Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 5 Chapter 2 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 5, Chapter 2 : Devil's Spit, Autumn and Winter, 1533 | Summary



Anne delivers her child, but it is a girl—not the boy she and Henry hoped for. The child is given the name Elizabeth.

A young prophetess named Elizabeth (Eliza) Barton but known as "the Maid" has been prophesying against Anne and Henry VIII. She is questioned at Lambeth Palace, and the extensive interrogation results in her confession: "Her visions are inventions. She never spoke to heavenly persons." She is sent to the Tower of London.

Lady Rochford offers Cromwell some juicy gossip about the Seymour family and offers to keep her eyes open for other news, if Cromwell would like. Lady Rochford also suggests the passion in Anne and Henry's marriage has already cooled, and that Cromwell is in love with Jane Seymour (which he denies).

Cromwell interrogates those the Maid named in her confession as being involved in her prophecies—those who helped her make them up and produce various proofs of them. He knows there is a network of nobles who still support Katherine's cause and oppose the king's marriage to Anne. He collects evidence against them. In November the Maid and her main supporters do penance in front of a large crowd of onlookers. More attends this event—a public confession—and makes sure Cromwell knows he is not among those who supported and assisted the Maid. Cromwell says More should make a point of expressing support for Anne, and for the Princess Elizabeth. After More leaves Cromwell thinks to himself that More will not be able to bring himself to do what it takes to get into the king's good graces.

The Duke of Richmond, Henry's bastard son, marries Anne's cousin, Mary. Anne is pregnant again, to the king's delight and her relief. Cranmer is installed as Archbishop of Canterbury. The king's daughter Mary—known as Lady Mary—is to be moved to a new home.


This chapter begins with a disappointment—the birth of a girl rather than a boy—but it ends in hope, as Anne becomes pregnant again. It is clear that her situation is precarious. Lady Rochford relates the gossip that the king's interest in Anne has waned already, and her failure to produce a male heir is a blow on many levels. The king married her in part because Katherine did not deliver a son and used this fact to argue his marriage must have been unlawful for God chose to withhold sons. Anne must realize that many of the arguments used against Katherine might be used against her—or other arguments not considered. The whims of the king only seem wonderful when you are on the right side of them. Otherwise they are dangerous.

To console the king after the disappointing birth of Elizabeth, Cranmer speaks words that can be seen as prophetic: "Perhaps God intends some peculiar blessing by this princess." In the novel Henry adopts this as his official position: "One day we will make a great marriage for her. Believe me, God intends some peculiar blessing by this princess."

Mantel is sensitive to the plight of women in this patriarchal and cutthroat society, not only presenting the obvious ways women are used by men (as either mistresses or mothers) but also depicting the everyday abuses women are subjected to. She channels this into Cromwell's consciousness. He routinely takes women and orphans into his household, including Helen Barre, whose disreputable husband is understood to be abusive. When he meets Eliza Barton and hears her relate the shocking tale of the Devil and his sexual advances, he doesn't think, "What kind of sinner is this woman?" He thinks, "What has been done to this woman?" When Cranmer questions her about her "lovers," Cromwell "says, murmuring, she may think lovers is not the word." He knows that part of her story is the men who surrounded Barton took advantage of her—part of her coping mechanism is simply to create an alternate narrative centering on the Devil.

Cromwell's religious inclinations are not a huge part of this novel, but one thing comes through loud and clear—he believes the institutional Church has controlled access to knowledge, and this has had a detrimental effect on people. He sees this as offensive on a personal level but also as something to leverage strategically. He tells Cranmer, "For centuries Rome has asked them to believe what only children could believe. Surely they will find it more natural to obey an English king, who will exercise his powers under Parliament and under God."

Cromwell's ambition and identity come together as he solidifies in his role as a major historical figure. The reader knows the historical Cromwell is influential, but to the Cromwell of the novel this influence is still a matter of ambition, not historical fact. At the same time Mantel writes with the full knowledge of the historical record. So a passage about the influence Cromwell will have must be seen as both the ambition of the character and the hindsight of the author. One such passage occurs in this chapter: "He can shape events, mold them. He can contain the fears of other men, and give them a sense of solidity." In the context of the novel these are the inner thoughts of the protagonist—what he hopes about himself and the world. To the historian Cromwell's legacy is already secured, and he is recognized as an imperturbable statesman and problem solver.

In a nod to the novel's title, one of Cromwell's household men, Christophe, wonders if wolves still live nearby. Cromwell replies, "I think the wolves all died when the great forests were cut down. That howling you hear is only the Londoners." Cromwell is under no illusions about the nature of Henry's court.

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