Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 2 Chapter 1 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 2, Chapter 1 : Visitation, 1529 | Summary



As Part 2 of Wolf Hall begins, the king's men are "stripping York Place of its owner"—taking away everything identifying Cardinal Wolsey. The Duke of Norfolk and the Duke of Suffolk have arrived to inform the cardinal he has been dismissed as Lord Chancellor, the man who keeps the Great Seal of England. He must return the seal.

Cromwell points out that the dukes have no written request from the king. Furthermore, the cardinal can only hand the Great Seal over to the Master of the Rolls. With his quick thinking he buys the cardinal 24 hours, but then the dukes are back. This time they explain their mission, at least part of it. The king wants to furnish the residence for "the Lady Anne" (Boleyn), who "needs a London house of her own."

As the henchmen grab the cardinal's wardrobe, his jewels, and other possessions, readers see his luxurious lifestyle. When Sir William Gascoigne, the cardinal's treasurer, says he's heard the cardinal is to go "straight to the Tower," Cromwell puts on a show of bravado. He says they are going to Esher, another of the cardinal's residences. Cromwell reflects it's hard to escape "the feeling that this is a play." It is, he thinks, a tragedy.

He frantically plans how to move the cardinal's household by barge and somehow find the provisions they will need at Esher. His preparations now take on the structure of a military campaign. He doesn't know if it will be long or short but thinks they must "dig in and hope [the] supply lines hold." The barge is duly loaded, and as it goes up the river spectators boo the cardinal. The bewildered, weeping cardinal defends King Henry as he ponders the 20 years he has spent in the king's service.

When the barge reaches Putney in southwestern London, the cardinal transfers to riding a mule; he needs help mounting it. The group is ready to ride when it is overtaken by Harry Norris, a friend of the king's, who brings a ring for the cardinal and the message that he is not himself displeased with the cardinal. Rather, he had to make a "show of force" to satisfy the cardinal's enemies. He tells Cromwell the charge against the cardinal is for asserting a foreign jurisdiction in England. The grateful cardinal gives the king the gift of his fool, Patch, who fights and bites in protest. At Esher Cromwell finds empty larders and a lack of bedsheets, firewood, and other necessities. He and Cavendish, the cardinal's personal attendant, discuss how they will accommodate the cardinal's hundreds of staff. Cromwell realizes he'll have to call in the cardinal's debts to pay the staff. They wonder who will now be chancellor and place a bet on Thomas More, of whom readers still know little.


This chapter has the dual function of making Cardinal Wolsey sympathetic while also making him seem somewhat repulsive. His household is one of showy excess. His fabrics in particular are lovingly detailed, "the scarlet silk [for] the summer heat of London, the crimson brocades" for wintertime. At the same time he has served the king loyally for 20 years and is a weak, slightly foolish older man who needs help mounting a mule. He weeps with gratitude when he learns the king is not personally angry with him. The effect is to make this historical figure seem fully real to readers. Readers also understand Cromwell's loyalty to the cardinal, which he demonstrates over and over in the chapter.

The theater is a recurring metaphor in the novel for the way in which proximity to the king forces everyone connected to the court to play a part. Cromwell goes so far as to mentally name the play in which the cardinal loses his title and residence: "The Cardinal and His Attendants." Cromwell is of course part of the play himself—he is the hero of the tragedy, figuring out the cardinal's next move and how his deposed mentor will survive at Esher. At the same time he can stand apart from the scene and coolly assess the best response to it. Again, this is the character's genius throughout the novel: to be among others and yet be an astute observer of their interactions.

Readers have heard several tantalizing mentions of Thomas More. In Part 1, Chapter 3 Cromwell thought reprovingly of how More persecutes heretics. Now, in a chapter set two years later, he is portrayed as a likely candidate to replace Wolsey as chancellor. More is being set up as a foil to Cromwell. While he is another man who knows how to get ahead in the world, he seems fanatical in contrast to the measured, rational Cromwell.

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