Cromwell is portrayed as an abused child who escaped his father's relentless brutality and fled to continental Europe. A brilliant autodidact, he learned finance, law, and philosophy and became fluent in multiple languages. Upon his return, he became Cardinal Wolsey's advisor and legal counsel. The portrayal of Wolsey, the second most powerful man in England after the King until he was deposed, is one of the highlights of the novel, as is that of More. In Mantel's reading, More is not the sanctified figure of Robert Bolt's A Man for All Seasons, but a self-righteous sadist, albeit the author of Utopia, whose greatest pleasure lay in the burning of heretics. Henry VIII, vain, self-indulgent, and infantile, does not come off lightly in this book either, although his shrewd intelligence is acknowledged.