Thursday List: The Best of Wolf Hall

Best of Wolf Hall

The TV version of Hilary Mantel’s historical novels has ended, and there’s no sign of the third book in the trilogy appearing any time soon. Yes, I have already done endless entries on the books, and yes there was recently a list of books on the Tudors (and there will be more non-Mantel Tudors coming soon): but still I had to console myself by making a list of my ten eleven favourite moments from the two books.
1) His children are falling from the sky.
That’s the first sentence of Bring up the Bodies. It’s a reference to Cromwell’s falcons, named after his dead daughters, and surely the best opening line of any book this century.
2) ‘There is the matter of all the other women who want to marry you. The wives of England, they all keep secret books of whom they are going to have next when they have poisoned their husbands. And you are the top of everyone's list.’
The artist Hans Holbein talking to Thomas Cromwell in Wolf Hall. Well yes he would be, wouldn’t he?
3) His hair is dark, heavy and waving, and his small eyes, which are of very strong sight, light up in conversation: so the Spanish ambassador will tell us, quite soon. It is said he knows by heart the entire New Testament in Latin, and so as a servant of the cardinal is apt – ready with a text if abbots flounder. His speech is low and rapid, his manner assured; he is at home in courtroom or waterfront, bishop's palace or inn yard. He can draft a contract, train a falcon, draw a map, stop a street fight, furnish a house and fix a jury. He will quote you a nice point in the old authors, from Plato to Plautus and back again. He knows new poetry, and can say it in Italian. He works all hours, first up and last to bed. He makes money and he spends it. He will take a bet on anything.
A description of Thomas Cromwell, explaining the perception above. And, blogfriend Samantha Ellis (author of How to be a Heroine) suggests, a fine description for the ‘ideal man’ part of a dating profile.

4) The completely engrossing dinner party at Thomas More’s house in Chelsea in Wolf Hall – plot, character, joyous entertainment, sadness and jokes all come together in a tour de force of writing, a scene you could read again and again. ‘They laugh. You would think they were friends.’
5) ‘I picture you in a hovel, wearing homespun, and bringing home a rabbit for the pot. I picture your lawful wife Anne Boleyn skinning and jointing this rabbit. I wish you every happiness.’
Thomas Cromwell tells Harry Percy how life works (in Wolf Hall), when Percy is threatening to cause trouble. Another tour de force: total bullying, horrible to read, but hilariously funny.

6) The wonderful, brilliantly-portrayed, Duke of Norfolk has been visiting his armourer and is still wearing some bits of it ‘so that he looks like an iron pot wobbling to the boil.’
7) ‘You know what More used to say. “If the lion knew his own strength, it were hard to rule him.”’ 

‘Thank you,’ [Cromwell] says. ‘That consoles me mightily, Sir Purse, a text from the grave from that blood-soaked hypocrite. Has he anything else to say about the situation? Because if so I’m going to get his head back off his daughter and boot it up and down Whitehall till he shuts up for good and all.’
Cromwell being respectful about his old foe and colleague Thomas More.
8) ‘[Anne Boleyn] is selling herself by the inch. The gentlemen all say you are advising her. She wants a present in cash for every advance above her knee.’
‘Not like you, Mary. One push backwards and, good girl, here's fourpence.’
Cromwell outlines the difference between the two Boleyn girls.
9) No doubt they are discussing the new alliance; he seems to think she has another treaty tucked down her bodice.
Anne Boleyn meets the King of France: the King of England gets jealous. A superb scene, and perfectly portrayed in the TV series.
10) The months run away from you like a flurry of autumn leaves bowling and skittering towards the winter; the summer has gone, Thomas More’s daughter has got his head back off London Bridge and is keeping it, God knows, in a dish or bowl, and saying her prayers to it. He is not the same man he was last year, and he doesn’t acknowledge that man’s feelings; he is starting afresh, always new thoughts, new feelings.
Thomas Cromwell at the beginning of Bring Up The Bodies.

ADDED LATER: remembered a vital one:

11) She laughs. ‘They could tell Boccaccio a tale, those sinners at Wolf Hall.’
Cromwell and Anne Boleyn companionably chatting and sniggering over the gossip from the Seymour family. But is the whole court Wolf Hall, and this a vital comment on their morals?

And now we’re just waiting for the next book.


  1. You've made some great choices here, Moira! No doubt about it, Mantel writes some terrific descriptions and dialogue. And you're right: there's plenty of wit to be had, even during sad or threatening (or worse) scenes. It'll be interesting to see if there'll be a third novel...

    1. Thanks Margot. I love Mantel, she is such a wonderful writer, she even makes Cromwell's thuggish, bullying side dangerously attractive....

  2. Replies
    1. Such a great line that I'll forgive you your wrongness!

  3. Amazingly, I do have the first book and plan to read it this year. I have read about these people and this time, but don't remember much, so it will be very educational.

  4. I had a question after watching Wolf Hall--loved the costumes for Henry but he was wearing a ring on his middle finger and I wondered about this. Tudors don't seem to have done this and I can't recall seeing any portraits of Henry VIII with a ring on that finger. It's an odd thing to be curious about, but I am.

    1. Now that's intriguing! I have no idea of whether or not this is correct, but now I will be staring at every painting, and rewatching the whole programme... oh well, there are worse things I could be doing.

  5. I loved the TV series (I still have the last episode to watch). The characters are just fascinating.

    1. Better not tell you how it ends then (tee hee). I thought it was terrific, best TV show in years, and most wonderful acting.


Post a Comment