When any author writes a historical novel, the first question that must arise in any readers mind is how true to the events is it?I do not claim to be a Tudor scholar and know all the facts but it seems clear the author, Hilary Mantel, has chosen what to emphasize and what to downplay and thereby induce the reader to a certain point of view.
She appears to have stuck to the facts as well as we can know them. Of course the day to day lives of the participants has not been recorded and conversations must be surmised but I think she did a great job of bringing the characters to life and in keeping with the age that they lived. Mantel has chosen to portray Thomas More as a cold blooded villain and Cromwell a pragmatic humanist. While she has portrayed Anne as a sincere driving force behind the reform of the Church, she has also portrayed her as shrewish and conniving.
I feel a certain amount of pity for Anne. Her first engagement to Henry Percy was broken off by the married king who had designs on her for himself. She had already seen what being the king's mistress was like by witnessing what her sister, Mary, went through. Anne was already about 24 or 25 when the king had noticed her. It took seven years for the divorce from Henry's first wife to go forward. In the meantime Katherine was undiminished in her popularity, Anne was hated and there was threats against her life. By the time Henry married her, Anne was 32 or 33 and past her child bearing prime. How difficult must those years have been? As well as taking the place of a beloved monarch, she was a party to the break with the Church of Rome. After her fall, who would speak of her kindly? No one until her daughter became queen.
Was she as abrasive as she was made out to be? No doubt to some she was, she lived in rather trying circumstances. Was Cromwell the consummate civil servant dedicated to the process of reform? We know he became very wealthy under that reform. Not all the wealth of the monasteries made it into Henry's coffers. Was More the cold hearted Grand Inquisitor he was made out to be? In his lifetime, he denied torturing heretics and he is said to have educated all of the women in his household.
Cromwell is seen reading Cicero, with whom he shares a few characteristics. After all, they were both lawyers, 'new' men to the aristocracy, activists in their pursuit of the corrupt established order. Unlike Cicero, Cromwell was not afraid to take up the sword but, like Cicero, he will end with his head lopped of for running afoul of the powers that be. More reminds me of Cato the Younger for his ascetic sensibilities and his fearlessness in the face of death. Henry VIII could be likened to Theodoric the Great. He began as a great leader but devolved into paranoia and capriciousness, viewed as a heretic and responsible for the execution of a pope as well as a great man of letters Boethius. Theodoric, as well as Henry, had concubines, and left a daughter behind to rule which created instability in his realm. The War of the Roses having occurred so recently, was still firmly in everyone's memory and Henry was sincerely concerned with having the succession cinched with a son so as to not plunge the country into that sort of nightmare again.
After reading an interview with the author, I still find the choice of the title odd. After all, the novel begins with a chance meeting between the young More and Cromwell and ends with Cromwell orchestrating More's execution. In between that, is Henry's efforts to receive official sanction from Rome to marry Anne. The main thing preventing the annulling of the marriage to Katherine of Aragon was that her nephew was the Holy Roman Emperor and was holding the Pope hostage. This was one of the main arguments against bowing to the authority of Rome is that it was often loyal to a hostile prince.
That being said, following the break with Rome, the king and his archbishop of Canterbury, Cranmer, were excommunicated and by this act the king's palace effectively becomes a hall of 'wolves'. Wolf was another name for 'outlaw'. On page 531, when Cromwell became Master Secretary, he remembered Norfolk's words to Wolsey, during the cardinal's fall from grace, and he thought to himself 'homo homini lupus', which she translated as 'man is wolf to man'. Certainly people are preying upon other people throughout the novel.
The Wolf Hall of the title is not Cromwell's home, nor is it More's. It is not even a residence of Anne Boleyn but the home of the Seymours and does not ever even come into the tale except briefly as a rumour of some sort of scandal which had taken place there. Jane Seymour, Henry's third wife, flits in and out of the story as she was a lady in waiting to Queen Katherine and then Queen Anne. Mantel has Cromwell toy with the idea of making Jane his own wife, an astonishing suggestion for which I cannot truly say if she had any historical evidence. However this is a novel not a history.
In the interview with Peter Mares, she said that she ended the story with More's execution but Henry is planning his summer excursions and that he will end up at Wolf Hall. This does not take place in the story. In which case, perhaps the sequel should be called Wolf Hall but instead she resorted to the rather dubious title of 'Bring Up the Bodies' for it. Someone should assist her with the next title.