Although a work of fiction, Hilary Mantel’s books Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies are steeped in well-researched fact which is supported by documentary evidence at The National Archives and elsewhere. The current dramatisation of the novels in BBC 2’s Wolf Hall prompted me to unearth some of the many related documents we have which echo what we are watching each Wednesday night.
Be aware that this blog post includes plot spoilers, so do not read if you do not already know how the stories of Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn unfold!
In the State Papers – records kept by the Secretaries of State – we have Cromwell’s own archive, forfeited at his attainder in 1540. Most of this represents his in-tray (letters and petitions he received) rather than the correspondence he sent out in the course of the king’s business. Nevertheless, his records and related documents provide tantalising glimpses into the world of the Tudor court which is currently being brought so compellingly to life on our television screens.
In episode 1 (Three Card Trick) of the BBC’s Wolf Hall, we saw Anne Boleyn playing with Cromwell’s name, pronouncing it as ‘Cremuel’, with a French accent. We can actually find examples of this exact spelling by French and Italian correspondents in the State Papers. The Spanish ambassador, Eustace Chapuys, is known to have spelled Cromwell’s name thus in correspondence to the Emperor Charles V and an Italian sculptor recorded this spelling in his receipt for a payment made to him on the King’s account by Cromwell (SP 1/65, f.47).
Of course, this was a period when spelling was highly fluid, and names could be rendered in several ways even in the course of a single document. Cromwell was also frequently addressed as Thomas Crumwell and often signed his name with that spelling as can be seen from this extract (SP 1/81, f.32).