Wolf Hall was, maybe still is, the ancestral estate of the Seymours. Jane was Henry VIII’s third wife and the mother of Edward VI. She came in between the headless wives and contrary to popular myth, Henry did not routinely murder his wives. His first and third wives died of age and childbirth respectively. He’d divorced number one because he became convinced he’d sinned in marrying his brother’s widow, as she was, and that this was the cause of his son-less state. A hugely big deal in the Middle Ages. Well, let’s be real, being without sons is still considered tragic to lesser or greater degrees depending on where in the world you stand. He annulled his fourth marriage on grounds of ugliness and bad breath, and wife six survived him but only just. Wives two, five and six were adulterers to varying degrees with two and four losing their heads over it and six barely managing to outlive him before being arrested for treason herself. Wife two’s guilt isn’t proven but five and six were definitely involved with other men which given Henry’s reputation was just plain stupid.
Wolf Hall is mentioned infrequently in the novel of the same name by Hilary Mantel. In fact the Seymours only appear when the author wants to foreshadow or make a specific point about creeping evil. Jane Seymour’s father was a lecher who carried on with his daughter-in-law at one point and may have even fathered his own “grandchildren” on her. Jane herself is a quiet voice of practicality who is continually affirming Cromwell’s (the main character’s) information about the debauchery that goes on in her childhood home.
Wolf Hall represents the slip on the slope and it’s not until the end of the novel, after Thomas More’s head is piked on London Bridge that Cromwell heads off on his first visit to the Seymour’s. But an astounding amount of teetering on the top of the slope has taken place by this point and even if I didn’t know that Thomas Cromwell will lose his own head at a not to distant point in the future, I’d be able to guess it.
I love Tudor England. Sometimes I wonder if my affinity suggests that I lived a life or two there. There are only a few other time periods I am drawn to so perhaps.
It was not a simple or simple-minded time. Henry is neither monster nor misunderstood. Thomas More is no saint and Cromwell not as soulless as the history books would like us to believe.
History is suspect. It’s written by the winners and the vanquished never get to tell their side of the tale. Tales, being multi-sided like houses and books, should represent, don’t you agree?
Wolf Hall is a sumptuous read. It’s so hard to find decent fiction anymore that I am a bit sad when I finish. Thick text though so be aware that an audio version might be better. I found a delightful discussion about it at The Slate and will leave you with a pulp version of Tom and Henry.