Character Notes: GREGORY CROMWELL You are in your late teens as this story unfolds. You are Thomas Cromwell’s only surviving child, and you are brought up as if you were a prince. You will be known to your contemporaries as ‘the gentle and virtuous Gregory’. Implacably sweet-natured, you seem to be bowed under the weight of all that is invested in you… The important thing is, the King likes you. You will marry the sister of Jane Seymour. (So the blacksmith’s grandson is related to the King.) This family connection saves you when your father is executed… though you do not inherit your father’s title of Earl, you are granted a baron’s title, and as Lord Cromwell you live and die a country gentleman, fathering many children and making a negligible impact on national life. How could you possibly have lived up to expectations? In the third Cromwell novel, you will say to your father, ‘You know everything. You do everything. You are everything. What’s left for me?’
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
Jane's sister Lizzie is at court with her husband, the Governor of Jersey, who is some connection of the new queen's. Lizzie comes packaged into her velvet and lace, her outlines as firm as her sister's are indefinite and blurred, her eyes bold and hazel and eloquent. Jane whispers in her wake; her eyes are the colour of water, where her thoughts slip past, like gilded fishes too small for hook or net. It is Jane Rochford – whose mind, in his view, is underoccupied – who sees him watching the sisters. ‘Lizzie Seymour must have a lover,’ she says, ‘it cannot be her husband who puts that glow in her cheeks, he is an old man. He was old when he was in the Scots wars.’
observations: There are no known surviving pictures of Gregory Cromwell, and it’s just a guess that the woman in the picture, by Hans Holbein, is Elizabeth Seymour, who will become his bride.
The first two of Hilary Mantel’s Tudor trilogy have been turned into two plays, currently being performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company at Stratford: they are marvellous, and long-ago sold out, and will certainly move to London soon. Ben Miles is truly excellent as Thomas Cromwell, and Gregory is given a rather larger role than in the books, so that he can be used for exposition of some of Cromwell’s thoughts and explanations. Thomas Wyatt is also used for this purpose, and there is a picture of him extant, but he looks so unlike our view of him that I was reluctant to use it. (Clothes in Books holds a romantic view of Thomas Wyatt, and featured one of his poems last year along with further discussion of these Tudor times.)
The character notes in the playscript are by Mantel herself, and make particularly fascinating reading for anyone who knows the books well: and here tucked away is a line from the anxiously-awaited third one, and news of Gregory’s fate – which we (discreetly) spoilered in this entry on Bring Up The Bodies, while elsewhere we suggested that Catherine Zeta Jones is born to play the part of Anne Boleyn.
I re-read Wolf Hall after seeing the plays, and experienced the same effect as the other times I have read the book and its sequel: for a few days I kept considering things the way Thomas Cromwell might, seeing the world through his eyes. (Which presumably is more like Hilary Mantel’s world…) And, nothing changed my view that the books are the great novelistic achievements of the early 21st century: it is too early to tell about the plays, but they certainly help out while we’re waiting for the next book.
Boleyns, Tudors and Mantel all over the blog – click on the labels below. Mantel's Jane Seymour - Lizzie's sister - is here.