Literature Study GuidesWolf HallPart 6 Chapter 2 Summary

Wolf Hall | Study Guide

Hilary Mantel

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Wolf Hall | Part 6, Chapter 2 : The Map of Christendom, 1534–1535 | Summary



Pope Clement has died, there is a new pope—whom the English now call the Bishop of Rome—and Henry's situation seems secure. He is pleased by Cromwell, who seems unable to fail. He offers Cromwell the position of Lord Chancellor, but Cromwell says no—he prefers the position Master of Rolls instead. This provides him with a residence in Chancery Lane—closer to Westminster—a visit to which prompts nostalgia about Austin Friars. Always the businessman, he buys, sells, and leases other properties and considers how best to accumulate and store his wealth. He also considers how lending money and doing favors for others can accomplish long-term goals.

King Henry is disgruntled that people still think he should take Katherine back and worries that his former wife will run away and bring an army against him. His concerns are fantastical and increasingly paranoid—he brings his own iron lock with him everywhere, not trusting normal security measures.

Thomas More is wasting away, getting thinner and thinner, but despite his weakness Cromwell must convince him to swear to support the Act of Supremacy. This act "states that [the king] is head of the church, and always has been." More refuses this second oath as he refused swearing to the Act of Succession, so his goods are seized and he is denied visitors and walks outside of his home.

Mary Boleyn is pregnant and everyone is certain the child is the king's, although Mary says it is her husband's, William Stafford. Anne is furious and refuses to have her sister at court—forcing her to go live at Kent.

Despite an interruption as Cromwell becomes severely ill, Henry and Cromwell's overhaul of England's religious landscape moves forward aggressively. Henry appoints Cromwell to a new position: Vicegerent in Spirituals. This allows Cromwell to close monasteries and seize their assets. Several clergymen still faithful to Rome are executed, including Bishop Fisher. Thomas More, still unwilling to swear the oaths, is to be tried for treason.


This chapter dwells on Cromwell's amazing success. His accomplishment in securing Henry's annulment and making Henry leader of the English Church has changed history, and it seems as if Henry can hardly believe his good fortune. He lavishes every praise on Cromwell, noting that Cranmer advised him to give Cromwell plenty of rewards for his work: "Cranmer bids me listen to Cromwell, and if he needs a post, a tax, an impost, a measure in Parliament or a royal proclamation, give it to him." Even so, Cromwell's ambition has not been fully satisfied. He has a goal: "All this is small stuff. It's nothing to what he intends to have, or to what Henry will owe him." And he has a strategy: "A great net is spreading about him, a web of favors done and favors received. "

It may seem as if Cromwell's fortune is going a little too well, or that his ambition is beginning to run away with him. Perhaps Mantel enjoys foreshadowing the eventual fall of Cromwell, like Cardinal Wolsey—also rich and accomplished—before him.

In keeping with the goal of humanizing Cromwell, though, Mantel gives readers a look into Cromwell's human side as well, even as he enjoys the spoils of his war with Rome. The novel has hinted that Cromwell has had eyes for Jane Seymour before. Here it is clear he has taken an interest in her, since memories of Liz haunt him: "Liz, he thinks, take your dead hand off me. Do you grudge me this one little girl, so small, so thin, so plain?" This is likely the motivation for his decision to plan a stay at Wolf Hall in the next chapter. Henry will also take an interest in thin, plain Jane Seymour.

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