Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 4 Chapter 2 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 4, Chapter 2 : "Alas, What Shall I Do for Love?" Spring 1532 | Summary



As Parliament prepares to meet in January, Cranmer is away in Germany drumming up support for Henry's divorce. Cromwell knows he must go about "breaking the resistance of the bishops to Henry's new order." New legislation to stop paying revenues to Rome is part of his strategy. Stephen Gardiner surfaces as a leader of those opposed to these changes, enraging the king. But it is clear that Anne will become queen. Cromwell continues to advise Anne and generally make himself indispensable, but he wants her to promise to give him an official post in the royal household.

Just before Parliament convenes, Tom Wyatt apologizes for his drunken behavior on New Year's Day. He tells Cromwell Anne Boleyn never let him do more than kiss her, but he suspects she took other lovers, though he admits she might have set similar limits on them. Cromwell says Henry believes she is a virgin and that is what matters now.

Thomas More continues to burn heretics. He comes to Austin Friars to confront and threaten Cromwell over Cromwell's contacts with Protestants. After More leaves, Cromwell recalls a childhood memory of running off from his angry father and accidentally wandering into the crowd at an execution. A very old woman had been burned for her Protestant beliefs. He never told anyone what he saw.

Cromwell is appointed to a financial post—Keeper of the Jewel House—just as he'd asked Anne. The bishops sign a document saying they will not make any decisions without the king's permission, and Thomas More is removed from the office of Lord Chancellor.

Anne learns that Harry Percy's wife, Mary Talbot, is asking for a divorce on the grounds they were never truly married because he had already been married to Anne. Anne flies into a rage at this news. Cromwell goes to talk with Harry Percy, telling him if he doesn't drop the matter he will go to each of his creditors and have them call his debts in. Percy, who has borrowed large sums, gives in. Soon Anne is given the title Marquess of Pembroke. After the ceremony she sits close to the king at the feast, and Cromwell has a chance to talk to Jane Seymour. He has a soft spot for the pale girl whose family has been disrupted by scandal. The Archbishop of Canterbury dies, leaving this position vacant.

The king of France is convinced to support Henry's marriage to Anne. An entourage, including the king and Anne, prepare to go to Calais to meet with him. In France Anne and the king are married in a private ceremony.


Things begin to fall into place for Anne and Henry's marriage, escalating quickly as a result of Cromwell's pressures on Parliament and various negotiations abroad. The first steps to having Henry become head of England's church are being taken, including having the bishops agree to ask the king's permission on decisions. Cranmer and other high-ranking officials have been deployed to work for the marriage on several fronts, including France and Germany. Anne is elevated to the title Marquess, making the difference in status between her and the king less problematic.

In addition to these strategic maneuverings, Cromwell also has to overcome the obstacles introduced by Anne's past romantic relationships. In conversation with Cromwell. Thomas Wyatt's relationship with Anne is described as one in which nothing more than kissing ever took place. Harry Percy's claim that he and Anne were promised to each other before witnesses takes a slightly heavier hand from Cromwell, who has to resort to threats. But Cromwell is committed to making this marriage happen for the king. The chapter's title, "Alas, What Shall I Do for Love?" is more properly rendered as "Alas, What Shall Cromwell Do for the King's Love?"

The theme of identity is woven throughout this chapter. One's identity has internal components and external components. Memories and will are the inner forces working to shape a person. Cromwell's memory of the burning of the old woman is one he never told anyone because he doesn't like to "give away pieces of himself." This suggests memories are an essential component of the self and explains why Cromwell's memories figure so prominently in this novel, which is, after all, a very long answer to the question Who was Thomas Cromwell? Cromwell's inner thoughts also indicate the nature of the self is a matter of will. He thinks about choosing who to be in the days after Liz died: "He'd woken in the morning and had to decide, before he could speak to anybody, who he was and why."

Social status, wealth, reputation, and the king's favor are the external factors that shape an identity. The king confers a layer of identity on Cromwell when he makes him a councillor and financial manager. He tells Cromwell, "What you are, I make you. I alone. Everything you are ... will come from me." Cromwell learns about his own character—his reputation—from a letter Chapuys writes to the emperor, which says his "antecedents are obscure," his "youth reckless and wild," and he is "a heretic of long standing, a disgrace to the office of councillor," but even so he is "a man of good cheer, liberal, openhanded, gracious." Evidently, Cromwell's public image is quite enigmatic.

The chapter also returns to the image of Cromwell in dim light or shadow. Chapuys seems fascinated by Cromwell's past and seems bent on creating a narrative out of bits and pieces he knows. Cromwell finds this an odd exercise, since Chapuys's version of Cromwell's life is a fiction. But he does not explain or correct, just as he never told anyone about the old Loller woman. He prefers to keep his inner self hidden: "A man's power is in the half-light, in the half-seen movements of his hand and the unguessed-at expression of his face." Cromwell knows concealing his inner self gives him an edge, and he needs his edge to change the world.

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