Wolf Hall is not a funny book as such, but there are many funny moments. There are also a number of funny moments in Bring Up The Bodies. Interestingly, there are very few funny moments in the conclusion to the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, even though it’s about as long as the other two books put together.
Because I can’t think of a proper blog post to write, I am simply stealing from someone else. Dear reader, I give you the funniest bits from Wolf Hall and its sequels. Enjoy.
This is Thomas Cromwell in conversation with Cardinal Wolsey. He says:
“I think, if you’re going to kill a man, do it. Don’t write him a letter about it. Don’t bluster and threaten and put him on his guard.”
And the Cardinal says: “If you ever plan to be off your guard, let me know. It is something I should like to see.”
The Testament he keeps in the chest is the pirated edition from Antwerp, which is easier to get hold of than the proper German printing. […] His Testament is in octavo, nasty cheap paper: on the title page, where the printer’s colophon and address should be, the words ‘PRINTED IN UTOPIA’. He hopes Thomas More has seen one of these. He is tempted to show him, just to see his face.
And then I laugh because I imagine Thomas More’s face. Incidentally, Martin Luther complained bitterly about the quickly produced pirated editions of his bible translation – “they make it bish-bash-bosh, because only making money counts” – because these editions are full of mistakes which then reflect badly on him.
This is after Cardinal Wolsey has taken a pendant from around his neck and given it to the courtier Henry Norris.
Cavendish [Wolsey’s gentleman usher] jolts up, riding knee-to-knee. ‘His reliquary!’ George is upset, astonished. ‘To part with it like this! It is a piece of the true Cross!’
‘We’ll get him another [says Cromwell]. I know a man in Pisa makes them ten for five florins and a round dozen for cash upfront. And you get a certificate with St Peter’s thumbprint, to say they’re genuine.’
‘For shame!’ Cavendish says, and twitches his horse away.
When I worked at the Pitt Rivers Museum, I came across a cross in the collection which incorporated a piece of the true cross. No certificate though. This always reminds of “The Name of the Rose” and William of Baskerville who says that if all those pieces of the true cross were genuine, Jesus would have to have been crucified on a whole forest.
Cardinal Wolsey to Cromwell: ‘If your chance comes to serve [the king], you will have to take him as he is, a pleasure-loving prince. And he will have to take you as you are, which is rather like one of those square-shaped fighting dogs that low men tow about on ropes. Not that you are without a fitful charm, Tom.’
He goes home and tells Liz about the fighting dogs. She also thinks it strikingly apt. He doesn’t tell her about the fitful charm, in case it’s something only the cardinal can see.
He goes to see Anne. A thorn between two roses, she is sitting with her cousin Mary Shelton, and her brother’s wife Jane, Lady Rochford. ‘My lady, do you know the king has devised a new form of death for Fisher’s cook? He is to be boiled alive.’
Mary Shelton gives a little gasp, and flushes as if some gallant had pinched her. Jane Rochford drawls, ‘Vere dignum et justum est, aequum et salutare.’ She translates for Mary: ‘Apt.’
Okay, maybe this isn’t funny if you don’t know any Latin. And you might think you cannot translate a whole sentence into a single word. But believe me, the translation is absolutely perfect. And the condensation into a single word makes it funny.
Bring Up The Bodies
Cromwell chatting to his cook in the kitchen, and the conversation turns to Cromwell’s ancestors.
‘Who were your mother’s people, sir?’
‘They were northerners.’
Thurston grins. ‘Come out of a cave. You know young Francis Weston? He that waits on the king? His people are giving out that you’re a Hebrew.’ He grunts; he’s heard that one before. ‘Next time you’re at court,’ Thurston advises, ‘take your cock out and put it on the table and see what he says to that.’
‘I do that anyway,’ he says. ‘If the conversation flags.’
The cook, by the way, is a real person. It is known that Cromwell had a cook named Thurston. To know that is not funny, but it gives me pleasure.
This is after Katherine of Aragon has died:
Christophe comes to him, whispering: ‘Sir, they are saying on the streets that Katherine was murdered. They are saying that the king locked her in a room and starved her to death. They are saying that he sent her almonds, and she ate, and was poisoned. They are saying that you sent two murderers with knives, and that they cut out her heart, and when it was inspected, your name was branded there in big black letters.’
‘What? On her heart? “Thomas Cromwell”?’
Christophe hesitates. ‘Alors…Perhaps just your initials.’
About Thomas Boleyn:
He is not a man wedded to action, Boleyn, but rather a man who stands by, smirking and stroking his beard; he thinks he looks enigmatic, but instead he looks as if he’s pleasuring himself.
He gets Sir Francis round and gets him drunk. He, Cromwell, can trust himself; when he was young, he learned to drink with Germans.
This makes me laugh, obviously, because I’m German. Although my stamina where drinking is concerned does my nation no credit.
Sir Nicholas Carew comes to see him. The very fibres of his beard are bristling with conspiracy.
He needs to sit down for his barber. He has not perfected the art of dictating letters while being shaved. Perhaps I’ll grow my beard, he thinks, to save time. Only then, Hans would insist on committing another portrait against me.
I said that The Mirror And The Light does not have many funny bits, but here is one, about the baby prince Edward:
He makes full use of his Christmas present from the old Earl of Essex – a rattle combined with a bell. The Earl of Essex is stone deaf.
And to finish, a bonus joke: from Beyond Black, by Hilary Mantel:
The Fig and Pheasant, under a more dignified name, had once been a coaching inn, and its frontage was still spattered with the exudates of a narrow, busy A-road. In the sixties it had stood near-derelict and draughty, with a few down-at-heel regulars huddled into a corner of its cavernous rooms. In the seventies it was bought out by a steakhouse chain and Tudorised, fitted with plywood oak-stained panels and those deep-buttoned settles covered in stainproof plush of which the Tudors were so fond.