Christophe might just be my favourite character in Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell Trilogy – apart, of course, from He, Cromwell. The young ruffian meets Cromwell in Calais, and makes a life-changing decision: “I thought to take service with you, monsieur. I have made up my mind to go travelling.” (Wolf Hall, Anna Regina).
At his new home in London, Christophe soon becomes indispensable to Cromwell, “supposedly to look after his clothes, but really to make him laugh.” Cromwell sees in Christophe something of his younger self – his fighting, his troublemaking, his survival as a runaway, his irreverence. But slowly, slowly we see that Christophe loves Cromwell, and increasingly becomes the person who cares deeply for his wellbeing.
At the end of Wolf Hall, Cromwell goes to his office and finds that “someone – probably not Christophe – has put on his desk a shining silver pot of cornflowers.” (Wolf Hall, To Wolf Hall) I have always believed that the person who left the cornflowers was in fact Christophe, and I included a cornflower in my first Wolf Hall quilt, as a tribute.
He is capable of doing violent, dirty work on Cromwell’s behalf. But Christophe is present at one of the defining moments of Cromwell’s story – his visit to Dorothea at the convent at Shaftesbury in 1536. And he knows something has changed, that a crisis has occurred. And he now wishes to ease Cromwell’s grief, with moments of care and concern:
Sir, do not weep any more. You said you would not.
Are you sitting up writing your king book tonight?
I think my master ought to have a holiday.Christophe caring for Cromwell in The Mirror and The Light
On the last night of his life, Cromwell teachers Christophe the Three Card Trick, so that if he is ever without food or money he can earn his living through sleight of hand. Loyal to the very end, Christophe tries to give Cromwell his mother’s holy medal to carry to his death. In the name of Christophe Cremeul he curses the king who has destroyed his beloved master. He breaks my heart.
Christophe is one of the few fictional characters in the Trilogy. Hilary Mantel made him so vital and vibrant that he lives off the page. Just before the Museum of London closed prior to its relocation, I visited and was pleased to see a woollen hat, which could have belonged to him. In fact, some part of me is convinced that it did. So when I came to sew him, I stitched it on to his head.