Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Wolf Hall

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Wolf Hall

A Novel

by Hilary Mantel

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
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  • First Published:
    Oct 2009, 560 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 2010, 592 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Judy Krueger

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Cast of Characters

Henry VIII
King of England 1509-1547
Painted by Hans Holbein in 1536

German painter Hans Holbein made his reputation in Basel, designing wood blocks for book printers, and painting portraits and commissions for churches. Despite his relative success, the disturbed conditions of the Reformation led him to doubt his financial future and thus seek work in Britain. During his first visit in 1526 he was patronized by the circle of Sir Thomas More. Until his death Holbein was employed by Henry VIII in a wide assortment of tasks, ranging from designing court costumes, silverware, jewelry and triumphal arches to painting the actual and prospective brides of the monarch.

Thomas Cromwell
Appointed Lord Chancellor after Thomas More’s resignation and went on to become the King’s closest advisor.
Painted by Hans Holbein in 1532-33

Katherine of Aragon
Daughter of Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, she was originally married to Arthur, first son of Henry VII. Arthur died in 1502 and seven years later she was married to Henry VIII shortly after he was crowned King in 1509. She failed to provide him with a male heir, which led Henry to seek a divorce from her and replace her with Anne Boleyn.
Painted by Michael Sittow in 1502

Anne Boleyn
Henry VIII’s second wife, crowned Queen Consort June 1533. After giving birth to the future Elizabeth I of England, Anne also failed to provide Henry with a male heir. In 1536 Henry had her tried for high treason, charging her with dubious claims of incest and adultery, and she was beheaded on May 19, 1536.
Artist unknown

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Lord Chancellor from 1515-1529. Believing that Wolsey was deliberately delaying the annulment of his marriage to Katherine of Aragon, Henry VIII had him stripped of his title of Lord Chancellor, and later arrested on charges of high treason. He fell ill and died on his way to the Tower of London.
Painted by Sampson Strong in 1526

Sir Thomas More replaced Cardinal Thomas Wolsey as Lord Chancellor in 1529. He resigned in 1532 over the issue of King Henry’s attempt to have his marriage to Katherine annulled, and was found guilty of high treason and beheaded on July 6, 1535. More was beatified in 1886 and canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint by Pope Pius XI in 1935.
Painted by Hans Holbein in 1527

Article by Judy Krueger

This article was originally published in November 2009, and has been updated for the September 2010 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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