This is the second book themed post this week and is focused on Bring up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel. It was one of my Christmas presents and is the second volume of the trilogy following the fortunes of Thomas Cromwell, the right hand man of Henry VIII. This, and the first volume have also been made into a TV series starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell.
Mantel is an accomplished writer of historical fiction and her research is thorough. The reason I loved this was the immersion that you have in Cromwell’s life. He has not previously been the focus of the cataclysmic changes brought about by Henry. I struggled quite a bit with the first volume as I was still working and busy and reading in short spells here and there. With this one, I could really let myself be transported to 16th Century London and Henry’s court. Anne Boleyn has failed to produced her promised male heir, though unknown to her or Henry she had already produced a successful and powerful monarch, their two year old daughter who would become Elizabeth 1. Anne’s inability to carry another child to term was her downfall and Henry had fallen for the young Jane Seymour. Cromwell was Henry’s chief minister and he was instrumental in engineering the annullment of his marriage to Catherine and the subsequent marriage to Anne. This is covered in the first book of the trilogy, Wolf Hall.
This volume transports you to Tudor England and the machinations around Henry as he loses affection for his Queen, (Boleyn), has problems with his ex-queen, (Catherine of Aragon) and considers the possible next queen (Jane Seymour). Cromwell manages them all and eventually in 1536, the Queen, and 5 of her supposed suitors, were sentenced to death for treason and were beheaded. The title is the comment that Cromwell makes at the trial of those accused of adultery with Anne, as he instructs the court to ‘Bring up the Bodies’. It’s not a light read and it’s lengthy at just under 500 pages, but well worth it.
Mantel won the Booker Prize for this and the first book of the trilogy and there was much discussion when the third wasn’t even shortlisted. I have the third book also but will save that for a month or so.