Literature / Wolf Hall
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:

  • 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.
  • Asshole Victim: All the men accused of being Anne's lovers in "Bring Up the Bodies".
  • 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 gets 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.
  • Brother-Sister Team: Anne and George Boleyn. It doesn't go well for them.
  • Doorstopper: At 672 pages, it was the longest novel to win the Man Booker until beaten by The Luminaries in 2013.
  • The Consigliere: Cromwell might be this for Henry VIII - or The Dragon, depending on whether they're seen as good or evil.
  • Corrupt Church
  • Covers Always Lie: Or rather the title does, in this case; although Wolf Hall is the home of the Seymours, virtually nothing in the first book takes place there, and the Seymours themselves don't really become significant until Bring Up The Bodies.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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).
  • Good Bad Girl: Mary Boleyn.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • I Am Not My Father: Cromwell goes to a lot of trouble to be the opposite of his own abusive, alcoholic father.
  • I Meant to Do That: In the TV series, 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."
  • 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.
  • Innocently Insensitive: Gregory is a nice kid, but he hurts his father's feelings without meaning to from time to time.
  • 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".
  • 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 Castiian 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • Oh Crap!: 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").
  • One Steve Limit: Averted. 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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."
  • 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 thanks to Cromwell/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: After his wife dies Cromwell has an affair with her sister Johane. He also names all his dogs Bella after the dog he had as a boy and had to leave behind, and names his hunting falcons after his dead wife, dead daughters, and dead sisters.
  • Shown Their Work: The books are filled with details about the exact make-up of Tudor England.
  • 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 takedown of / counterpoint to A Man for All Seasons.
  • 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.
  • Unscrupulous Hero: Cromwell definitely has a chequered past, and does manage to get several of his enemies executed.