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Wolf Hall Wednesday: All Kinds of Torture

Damian Lewis as the petulant King Henry VIII watches Thomas Cromwell (Mark Rylance) shoot

Welcome back, oh ye few readers of Wolf Hall Wednesdays. This is where I share my thoughts on my weekly reading of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall which I'm taking in chunks of about a hundred pages per, in advance of the BBC production coming to Masterpiece here in the states. To be honest this week was a little tough; I got distracted by Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 — a much faster and more exciting read, and only returned to Wolf Hall because of my weekly commitment here. It's like a bad homework assignment I gave myself which is crazy because no one gives a damn! But I did my homework, the reading from roughly p. 205 —p. 300 and I found myself thinking ok, got it. Henry wants her. She wants him. He's married. The pope won't allow the divorce. Thomas More won't allow it. Henry wants Thomas Cromwell to find a way around the pope. Cromwell, while he disagrees with the king, will do what he can do to alleviate the situation. It's his job. Got it. Got it. Got it. It felt redundant, a tad tedious at times.

Take this excerpt where Cromwell has joined the king in some shooting. When Henry, frustrated by his lack of success,
"shouts, "From various quarters I receive the advice I should consider my marriage dissolved in the eyes of Christian Europe, and may remarry as I please. And soon."
He doesn't shout back.
"But others say ..." The breeze blows, his words are carried off, toward Europe.
"I am one of the other others."
"Dear Jesus," Henry says. "I will be unmanned by it. How long do you suppose my patience lasts?"
He hesitates to say, you are still living with your wife. You share a roof, a court, where've you move together, she's on the queen's side, you on the king's; you told the cardinal she was your sister, not your wife, but if today you do not shoot well, if the breeze is not in your favor or you find your eyes blurred by sudden tears, it is only sister Katherine whom you can tell; you can admit no weakness or failure to Anne Boleyn."
Okay, okay. We get it. The king is mad for her. And she, withholding sex from him, only makes him more rabid for her treasures. Anne Boleyn was, as we know, quite the femme fatale. Five of the men who serve the king will eventually go down with her, all charged with adultery. It seems as though everyone but Thomas Cromwell is in love with her; the question still remains did she or didn't she?

To listen to her sister, Mary Boleyn, everyone's had her, or could —
"She is selling herself by the inch. The gentlemen all say you are advising her. She wants presents in cash for every advance above her knee. "
P. 268

The most likely to is Thomas Wyatt, handsome poet and allegedly one of Boleyn's lovers, a married man whom Cromwell takes under his wing.
"By the account of drinkers in Kent alehouses, and the backstairs servants at court (the musician Mark for one), Anne has done Thomas Wyatt all the favors a man might reasonably ask, even in a brothel."

Thomas Wyatt is played by Jack Lowden in the BBC production of Wolf Hall

Finally! Some juice! But Thomas Wyatt tells Cromwell a different story
"My father says that now Wolsey is dead you're the cleverest man in England. So can you understand this, if I say it just once? If Anne is not a virgin, that's none of my doing."
 p. 294

And goes on to explain.
"For two years," Wyatt says, "I was sick to my soul to think of any other man touching her. But what could I offer? I am a married man, and not the duke or prince she was fishing for, either. She liked me, I think, or she liked to have me in thrall to her, it amused her We would be alone, she would let me kiss her, and I always thought ... but that is Anne's tactic, you see, she says yes, yes, yes, then she says no."
"But then another day would come and again she would let me kiss her. Yes, yes, yes, no. The worst of it is her hinting, her boasting almost, that she says no to me but yes to others—" 
"Who are?"
"Oh, names, names would spoil her pastime. It must be so arranged that every man you see, at court or down in Kent, you think, is he the one? Is it him, or him? So you are continually asking yourself why you've fallen short, why you can never please her, why you never get the chance." 
p. 295

So that's perked things up a bit! But it's a lot of that — conversation as opposed to scenes where we see Boleyn being the big tease as opposed to hearing the men talk about it. Lots of talk, interior monologues and reportage. I need a little more action please. I'm a bit disappointed as the book started out so visually strong with the fight between Cromwell and his father! She really and me going.

On the other hand it's 1531 which means people are starting to be hauled off to the tower in droves. If Thomas Wyatt thought Anne Boleyn's treatment was torture, well, he hasn't seen anything yet!Thomas More is accusing everyone of reading the new gospel —in English, not Latin HORRORS! — and is torturing them to get at the truth in all kinds of horrible ways. Pretty gruesome treatment, but it's ancient history so I hope I can find it interesting without being accused of being ghoulish.
Skeffington's Daughter was invented as an instrument of torture in the reign of Henry VIII by Sir Leonard Skeffington, Lieutenant of the Tower of London, a son of Sir William Skeffington, Lord Deputy of Ireland, and his first wife, Margaret Digby.
"They say he uses the whip, the manacles and the torment-frame they call Skeffington's Daughter. It is a portable device, into which a man is folded, knees to chest, with a hoop of iron across his back: by means of a screw the hoop is tightened until his ribs crack. It takes art to make sure the man does not suffocate; for if he does, everything he knows is lost."

Again, not to be too ghoulish about it; we're told about it. We don't see it. Very different thing!

So that's it for this week. I'm sharing a trailer for the program below.

And now back to Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith. But shhhh, don't tell anyone.
And definitely don't tell them it's one of the books I'm most looking forward to seeing onscreen this year. Child 44 starring Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman and Noomi Rapace is set in Stalin-era Soviet Union when communism was supposed to equalize things so that lack of poverty translated to lack of crime. Unfortunately, it didn't quite work out that way.

Wolf Hall BBC 2 Trailer 

          Wolf Hall Wednesday: Week 1
Wolf Hall Wednesday: Week 2