When The Past Comes To Life
|Thomas Cromwell: fixer, strategist, statesman – Scorpio. Hans Holbein|
King Henry VIII – charmer, playboy, wife-killer and the first head of the Church of England – had an axe-man, Thomas Cromwell, whose job it was to facilitate the King’s desires – divorce, dissolution, beheadings, taxation, extortion, legislation, diplomacy.
History has been unfair to the King’s fixer. Cromwell’s name was, until a few years ago, a byword for the greed and cruelty of the early modern period. He features as the baddie in many retellings of the story of Henry and his six wives. But then, after four centuries of infamy, this beady-eyed brute, had his reputation rescued by a convent-educated lady of a certain age, who seemed to channel his voice down the centuries onto a Kindle.
I’ve just finished Hilary Mantel’s novel Wolf Hall, an almost incredible act of imagination. And I had to investigate how she could channel the past so effectively.
She is born with the Sun in imaginative, irrational Cancer, born on July 6, with the Sun 5 minutes from an exact conjunction with Uranus. Cancer is the sign we associate with memory, with homeland also. What Mantel has done in Wolf Hall and now in the sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, is reimagine a pivotal point in England’s past. Perfect for a Cancer Sun, but it makes me wonder about Uranus, a planet that we associate with the future. What if, like so much astrology, there is a polarity there, so the planet that allows us sometimes to see into the future also let’s us into the past. Maybe Uranus is the planet of time-travel – just a thought.
|Time is unknown. Pluto is transiting herMoon/Chiron conjunction – ouch.|
Cromwell’s date of birth is unknown. He was born the son of a blacksmith and clawed his way to power using a mixture of brains and brawn. But his position at court was Scorpio’s. He was the man behind the scenes, the man with the King’s ear, the man to do the dirty work. This hidden, secret power is Scorpio power. It is Pluto power.
Mantel has Mars at home in Scorpio, and perhaps more importantly Pluto conjuncting her South Node in the sign of kings, Leo, so she has a natural understanding of this kind of society. Some astrologers believe that the South Node represents past lives. And it’s easy to believe, reading Wolf Hall, that Mantel was actually Cromwell (or someone very like him). Although it is written in the third person, it feels as if we are right in his mind.
The title of the second novel, Bring Up The Bodies, is entirely Pluto, suggesting as it does rising from the dead.
What’s interesting is how timely the books seem now. Wolf Hall has struck a resonating chord with people, winning the Booker when it was first published in 2009 but more importantly becoming a word-of-mouth bestseller. And considering it’s a serious history book (although fictionalised) and the size of a watermelon, that’s saying something.
Why is it timely? The 1530s were the last time England radically broke with Catholic Europe, claiming an equal footing with, until then, more powerful nations such as Spain, Italy and France. The break with Spain created a space for Henry’s daughter Elizabeth to build the foundations of what was to become the British Empire and change the fortunes of this small island off the coast of Europe forever.
If it were not for the machinations of Thomas Cromwell, America might not be an English-speaking country; America might not be America at all.
|Ann Boleyn: the most influential consort in English history?|
The central action of the Wolf Hall takes place in the years 1527-1535, as Henry VIII falls under the spell of clever, worldly Ann Boleyn, divorces his wife and, almost in passing, takes over the Church, turning the country Protestant. Uranus was in Cancer then. Indeed, Mantel’s own Uranus-Sun conjunction is in the same part of the Zodiac, so maybe it’s easy for her to identify with that period in history. No wonder it’s as if she has simply opened a door through time, and allowed us all to walk in.
What’s more during the 1520s and early 1530s, Pluto was in Capricorn, just as it is now. Cromwell was ruthlessly (and some say brilliantly) overhauling (Pluto) the way government (Capricorn) functioned. The next time that was to happen was during the period of the American Revolution and the consolidation of British power in India.
As Henry VIII finally married Ann Boleyn in 1533, making an irreversible ideological and political break with Rome and damning himself and his countrymen to hell as so many believed at the time, Pluto moved into Aquarius. Aquarius is the sign of ideology, of course, as the fixed air sign.
But the past is a distant mirror – and there is another reason that Wolf Hall seems to resonate so strongly with our own times. As now, the Lord of Reflection and refraction was in the hall of mirrors in the 1520s and early 1530s: Neptune was in Pisces.