite advisors in the 1530s. It portrays him much more positively than most fictional depictions of Cromwell tend to, as a generally nice guy with extraordinary talents and a good sense of humour who just happens to occasionally do some morally ambiguous things to keep favour with his king. It won the 2009 Man Booker Prize, as did its sequel, Bring Up The Bodies, in 2012. A third book, The Mirror and the Light, is expected in the next couple of years.

Probably a reasonable paperweight, if you're going to abuse it in such a way.

It was made into a television miniseries in 2015.

This book has examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: The book opens with young Thomas Cromwell getting the stuffing kicked out of him by his father, Walter. It's not the first time and he's so beaten up his sister and brother-in-law are amazed he doesn't have anything broken. Since everyone in town is too frightened of Walter to do anything about it, Thomas leaves to seek his fortune outside the country.
  • Adipose Rex: Henry VIII's getting there. Hans Holbein at one point wonders whether it would be more appropriate to paint Henry as he was five years ago, or ten. Cromwell: 'Stick to five. He'll think you're mocking him.'
  • Anti-Hero: Cromwell. Or Anti-Villain. Or Villain Protagonist. It gets more and more difficult to tell as it goes on.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: When Thomas More defends his silent refusal of the Oath by saying that he thinks none harm and does none harm, Cromwell's reply is "What about Bilney? What about Bainham?"
  • Asshole Victim: All the men accused of being Anne's lovers in "Bring Up the Bodies".
  • Bait the Dog: Henry is initially shown in a much more positive way—still dangerously tempermental, but not the debauched tyrant history remembers him as. Cromwell has a genuinely favorable opinion of him, and Henry still worries whether or not he's a good enough king, whether he is right with God, and is actually quite charming and even caring at times. But More's comparison to the tamed lion is apt; the claws appear more and more. His affection is highly conditional and easily turns to hatred, he has old friends executed for mere disagreement, and when he turns against Anne he sends for the executioner even before her trial.
  • Best Served Cold: He manages to hide it well, but Cromwell never forgives Anne for her part in Wolsey's downfall. He allies himself with her and aids her in becoming queen while benefiting from her rise himself, but when she proves to no longer be useful he takes his chance to get her back for it. Similarly, he makes sure to note all the people involved in the "Sending the Cardinal to Hell" masque and conveniently chooses them to be executed for committing adultery and treason with her.
  • Big Brother Is Watching: This is, after all, the era which coined the word eavesdropping...
    • Call-Me-Risley is a spy for Gardiner and it's not a secret. Cromwell keeps him around because Risley is genuinely useful, he knows who the spy is, and he has hopes that he'll be able to turn Risley to his own side.note 
    • Cromwell himself plants his small army of intelligent young wards and apprentices as servants in the household of Henry's rivals. When the Poles and Courtenays plot to use Elizabeth Barton's prophecies to take the throne, they're all being watched.
    Cromwell: I wonder what you discussed.
    Lady Pole: I'm sure you do.
    Cromwell: Actually, I don't. The boy who carried in the asparagus, that was my boy. The boy who cut the apricots, he was mine too.
  • Big Screwed-Up Family:
    • The Boleyns are grasping and ambitious, more or less selling their daughter Mary to powerful men in hopes of increasing their own standing. Anne takes a lesson to be flirtatious but not actually promiscuous. Her brother and sister-in-law have an awful marriage, and when Anne loses Henry's favor, most of her male relatives turn on her like piranha, happily assisting in her downfall.
    • The Seymours have problems too. John Seymour had an affair with his daughter-in-law, leaving his son Edward in serious doubt about who her sons belong to, not to mention enraged. Edward and his brothers Henry and Tom both talk about Jane as a commodity. She and her sister, who are both basically reasonable, don't really like to spend time at home.
  • Bilingual Backfire: While they're both still working for Wolsey, Mark Smeaton speaks his native Flemish to discuss unsavory rumors of Thomas Cromwell's past. He wasn't trying to hide it specifically (as Cromwell was outside the room at the time) but he still surprises Smeaton by addressing him in Flemish years afterward and reminding him of that conversation.
  • Brain Bleach: When Lady Rochford says that George would mount a terrier if it wagged its tail at him, Cromwell's first thought is that he'll never be able to get the image out of his head.
  • Brother-Sister Team: Anne and George Boleyn. It doesn't go well for them.
  • The Chessmaster: Cromwell is extremely skillful in moving people around and makes a point of finding out the levers to make them tractable (most often debts), and he places spies with some care—he's unsurprisingly shown to be quite good at the game of chess itself. Wolsey is also shown to be pretty good at it, but underestimating Anne's determination and circumstances beyond his control (the war between the Emperor and the Pope) prove to be the trick he fatally misses.
  • Clean Cut: Averted with Anne's accused lovers. It takes three swings to remove George Boleyn's head, but the rest come off in one. Anne herself is executed by an expert from France who uses a specially-designed sword and a technique to misdirect the condemned so that they'll be best positioned for the strike. He does tell Cromwell that even he can't guarantee it if they aren't steady in position.
  • Composite Character:
    • Jane Rochford is given the role of supplying Cromwell with much of the 'evidence' against Anne and George Boleyn, in order that the reader doesn't have to cope with yet more characters.
    • In-universe. Henry informs Archbishop Cranmer and Thomas Cromwell that the French are now reporting on the activities of "Dr. Cranmuel." Then the narration shortly thereafter reads "Dr. Cranmuel left the room."
  • The Consigliere: Appropriately enough, since Cromwell is following a maxim he learned in Italy about choosing one's prince. He first gets Henry's respect by holding to his opposition to war in France, and when Henry says there are some who say he should consider the marriage with Katherine dissolve, Cromwell replies "I'm one of the others." That said, he has to be extraordinarily careful about when and how he presents disagreement to Henry, noting that it's better to phrase it with 'yes, and' rather than 'no, but', but he is one of the only people who can do it.
  • Conspicuous Consumption:
    • Cardinal Wolsey was known for his lavish style. Cromwell tends not to dwell on it because of his love for him, and the two of them had a game where Cromwell would price him by the yard—although Cromwell eventually admits to himself that it was a bit much. Others are quick to point out how expensive Wolsey's tastes were.
    • Cromwell enjoys being wealthy and shows it off particularly with the women of his household, all of whom are turned out in high-quality and expensive fabrics. (As a former wool merchant, the fabrics they wear have their price by yard noted in his narration.)
  • Corrupt Church: The Catholic Church and its involvement in the political squabbles of Europe. Cromwell is also unimpressed with the local aspects of the Church and even under Wolsey is stringent in pursuing cases of corruption in abbeys and monasteries, institutions which he considers to be corrupt by default.
  • Cunning Linguist: Cromwell knows Italian, Latin, French, Spanish, German, and Flemish. As a boy he picks up Welsh from his brother-in-law (and surprises him by giving the traditional Welsh goodbye), but he loses fluency in it when he's older. It all proves quite handy in his advancement since it increases his usefulness and makes him harder to deceive.
  • Cut Himself Shaving: Young Cromwell explains his bruised face to the priest running the church school as having walked into a door, and privately adds that it was a door named Walter.
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: The Duke of Norfolk enjoys making threats of this kind, starting with saying that if Wolsey doesn't leave pronto, he, Norfolk, will tear the Cardinal's bollocks off with his teeth. (Cromwell sardonically asks if he can substitute "bite" for "tear" and is told to substitute nothing, but he uses that modification later when threatening Harry Percy with Norfolk's retribution.)
  • Damned by Faint Praise: After returning from a long day working, Cromwell tells Liz that she's sweeter to look at than the Cardinal. She laughs that it's the smallest complement a woman has ever received, such a shame because he was working on it the whole ride back.
  • Damn You, Muscle Memory: Early in Cromwell's employment, Wolsey jokingly makes to grab him. Cromwell instantly backs into the wall and has to pull himself into the present from Tomasso, Tomas, and the other variants of his name he's been called in his twelve years of rough living, in which a shadow on the wall held a knife. It creates a rather awkward moment between the two of them, but the Cardinal's sincere apology also establishes him as a Benevolent Boss in Cromwell's eyes.
  • Death by Despair:
    • Cardinal Wolsey's sudden, fatal illness is portrayed as this, a not implausible conclusion given that it happened after he was abruptly charged with treason on the way to his exile in York.
    • Harry Percy collapses when Anne Boleyn is found guilty and prematurely declared dead. He'd already started drinking himself to death after Anne's marriage and did pass about a year after the trial.
  • Death Glare: Cromwell is able to knock people back just with a look.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: Cromwell carries every insult ever made to him and his. He remembers when Thomas More slighted him when Cromwell was a serving boy and More a young page, and although More gives him proportionate reasons for Cromwell's animus—namely burning some of his Protestant friends at the stake—Cromwell still thinks about that, too. He also remembers each man who took part in the "Dragging the Cardinal to Hell" masque and mentally labels each as the demon they played (left forepaw, etc) when he has them arrested on trumped-up charges of treason and adultery with Anne Boleyn.
  • The Ditz: Gregory Cromwell, in sharp contrast to his father, is guileless and somewhat gullible; Cromwell admits to a friend that Cambridge has done nothing for him and he's done nothing for Cambridge. Though the completely different way their minds work makes it hard to have a conversation that doesn't "bounce off at angles," Cromwell still cherishes him and is even pleased that Gregory has such an easy, gentlemanly nature. (He does eventually find mentors for Gregory who help wise the boy up a little, like William Fitzwilliam.)
  • Don't Make Me Destroy You: Cromwell's attitude towards Thomas More. He doesn't particularly want to kill him and tries to appeal to More's love of his family, downplays the importance of signing the oath by telling him to cross his fingers, sends in More's favorite daughter (that backfires since she's as righteous as he is), points out that being executed is painful, and at the end does everything short of sticking the quill in his hand and moving it over the page. More admits that he is afraid of dying, but he refuses all attempts at persuasion and maintains his loyalty to the Catholic Church.
  • Doorstopper: At 672 pages, it was the longest novel to win the Man Booker until beaten by The Luminaries in 2013.
  • Dramatic Irony:
    • All the fuss over Henry's quest for a male heir for one thing. At one point Cromwell thinks that there's no way the "ginger infant" (read: Elizabeth) will get the throne.
    • There's also Cromwell's desire to ensure Tudor stability to prevent another civil war—the War of the Roses is still in living memory and Plantagenet descendants are as plotting as ever. His great-nephew Oliver Cromwell would lead the rebels in the conflict that is now remembered as the English Civil War (though to be fair, he didn't actually start it).
    • Anne is fixated on marrying her daughter Elizabeth to a French prince, and if not that then making some sort of brilliant match for her. Once she grew up and became queen, Elizabeth would be legendary for choosing never to marry.
  • End of an Age: Cromwell contemplates the end of knights as no bad thing—wars are costly and destructive, especially ones where kings lead armies and possibly get captured for enormous ransoms, most displays of chivalry now happen at tourneys, and the world is run more from Antwerp and Florence than Whitehall; bankers are taking over. He demonstrates this most strongly when he successfully counters Harry Percy's threat of soldiers with a threat of creditors.
  • Everyone Has Standards:
    • Cromwell is happy to visit financial and legal ruination on people, but he doesn't like using physical violence if he can achieve his purpose another way. He visits a piece of astonishing cruelty on Harry Percy at the end of Bring Up the Bodies, but he remains seated while Harry is railing around the room because it keeps him from fetching the ill man a smack. He also finds the idea of torturing Mark akin to stamping on a dormouse and is the only one to treat Anne with some measure of dignity and courtesy—unlike her own relatives—even while he's busily setting up her scaffold. He's also somewhat disturbed at the climate of fear that he himself has created around court.
    • Henry VIII does some pretty awful things, of which having his second wife killed is only one. But he really is pious, he won't take a married woman as a mistress, and he's fussy about bad language.
  • Evil Parents Want Good Kids: More like "Morally Ambiguous Parents" in Cromwell's case, but he repeatedly talks about how he hopes Gregory won't have to get his hands dirty the way he does. He also tries to keep Gregory out of London while he's arranging Anne's demise, but Gregory turns up anyway because he wants to support his father.
  • Face of a Thug: Cromwell hears himself described as looking like a killer, and is troubled by and frequently thinks of this comment, including when he sees Holbein's portrait of him. Cromwell is very focused on the idea of "erasing" his past as a brawling urchin and refashioning himself as someone respectable and admired.
  • Fantasy Sequence: Cromwell uses these as a tool to plot out his next moves. The second book has him twice populating an imaginary banquet with the Boleyns' adversaries as he realizes Anne is losing favor (and in the second, the Boleyns are served up as the main course). It's highly detailed with placement of chairs, dialogue, and movement of servants; probably it's related to his memory system. There's also a less ominous one when he meets Helen Barre and mentally constructs a new wardrobe to replace her worn, tatty clothes.
  • Fever Dream Episode: Towards the end of the first book, Cromwell's narration gets rather loopy, starting with thinking he's told Christophe to do something while half-awake but soon devolving into nonsensical events as a delirious fever takes hold of him. While rambling, he blames it on the snakebite from Italy.
  • Forbidden Fruit: Henry's love for Anne has a lot to do with the Church not allowing him to divorce Katharine and Anne's refusal to let him sleep with her out of wedlock. After they're married, Henry is a lot less enamored with her (though it would have been different if they had been able to have a son). Chapuys' acknowledgement of her takes down the last barrier as it means Henry no longer has to spite the Holy Roman Emperor with his marriage and he disposes of her soon after. His attraction to Jane Seymour, who is Anne's apparent opposite but likewise refuses to have an affair, follows the same pattern.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Anyone with even a basic knowledge of Henry VIII's reign knows how things will turn out. The crucial appeal of the story is that the people in it themselves don't know that - as Hilary Mantell puts it, "These characters do not know they are in history."
  • Foreshadowing: In Bring Up the Bodies, there are hints ahead to Cromwell's fate. After Henry's public tirade Cromwell admits to himself that he can envision the day when his head will be on the block. When Anne is executed, Wriothesly opines that Cromwell could be contemplating treason against Henry for Wolsey's sake. Cromwell can feel "the dagger between his shoulders" and suspects that it was Stephen Gardiner who put the thought into Risely's head; Gardiner would indeed be one of the architects of Cromwell's demise.
  • Friendly Enemies: Cromwell and Chapuys - though they're not enemies per se, in that they belong to different factions but don't actively work against one another. Officially they hate each other, unofficially they send each other cooking from their households and Cromwell has stewardship of Chapuys' fancy Christmas hat.
  • From Nobody to Nightmare: Cromwell goes from an abused urchin to an autodidact who is one of the wealthiest and most powerful men in England.
  • The Fundamentalist: Thomas More, who tortures heretics in his cellars and presides over the burning of six Protestants during his tenure. More is also said to practice self-flagellation and wears a hair shirt, practices that make Cromwell (who knew several of the condemned men) to wonder who even makes such instruments.
  • Genius Bruiser: Cromwell was a brawler in his youth and spent some years as a mercenary in Italy, and while he no longer likes to solve problems using violence, he easily still could (and other people who interact with him know it). When people poke him in the chest it bounces off, and he's capable of dragging a large, half-armored man out of a room.
  • Glad I Thought of It: This is one of Cromwell's chief methods—he drops a few hints short of a full proposal, and a week later Henry is saying, "Cromwell, don't you think we should...?" Cromwell doesn't care about getting the credit; he just wants to get done whatever he's suggested.
  • Good Bad Girl: Mary Boleyn. She was the mistress to the King of France and then Henry; her children are purported to be Henry's rather than her late husbands (and given the son is a redhead, Cromwell finds this eminently plausible), and is described as "dispensing her favors" around the French court before doing the same at home. She also flirts with Cromwell quite a bit. However, her indiscretions are pushed on her by her family's ambitions and she's disgusted with their gameplaying and hypocritical treatment of her. Cromwell seriously considers her as a potential wife for Richard before Henry decides he needs her as a bedwarmer during Anne's pregnancy, but she takes matters into her own hands by eloping with a poor but loving knight and doesn't grieve much when Anne boots her out of court.
  • Good Parents: Cromwell is portrayed as a very caring, affectionate father figure to his own children as well his nieces, nephews, and wards.
  • Gratuitous French: Anne Boleyn, who lived at the French court with her ambassador father, is described as throwing a lot of French expressions into her speech and playing up her "foreignness" to seem more interesting.
  • The Hero Dies: Not yet, but guaranteed to happen in the last book in the trilogy, seeing as Thomas Cromwell was executed in 1540.
  • Heroes Love Dogs: Especially little ones that remind him of his childhood pet. When Anne is crying over her spaniel's suspicious death by falling, Cromwell entirely sympathizes and knows not to suggest getting a new one.
  • Historical-Domain Character: Pretty much everyone in the books, the exceptions being most of Cromwell's servants and a few more minor characters.
  • Historical Hero Upgrade: Cromwell. At best he's considered an amoral bureaucrat, but more often he's a backstabbing, ambitious Social Climber. Here he's portrayed as a family man whose acquisition of wealth is to make his family respectable and comfortable, whose opposition to the Church comes from sincere objections to their practices, and his questionable deeds and machinations arise from his intense loyalty to his first master, Cardinal Wolsey.
  • Historical Villain Upgrade:
    • It makes sense that Thomas More would be viewed in a negative light when the story is narrated by Thomas Cromwell. Maybe that's why the several references to Evil May Day don't mention that then-Undersheriff More speaking out in defense of the immigrants the rioters were rioting about.
    • As the author admits in the notes in back of Bring Up the Bodies, the popular characterization of Jane Rochford as enemy to her husband and sister-in-law is a retroactive construction made mostly from her involvement with Catharine Howard, Henry's fifth wife. She was given the task of providing the information against Anne to save the reader from learning even more names. In the afterword, Mantel recommends the book Jane Boleyn by Julia Fox for a more historical viewpoint.
  • Hypercompetent Sidekick: Cromwell gets himself into this position for everyone he works for, starting by setting his father-in-law Henry Wykys' cloth business in order. He later becomes Cardinal Wolsey's most valuable man and then, of course, Henry's. His official title for most of his tenure is "Master Secretary," which allows him tremendous latitude to do whatever Henry needs done.
  • I Am Not My Father: Cromwell goes to a lot of trouble to be the opposite of his own abusive, alcoholic father, so much so that Liz says he's actually spoiling their children.
  • I Do Not Speak Nonverbal: Wolsey tears Thomas Boleyn a new one over Anne's behavior, unaware that the family is in Henry's favor because he's taken Mary as a mistress. Cromwell despairs that there's no easy hand-signal for "Back off, the king is fucking his daughter" and wonders why the Italians haven't come up with one.
  • I Have to Go Iron My Dog: At one point, Cromwell tells Chapuys he put off the French ambassador because he was busy playing bowls with his household. At first it seems like a jest and a show that Chapuys doesn't have to worry about France, but when the French ambassador shows up later it turns out that really is what Cromwell said—the first thing the ambassador says is "not playing bowls again?"
  • I Meant to Do That: Cromwell is summoned to Henry's bedchamber in the middle of the night and finds the king distraught about a dream he'd had in which his late brother appeared to him. Henry feels that his brother was reproaching him, but Cromwell (who badly wants Henry to regard him as a Hypercompetent Sidekick) suggests that the brother was urging Henry to become the best king he can be and throw off the power of the church. Henry, who is a bit of a ditz, cheers up immediately and says "I always send for the right people."
  • Implausible Deniability: Toyed with. When Francis Weston repeats a funny story about how Cromwell locked the doors on the jury at More's trial and threatened to withhold their supper until they gave a guilty verdict, Cromwell doesn't say anything to contradict it because it's close enough to what he actually did.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: The first thing Cromwell does after escaping Henry's rage is to find a goblet of wine and a chair to sit down in.
  • Interrogated for Nothing: Mark Smeaton. Cromwell knows he didn't really sleep with Anne Boleyn, but he needs people to convict. The fact that Mark took part in the 'Sending the Cardinal to Hell' masque really didn't help his case, either.
  • Interrupted Intimacy: Cromwell suddenly calls Helen Barre out of the house so she can help Cranmer's secret and pregnant wife. She appears in the midst of putting her cap back on, and Rafe is right behind her, also disheveled and quite angry that she's being so abruptly dragged off. Cromwell is so preoccupied that the significance of this doesn't even register until six months later.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Gregory is a nice kid, but he hurts his father's feelings without meaning to from time to time.
  • Is That a Threat?: Both variants of this occur between Cromwell and More, starting with the latter.
    • More tells Cromwell that he's aware Cromwell is corresponding with Tyndale and not to think he can get away with it because of his position.
    Cromwell: Are you threatening me? I'm just interested.
    More: ...Yes. That is precisely what I'm doing.
    • After More resigns and says he will "write and pray" in retirement, Cromwell says this.
    Cromwell: My reccomendation: write only a little, and pray a lot.
    More: Now is that a threat?
    Cromwell: My turn, don't you think?
  • It Is Pronounced Tropay: At their first meeting, Thomas Wriothesley makes a point of informing Cromwell that “My name is Wri-oth-es-ley, but wish to spare you the effort, you can call me Risley." This leads to a Running Gag shared between Cromwell, Rafe, and Richard, as nearly every time after that they speak of him, they refer to him as "Call Me Risley" or just "Call Me".
  • Joker Jury: Several of the men Cromwell places on More's jury have a deep personal grudge against the former Lord Chancellor, having suffered lost property or tortured friends to More's anti-heretical activities. When the other judges protest that they might try and find a jury that is actually impartial, Cromwell brushes it off by saying they'd probably have to go to Wales for that (and also Henry will not be happy if they don't get a conviction).
  • Kangaroo Court: Thomas Cromwell presides over two: that of Sir Thomas More, and later Anne Boleyn and her five "lovers". There's no question of actual justice being involved; the trials are held because Henry wants them out of his hair and killing them is the quickest way to do that. Cromwell uses Anne's trial to get his own private revenge on the five men who he blames for Cardinal Wolsey's death, but he's also driven by the knowledge that he'll lose his own head if he doesn't do this, and so works up a "case" based on rumors and false confessions. (And when it happened anyway four years later, he didn't even get the courtesy of a sham trial.)
  • Kick Them While They Are Down: In a non-violent but still undeniably cruel version of this trope. Cromwell tries to get Harry Percynote  to recant his recantation of a precontract with Anne Boleyn so it can be used as an excuse to annul her marriage with Henry. Percy refuses in an effort to retain one shred of self-respect and says that Cromwell can't twist his arm this time—Percy's wrecked his marriage, has no heir, and he's already dying from drinking nonstop since losing Anne. So, Cromwell appoints him to be one of Anne's jurors—if he and Anne were never married, there's no legal impediment, and her fate should mean nothing to him! Percy wails as Cromwell leaves the room.
  • Language Fluency Denial: Cromwell has developed a fluency in a number of languages, which he often puts to use in his professional life. However, early in the novel, Cardinal Wolsey inquires about Cromwell's knowledge of Castilian Spanish for a mission involving Henry VIII's attempts to divorce Catherine of Aragon. While Cromwell actually is fluent in the language, he pretends to have only basic knowledge because he knows that the assignment would not bode well for his advancement.
  • Like a Son to Me: Cromwell treats his ward Rafe like his own son, and indeed they're closer to each other as Cromwell can mentor him in politics (his own son, who's away at school anyway, isn't quite as clever). When his brother-in-law Morgan Williams dies, Cromwell takes his widow and sons into his household, accepting Richard's request to change his surname to Cromwell. Later he takes in his late sisters' children and treats the girls as daughters.
  • Macho Masochism: Cromwell remembers an incident from his soldiering career in Italy where on a bet, he picked up a (potentially poisonous) snake with the intent of holding it for 10 seconds. It bit him early in the count, but he kept on holding it. After that, no one dared cross him.
  • Malicious Misnaming: Anne Boleyn always referring to Cromwell as "Cremuel" seems to be this. While this does appear to be how a French person would pronounce the name - Chapuys also pronounces it this way - since Anne is a native English speaker (despite spending time in France), it is implied to be a deliberate slight.
  • Malicious Slander: Lady Rochford is a spiteful gossip and she's been known to fabricate tales to spread around court. It's left unsaid if her accusations against her husband and Anne were true or not.
  • Marry for Love:
    • Mary Boleyn secretly weds the poor but kind William Stafford and refuses to be criticized for it. In fact, getting banished from court is almost an Unishment—she later writes asking her family to relent and send some money, but says that she'd rather be begging for bread with a man she loves than the greatest Queen in Christendom.
    • Rafe Sadler marries Helen Barre, a widow working in the Cromwell household, and keeps it secret until her pregnancy makes him confess. Cromwell is at first astonished that Rafe would completely ignore all practical considerations in marrying and says so, but soon comes around and says he'll convince Rafe's father that it's all right (since working for Cromwell has made Rafe quite a wealthy young man).note 
  • Marriage of Convenience: Something like this for Cromwell and Liz. After he proves himself an able and trustworthy business partner to her father, he shows his appreciation by suggesting Cromwell marry the widowed Liz, who's been wanting a new husband anyway. Liz is amenable and it turns out to be a happy union, but her father is still rather nonplussed when they decide to talk about the matter first.
  • The Mentor: Cromwell credits Wolsey with teaching him how to navigate Tudor politics, and remains loyal to him throughout his disgrace and after his death. When he's faced with a difficult situation, his first thought is frequently "what would the Cardinal do?"
  • Mysterious Past: Between leaving England at roughly fifteen (after reportedly stabbing and killing someone) and returning to it about a decade and a half later, we know very little about what Cromwell was doing; we know he completely changed as a person, visited many European cities, and fought in a war (for the French!) but he refuses to talk to anyone else in any detail about anything he saw or did in those years. Wolsey further complicates things by making up outrageous statements about Cromwell's past misdeeds. In a later conversation with Chapuys, Cromwell has to correct him about being raised by pirates, and Chapuys seems rather disappointed.
  • Never My Fault: Henry isn't in the habit of taking responsibility for his regrets. Years after Cardinal Wolsey's death, Henry still speaks about him with a degree of regard—as though, Cromwell puts it, it was some other monarch who'd hounded him to death.note 
  • Never Trust a Title: Although Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymours, virtually nothing that happens in the first book takes place there, and the Seymours themselves don't really become significant until Bring Up The Bodies.
  • Nice to the Waiter: Cromwell is ruthless to his adversaries but habitually kind to anyone in a lower social position than himself. He also has a penchant for showing more care if he's dealing with women whom he's working against in every other manner, like Katherine and Mary. Cromwell specifically makes a point of looking for intelligence and ability among people seeking charity from his house, since he's mindful of how a few helping hands at the right time helped him to his present position.
  • No Doubt The Years Have Changed Me: Cromwell pulls an extremely petty version of this on More. The two first met when More was 14 and Cromwell 7, and Cromwell was one of several servants waiting on various pages/scholars, including More. One day, Cromwell asked More what he was reading and More blew him off with a joke at Cromwell's expense. Cromwell brings up this incident to More many years later, when More is imprisoned, and More (understandably) has no recollection of it. When More has been defeated, Cromwell thinks to himself, "You didn't remember me but I remembered you."
  • No True Scotsman: Cromwell is always being insulted as possibly Irish, possibly Jewish,note  more Italian than English, a misplaced commoner among the gentlemen of the court, heretic, sectary, etcetera etcetera etcetera.
  • Not Helping Your Case:
    • Cromwell wants to bury his disreputable past and establish himself and his family as respectable, but he still makes use of his dark reputation and physically imposing presence whenever it would be useful in achieving whatever end he's after... and it's often useful.
    • He's also appalled that Risley thinks he could extend his vengeance for Wolsey to Henry himself. Cromwell is loyal to Henry (despite being aggravated whenever Henry acts like Wolsey's death had nothing to do with him), but given what he did to Anne and the "demons", it's not that unreasonable a conclusion.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: Cromwell extracts a confession from Mark Smeaton not through torture but when Christophe locks him in a storage closet at night. It happens to be the one Cromwell keeps his Christmas star in, the big metal one that has cloth sleeves over its sharp gilded tips. Christophe once mistook it for an instrument of torture, and poor Mark does the same. Cromwell also advises Risley not to get specific—Smeaton knows there's a Tower and there's a rack inside of it, so sitting in the dark and making vague allusions ("we'll write down what you say but not necessarily what we do") is more than enough to get what they need.
  • Obfuscating Stupidity:
    • Jane Seymour presents herself as a naive Shrinking Violet while serving in Anne's household. While she does seem to be a genuinely kind girl, she's much cleverer than she lets on, and her true savvy is seen when talking to Cromwell, when she's at home at Wolf Hall, and most importantly when she realizes she's now the focus of Henry's affection. Her sister says she's waiting for any man to tell her what to do, but not necessarily to listen to him.
    • Gregory Cromwell, who's rather guileless, gets a long look by his father after responding earnestly to a question asked in jest. Gregory admits that he's not that gullible anymore but he still pretends to be since it amuses people and they expect it.
  • Oblivious to Love: When Helen Barre asks Cromwell just how sure he is that her disappeared husband is dead so that she's free to marry again, he just answers that he's very sure and goes on with his other business. It's not until months later, after she's married Rafe, that Cromwell realizes she wanted to be free to marry him. One of the few times he misses a trick.
  • Off with His Head!: Bishop Fisher and Thomas More are beheaded in the first book. Anne and George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Mark Smeaton, Will Brereton, and Francis Weston are all beheaded in the second. And presumably the third will end with the beheading of Cromwell himself.
  • Oh Crap!:
    • After Henry's jousting accident, Cromwell has the uncomfortable realization that Henry is his only real ally in court—anyone else who could have taken power if Henry had died would be highly inclined to kill him regardless of his abilities.
    • Several of the people who had a hand in Wolsey's disgrace and downfall - such as Anne, Henry Norris and Charles Brandon - have this reaction when they realise that Cromwell has not forgiven or forgotten, and is driven at least partly by revenge.
  • Oh My Gods!: In keeping with the setting, characters frequently utter oaths in reference to Jesus and various saints. In some cases, these are blasphemous (i.e. Walter Cromwell's exclamation of "Creeping Christ"; Norfolk's swearing by the "thrice-beshitten shroud of Lazarus"; Cromwell's swearing by his patron saint and referencing the "bleached bones of Becket").
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business:
    • George Cavendish is truly alarmed when he starts chatting to Cromwell and realizes he's crying, having finally reached the breaking point between the death of his family and the prospect of losing everything he's worked for in Wolsey's fall from grace.
    • Cromwell realizes that Henry is seriously attracted to Jane Seymour when they're talking about someone's minor health complaints and Henry ignores the opportunity to go on at length about home remedies.
  • Papa Wolf: When one of his apprentices expresses a fear of Thomas More after delivering a letter from Tyndale, Cromwell says he would beat More's head against the cobbles to let in "some of God's love" if More tried to arrest a member of his household. Cromwell also shuts down, in a rather threatening manner, someone jawing about Thomas Wyatt's infatuation with Queen Anne.
  • Parental Substitute:
    • Nephew Richard says that with his own father dead, Cromwell is his father now, and asks that he be allowed to use his surname from now on.
    • Cromwell sometimes thinks back on Wolsey not only as his master but his father.
    • Any reasonably intelligent but poor male child in the vicinity of Austen Friars tends to get swept into the household (at one point he has an entire choirful of boys). Cromwell is always conscious of how he rose from a Putney urchin to the King's right hand and is eager to give other young men opportunities to surpass their origins.
  • Perspective Flip: Hillary Mantel has explicitly described these books as what the familiar story of Henry and his divorce would look like from Thomas Cromwell's point of view.
  • Pet the Dog: Norfolk shows one bit of kindness towards Cromwell by asking "all right, lad?" the day after Henry bawled him out in public.
  • Photographic Memory: Cromwell picked up a "system" as a young soldier in Italy wherein one can remember things with precision by associating them with specific sensory experiences, and this plays out in how Cromwell's memories of past events are tied to specific objects and experiences (i.e. a type of fabric). Cromwell has also memorized several texts, including the Bible in Latin and in one scene, inquires about resuming a chess game started several years previously, offering to place the pieces precisely where play left off.note  It also helps him not to forget insults, ever.
  • Planet of Steves: There's numerous Thomases in the story, including but not limited to Thomas Cromwell, Thomas Wolsey, Thomas Boleyn, Thomas More, and Thomas Cranmer. This gets a Lampshade Hanging in one scene where Wolsey has his first meeting with Boleyn and Boleyn takes note of Cromwell. Cromwell thinks to himself that Boleyn will not remember him, because "half the world is named Thomas". There's also several Henries, including the current monarch, and the fact that Cromwell's sister-in-law Johane is married to a Jonathan and has a daughter called Jo. There's also a scene where Cromwell is lusting after Elizabeth Seymour and is relieved to learn that she goes by Bess, which allows him to separate her from his late wife, also named Elizabeth, but who went by the nickname Liz.
  • Pragmatic Villainy: Depending on how you view Cromwell. While he disapproves of pointless cruelty, his biggest objection to torturing Mark Smeaton isn't that it's cruel and unusual, but that it doesn't work:
    "No one wants your pain, Mark. It's no good to anyone, no one's interested in it. Not even God himself, and certainly not me. I have no use for your screams. I want words that make sense. Words I can transcribe."
  • Precision F-Strike: When trying to get into the room to do some damage control with Henry at Christmas, Cromwell is accosted by a couple of Henry's gentlemen of the privy chamber goofing around in costume. Outwardly he remains as calm as ever, but his internal monologue indicates how pissed off he is:
    Prime Christmas game: let's fuck about with Cromwell.
  • Psycho Sidekick: Cromwell's apprentice Christophe fits this trope quite nicely, as he's completely amoral and is devoted to Cromwell largely on the basis of seeing him as a fellow cutthroat. Christophe's skills are put to work teaching Cromwell's other apprentices to fight (including how to fight really dirty), as well as getting Mark Smeaton to talk based on threats to leave him alone with Christophe.
  • Rags to Riches: See From Nobody to Nightmare. Cromwell started life as the son of an improvident brewer doing manual labor and ended it as a wealthy and powerful nobleman. And as per history, he raised up his family in the process. His nephew Richard was the son of brewer and would-be-lawyer Morgan Williams, and with his participation in Cromwell's Dissolution of the Monasteries, he ended up as a wealthy courtier (incidentally, Richard was the great-grandfather of Oliver Cromwell).
  • Replacement Goldfish: Cromwell is continually trying to create substitutes for the loved ones he's lost in his life, starting with his dog. The Bella he leaves at the start of the book wasn't the first one, and every small dog he keeps as a pet acquires the name; there is a reference to his nieces walking the current Bella. After Liz dies, he has an affair with Johane and frequently conflates her with her sister. He later names his falcons after his deceased wife, daughters, and sisters (which his hunting partners find odd). Cardinal Wolsey is the only one he doesn't try to somehow replace, probably because he's busy getting revenge instead.
  • Revenge by Proxy: Cromwell warns Gregory not to go wandering around London when Anne and her alleged lovers are imprisoned since they're still popular and it's well known that Cromwell is the one responsible for their imprisonment.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Cromwell has a habit of answering questions that the speaker only meant rhetorically (or was plainly expecting a different answer to).
  • The Rival: Endless and numerous rivalries abound, but Stephen Gardiner is Cromwell's nemesis, starting from their days working for Wolsey. Cromwell attributes its origin to a couple of things—Gardiner's shaky connection to the Tudor family and being pushed into the Church giving him a bad attitude, and he can't escape being the son of a cloth merchant around a man who knows every cloth merchant in England. Whatever the cause, Gardiner despises Cromwell and would be involved in his downfall in 1540, along with Norfolk.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Connections!:
    • Cromwell is afforded some degree of protection for his participation in secret Tyndale gospel meetings because he's working for Cardinal Wolsey; there's an unspoken understanding between the two of them that a little heresy is Cromwell's reward for being such an excellent and capable right hand. (Cromwell also warns his companions when a raid is likely to happen because of the names Wolsey merely mentions.)
    • Inverted with Thomas Wyatt, whose father had asked Cromwell to keep an eye on him. Wyatt had a well-known crush on Anne and wrote poems that were probably about his unrequited love (though vague enough to escape official scrutiny). Cromwell refuses to arrest him until others finally convince him that he can't avoid it. Even then he keeps Wyatt in the Tower so that nobody will try conducting their own "interrogations" and keeps his case separate, hoping that the trial and execution of the other five will be enough to take the heat off. It does, and he releases Wyatt unharmed a little while later. More "screw the rules for my connections."
  • The Scrooge: Henry is willing to pour fortunes into his military campaigns, but when it comes to the women in his life he can be much more stingy. He tries to get hold of Katherine's fine furs and plate after she dies even though — as Richard Riche points out — if he was never legally married to her, he's not entitled to her property. When he sends Jane Seymour a courting gift of a prayer book, her face falls as she sees that it still has the initials H and A on the cover. As Cromwell makes excuses, saying the A can be replaced, he notes that you can still see where the K used to be, meaning Henry's used the same gift for three different women.
  • Secret Relationship:
    • Rafe somehow manages to marry Helen Barre without Cromwell even noticing. Both men are pretty astonished that such a thing was possible.
    • Archbishop Cranmer reveals that he's secretly married Grete, the niece of German reformer Andreas Osiander, and has smuggled her into England because she's pregnant. Cromwell's reaction is basically Oh Crap! before he runs off and grabs Helen to help her out.
  • Shown Their Work: The books are filled with details about the exact make-up of Tudor England.
  • Sickeningly Sweethearts: Henry and Anne simper and coo over each other whenever they aren't acting like the Bickersons—Cromwell prefers the latter to the former, though he didn't realize how that would end.
  • Sidetracked by the Analogy: When thinking about More's execution, Cromwell describes it as walking down the road next to a man only to find he's plunged into a deep watery hole. Then he starts thinking that he'd better allocate some funds to road repair because that actually happens a lot.
  • Smart People Play Chess: Cromwell's chess game is very good, and he teaches Rafe. They end up unable to play each other without hitting a stalemate because they know each other's game so well. Cromwell also pulls off a Surprise Checkmate against one of the Seymour boys in Calais, and repeats it later after Seymour claims he was distracted by Cromwell's inquiries about Jane.
  • Smug Snake: Anne and George Boleyn try to order Cromwell around on the basis that they made him what he is today. Not his own considerable talents or his service as Wolsey's right hand man. And he certainly didn't make them by being the one to successfully break Henry's marriage to Catharine, oh no.
  • Spare to the Throne: Even twenty years into his reign, Henry hasn't quite shed the insecurity that came from his brother's death, hence the dream in which he thought Arthur was reproaching him for taking his kingdom and his wife.
  • Speak Ill of the Dead: The obscene masque that depicts Cardinal Wolsey being dragged to Hell. It's crude enough that one women has to leave the room to be sick.
  • Spell My Name with an "S": Many of the names are given their early modern spelling rather than the contemporary one—Ralph Sadler is Rafe, Elizabeth Wykes is Wykys. Also, Catherine of Aragon is spelled as Katherine (which is how she spelled it in her signature).
  • Talkative Loon: After his night in the Christmas closet, Mark babbles out the name of every man in England when asked to name Anne's lovers. He ends up accusing her of adultery with her own husband.
  • Talking to the Dead:
    • Cromwell often addresses Wolsey in his thoughts, wondering what his former master would make of some event or asking his advice.
    • He finds himself sometimes holding mental debates with More only to pull himself up short as though he's forgotten More is dead.
  • Tempting Fate: When Anne is about to give birth, Cromwell advises the men drawing up the proclamations to leave a little space in case they need to add an ss to the word prince. They don't. They should have.
  • Title Drop: Wolf Hall is an alternative spelling for Wulfhall, an estate owned by the Seymours. It comes up a couple of times towards the end.
  • Take That: Thomas More is portrayed as being a religious fanatic and extremely controlling towards his wife and family, in contrast to his generally very positive portrayal in other media. The book feels like a deliberate counterpoint to A Man for All Seasons, a comparison that's invited when Cromwell compares the situation to a play in which More is waiting for them all to trip over their lines, and later says that he's probably writing an account in which he, Cromwell, will be the fool and oppressor while More is the innocent victim with "a better turn of phrase."
  • This Cannot Be!: Anne and the four noble men accused as her lovers can't accept the reality of what's happening to them for quite some time, though at different speeds (Weston comes to grips with his hopeless situation soon into Cromwell's interrogation). Anne keeps looking up at the Tower until she ascends the scaffold, and even the constable of the Tower of London admits he was expecting a Last Minute Reprieve from Henry.
  • To the Pain: This is how Cromwell gets Harry Percy to shut up about being pre-contracted to marry Anne Boleyn. When Percy says that there's no way to force him quiet because he's got an army and Cromwell hasn't, Cromwell says that he does know all of Percy's creditors. And he'll get them to call in their debts. All at once. And with no money, Percy can't pay his troops, and without troops he can't hold the North, and if he can't hold the North then he'll be levered out of his castle at Northumberland so someone useful can be put in. And after that, yes, he can marry Anne and live with her in absolute poverty, wearing homespun, eating rabbits. Percy shuts up.
  • Tragic Keepsake:
    • Wolsey gives Cromwell his turquoise ring and tells him not to open the gift until after Wolsey is dead. Cromwell wears it from then on.
    • Cromwell permits Thomas More's daughter Meg to take her father's head. Later he hears rumors that she carries it around and prays to it.
    • The peacock angel wings that Grace liked to wear. Cromwell keeps them in the Christmas closet against the chance of having another little girl to wear them (whether his own or just a member of his household's). After Mark Smeaton is locked in the closet all night to imagine the invisible decorations as torture devices, Cromwell decides he will have to burn the wings.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Boleyns, the lot. First, they pimp out daughter Mary to Francis and Henry to raise their stock and then call her a worthless whore when the affairs end—it's for this reason that Anne refuses to accept anything less than marriage. Then, when Cromwell makes it possible and becomes Master Secretary, they decide that they're responsible for his advancement, not the other way around. The instant they realize he's unwilling to be their Yes-Man, they turn on him—Anne declares him an enemy and when it appears Henry is dead in a jousting match, they promise to kill him.
  • Un-Person: Henry's abandonment of his first two wives is complete. He acknowledges Katherine as little as humanly possible and even tells Cromwell to get rid of her deathbed letter without even reading it. Cromwell later advises Jane Seymour, who served and was fond of the queen, not to mention Katherine or she will instantly lose Henry's favor. When he has Anne executed, he erases every trace of her existence to the extent of taking back the clothes she was executed in so they could be destroyed. (This is why there's only one known contemporary portrait of her, a defaced medallion; Henry had the rest burnt.)
  • Unscrupulous Hero: Cromwell definitely has a chequered past, and while sympathetic in many ways, still ties himself to Henry and does all the dirty work of having Thomas More and Anne Boleyn executed.
  • Unreliable Narrator: While not lying to himself exactly, Cromwell definitely tends to skip over the less morally sound parts of his thought processes. It is implied at the end of Bring Up The Bodies that he chose the five men charged with adultery with Anne because they took part in the 'Sending The Cardinal To Hell' masque, but this is never brought up in the narration while he's actually doing the organising.
  • Upper-Class Twit: A lot of Henry's noble friends are portrayed like this. The Duke of Suffolk in particular is easily distracted and doesn't know when to keep his mouth shut—on one occasion Cromwell has to drag the man out of the room to keep him from loudly gossiping about Anne in front of Chapuys.
  • Used to Be a Sweet Kid: Subverted. It initially appears that young Thomas was a decent and open-hearted lad—and he was in many respects, but as the books go on he also recalls the times when he was an absolute terror. And the reason Walter was beating him at the start of Wolf Hall was because fifteen-year-old Tom had just killed someone in a knife fight.
  • War Is Hell: The few glimpses back at Cromwell's mercenary career hint at this—harsh conditions, incompetent commanders, pain, and he was also on the French side in the Battle of Garigliano. The one where the Italians lost 900 and the French lost four thousand. Inasmuch as the chronology of Cromwell's life in Europe is made clear, that seems to have been the point when he dragged himself to the nearest house, which happened to be a famous banker's, to recover and find better work. That experience gives him much more perspective when arguing against war with France, since he knows the difference between saying "fifty miles from Paris" in Parliament and being the soldier who has to actually get there.
  • What a Senseless Waste of Human Life:
    • Elizabeth Barton. She's portrayed as an Attention Whore who didn't understand the consequences of her prophesying and was exploited by the Poles and Cortenays in their desire to take the throne back from the Tudors. Cromwell thinks she's probably been abused and has certainly been ill-served by the priests who directed her; when he does the paperwork to seize her possessions prior to execution she has almost nothing, and he provides the bribe she'll need to get a quick death from the hangman.
    • Cromwell has a moment of regret over Mark Smeaton, thinking that if he'd hired him (as Cromwell had many of Wolsey's other displaced servants), he could have shaped Mark into a useful man with self-respect rather than a perpetual lovesick boy hanging around at Anne's door in hopes of attention and in expectation of mockery, only to doom himself by five minutes of boasting. But then, they never liked each other back in the Wolsey days, so it didn't happen.
  • Worthy Opponent: Despite working hard to have her marriage annulled, Cromwell has a lot of respect for Katherine of Aragon and her daughter Mary's refusal to go quietly. (According to the historical writings of Chapuys, Cromwell said that if she had been a man, she would have rivaled the great heroes of history.)
  • World of Snark: England is seen as this by a Spanish woman who came over with Catherine of Aragon. Of course, the way a lot of characters talk qualifies the novel to actually be a World of Snark, making her line a Lampshade Hanging.
  • You Have Failed Me: After capably serving Henry for years, Cardinal Wolsey fails him once and would almost certainly have been executed had he not died en route to London. Later, Henry makes clear that he doesn't care how "slender" the case against Thomas More is, he wants a conviction—that on the heels of a Kangaroo Court which proved insufficiently unjust, Cromwell has his colleagues pull out all the stops. In Bring Up the Bodies, Cromwell repeatedly contemplates his odds of retiring honorably versus having his head on a spike.
  • Young Future Famous People: Rafe would go on to be an ambassador, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Secretary of State, and Privy Councillor to Henry VIII, Edward VI and Elizabeth I. He managed to serve three Tudor monarchs and then die of old age, an impressive feat all on its own.
  • Your Mom: When Elizabeth Barton confronts Henry in public, he brushes off her doom-laden prophecies with a joking tone. Then she tells him she can see his mother, and he instantly grows serious.

Alternative Title(s): Bring Up The Bodies

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Literature/WolfHall