Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 3 Chapter 3 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 3, Chapter 3 : The Dead Complain of Their Burial, Christmastide 1530 | Summary



In the middle of the night Cromwell's household is awakened by loud knocking. It is William Brereton, summoning Cromwell to the king, who is at Greenwich. Thomas Cranmer is with the king when Cromwell arrives. The king reports that his dead brother came to him in a dream and looked at him sadly. The king thinks his brother came back to make him ashamed of being married to Katherine. Cromwell argues that his brother more likely came back "to remind you that you are vested with the power of both the living and the dead." Cromwell suggests, "Now is the time ... to be sole and supreme head of your kingdom." The king is pacified. As they leave the king's presence, Cranmer compliments Cromwell at how neatly he handled the king.

Later that day Cromwell goes to Greenwich again, where he is sworn in as one of the king's councilors.


This short episode shows several of Cromwell's strengths: he is quick to see and take advantage of an opportunity; he thinks fast on his feet; he is extremely creative; and he knows his audience. His ability to create stories that have meaning and appeal directly to the listener is also illustrated in the way he comforts his son Gregory. "When I was small I dreamed of demons. I thought they were under my bed, but you said, it can't be so, you don't get demons our side of the river, the guards won't let them over London Bridge," he recalls, speaking to his father.

Cromwell is fully aware of his ability to massage the narrative until it pleases. He admits that he is a good storyteller when he says, "Gregory, those Merlin stories you read—we are going to write some more." He even notes Wolsey's similar ability to spin a favorable account of events: "Wolsey kicked [old Warham] out of his post as Lord Chancellor; or, as the cardinal always put it, relieved him of worldly office, so allowing him the opportunity ... to embrace a life of prayer." By referring to the Merlin stories—stories of King Arthur embedded in the English identity and mythological history—Cromwell suggests the stories he helps write will be just as integral to the English identity as Arthurian tales.

Cromwell reveals what was in the package Wolsey gave him before he left as he notices how the "fingers of his right hand touch the turquoise ring, settling it in place." This shows Cromwell has truly replaced Wolsey and has accepted the responsibility for making Henry's dreams a reality.

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