When The Past Comes To Life

Wednesday July 18th 2012
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.


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  1. P says:

    I am reading Wolf Hall right now, based on your entry. It’s pretty good!

    Thanks for the book rec, C!

    • PM says:

      Oh, and for the first time, I really understood why Venus rules resources. The women in the novel were essentially there for their usefulness in the men’s lives; i.e what resources do they bring?

      Elizabeth Wykys brought useful practical skills (and fertility – Venus in Taurus?); poor K. of Aragon brought mainly her finicky womb; and Anne Boleyn brought that and her cunning (Scorpio? She was accused of being a witch)

  2. Christina says:

    Enjoy. Tell me what you think.

    • PM says:

      Agh, replied in the wrong place. Sorry!

      Oh, and for the first time, I really understood why Venus rules resources. The women in the novel were essentially there for their usefulness in the men’s lives; i.e what resources do they bring?

      Elizabeth Wykys brought useful practical skills (and fertility – Venus in Taurus?); poor K. of Aragon brought mainly her finicky womb; and Anne Boleyn brought that and her cunning (Scorpio? She was accused of being a witch)

      • Locus Beatus says:

        An astute observation PM – I’d never thought about Venus and resources in terms of the role of women in this way before either – thank you

    • PM says:

      Okay, fine, yes, I put it down, then picked it up again…….. this year :D. I have managed to munch through 2/3rd of the book in about 3-4 days. It is indeed the size of a watermelon lol.

      What has struck me is how …. *astrological* these figures are. Henry in all his vanity and glory strikes uncomfortably close to home in putting Cancer’s less cuddly side on display.

      And Cromwell? My god, he must have been an impressive figure in his day. He’s a textbook Scorpio. Mantel gives him such intelligence, such flair. A man who takes bold risks, a man who can kill other men, woo women, but is kind to children and animals, and doesn’t think his children love him.

      • Christina says:

        … and you’re right about poor Henry. I saw from that piece you sent that there’s a theory he had some kind of chronic condition which would explain some of his behaviour and bad luck in breeding heirs

        • PM says:

          Fair enough, but it doesn’t really excuse the behaviour towards……. everyone. Mantel shows us every mood change, every impulsive decision. His face changes colour depending on his mood – it doesn’t get more Cancerian than that :D. He’s so involved with his emotions that he doesn’t see (or seem to care) how he’s trampling on everyone. Oh, and he’s shrewd. Short-sighted in his decisions, but shrewder than he looks.

          • Locus Beatus says:

            “He’s so involved with his emotions that he doesn’t see (or seem to care) how he’s trampling on everyone.”

            This seems typically Scorpio to me, even more so than Cancer. Crabs in my own experience (and I’ve been close to a few) tend to excuse other people a lot due to empathy with their emotions. Scorps on the other hand seem to feel their feelings and passions trump everyone else’s, and excuse their own behaviour however manipulative or plain destructive while acting oblivious of the damage they do. Not every Scorp is evolved – far from it

          • Christina says:

            Yes, that’ll be the crab. Mantel herself has a very Cancery chart…

      • Christina says:

        Total Scorpio indeed and the books starts with him nearly being killed by his own father….

        • PM says:

          I was thinking of all the brutality and death in his life, and how it touched so many who knew him well.

          Which got me thinking of Mary Shelley. Now I’ll need to see if I can get some semblence of a chart for her. Her life, too was shaped by death.

          • Christina says:

            I have one on this site, I believe. You might have to search for Frankenstein or Monsters. I wrote a long piece a few years ago about the night she thought up the story.

  3. diastella says:

    Uranus conjunct Jupiter and south node here – and yes, I think Uranus as time traveller is a good insight…time is round and the experiencer is the centerpoint.

    look forward to reading Wolf Hall

  4. Iris says:

    Fascinating post, as usual. Think I was a little in love with Thomas Cromwell after I read Wolf Hall. Extraordinary book. I’ve just started on the sequel – but didn’t want to start it, because it will end then. It’s instantly dreamy,rich, yearning, evocative, wry, real. Glorious writing.

  5. Maija says:

    I’d suggest moon in Virgo for Mantel’s Cromwell, the amount of details he’s capable of dealing with! And there’s a kind of humility, the details matter to him. I think I admired that most.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Cromwell is a wood snake 1485 and probably cancer, his skills are business; but he shy’s away from the lime light.
    There is a lot of talk about wolf hall and bring up the bodies. has anyone read a place of greater safety?

    • Locus Beatus says:

      I’m reading A Place of Greater Safety now… about 1/3 of the way through it. It’s very… dense! and long. Brilliant, of course… I used to know a lot about the French Revolution but that was 20 years ago. This novel extrapolates out from the personal so has of course a totally different viewpoint from that from which we usually view these seismic events.

  7. H says:

    Pluto conj SN in the 11th in Leo – yeah, I’d pretty much say she has done some time manipulating power in the court of kings. My 10ps worth is that Uranus brings the vision (or the visionary revisionism) but you need Neptune to cross the threshold of time and Saturn to bring it home. I hadn’t put the cancer/history connection together but makes sense – maybe the time machine element of Uranus travels best via Cancer – especially to wherever you have your karmic roots.

    Anyway – thanks for the ref.

    Someone mentioned A Place of Greater Safety – that book was the first novel she wrote which is insane – just an incredible piece of work =- not very accessible for the dramatic narrative and characters are a bit 35k ft but that’s a pretty bold opening statement! Think it was her 4th or 5th actually published.

  8. […] For more on the story and why — astrologically speaking — it has had such an impact on the collective imagination, read my piece about the novel here. […]

  9. AW says:

    You know that the third volume of the trilogy is set to be called, ‘The Mirror and the Light’?