Is the First Law trilogy worth reading

Wolves / Tudor Trilogy Vol. 1

Süddeutsche Zeitung | Meeting of 08/23/2010What happened in the name of good
Booker Prize Winner 2009: Hilary Mantel's great historical novel about Oliver Cromwell and Thomas More
The lords of the English court had little esteem for the painter from Germany. He showed them the world and people too much as they were and not as one would have liked to see them. King Henry VIII is supposed to have said: "Know that I can make seven lords out of seven peasants in one minute, but not a single Holbein out of seven lords of your kind."
Hans Holbein the Younger (around 1497 to 1543), master painter of the Renaissance, portrayed two men from Heinrich's inner circle of power in London, besides the Tudor King, whose duel changed England and Europe forever: Thomas More (1478-1535), the Lord Chancellor , Catholic thought leader and author of “Utopia”, and Thomas Cromwell (around 1485 - 1540), the most important advisor at the ruler's court.
In Holbein's picture, More has fine, intelligent features and a thoughtful look that has something unwavering in it. Cromwell, dressed darkly like his opponent, is a bear of man, with a coarse face in which the eyes are also conspicuous: cold and clever, tough and watchful. If these two men fight a battle for power and belief, it won't be More who wins it.
Indeed, Thomas Cromwell was the winner. He is the main character in the novel "Wölfe", which has just been published in German. In 2009, the author Hilary Mantel received the Booker Prize, the most important literary award in Great Britain, for the powerful epic. But as far as his image in posterity was concerned, Cromwell was clearly the loser. He is considered the epitome of the perfidious power man, a master of Machiavellianism. Thomas More, on the other hand, went down in history as a martyr and righteous man. He remained loyal to the Pope and refused the king to annul his marriage to Catherine of Aragon and to marry the beautiful Anne Boleyn. For this, Heinrich, driven by his dearest servant Cromwell, had him beheaded in 1535.
In Robert Bolt's 1960 drama “A Man for All Seasons” (1960), Cromwell leaves the place of execution with a companion after More's beheading and walks off jokingly, “with the repentant laugh of a man who knows what this world is like and how to make yourself comfortable in it ”. And in this world he has achieved a lot: the Church of England renounced the power of the Pope, placed under the king, nationalized parts of the enormous clerical property. And Heinrich finally married Anne, the break with Rome was complete - thanks to the dark man.
Hilary Mantel has turned this front position into its opposite with a bold trick. Cromwell is her hero, More is the taskmaster of a falling order. His weapons are intrigue, torture and murder. For the humanist who preached the ideal of peaceful coexistence in “Utopia”, this is historically daring, but not implausible.
More died for his beliefs. But these convictions were themselves part of a tyranny, that of the church, which at the beginning of the 16th century, through its own fault, had got into an existential crisis. The picture of Thomas More, as Mantel draws it, seems eerily topical; it is no coincidence that it recalls the moral decline of America and Great Britain after the joint invasion of Iraq in 2003: good intentions justify the means, and in the name of great values ​​is itself violation of which is permitted, yes required. And in fact, the real More has demanded death and fire for all heretics, because "mild treatment only makes them the bolder".
At the end of the novel, he is sitting in a dark cell in the London Tower. He lost, but in an oppressive scene he remains a terrible soldier of good and says very seriously to Cromwell: “I don't do any harm to anyone. I don't say anything bad. I don't think anything bad. If that's not enough to keep a man alive. . . “Cromwell holds him up against the torture, the screams of the tortured, all the suffering that More caused. But he doesn't understand him: what happened in the name of good cannot be bad.
Cromwell is a tough, non-winning, but by no means diabolical man here; like More, he follows an internal law. He uses the ruler's trust to free his country from the clutches of the Vatican and the Church. The time is ripe for change and the opportunity is unique. This church is deeply corrupted, its power as shaken as its morality. In Germany, Martin Luther challenges them to the utmost. In 1527, imperial mercenaries desecrate Rome and humiliate Pope Clement VII in an orgy of murder and fire. And in England they cling to power and wealth; it burns people who read the gospel in English instead of Latin, the language of the clergy. Cromwell is the man who breaks that rule. Christ, he says in the novel, “did not seek to rule and did not commission his disciples to rule. Christ did not make popes ”.
As a historical novel, "Wölfe" is a daring undertaking: It has a remarkable 780 pages, plus some that offer little sex and crime and no battle noise. Nevertheless, one cannot escape the pull of this brilliantly translated book: It is coherent, authentic, takes seriously the world it describes. That is what sets it apart from the bulk of the genre. The historical novel is booming and yet it is in a crisis. Colorful epics about tragically loving crusaders and damsels are popular, who turn out to be politically correct power women at the sight of darklings wielding the morning star. It's fun for the readers, and you can't have anything against having fun reading. But these novels only pretend to tell a story; they are as far removed from their reality as the eternal thrillers about ingenious serial killers are from the dreary reality of such crimes.
Hilary Mantel doesn't know what it really was like either. But she can claim that at least it could have been that way. And it paints the fascinating picture of a world far away from us. It doesn't show wars and the thunder of cannons, but everyday life: “In the evening in Lambeth, when it's still light and all the pots are being scrubbed, the boys go outside and play football on the cobblestones. They curse and bump into each other, and until someone yells to stop, they fight their fists and sometimes bite each other. Behind the open window above their heads, the young gentlemen sing a polyphonic song with the high, clear voices they have been taught. "
Mantel describes the misery of the rag kids in the alleys and the flower gardens of the palaces; the filth of the dives and the beauty of a summer morning by the Thames; the splendor of a royal table and the power of nature over man. So Cromwell's wife and daughters die of a fever, and there is nothing that even a man as powerful as he can do for them - except to mourn them.
In addition, the author creates some nice analogies to the present. Cromwell's shops run through Florence, Venice, Antwerp; in the courts of money, he thinks, power is greater than that of kings. His world is changing, it is breaking away from the Middle Ages, and how one complains today about the evils of global networking is lamented in the book about the new art of printing: Allow every foolish heretic to spread his theses across the Christian world.
Until the death of Cromwell, who fell out of favor in 1540 and was also executed - the king regretted this afterwards - the book is not sufficient. It tells the story of a man and his victory in this death game of morality and power: "The wolf," says Cromwell, "attacks the flock of sheep, but not on the nights when men with dogs are waiting for him."
JOACHIM KÄPPNER
HILARY COAT: Wolves. Translated from the English by Christiane Trabant. Dumont Buchverlag, Cologne 2010. 780 pages, 22.95 euros.
More is the taskmaster here
of a falling order
“The wolf falls over them
Flock of sheep. . . "
Cromwell (right behind J. R. Meyers as Henry VIII) as seen on television - in the TV history series "The Tudors". Photo: Prosieben Television GmbH
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