Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel, HarperCollins 2012

A sequel to Mantel’s celebrated ‘Wolff Hall’ (2009), ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ chronicles the life and machinations of Thomas Cromwell during the downfall of Anne Boleyn. The literary field is littered with movies, books and plays about Anne Boleyn. She has been portrayed as everything from an innocent victim of Tudor power politics and family ambitions to a scheming, vengeful slut. Mantel is rather sympathetic to Cromwell, so her portrayal of Boleyn leans more towards a manipulating and willful young woman.

The protagonist of the Mantel trilogy, Thomas Cromwell (not to be confused with Oliver Cromwell, the much later victor in England’s civil war), was the son of a blacksmith whose astonishing abilities allowed him to rise in Henry VIII’s court to become chief minister to the king. Mantel forges a compelling and sympathetic character, rather different from earlier historical accounts that often painted him in a rather villainous light. Sophisticated, cosmopolitan, master of a number of European languages and possessor of a keen intellect, Cromwell stepped into the role of the King’s adviser when his mentor, Cardinal Wolsey, fell from Henry’s favor.

Cromwell arranged the legalities of Henry’s divorce from his first wife, Katherine, and was instrumental in establishing the reformation in England. Cromwell created the policies that transferred ecclesiastical wealth into the King’s coffers with the dissolution of the monasteries. His rise was precipitated by helping the King secure Anne Boleyn for his second wife. His position solidified when he masterminded Bolyen’s downfall after she failed to produce an heir, securing Jane Seymour as Henry’s third wife. He lost favor (and his life) in the debacle that arose in helping Henry secure his fourth bride, Anne of Cleves.

‘Wolff Hall’s’ focus is the fall of Katherine and advent of Anne Boleyn. ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ takes us through to Boleyn’s execution and Mantel’s third book in the series, ‘The Mirror and the Light’ (2020) forges on through Anne of Cleves and Cromwell’s downfall at the hands of his court enemies, an execution later bitterly regretted by Henry. Like the earlier ‘Wolff Hall’, ‘Bring Up The Bodies’ is a novel backed by a great deal of period research. It is a highly entertaining piece of historical fiction, placing the reader in the center of Henry’s court as seen through the eyes of his chief advisor. The intrigue, betrayals and power politics of the period come to life in a most compelling way.

TL:DR – the second in Mantel’s trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s England; a book I highly recommend.


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