Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 4 Chapter 1 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 4, Chapter 1 : Arrange Your Face, 1531 | Summary



Cromwell has been busy in collaboration with Cranmer, writing legislation. One of his innovations is the idea to declare the king as head of the church in England. If such a law passes, it will pave the way for the king to marry Anne Boleyn. Cromwell visits Katherine and Princess Mary. He also pays a visit to Anne, and she gossips to him about an adultery scandal involving Sir John Seymour, the father of one of Anne's ladies, Jane. Cromwell is himself having an affair with Johane, Liz's sister. They discuss Cromwell's plan to make Henry head of England's church, wondering if the king would then give them permission to marry.

There is continued upheaval in the Church. Fisher, the Bishop of Rochester, accuses a priest of smuggling Tyndale's translation of the Scriptures, and the priest is burned as a heretic. The Bishop of Rochester and some dinner guests are poisoned; the cook is boiled alive as punishment. Thomas More is gaining a reputation for torturing heretics until they give up the names of other heretics. But Anne Boleyn is sympathetic to the Protestant viewpoint and has even shared its ideas with the king. The Protestant beliefs of Tyndale and Luther spread throughout the court despite More's vigilance.

Anne Boleyn reveals to Cromwell that Stephen Gardiner is to become Bishop of Winchester, a very rich bishopric. Anne isn't too pleased, as Gardiner does not support her marriage to the king. Cromwell isn't too pleased either, a fact the king comments on when they discuss the appointment. Cromwell and Gardiner "must learn to pull together," the king tells him. The king sends Gardiner to France to appeal to King Francis for support for the king's marriage to Anne.

Sir Henry Wyatt, whose son Thomas was supposedly Anne Boleyn's lover, comes to Austin Friars for a visit. He entertains the children with stories and asks Cromwell to act as a father to his son. On New Year's Day Cromwell learns that Tom Wyatt has been arrested and initially thinks it is for heresy. But the arrest is only for being drunk and disorderly and fighting with the watch. Cromwell pays for Tom's release. Memories of his own father and childhood continue to bubble up as Cromwell becomes more influential and wealthy.


This chapter explores the way people "arrange" their faces—present the desired face to the outside world in order to conceal their true thoughts and emotions—and the kinds of pressures that require this artifice. Most often arranging one's face means showing strength at times when one is actually weak. When Cromwell visits Katherine and Mary, Mary is clearly quite ill, but she arranges her face to present one of strength. Katherine, too, is "fighting down grief and anger, and disgust and fear" as she talks with Cromwell about Anne Boleyn and the king.

For Cromwell arranging his face is a daily ritual: "He ... arranges his face. Erasmus says that you must do this each morning before you leave your house: 'put on a mask, as it were.'" Cromwell's attention to his mask is coupled with his ability to see behind the masks of others. He watches them to see the moments when the mask is not fully in place: "He has spent the early months of the year watching the faces of other people, to see when they register doubt, reservation, rebellion—to catch that fractional moment before they settle into the suave lineaments of the courtier, the facilitator, the yes-man." Like the image in Part 2, Chapter 2, in which Cromwell sees clearly yet remains hidden in the dim light, Cromwell's mask is impenetrable even as he is able to see clearly past other masks.

Yet for a chapter about putting on masks, it has a remarkable number of people—from servants to theologians—who speak plainly. Sion, the boy who rows the boat, is one example. Sion gossips with imaginative detail about the sexual lives of the nobility and holds nothing back. He is a good reminder that Cromwell receives a great deal of information—useful information—through the gossip of various servants, commoners, and ladies-in-waiting. Like Sion, Tyndale also tells "brutal truth" about God: "Saints are not your friends and they will not protect you. They cannot help you to salvation ... Priests cannot help you to Heaven; you need no priest to stand between you and your God."

Throughout the chapter Cromwell's thoughts go between his present responsibilities and his memories of the past. This contrast shows just how far he has come, while his continual cycling back through memories shows he is acutely self-aware. He has vivid recollections of his elevation from kitchen to counting house and thus a clear sense of what his present position as courtier and king's advisor requires. As he tells his son Gregory, his main job now is to "open the way" to the king's desires.

Thomas More continues to emerge as a primary adversary to Cromwell. While Cromwell is working on the king's divorce problem, More is beginning to become a threat because of Anne Boleyn's interest in Protestant theology. Cromwell worries how More's prosecution will end if it continues: "The king cannot allow—it comes too near him—Anne has books, she has shown them to him—he himself has read Tyndale—what next, is More going to arrest the king?" This adversarial relationship foreshadows future developments. More ultimately ends up the victim because Cromwell's strategy for getting Henry's divorce is to break from Rome.

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