Friday, August 02, 2013

Public Meetings, Tortured Confessions, Truth, And Endings

Public Meetings
 One of Thomas Cromwell's scribes is talking about rumors he heard.

 "[Wriothesley] says, 'I hear that in council the king declared he will see to marry Lady Mary to a subject.'
Surely that's not what the meeting concluded?  In a moment, he feels like himself again:  hears himself laughing and saying,  'Oh for Christ's sake . . .Who told you that?  Sometimes,' he says, 'I think it would save time and work if all the interested parties came to the council, including foreign ambassadors.  The proceedings leak out anyway, and to save them mishearing and misconstruing they might as well hear everything first hand.'"
I've finished Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, her second award winning book on Thomas Cromwell.   It takes place between the Fall of 1535 and Summer 1536. These are works of fiction written today, so there is danger in thinking these are lessons from another era.  While Mantel has done a great deal of research and has attempted to think as Cromwell thought, she is a modern woman and that consciously or unconsciously affects how she interprets Cromwell.  Nevertheless,   these topics are timely and worth considering and she writes well.  So I offer them as food for thought and perhaps to entice a few to read the books (Wolf Hall was the first one.)  Variety, among others, reports that the BBC and HBO are working on a six part mini-series of the two books.

Getting Confessions Through Torture

Cromwell is attempting to get Mark Smeaton, one of the queen's courtiers, to confess to adultery.
"Tell us now about your adultery with the queen and what you know of her dealings with other men, and then if your confession is prompt and full, clear and unsparing, it is possible that the king will show mercy.'
Mark is hardly hearing hi.  His limbs are trembling and his breathing is short, he is beginning to cry and to stumble over his words.  Simplicity is best now, brisk questions requiring easy answers.  Richard [Cromwell's nephew] asks him, "You see this person here?" Christophe points to himself, in cae Mark is in doubt.  'Do you take him for a pleasant fellow?' Richard asks.  'Would you like to spend ten minutes alone with him?'
'Five would do it,' Christophe predicts.
He [Cromwell[  says, "I explained to you, Mark, that Mr. Wriothesley will write down what you say.  But he will not necessarily write down what we do.  You follow me?  That will be just between us.'
Mark says, "Mother Mary, help me.'
Mr. Wriothesley says, 'We can take you to the Tower where there is a rack.'
'Wriothesley, may I have a word with you aside?'  He waves [Wriothesley] out of the room and on the threshold speaks in an undertone.  'It is better not to specify the nature of the pain.  As Juvenal says, the mind is its own best torturer.  Besides, you should not make empty threats.  I will not rack him.  I do not want him carried to his trial in a chair.  And if I needed to rack a sad little fellow like this  . . . what next?  Stamping on dormice?'
'I am reproved,' Mr. Wriothesley says.
He puts his hand on Wriothesley's arm.  'Never Mind.  You are doing very well.'

This is a business that tries the most experienced.  He remembers that day in the forge when a hot iron had seared his skin.  There was no choice of resisting the pain.  His mouth dropped open and a scream flew out and hit the wall.  His father ran to hm and said 'Cross your hands,' and helped him to water and to salve, but afterwards Walter said to him, 'It's happened to us all.  It's how you learn.  You learn to do things the way your father taught you, and not by some foolish method you hit upon yourself half and hour ago.'
He thinks of ths:  re-entering the room, he asks Mark, "Do you know you can learn from pain?'

But, he explains, the circumstances must be right.  To learn you must have a future:  what if someone has chosen this pain for you and they are going to inflict it for as long as they like, and only stop once you're dead?  You can make sense of your suffering, perhaps.  You can offer it up for the struggling souls in Purgatory, if you believe in Purgatory.  That might work for saints, whose souls are shining white.  But not for Mark Smeaton, who is in mortal sin, a self confessed adulterer.  He says, "No one wants your pain, Mark.  It's no good to anyone, no one's interested in it.  Not even God himself and certainly not me.  I have no use for your screams.  I want words that make sense.  Words I can transcribe.  You have already spoken them and it will be easy enough to speak them again.  So now what you do is your choice.  It is your responsibility.  You have done enough, by your own account, to damn you.  Do not make sinners of us all.

It may, even now, be necessary to impress on the boy's imagination the stageson the route ahead:  the walk from the room of confinement to the place of suffering:  the wait, as the rope is uncoiled or the guiltless iron is set to heat.  In that space, every thought that occupies the mind is taken out and replaced by blind terror.   .  .

It continues discussing the relationship between the victims mind and the terror.

But Mark will be spared this;  for now he looks up:  'Master Secretary, will you tell me again what my confession must be? 

What Makes A Good Man?

Wriothesley is a young man who works for Cromwell.  But Cromwell also assumes that he is also a spy for Cromwell's enemy Stephen Gardiner, whom Cromwell has had sent to France on errands for the King.  Cromwell tolerates Wriothesley for several reasons.  It seems that one is he thinks he might bring him over to his side.  He also knows he's in contact with Gardiner.
 "One can never be sure what Wriothesley is reporting to Gardiner.  Hopefully, matter that will cause Gardiner to scratch his head in puzzlement, and quiver in alarm."
In this passage, Wriothesley is trying to understand why Cromwell is trying to protect Thomas Wyatt, one of the courtiers around Anne Boleyn and King Henry VII, while he's setting up the other courtiers for execution.

"It is not easy to explain to a young man like Wriothesley why he values Wyatt.  He wants to say, because, good fellows though you are, he is not like you or Richard Riche.  He does not talk simply to hear his own voice, or pick arguments just to win them.  He is not like George Boleyn:  he does not write verses to sexi women in the hope of bundling one of them into a dark corner where he can slip his cock into her.  He writes to warn and to chastise, and not to confess his need but to conceal it.  He understands honour but does not boast of his own.  He is perfectly equipped as a courtier, but he knows the small value of that.  He has studied the world without despising it.  He understands the world without rejecting it.  He has no illusions but he has hopes.  He does not sleepwalk through his life.  His eyes are open, and his ears for sounds others miss." (p. 476*)

This immediately follows the paragraph above:

"But he decides to give Wriothesley an explanation he can follow.  'It is not Wyatt,' he says, 'who stands in my way with the king.  It is not Wyatt who turns me out of the privy chamber when I need the king's signature.  It is not he who is continually dropping slander against me like poison into Henry's ear.'
Mr. Wriothesley looks at him speculatively.  'I see. It is not so much, who is guilty, as whose guilt is of service to you.'  He smiles.  'I admire you, sir.  You are deft in these matters, and without false compunction.'
He is not sure he wants Wriothesley to admire him.  Not on those grounds.  He says, ' It may be that any of these gentlemen who are named could disarm suspicion.  Or if suspicion remained, they could by some appeal stay the king's hand.  [Wriothelsey], we are not priests.  We don't want their sort of confession  We are lawyers.  We want the truth little by little and only those parts of it we can use." (pp. 476-7*)

There Are No Endings

Here are the last four sentences of the book:
"There are no endings.  If you think so you are deceived as to their nature.  They are all beginnings.  This is one."

The first book, Wolf Hall, ended as they were on the road to Wolf Hall.  They were never there in the book.  The second book, Bring Up The Bodies, begins in Wolf Hall.  It's not until page 605* of the book's 673 pages, that we read:
"The order goes to the Tower, 'Bring up the bodies.'  Deliver, that is, the accused men, by name Weston, Brereton, Smeaton and Norris, to Westminster Hall for trial."
A third novel is in the works.  One in which, presumably, it will be Cromwell's turn to lose his head.  

*I have the large print copy from the library so the pages will be different from the regular print versions.

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