Thomas Cromwell is, of course, the heart and soul of Wolf Hall, and Hilary Mantel tells the story through his eyes.
The most central relationship in Wolf Hall is between Cromwell and the King Henry VIII. Mark Rylance talks about Henry VIII in a recent Telegraph article: “He has very complicated patterns in his mind, which Cromwell tries to guide and deal with.’ Rylance laughs. ‘Sometimes you felt a bit like a psychiatrist, playing Cromwell.’
As Cromwell constantly tries to understand Henry so that he can guide and deal with him, I want to showcase Henry VIII today in Hilary Mantel’s brilliant words complete with my own over-analysis of my favorite Tudor 🙂
Here’s a very brief Wolf Hall clip with Henry VIII and Thomas Cromwell:
The King says : “Who says I shouldn’t employ the son of an honest blacksmith? …Everything that you have will come from me.”
This is an all-powerful, controlling, ruthless, god-like King.
Mark Rylance suggests that Henry is also quite emotional in an interview with the Independent: “I met a man once who kept grizzly bears in Montana,” he says. “And when I questioned his sanity he said what you’ve got to understand is that they’re intensely emotional, much more emotional than human beings, and they’re easily hurt. Henry’s like that.”
Yes, Henry is quite emotional. I believe that the fact that he surrounds himself with all those guys from his childhood and youth is thanks to his quite emotional state; these people, regardless their love for him is genuine or not, make him feel loved, Henry wants to be loved, and make him feel all human kind has craved for centuries: familiarity and security — which I think, helps to keep Henry sane to an extent. Otherwise, the King may just go insane. And, he actually goes insane once he loses trust in someone, even in his closest circle, and can send that person to the chopping block pretty easily.
Damian Lewis comments on this very quality of Henry : “…I think his ability to love and then to simply discard is sociopathic. That is very damaging to one’s personality over a period of time, which is why I think he became increasingly paranoid, self-indulgent, grandiose and cruel in the last 10 years of his life – many more people lost their lives in those years than in the first 10 or 15 years of his reign.”
But this is not the only Henry in Wolf Hall.
Damian Lewis talks to Gaby Wood in a recent Telegraph article about the wide range of personality traits Henry displays in Wolf Hall: “We see him being tender at times, we see him being caring. We see him being self-pitying, irrational, downright piggish, misogynistic, prejudiced. We see him being creative, artistic at times. So it’s been quite fun having that range.’
Here’s a quite different Henry for you…
“The king says, you have a good arm, a good eye. He says disparagingly, oh, at this distance. We have a match every Sunday, he says, my household. We go to Paul’s for the sermon and then out to Moorfields, we meet up with our fellow guilds-men and destroy the butchers and the grocers, and then we have a dinner together. We have grudge matches with the vintners…
Henry turns to him, impulsive: what if I came with you one week? If I came in disguise? The commons would like it, would they not? I could shoot for you. A king should show himself, sometimes, don’t you feel? It would be amusing, yes?
Not very, he thinks. He cannot swear to it, but he thinks there are tears in Henry’s eyes…”
This Henry is much more body and flesh than the almighty King that he is. He is playful with Cromwell, almost boyish when he offers to visit Cromwell’s house in disguise. This is a guy craving normality. It’s not that Henry is not happy being the King… but being the King is obviously not stress-free 🙂 Yes, it comes with all that opulence and wealth, and most importantly the POWER over anyone and anything. I even think it may be inevitable that the King sometimes feels like God, because he can take lives of others… but it should also feel so overwhelming at times that can lead to a lot of paranoia that we actually observe in Henry — Henry is quite emotional, insecure, needy, constantly debating about whom to trust and not trust in his court, and sleeping in a room, hidden in a room, hidden in another room.
So, it is not surprising that the King wants to visit Cromwell’s house in disguise to feel like a normal guy, if only for an afternoon. He suggests that the commoners would like that (“would they not?”) but I think the one that would really like it is Henry himself. And, he probably cannot imagine a better person than Thomas Cromwell to experience this normality with — Cromwell coming from a humble background, and being the son of a blacksmith is a much more worldly man than any other in Henry’s close circle.
This talk about Henry and his qualities as a man brings me to my most favorite scene from the book — that is when Henry finally visits Austin Friars, Cromwell’s home. Cromwell is sick in bed, and the King comes to wish him well.
The ladies of the house, Mercy and his sister-in-law Johane are decked out like Walsingham madonnas on a feast day. They curtsy low, and Henry sways above them, informally attired, jacket of the silver brocade, vast gold chain across his chest, his fists flashing with Indian emeralds. He has not wholly mastered the family relationships, for which no one can blame him. “Master Secretary’s sister?” he says to Johane. “No, forgive me. I remember now that you lost your sister Bet at the same time my own lovely sister died.”
It is such a simple, human sentence, coming from a king; at the mention of their most recent loss, tears well into the eyes of the two women, and, Henry, turning to one, then the other, with a careful forefinger dots them from their cheeks, and makes them smile. The little brides Alice and Jo he whirls up into the air as if they were butterflies, and kisses them on the mouth, saying he wishes he had known them when he was a boy. The sad truth is, do you notice, Master Secretary, the older one gets, the lovelier the girls?”
Haha, I don’t know about the girls, but the king seems to get lovelier by the second in this scene 🙂 I think he feels like a normal guy on a light-hearted house visit, hanging out with his friend and his family , flirting with the ladies, and having a hell of good time… Long live the King 🙂
UPDATE 03/30/2015: It turns out, even though Henry’s visit to Austin Friars did not make to the final cut, it is available on DVD as a deleted scene. Hurray, and thanks Ruth Harris for sharing this information with me!