Wolf Hall Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Hilary Mary Mantel

First published: 2009

Genre: Novel

Locale: London, England; York, England; Calais, France

Plot: Historical fiction

Time: 1500–1535

Thomas Cromwell, the ambitious son of an alcoholic blacksmith who becomes chief aide to Cardinal Thomas Wolsey before eventually rising to confidant and minister to King Henry VIII. A cunning and intelligent religious skeptic, he is both an opportunist and an idealist of stocky build and dark features. When he was young, Cromwell was frequently beaten by his father, Walter, and fled on a ship to Europe. These early beatings hardened Cromwell and developed in him a dislike for privileged society and conventional religiosity. In Europe, he served in the French army and worked as a merchant in cities such as Florence, Italy. He also developed many skills, including languages, the use of visual memory, and accounting. After a stint as a lawyer, Cromwell works as aide to Cardinal Wolsey, adviser to Henry VIII. After Wolsey is stripped of his position, Cromwell helps the king achieve the divorce from Katherine of Aragon he desires. Around this time, his wife, Lizzie, and two daughters die during an epidemic. By 1535, Cromwell has reached the height of his power at age fifty. He has overseen England's split with the Roman Catholic Church and the dissolution of the monasteries. Henry VIII expresses the utmost confidence in him. Through it all, he remains an industriously calculating person. In the end, he is charting Henry VIII's travels and planning a holiday for himself at Wolf Hall, the home of the Seymour family.

King Henry VIII, the king of England. He is a volatile ruler who shows both mercy and cruelty to his subjects. Within him is a ruthless desire to expand his power over the lives and property of England. Though it is illegal under the Roman Catholic Church, Henry VIII wishes to divorce his wife, Queen Katherine of Aragon, because she has not produced him a son and heir, and marry Anne Boleyn. Henry VIII claims that because Katherine was previously married to his late brother, she was not a virgin when they married, which would be grounds to nullify their marriage. Though Cardinal Wolsey fails to persuade the pope to grant the divorce, Henry VIII notices how that failure empowers Cromwell. With Cromwell's help, Henry VIII is able to break from the Roman Catholic Church and marry Anne Boleyn.

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, archbishop of York, chief adviser to Henry VIII. Tall and rotund with a large head, he dresses only in expensive red fabrics. When Cromwell goes to work for the cardinal, Wolsey is in his mid-fifties. In order to establish two colleges in his name, Wolsey attempts to consolidate church lands and close several monasteries. Before he can accomplish this, Henry VIII tasks him with convincing the church to nullify his marriage so he can marry Anne Boleyn. When Wolsey's dispatch attempts to plead the king's case to the pope in Rome, he is unsuccessful. Due to this failure, Henry VIII orders him back to York and dismisses him as lord chancellor.

Sir Thomas More, a Catholic philosopher and adviser to the king who wholly opposes the Protestant Reformation and Henry VIII's desire to split from the Roman Catholic Church. More is viewed as a religious fanatic who is rancorous and fearful in his extremism. He practices self-flagellation and wears a hair shirt, which Cromwell also finds revolting. More approves of torturing confessions out of perceived heretics and treats his wife poorly. When Henry VIII successfully breaks from the church and marries Anne Boleyn, More is tried and executed for treason for rejecting Henry as head of the church in England.

Anne Boleyn, the second wife of King Henry VIII, whom he marries after he breaks from the church and nullifies his marriage to Katherine of Aragon. Anne has long black eyelashes, small white teeth, and golden skin. She is a determined and controlled woman who sometimes gives in to impulse. When she arrives at the court of Henry VIII in 1521, many of the gentlemen, including the king, become enamored of her. Controversy surrounds her secret engagement to Harry Percy, one of the king's attendants who had been promised to another noblewoman. When Henry VIII shows interest in her, she refuses to have sex with him until they are married. She despises Cardinal Wolsey and wishes him dead.

Queen Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII's first wife. Since she has not produced Henry VIII a son and heir, the king wishes to divorce her. She was formerly married to the king's brother, and while she asserts that they did not consummate their marriage, Henry VIII claims she was not a virgin when they wed, which would be grounds to nullify their marriage under the Church of England. When Henry VIII successfully nullifies the marriage, Katherine refuses to accept Anne Boleyn as the new queen of England and is banished from the court.

Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn's blond older sister and Henry VIII's mistress before he becomes interested in Anne. Cromwell and Mary become friends during Cardinal Wolsey's attempts to nullify the king's marriage. Mary, recently widowed, proposes marriage to Cromwell, but he does not accept.

Thomas Howard, the Duke of Norfolk and Anne and Mary's uncle. He is a scheming old war veteran who conceals many holy medals on his person. He dislikes Cardinal Wolsey and admires Cromwell's perseverance when he steps in as the king's minister.

Categories: Characters