Krauthammer on “Wolf Hall”

I have seen the whole series Wolf Hall via BBC.

I entirely agree with Charles Krauthammer at WaPo:

“Wolf Hall,” the Man Booker Prize-winning historical novel about the court of Henry VIII — and most dramatically, the conflict between Thomas Cromwell and Sir Thomas More — is now a TV series (presented on PBS). It is maddeningly good.

Maddening because its history is tendentiously distorted, yet the drama is so brilliantly conceived and executed that you almost don’t care. Faced with an imaginative creation of such brooding, gripping, mordant intensity, you find yourself ready to pay for it in historical inaccuracy.

And “Wolf Hall’s” revisionism is breathtaking. It inverts the conventional view of the saintly More being undone by the corrupt, amoral, serpentine Cromwell, the king’s chief minister. This is fiction as polemic. Author Hilary Mantel, an ex- and anti-Catholic (“the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people”), has set out to rehabilitate Cromwell and defenestrate More, most especially the More of Robert Bolt’s beautiful and hagiographic “A Man for All Seasons.”

Who’s right? Neither fully, though “Wolf Hall’s” depiction of More as little more than a cruel heretic-burning hypocrite is particularly provocative, if not perverse. To be sure, More worship is somewhat overdrawn, as even the late Cardinal Francis George warned at a 2012 convocation of bishops.More had his flaws. He may have been a man for all seasons, but he was also a man of his times. And in those times of merciless contention between Rome and the Reformation, the pursuit and savage persecution of heresy were the norm.

Indeed, when Cromwell achieved power, he persecuted Catholics with a zeal and thoroughness that surpassed even More’s persecution of Protestants. “Wolf Hall’s” depiction of Cromwell as a man of great sensitivity and deep feeling is, therefore, even harder to credit. He was cruel and cunning, quite monstrous both in pursuit of personal power and wealth, and in serving the whims and wishes of his royal master.


Read the rest there.

And, let it be said, Henry VIII was a monster.


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  1. Kathleen10 says:

    If this production diminishes the esteem many people feel for Thomas More, and portrays Cromwell in a sympathetic light, it has accomplished it’s goal. This is the apparent intent of most programs of this nature. While well written and done at times, they always manage to give the church, or follower, a black eye, and the person outside the church, a halo.

  2. Athelstan says:

    Hilary Mantel says that “the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.”

    And Oscar Wilde would have agreed with her: “The Catholic Church is for saints and sinners alone. For respectable people, the Anglican church will do.”

  3. Imrahil says:

    In fact, concerning Henry VIII (God have mercy on his soul), I am rather more reminded of Lessing’s concluding words of the Emilia Galotti (back in the days when Freemasons found it worth while to write Catholic dramas):

    “[Prince Hector, in remorse:] Isn’t it enough that princes are human beings? Must it be, on top of that, that devils transfigure themselves into their friends?”

    Indeed though Henry was responsible, the actual shaping of the English reformation was much more performed by men such as Cromwell, Cranmer or even Elizabeth I.

    Henry VIII’s case seems to me rather examplary about what can happen to a man of quite usual appetites, even in the beginning a faithful Catholic, if he doesn’t meet what he should have met: a non-possumus resistance at some point.

  4. torch621 says:

    Henry VIII was also a glutton and a lecher of gigantic proportions.

  5. Auggie says:

    If a work of art is deceptive, blasphemous and perverse in its overall message, then it cannot be “good.” It might be “slick” and “technically advanced” and relatively “high quality” in some ways, but it cannot be “good.”

  6. Imrahil says:

    Well, dear Auggie, I see what you are saying, but – forgive me – that is mere semantics; and if I’m not totally mistaken, our Catholic philosophers are quite uncautious with such semantics. Isn’t it a schoolbook example that somebody may be a “good robber” in so far as he is good at conducting robbery?

    Of course, the point of the “good robber” is that he is only good in a certain respect but not actually; which is also your point. But on the semantics, our philosophers don’t seem to have a problem with the (if you will) colloquialism “good robber” in the first place.

  7. pjsandstrom says:

    Thomas Cromwell closed and destroyed the monasteries and religious houses and engineered the martyrdom of many monks etc — he also arranged the theft of huge amounts of land and property from these religious houses for Henry VIII to give and sell to buy support for his monarchy. One of the best ‘hangings of paintings with a purpose’ is in the Frick Gallery in New York City where Thomas More and Thomas Cromwell glare across a mantel piece at each other — both having been painted by Holbein. Over the same mantel piece is a Saint Jerome by El Greco.

  8. John Grammaticus says:

    As someone who watched it in England when it first came out earlier this year I agree whole heartedly with Krauthammer, the polemics against St Thomas More are present right from the first episode. That said in all fairness I think that More (despite Mantel’s intentions) actually comes out on top in the end, the scene where he mounts the scaffold is all the more poignant because in the previous episode he accuses Cromwell of being a mercenary whose Faith depends on the power it can bring, he even insinuates that Cromwell would convert to Islam and serve the Ottoman Sultan if the price was right.

    You do fully get the picture that More is a Martyr for this beliefs and the Cromwell is a viper, sell-sword.

    Interestingly enough Professor David Starky, (no friend of the Church) a popular historian here in England confessed that out of the two of them he preferred More, simply on the basis that More went to his death with such calm serenity.

    Furthermore It must be noted that More’s Sainthood means that Lawyers have an edge over accountants when it comes to debating whose profession is dirtier , Lawyer can at the very least point to the fact that one of their number is amongst the Blessed :) .

  9. Imrahil says:

    As to lawyers, what about St. Ives? And, for that matter, St. Alphonsus?

    (I do find it a rather interesting note that the most influential book on Catholic moral theology was written by a former defense attorney.)

  10. Charles E Flynn says:

    For the latest of the titles bestowed on Henry VIII, see ‘Wolf Hall’ and Upmarket Anti-Catholicism, by George Weigel.

  11. Andrew says:

    One of the best biographies of St. Thomas More is E. E. Reynolds “The Field is Won”. Very detailed. Very complete. Very uplifting.

  12. mike cliffson says:

    I had years of artful special pleading at an anticatholic school in the 60s, and howsoever artistic the special pleading , I’ll stay with Thomas More and provc me his warts if you will; little good saw I ever in Cromwell; that Oliver Cromwell(tinpot dictator,regicide, genoicidal Lord Protector , etc)´s family thought highly enough of the earlier Cromwell to use his surname on the distaff side would damn him for me were nothing else known about him.
    London ‘s masses died untimely deaths by the hundreds of thousands over the years from cholera , bad drainage, and insufficiently plentiful and pure water supply until quite late Victorian times. At the time of More’s chancellorship, I suspect by no coincidence, a boring nuts and bolts enlightened plan for Londons water and drains was being elaborated – and , I equally suspect no coincidence, was not taken further by subsequent administrations.
    Maybe a historian in search of a doctorate could prove this or otherwise .
    A Saint which includes being a Man, capital letter, every inch.
    What Cromwell was, modern Politics abounds in . Tho pray Like St Thomas we may to meet them in heaven , in a merry meeting! , what THAT sort leave behind is a bad smell, as Orwell said.

  13. Scott W. says:

    Thanks for the Weigel link! It confirmed my impressions on one point. I quote him followed by a comment I left there:

    Where all this could lead was made clear in the run-up to Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Great Britain in 2010, when just about every hoary anti-Catholic bromide in the playbook was dusted off and deployed in the media—and with a few notable exceptions, the British Catholic hierarchy proved itself incapable of rising to the defense of the Church and the pope, a task that was left, in the main, to laity.

    I’m pleased someone else noticed this! I was utterly shocked how the BBC stuck mic in front of anyone with an axe to grind. It was just short of incitement to riot. But did you see what happened next? When it became clear that the papal visit was going well, the BBC went silent on the story and instead ran round-the-clock coverage about how dingy the hotel rooms in Delhi were for the Commonwealth games.

  14. John Nolan says:

    There were some good things about it – Nan Bullen came across as a thoroughly nasty piece of work and not the wronged heroine of romantic legend. Not surprisingly, no-one had a clue as to what 16th century Catholic liturgy actually looked like.

    Shakespeare’s history plays were not particularly accurate either.

  15. William Tighe says:

    Perhaps the following (which I wrote a week ago in another context) might be of interest. It began with this comment on More from a Lutheran:

    “What I find baffling is how a man of More’s erudition evinces not a whiff of the Augustinian tradition as it worked its way through Catholic church history. St. Vincent of Lérins, it should be noted, knew of Augustine’s teachings on grace—and apparently despised them, because he thought them novelties. So was Augustinianism the first heresy to root itself within the Catholic tradition?’

    To which I responded as below:

    It is simply incredible, not least because “the Catholic tradition” never fully embraced or dogmatized undiluted “Augustinianism.” BB Warfield once wrote: “the Reformation was a triumph of Augustine’s soteriology over his ecclesiology,” and I would add that while Augustine’s ecclesiology was fully congruent with that of other Church Fathers, his soteriology – not so much. More has been presented for a long time (esp. since R. W. Chambers’ influential biography, Thomas More [1935]) as a Renaissance Humanist brother of Erasmus, whose horror at Luther’s views impelled him to an uncharacteristically “fanatical” response. My late Cambridge Doktorvater, Sir Geoffrey Elton, who rather disliked More, and whose view of Thomas Cromwell as a ruthless practitioner of Realpolitik but dedicated governmental reformer and enemy of superstition is one of the principal sources, although in her hands highly simplified and vulgarized, of Hilary Mantel’s “portrait” of Cromwell (as of her portrait of Henry VIII, which follows Elton’s view as well), argued, however, that while More and Erasmus shared certain literary interests and “reform-mindedness,” they were poles apart theologically, and that while Erasmus might be seen as a genuine not-so-semi-Pelagian, More was a full-blooded Augustinian, a brother-in-attitude to Luther. Or (as Elton might have put it, but didn’t), that More was a thoroughgoing Augustinian ecclesiologically (believing, like Augustine, that the visible Catholic Church was the sole Ark of Salvation in this world [Augustine believed that all those predestined to be saved would become members, or remain members, of that Church before their deaths]) while Luther was an Augustinian (really, a hyper-Augustinian who believed that Augustine was insufficiently “Augustinian”) soteriologically, who rejected Augustine’s ecclesiology in the name of his soteriological views.

    I should add that Professor Diarmiad MacCulloch, another Doktorsohn of Sir Geoffrey, has argued the case that Cromwell may have been one of the earliest influential covert supporters of the Swiss/Zurich Reformation “brand,” as opposed to the Lutheran one (long before Cranmer “turned Swiss” around 1546) and that his execution by an implacable Henry VIII on the charge of “sacramentarianism” (a general catch-all term to brand all those who thought of the Eucharist as a symbol or sign without and “real or essential” presence of Christ’s Body and Blood in the sacrament) was not the falsehood that it has almost universally taken to be, but is at least plausible, if not certainly true.

    Allow me to recommend two articles on this subject: “The Real Thomas More,” by G. R. Elton, Psychological Medicine, 10 (1980), pp. 611-617 (later reprinted in Elton, Studies in Tudor and Stuart Politics and Government, volume 3 [Cambridge University Press, 1983, paper, 2002], pp. 344-355) and “‘Wolf Hall’ and the Real St. Thomas More,” by Graham Hutton, Annals Australasia, September 2014, pp. 9-13 for more on these subjects.

    I think of Thomas Cromwell as the genius who showed Henry VIII effectively how to abrogate clause 1 of Magna Carta, “Ut Ecclesia Anglicana libera sit.”

    A friend informed me recently that Hilary Mantel’s other great historical hero is Robespierre.

  16. robtbrown says:

    pjsandstrom says:

    Thomas Cromwell closed and destroyed the monasteries and religious houses and engineered the martyrdom of many monks etc — he also arranged the theft of huge amounts of land and property from these religious houses for Henry VIII to give and sell to buy support for his monarchy.

    Thus the title of show “Downton Abbey”, created and written by Julian Fellows, who is Catholic

  17. Laura R. says:

    I agree with John Grammaticus above: in all fairness I think that More (despite Mantel’s intentions) actually comes out on top in the end.. In More’s refusals to bend to Cromwell’s and the King’s wishes, I saw a man stand bravely and faithfully on his Catholic principles and accept death with serene dignity. It was all eerily relevant to our own time: a statesman aware of the dangers to Christendom from Islam, and defying governmental powers that oppose the truths of God enshrined in His Church.

  18. JARay says:

    One of my favourite Saints is St. Thomas Moore. It always was and always will be.
    When I was a boy our house had a mantelpiece over the kitchen fire and I think that this is the most useful thing about a mantelpiece!

  19. Dafyd says:

    It was Lewis who said, “The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There is not one of them which will not make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide.”

    Henry VIII, the Defender of the Faith, was denied a (somewhat) reasonable request for mostly political reasons. His desire for a male heir, which he followed at all costs, led him away from the faith he once defended and toward disaster, pretty well demonstrating Lewis’ point.

  20. oldconvert says:

    “Hilary Mantel says that “the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people.” ”

    Well then, it’s following in Our Lord’s footsteps, isn’t it? Deo gratias.

  21. Skeinster says:

    Belloc characterized Henry VIII’s major weakness as a desire to have what he wanted, but
    to feel justified for it at the same time. Which reminds us of certain other groups today.
    And led to him surrounding himself with his coterie of conscience soothers.

  22. Prayerful says:

    The claim that St Thomas More tortured heretics features in Wolfe Hall, I believe. That claim originates with Foxe’s Book of Martyrs. This means that a good deal of the evil St Thomas in Mantel’s book is very much fictional.

  23. William Tighe says:

    “Henry VIII, the Defender of the Faith, was denied a (somewhat) reasonable request for mostly political reasons.”

    People always say this, but it isn’t true. See *The Matrimonial Trials of Henry VIII* by Henry Ansgar Kelly (Stanford University Press, 1976; Wipf & Stock, 2002). This book deals with Henry VIII’s three annulments: from Catherine of Aragon (in 1532), from Anne Boleyn (in 1536) and from Anne of Cleves (in 1540); Kelly was a Jesuit in his younger years. Essentially, the book shows (1) how “airtight” the dispensation was which Ferdinand of Aragon and Henry VII of England procured in 1503, and (2) that Henry was seeking an annulment on the basis that the marriage of a man to his brother’s widow was against “divine law” and so beyond the authority of the papacy to permit. As to the second point, this was “never going to fly” as far as Rome was concerned (although it was the only argument which Henry allowed his “canonical counsel” to advance on his behalf); as to the first, the only thing (Kelly argues) from which Henry ‘s side might have profited were a couple of technical or drafting errors in the 1503 dispensation, which might have been used, unscrupulously, to invalidate it – but Henry’s side never made that argument. Even putting aside the political circumstances, Henry’s side was on very weak grounds canonically. (Martin Luther, by the way, supported Catherine against Henry!)

  24. Athelstan says:

    Prof. Tighe,

    A friend informed me recently that Hilary Mantel’s other great historical hero is Robespierre.

    Which makes perfect sense. And speaks even more volumes.

    As for St. Augustine, it must be said, in fairness, that his soteriology was a moving target, and not quite so “Augustinian” in his final years. The rest of what you say about his connexion with More and Luther is food for thought, however.

  25. Kerry says:

    My wife bought Belloc’s Characters of the Reformation and recommends it highly.
    “Within a year of Cromwell’s having worked the schism with Rome-that is, in 1535-he bagen two things side by side. One was a reign of terror, which was inaugurated by the arrest and at last the execution of very highly placed people, laymen and clerics, who withstood the schism; the other was the dissolution of the monasteries.
    “It is with this last activity that Cromwell’s name will always be chiefly associated. He was the direct author of the great orgy of loot which follows thenceforward for the better part of a lifetime, and his motive was always personal gain.” A footnote from the books editor on this passage reads, “The clerical and monastic ‘wealth’ consisted largely of land, buildings and revenue given to the Church to help the poor by means of schools, colleges, alms-houses, hospitals, and to provide land at low rents for tenant farmers. As a matter of fact, the ‘dissolution’ of the monasteries, (and of the guilds), led immediately to the creation of a large class of destitute persons who lived in misery, or who adopted begging and thievery as their means of livelihood. The rich became richer and the mass of the people became poor.” And the editor suggests “Cobbett’s classic History of the Protestant Reformation in England and Ireland”.
    My wife said, “So Cromwell created Dicken’s England.”)
    (We are currently reading John Pridmore’s From Gangland to Promisedland. His appearance on the Journey Home can be found on you tube. And we are encouraged by the restoration of the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham. Supertradmum probably knows more than I.)

  26. Kerry says:

    Returning from the UK article and “Shazaam! One Hilary resembles another!

  27. Imrahil says:

    Martin Luther, by the way, supported Catherine against Henry.

    Interesting, didn’t know that. Though personally he would, after all, Martin Luther was the type of person to take things personally, and Henry had come out pretty (and justifiedly) hard the things before.

    I’d like to know what was the point in Augustin’s soteriology which the Church later disapproved. Certainly he subconsciously took a far lesser number of people baptized-in-desire for granted than, for instance, I would hope for, and his reported opinion that the unbaptized infants suffer actual pain has since been rebuked by practically all theologians (I don’t know about the Magisterium) – but I can’t remember from reading the Confessions and the City of God any notion that would strike me as un-Catholic.

    Anyway, as for Erasmus being a “not so semi”-Pelagian, I wonder how this could be accurate. No doubt Luther would have seen him like that, and no doubt his renaissance-humanist personality would bring certain associations: but then semipelagianism is precisely the doctrine that man can do actions of supernatural worth unaided by grace, and not any doctrine about Man cooperating in given grace, nor about man perfecting himself (if done under a Christian “as far as possible”-restriction) according to the model of ancient philosophers.

    Now, here’s Stefan Zweig’s account of what Erasmus actually wrote to Luther about the doctrine in question:

    “The problem Erasmus makes the center of [his] dispute [with Luther] is an eternal one of any theology whichsoever: the question of freedom and un-freedom of human will. For Luther’s augustianianly strict doctrine of predestination man ever remains God’s prisoner. Not a jota of free-will is to him [… …] To such a view of Luther Erasmus the humanist, holding Reason to be a holy power given by God, cannot subscribe. […] But Erasmus wouldn’t be Erasmus if he said to any adversarial opinion strictly and rudely ‘No’; here, as ever, he only disagrees with the extremism […] in Luther’s determinist concept. He himself, he says in his cautiously oscillating manner, has ‘no joy in firm statements’, he personally always inclines to doubt, but with pleasure subjects himself to the words of Scripture and of the Church. In Holy Writ, now, these concepts are expressed mysteriously and not quite plumbable, hence he sees it as dangerous to deny, as Luther does, freedom of human will absolutely. By no means he was calling Luther’s concept utterly wrong, but he was opposed against the ‘non nihil’, the statement that all good works man does* had no value at all before God and are, consequently, utterly negligible. ‘I assent to the view of those who ascribe a substantial part to free-will, but the major part to grace; for we don’t want to escape the Scylla of Pride only to be thrown into the Charybdis of Fatalism.'”

    [* Erasmus has, it is to be assumed, the works of the Christian man, already endowed with grace by e. g. Baptism, in his view – these at any rate were what the dispute about works between the Catholics and the Protestants are about.]

    That doesn’t sound either Pelagian or semi-Pelagian to me. Molina later would be much more pronounced into the opposite of Luther’s direction

    [Also interesting is that Stefan Zweig quotes Luther about Erasmus saying that he “has ‘very much to praise that you, of all my opponents, alone have grasped the root of the matter; you only and you alone have been the man to have seen the heart of the matter and have gone harshly at the throat.”]

    (Stefan Zweig, “Triumph and Tragic of Erasmus of Rotterdam”, cpt. 9, p. 154 German edition, all italics mine)

  28. Bosco says:

    I watched the entirety of Wolf Hall when it first aired here in Ireland not too long ago and thought it brilliant.
    Yes, St. Thomas was portrayed as a touch grumpy and less erudite than I had supposed and yes Cromwell was less villainous on the surface than I had supposed, but I have read a bit of history and realize historical characters are variously represented in films and books, etc.
    Unlike some, I take neither my religious instruction or my history lessons from any television production.
    Nevertheless, and for what it’s worth, I found the actor’s portrayal of the po-faced, dead-eyed, inscrutable and vaguely sympathetic Cranmer to be at once brilliant and monstrously representative of true evil, i.e. much like that of the personality serial killers, ala Ted Bundy.
    I ordered the series DVD for home viewing and I recommend the series for intelligent viewers.
    By the way, am I the only one to think it’s a bit rich (not Richard Rich) to observe that both the US and UK bishops are put-off by the portrayal of St. Thomas More, the champion par excellence of marriage?

  29. Supertradmum says:

    I lived in England for almost 13 years. Anti-Catholicism is rife.

    It is legal.

  30. William Tighe says:

    Imrahil wrote:

    “I’d like to know what was the point in Augustin’s soteriology which the Church later disapproved.”

    The extreme predestinarian views which he embraced in latter life (not quite Calvinist “double predestination” in which God actively wills both the salvation of the elect and the damnation of the reprobate, but rather in which he wills the salvation of the elect and by not willing the salvation of others ensures their reprobation).

    About Erasmus, perhaps I was a bit unfair, and the Zweig citations give me matter on which to reflect. His quotation from Luther about Erasmus is interesting; of course, in that same exchange Luther went on to declare that Erasmus was completely ignorant of “the Gospel” (Luther’s version of it, of course).

  31. JPK says:

    Dominc Selwood last year wrote this about the RCC in England on the eve of the Reformation:

    “If you looked inside an English parish church on the eve of the Reformation, you would have seen a space filled with the lives and loves of the community. The saints would be draped in the parishioners’ best clothes, jewellery, and beads, often given as bequests in wills. The nave would have numerous side altars, most funded by local guilds to provide daily masses for favoured saints and the deceased of the parish. If the church had the relics of a saint, the reliquary or tomb would be festooned with gold, silver, and wax models of everything from healed limbs to ships saved from calamities at sea — it would be a mini-history of the gratitude of the people. Flowers and candles would be everywhere, as would parishioners, who regularly attended weekday prayers and masses at the many guild and chantry altars. In an age of increasing literacy, significant numbers of the upper and artisanal classes read along in their own devotional books. Religious printing had become big business. It has been estimated that, on the eve of the Reformation, over 57,000 Books of Hours were in circulation in England.

    All in all, parish churches were at the heart of a vibrant English parish life, where the living celebrated their good fortune and remembered the dead.”

    He added that the heart of the RCC in England was found it the rural village parish, and not necessarily in the cities (a contrast to Italy, the Benelux and France, which possessed a great urban, intellectual centers for Catholic culture and thought). What became of this rural English Catholic culture? What Cromwell, and his minions did was heartbreaking. They did to the RCC in England what ISIS is doing in the Levant and Iraq minus the sex trade. Catholicism was literally ripped from lives, consciousness, and memory of the British people.

    In the rural hinterlands, icons were smashed, altars stripped bare, graves of the departed were desecrated. Selwood wrote:

    “Once the bussed-in workmen had inevitably triumphed, and the heat of confrontation had worn off, people were left bereft:

    On the feast of the Assumption 1537 Thomas Emans, a Worcester serving-man, entered the despoiled shrine of Our Lady of Worcester, recited a Paternoster and an Ave, kissed the feet of the image, from which jewels, coat, and shoes had been taken away, and declared bitterly for all to hear, “Lady, art thou stripped now? I have seen the day that as clean men hath been stripped at a pair of gallows as were they that stripped thee.” He told the people that, though her ornaments were gone, “the similitude of this is no worse to pray unto, having a recourse to her above, then it was before.” (from Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars) ”

    I suppose, for the modern mind, in its endless desire to get along, the memory of Cromwell must be reformed. But, these reformers are the same people who constantly lecture diversity, multi-culti, and tolerance. The Church of England and its leaders were all too successful. The utter violence done to the Catholic Church in the UK and the utter misery and despair meted out to British Catholics was without precedence.

  32. Imrahil says:

    Ah interesting, thanks for the answer.

    So St. Vincent of Lerins treats that as wrong? Interesting. I always treated reprobation ante praevisa merita, whether positive or negative, as wrong in my personal opinion, and also always assumed that virtually all other Catholics do the same, sensus fidelium and so on, but I wasn’t aware that there’s actually a patristic dispute on that. (Ott’s Dogmatics only report “undecided” – on the negative reprobation a. pr. m. of course, the positive one is the heresy of Calvinism.)

  33. Per Signum Crucis says:

    Much of the acclaim for the screen adaptation of ‘Wolf Hall’ (the stage adaptation is currently on Broadway, by the way) when it was first shown in the UK focussed on Mark Rylance’s performance as Cromwell: a studied, almost understated exposition quite in keeping with Mantel’s depiction in this and ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ of a complex yet supremely adaptable man of his times and not a one-dimensional bogeyman. True, she tilts against More inasmuch that Cromwell cannot understand why such an intelligent man, for reasons of family if nothing else, doesn’t simply put his principles to one side and accede to Henry’s demands to avoid the executioner’s block but the adaptation also suggests, perhaps more strongly than the books, that one of the motives underlying Cromwell’s actions was to avenge the mistreatment of his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey.

  34. tominrichmond says:

    I was prepared to like this production, even being forewarned that it was an attempt to defame my patron, Thomas More. BBC productions, especially period pieces, tend to be top-notch.

    I was surprised to find that the producers managed to find a way to make one of the most interesting and dramatic periods in English history… a tremendous bore.

    The actor portraying Cromwell, reputedly a noted English stage actor, sleep walks through this production, portraying little to no emotion, even when his wife and children are swept away by a sudden illness. Last episode, where he interrupts More’s “I think none harm” monologue (yes, imported from Bolt’s play) to rebuke him for hypocrisy since More racked heretics, was the first time the actor raised his voice or showed any passion at all.

    In short, although the production is a clumsy hatchet job on More, it’s also boring, plodding, and uninteresting. Sure to be forgotten soon.

  35. robtbrown says:

    Wm Tighe,

    I disagree with your appraisal of St Augustine and the question of Predestination. He was well aware of the Divine Omnipotence and the Universal Salvific Will of God, but, despite not being inclined to a majority of men being saved, he did not endorse anything approaching Negative Predestination. The mechanistic thinking of the 16th and 17th centuries distorted Augustine’s thought.

    In fact St Thomas thought the number to be rather few (pauciores–ST, I, 23, 7, ad 3).

    Finally, the relation between the Universal Salvific Will and who is, or is not saved, is a great mystery. That’s why the greatest theologian of the 20th century, Fr Garrison LaGrange, said toward the end of his life that if he had it to again, he would have concentrated more on “Le mystere terrifiant de la Predestination”.

  36. excalibur says:

    It could be the most brilliant thing ever put to film / video. I will not partake. We are now in the times of black is white, white is black; up is down, down is up; good is evil, evil is good. Satan smiles.

  37. Dafyd says:

    Dr. Tighe,

    I’ve perhaps allowed too much weight to be placed on me saying it was a “somewhat reasonable” request. I don’t mean that Henry made an affective case for himself, or that he should have been granted it. I mean, merely, that the request itself was not an outlandish one. There was, after all, precedent; I am reminded of Eleanor of Aquitaine’s marriage to King Louis VII of France, which was annulled after she produced two female heirs on the grounds, again, of consanguinity. (She proceeded to marry Henry II of England and have three boys. Ha!) In no small part, Henry wasn’t getting what he wanted as long as Catherine’s nephew, Charles V, was able to put pressure on Rome. The political will wasn’t there, even if Henry had put forth stronger arguments. There is no “putting aside the political issues,” I’m afraid.

    Given the whole reason Henry had received the title “Defender of the Faith,” I’m not surprised Martin Luther sided with Catherine. Luther’s record on marriage advocacy, of course, isn’t exactly sterling.

    As an aside, Henry VIII was eleven or twelve in 1503, when this dispensation was procured. Perhaps Father can help me out here; would the Church today insist on binding someone to that sort of arranged marriage if, later, he wanted out of it? (Again, I am not about to defend Henry’s response to his request being declined. There’s nothing to defend there. His actions were wrong.)

  38. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    I would not be surprised if part of the impression a large public has had of St. Thomas More for fifty or so of the last sixty years would be indebted to Josephine Tey’s The Daughter of Time (1951) as well as Robert Bolt’s Man for All Seasons (the first version of which followed it by three years; the second, with Bernard Hepton, who would later notably play Cranmer, as Sir Thomas, by six year; the stage play by nine, and the film by 15 years, respectively).

    Tey’s Inspector Grant (if I recall correctly) sees an insufficiently critical More as trusting Cardinal Morton too much and thus, via his History of King Richard III, becoming the major source for Shakespeare’s ‘demonization’ of Richard.

    I am not sure how culpable St. Thomas and Shakespeare are, but, from what I read, I suspect Hilary Mantel may be more culpable, in her comparable work – to the extent that I am not sure I want to find out for myself, by reading or seeing her novels or their dramatizations.

    Charles Williams includes neither St. Thomas nor Cromwell in his Thomas Cranmer of Canterbury (1936), though his scathing portrayal of representative lords who profit from the dissolution of the monasteries might be taken as implicitly similarly critical of Cromwell. To a “Preacher” who, in the reign of King Edward, accuses the Vicar of Stepney, and then takes Cranmer to task for his leniency to him, Williams’s Cranmer says, “I am troubled often because, in my jurisdiction, / I have signed and sent obstinate men to the fire.” Bolt’s More never days anything comparable – but I cannot help thinking that it would make much difference to anyone out to ‘get’ More and Catholics generally, if he had.

  39. Per Signum Crucis says:

    tominrichmond, I think that was the point of Rylance’s performance: it doesn’t take great dramatics to portray great harm or evil. Mantel emphasises how Cromwell pulls himself up from inauspicious beginnings to be a cultured man as well as of great influence which, depending on your viewpoint, either makes it more puzzling that he could do what he does or explains it perfectly.

    The trilogy is not finished yet so we may see more passion (assuming Rylance reprises the role) when Cromwell realises that he, too, will not escape the block.

  40. John Grammaticus says:

    To those of you who are going to ‘boycott’ the series because of Mantel’s polemics, let me say this.

    Yes it tries to portray St. Thomas in a bad light, but as I said earlier I think that it rather spectacularly backfires, There is very little in the way of sexual content – nothing explicit is shown , there is a single crude reference to female genitalia at the end of ep 5 and some rather nasty allegations made in ep6 to Cromwell about Anne Bolyn and her Brother.

    On the positive side it gives an accurate outline of the political / religious situation in England at the time, with the Imperial Ambassador Eustace Chapuyes providing the exposition from a foreign point of view. Some of the scenes with the burning of heretics might be mawkish to Americans who are used to the Idea of Freedom of Religion, but remember this was an age where in return for giving it moral legitimacy the State was effectively the sword and shield of the Church .

    I found Rylance’s performance to be brilliant, here I was confronted with the monster’s hatchet man, and yet I found him to be strangely human, I was reminded that the inarticulate bully portrayed in “A Man for All Seasons’ was nearly as erudite and cleaver as the man whose Martyrdom he arranged. I found the (likely invented) sub-plot of him manufacturing charges of treason (by allegedly sleeping with Bolyn) against the men who’d arranged Wolsey’s downfall particularly moving, “I need guilty men, so I’ve picked guilty men albeit not as charged” if utterly unchristian and again setting him in contrast to More. I also found the execution of Bolyn to be moving, I’d kind of psyched myself up to enjoy (she being the she wolf who broke england from Rome) it but when it came too it they used her exact words before she was executed in which begs God’s forgiveness and entrusts her soul to Christ – and I actually felt sorry for her.

    Overall I’d give it 4 stars out of 5, with one star being removed for the sexual references, suitable I’d say for 16 and up.

  41. Auggie says:

    @Imrahil, would you say that a pornographic film, with technically-advanced lighting, music and acting, is “good”? Would you actually say that? Other than for the sake of argument? Or to take the extreme example, what about a Black Mass that is technically skillful, etc… would you really say it is “good”?

  42. Imrahil says:

    Dear Auggie, the somewhat point of pornography (taken in the colloquial sense) seems to be that it is not only immoral, but also just bad art. If it’s art than it may still be immoral to watch, but it ceases to be pornography (again taken in the colloquial sense).

    Otherwise, maybe I wouldn’t say it is good, but I wouldn’t make a point of saying that you can’t say it is good even though its skills, etc.

    Now thinking of it, I find myself more comfortable saying “Thelma & Louise is certainly a masterpiece of cinema” (which it is) than saying “Thelma & Louis is a good movie”. Anyway, I wouldn’t make a point of saying “we can’t say it’s ‘good'”.

    Now what I actually would do is the following thing: I would say that the Lord of the Rings trilogy is good. I’d, in a detailed analysis, say that not only did Peter Jackson subject an author I like to changes not necessary, but also that some of the chances could, if we insist to be harsh, be called “dragging of good things into evil” (see his adaption of the personnage Faramir: the modern world just cannot stand a good man to exist; or also Denethor: contrary to rumour, the modern world actually has very many problems with really complex characters). I would, in the end of it, concede though that all in all, the movies still capture the spirit of the books, and are beautiful, and good.

    What I would also do is call “Highway to Hell” a good rock song, though I always have problems with its lyrics.

    As for a Black Mass, I fail to see where particular skill comes into play. I don’t know about the topic and don’t want to know. I wouldn’t hesitate, though, to speak of a “good magician” as of someone who actually is able to perform powerful magic leading to effects, if such a person should exist (and shudder when thinking about him).

  43. William Tighe says:

    Dafyd wrote:

    “As an aside, Henry VIII was eleven or twelve in 1503, when this dispensation was procured. Perhaps Father can help me out here; would the Church today insist on binding someone to that sort of arranged marriage if, later, he wanted out of it?”

    Henry VIII was born on June 28, 1491; Henry and Catherine were betrothed on June 23, 1503 shortly after the granting of the papal dispensation. Henry VII refused to allow the marriage to go ahead, for reasons that remain unclear, although the deterioration of Anglo-Spanish relations after 1504 probably had something to do with it; on the other hand, he did not wish to have to repay Catherine’s dowery, and so Catherine remained in England as her father’s ambassador, while the betrothal continued to exist. When Prince Henry was 14 he privately executed a declaration, repudiating the betrothal; whether on his own initiative or at his father’s behest is not known. Henry VIII succeeded his father on April 21, 1509; immediately after his father’s burial on May 10 he declare his intention to marry Catherine, and the marriage took place on June 11, seventeen days before Henry’s eighteenth birthday. So whatever it was, it was not a case of Henry marrying Catherine because he had become “bound” to do so at age twelve.

  44. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    Ought we to say “Henry VIII was a monster” already, when he adulterously procreated Henry Fitzroy with Bessy Blount during Catherine’s pregnancy in the autumn of 1518, and festively celebrated his birth in June 1519, with Catherine in attendance, and Cardinal Wolsey as his godfather (as he has been the Princess Mary’s)?

    And what are we to think of the success in December 1527 of Henry VIII’s request for a dispensation from “the first degree of affinity arising from whatever licit or illicit intercourse” – “as long as she is not the widow of the aforesaid brother” (i.e., Catherine, the widow of Henry’s brother, Prince Arthur) – conditionally upon his annulment from Catherine?

  45. Venerator Sti Lot says:

    C.S. Lewis interestingly wrote to the Blessed Don Giovanni Calabria on 25 November 1947, “Ex vestris Tetzel, ex nostris Henricus VIII, perditi homines erant” and also “sed quid sentiam de vestro Thoma Moro, de nostro Gulielmo Tyndale? Tota opera et hujus et illius nuper perlegi. Ambo mihi videntur esse viri sanctissimi et toto corde amare Dominum: nequw hujus bec illius caligas solvere dignas sum.” (Martin Moynihan translates, “From your side Tetzel, from ours Henry VIII, were lost men” and “But what would I think of your Thomas More or of our William Tyndale? All the writings of the one and all the writings of the other I have lately read right through. Both of them seem to me most saintly men and to have loved God with their whole heart: I am not worthy to undo the shoes of either of them.”) This did not prevent him later deeming Tyndale very wrong-headed in his political philosophy, when he wrote that, according to “the first book of Hooker” (with whom he seems to agree), “The Almighty Himself repudiates the sort of sovereignty that Tyndale thinks fit for Henry VIII”.

    Sadly unlike Lewis, I have read little of St. Thomas More’s work. What do we know of what sort of sovereignty he thought fit for Henry VIII prior to his relinquishing the Chancellorship?

  46. Dafyd says:

    Dr Tighe,

    That helps clarify a lot of the historical details. Thank you! It sounds like Henry VIII, even at an early age, was ruled strongly by his passions.

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