Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel


 Born to an ordinary family, Thomas Cromwell finds himself in the power circles of King Henry VIII. He finds his way there through the king’s adviser Cardinal Thomas Wolsey. When Wolsey looses power, Cromwell clings onto it using the most unorthodox ways. Mantel describes Cromwell as a man with extraordinary ambition – his thirst for power is almost unethical, especially considering that he is the son of an ordinary member of the Tudor Dynasty. In pursuit of his ambition, Cromwell causes a lot of destruction and ends the lives of many people, especially the religious leaders that were considered to be inclined to the pope, instead of King Henry VIII. This paper is a comprehensive endeavor to explain how Cromwell’s character supports the theme of how a rise to power was dangerous to so many people.


 In his rise to power, Cromwell walks a dirty path – one that can qualify to be called a trail of blood because in a bid to stay and rise in power, Cromwell uses very unorthodox stunts. He is ready to go to any extent to ensure that King Henry VIII remains in power, and gets what he wants. From Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell, he does not do all these things for the King because of genuine loyalty – he does them so as to remain in the King’s favored circle. In pursuing the King’s divorce – the formal separation between King Henry VIII and Queen Katherine of Aragon – Cromwell recklessly separates the sovereign land of England from the roman church – a church that had been considered an integral part of the English culture at the time. This act is not received well, but the people can do little about it, considering that it is linked to the king.

 While under the service of King Henry, Cromwell saw the passing of legislations and directives that compelled all bishops in England to pledge their allegiance to King Henry VIII. Conventionally, such allegiance is supposed to be pledged to the pope. This heinous decision comes as an abuse to the traditions and conventions of the people of England. Here we see Cromwell’s ambition to ascend the ladder of power drive him into attempting to defile religion – a central factor in the culture of the people of England. In addition to making it compulsory for the bishops to pledge allegiance to the king, Cromwell ordered the king’s men to close down all monasteries – yet another hit at Christianity in a bid to gain power.

 In his efforts to please the King and become more powerful, Thomas Cromwell organized and oversaw the apprehensions and executions of many religious leaders, especially priests. The malicious arrests and killings were a part of the efforts to gain even more power through intimidation and creation of fear. In addition to killing the priests and other religious leaders, Cromwell saw the arrest and execution of Thomas More – a man he falsely accused of treason.

 Apart from the above discussed atrocities, Cromwell placed King Henry VIII as the head of England instead of having the pope hold that position as per the traditions, culture and conventions of the people of the land. Such impunity, is seen in all the decisions and actions executed by Cromwell. When he places King Henry as the head of England, he goes an extra mile to ensure that the queen – Anne Boleyn is pronounced the queen of the land. The question that one would ask is: are all these efforts worth the prize? Amusingly, with all these crafty efforts, the king is fully aware that Cromwell will not go beyond that – he has hit his all time high, and the only thing left is to come crumbling down the ladder of leadership.

 Towards the end of the story, it is apparent to the reader the ruthless Cromwell has not gained much in terms of his greed for power because clearly, he is not going to be the king of the land. In fact, towards the end of the story, more troubles come in – the queen is unable to bring forth a male heir. This reality implies that the life of Queen Anne Boleyn is at Jeopardy. Again, Cromwell is headed to a different place to get the king a third queen - Jane Seymour. Clearly, to Cromwell, the institution of marriage is not such a meaningful one, even when it concerns the king. For this reason, he objectifies women and considers them a ceremonial part of the royal family.

 As Mantel brings the story to a close, it is rather apparent that he is one among the many that the king is going to execute as the trilogy continues. It is not clear exactly if he is going to be killed – Mantel is not express on this. However, with his excessive ambition and greed for power, he has hit the highest point, and the king is likely to consider him a threat to his throne. For this reason, it is foreseeable that Cromwell will soon be executed; perhaps it is the price he has to pay for his atrocities.