Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel - review (2023)

Oh, those Tudors! We can't get enough of them. Whole bookshelves have beenfilled with them, acres of film consecrated to their antics. How badly behaved they were. What Machiavellian plottings and betrayals. Will wenever tire of the imprisonments, torturings, entrail-windings, and burnings at the stake?

Philippa Gregory has very successfully tackled the Boleyn girls, Mary the Mistress and Anne the Aggravating. Then there's The Tudors, the TV series, in which church geopolitics are ably dealt with, though some of the underwear is anachronistic and Henry VIII is a dark, brooding romantic who never gets fat. This is stretching it, but makes for much better sex than if he were to wheeze and grunt and ooze from his decaying leg all over the bedsheets, as in real life.

(Video) Book Review: Bring up the Bodies by, Hilary Mantel

I have a weakness for the Tudors, so I inhaled Hilary Mantel's terrific Booker-winning Wolf Hall – the first in her series about Thomas Cromwell the Calculating and Ruthless – in almost one sitting. Now comes the aptly titled Bring Up the Bodies, which picks up the body parts where Wolf Hall left off.

As the book opens, it's summer. Henry and his court are staying at WolfHall, home of the Seymours, where Henry has his piggy eye on stiff, prudish little Jane, destined to be his next queen. Thomas Cromwell is flying his hawks, named after his dead daughters. "His children are falling from the sky," Mantel begins. "He watches from horseback, acres of England stretching behind him; they drop,gilt-winged, each with a blood-filled gaze … All summer has been like this, a riot of dismemberment." And we're off, intothe deep, dark, labyrinthine, butstrangely objective mind of Thomas Cromwell.

The historical Cromwell is an opaque figure, which is most likely why Mantel is interested in him: the less is truly known, the more room for a novelist. Cromwell rose from obscure and violent origins through a life abroad – sometime soldier, sometime merchant – to become England's top go-to man, the prime maker-and-breaker of fortunes and spines, secretly hated and despised, especially by aristocrats. He played Beria to Henry VIII's tyrannical Stalin: he did the dirty work and attended the beheadings, while Henry went hunting.


Cromwell elevated reform-minded Anne Boleyn, and sided with her until she stupidly thought she could get ridof him. Then he joined with her enemies to overthrow her, which we see him doing with steely finesse in Bring Up the Bodies. He was very feared and very smart, with a capacious memory for facts and also for slights, none of which he left unavenged.

While Cromwell has always had a bad press, Henry has generated mixed reviews. His early life was golden – Renaissance prince, sportsman, composer of poems, sprightly dancer, the glass of fashion and the mould of form, and so on – but he became increasingly despotic, bloodthirsty, rapacious, and possibly crazy. Charles Dickens, in his quirky A Child's History of England, has no use for him, calling him "a most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England". In his later years, says Dickens, Henry was "a swollen, hideous spectacle, with a great hole in his leg, and so odious to every sense that it was dreadful to approach him". It's a 21st-century sport for doctors to weigh in on what exactly was wrong with Henry: it used to be thought he had syphilis, but diabetes now appears to be winning out. That, and possibly a brain injury from his jousting accident – an accident that causes Cromwell to lose his cool, since if Henry dies without an heir there will be civil war. Whatever else the Tudors did, they brought peace to England, and peace is what Cromwell works for. That, for Mantel, is one of the more praiseworthy motives for all the bloodletting that Cromwell engineers.

Peace rests on a stable king, and in that respect Cromwell has his work cut out. Already by the book's beginning Henry is beginning to fade,swell, and drool; his paranoia is growing, and the Plantagenets are plotting in the shrubbery. Cromwell sees this with precision and clarity, as he sees everything. He'sa very self-aware narrator, and does not spare himself his own unwavering view, as when he appraises the portrait Hans Holbein has painted of him, "his dark purposes wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it". His own son tells him he looks like a murderer, and other portraitists achieve a similar effect: "Wherever they begin, the final impact is the same: if he had a grievance against you, you wouldn't like to meet him at the dark of the moon."

(Video) Bring up the bodies by Hilary Mantel, an animated summary

But he also has corners of tenderness, and sees these in others: he's deep, not merely dark. And through him we experience the texture of how it feels to be sliding into a perilous dictatorship, where power is arbitrary, spies are everywhere, and one wrong word can mean your death. It's a reflection, perhaps, of our times, whendemocracies appear to be slipping back into the dungeon-filled shadowland of arbitrary power.

Cromwell's main opponent, Anne Boleyn, is as wilful and flirtatious as she usually is in fiction, but by the time of her death she has shrivelled to "a tiny figure, a bundle of bones". Is she more to be pitied than blamed? Not by Cromwell: "She does not look like a powerful enemy of England, but lookscan deceive … If her sway had continued, the child Mary might have stood here; and he himself … waiting for the coarse English axe." Anne knew the rules of the power game but she hasn't played well enough, and she haslost. And, for the time being, Cromwell has won.

The ambiguous Cromwell is a character who fits Mantel's particular strengths. She's never gone for the sweet people, and is no stranger to dark purposes. Beginning with smaller canvases – novels set in present-day England – she moved to widescreen historical fiction with the masterful APlace of Greater Safety (1992), featuring the major actors of the French revolution as well as a large supporting cast and its twisted interactions. She relies on the same talent for intricacy in Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. There are a lot of people lurking around in Henry's court, all of them on the make or trying to sidestep the axe, and helping the reader keep track of them is a special craft.

(Video) Plot summary, “Bring Up The Bodies” by Hilary Mantel in 5 Minutes - Book Review

Historical fiction has many pitfalls, multiple characters and plausible underwear being only two of them. How should people talk? Sixteenth-century diction would be intolerable, but so would modern slang; Mantel opts for standard English, with the occasional dirty joke, and for present-tense narration much of the time, which keeps us right there with Cromwell as his plots and Mantel's unfold. How much detail – clothes, furnishings, appliances – to supply without clogging up the page and slowing down the story? Enough to allow the reader to picture the scene, with lush fabrics and textures highlighted, as they were at the time. Mantel generally answers the same kinds of question that interest readers in court reports of murder trials or coverage of royal weddings. What was the dress like? How did she look? Who really went to bed with whom? Mantel sometimes overshares, but literary invention does not fail her: she's as deft and verbally adroit as ever.

We read historical fiction for the same reason we keep watching Hamlet: it's not what, it's how. And although we know the plot, the characters themselves do not. Mantel leaves Cromwell at a moment that would appear secure: four of his ill-wishing enemies, in addition to Anne, have just been beheaded, and many more have been neutralised. England will have peace, though it's "the peace of the hen coop when the fox has run home". But really Cromwell is balancing on a tightrope, with his enemies gathering and muttering offstage. The book ends as it begins, with an image of blood-soaked feathers.

But its end is not an end. "There are no endings," says Mantel. "If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings. This is one." Which will lead us to the final instalment, and to the next batch of Henry's wives and Cromwell's machinations. How much intricate spadework will it take to "dig out" Cromwell, that "sleek, plump, and densely inaccessible" enigma? Reader, wait and see.

(Video) Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel | Book Review


What is happening in Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel? ›

Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy.

Can you read Bring Up the Bodies before Wolf Hall? ›

You could probably read Bring up the Bodies without having read Wolf Hall first, especially if you already have a good knowledge of Tudor history, but I would still recommend reading Wolf Hall before starting this one.

Is Bring Up the Bodies a series? ›

Winners of the Man Booker Prize and hugely successful stage plays in London's West End and on Broadway, Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies bring history to life for a whole new audience having now been adapted into a six-part television series by the BBC and PBS Masterpiece.

Why is it called Bring Up the Bodies? ›

The title for Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies comes from a phrase used very late in the novel. Four courtiers to Henry VIII and his consort Anne Boleyn are being held in the Tower of London, awaiting trial for treason for having sex with the Queen and wishing the King dead.

What is the summary of all these bodies? ›

Synopsis: Summer 1958. A gruesome killer plagues the Midwest, leaving behind a trail of bodies completely drained of blood. Michael Jensen, an aspiring journalist whose father happens to be the town sheriff, never imagined that the Bloodless Murders would come to his backyard.

Is Wolf Hall hard to read? ›

“I started reading Wolf Hall but I found it confusing.”

Some gave up after the first few pages, others kept reading. I think there are places at the start of Wolf Hall where Mantel needs you to trust her. At first, there's a slight unfamiliarity with the storytelling voice, a hint of ambiguity. Be patient.

Is Wolf Hall book historically accurate? ›

Set in the period from 1500 to 1535, Wolf Hall is a sympathetic fictionalised biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir Thomas More.

What reading age are wolf girl books for? ›

For ages 8-14 - middle fiction. Themes: adventure, fantasy, friendship, courage, identity, empowering girls, survival, dogs, communicating with animals.

Is Bring Up the Bodies a sequel? ›

Image of Is Bring Up the Bodies a sequel?
The Mirror & The Light is a historical novel by the English writer Hilary Mantel. Following Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, it is the final instalment in her trilogy charting the rise and fall of ...

What does Bring Up the Bodies mean? ›

The title of Hilary Mantel's Bring Up the Bodies, we learn late in the narrative, is a legal phrase, the command to court officials instructing them to deliver to their trial men who, because they are accused of treason, are regarded as already dead: “The order goes to the Tower, 'Bring up the bodies.

Which is first Wolf Hall or Bring Up the Bodies? ›

Bring Up the Bodies is an historical novel by Hilary Mantel; sequel to the award-winning Wolf Hall; and part of a trilogy charting the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, the powerful minister in the court of King Henry VIII.

Which is the best Hilary Mantel book? ›

Which books did Hilary Mantel win the Booker Prize for? ›

Hilary Mantel was nominated for the Booker Prize four times, winning it twice. Her first win was for Wolf Hall in 2009 and her second win was for Bring Up the Bodies in 2012.

What time period is Wolf Hall set in? ›

And, for a long time, there wasn't. Then, in 2009, Hilary Mantel published Wolf Hall, the first volume of a trilogy set in the 1500s.

Who is the narrator in Bring Up the Bodies? ›

Bring up the Bodies is short-listed for the Man Booker Prize

The narrator is Thomas Cromwell and he is well placed to know all that is going on. His position and power owe nothing to birth and all to merit and work. He is a very modern man.

Are Oliver Cromwell and Thomas Cromwell related? ›

Oliver Cromwell was descended from a junior branch of the Cromwell family, distantly related from (as great, great grand-uncle) Thomas Cromwell, chief minister to King Henry VIII.

Where is Wolf Hall? ›

Wulfhall or Wolfhall is an early 17th-century manor house in Burbage parish, Wiltshire, England. It is north-east of Burbage village, and about 5 miles (8 km) south-east of Marlborough.

What did the ending of bodies mean? ›

When the movie to a close, the final twist reveals that there wasn't a killer after all. Instead, after everyone else is dead, Bee is faced with the question of Sophie's trustworthiness. The sun is coming up on a new day, and the two protagonists are finally faced with the truth.

What is the book Bodies Are Cool about? ›

About Bodies Are Cool

From the way a body jiggles to the scars a body bears, this book is a pure celebration of all the different human bodies that exist in the world. Highlighting the various skin tones, body shapes, and hair types is just the beginning in this truly inclusive audiobook.

Who was the killer in bodies? ›

In Bodies Bodies Bodies, characters are always worrying about who the spree killer could be, but the final twist of the knife (or the champagne sword) is that there never was any killer, or really any danger, in the first place.

Why do people like Wolf Hall? ›

Wolf Hall is a reading experience unlike any other. Mantel's masterful command of prose and her willingness to use language in unusual ways completely enmeshes the reader in a dream-like sense of being actually inside the mind of a 16th-century man—Thomas Cromwell, the central figure of the series.

What is so good about Wolf Hall? ›

Everything a work of literary fiction is supposed to do, Hilary Mantel does masterfully in her historical novel Wolf Hall, including the creation of scenes so vividly immersive and the construction of plots so arresting that you all but forget you're reading a work of fiction at all.

What age level is Wolf Hollow book? ›

In 2016, Dutton published my novel Wolf Hollow, which I had written for a general audience but which is known primarily as a book for young readers (“ages 10 and up”).

What is the plot of Wolf Hall book? ›

If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Do you have to read Wolf Hall trilogy in order? ›

It is also sometimes referred to as the Thomas Cromwell series but Hilary Mantel officially refers to it as the Wolf Hall trilogy. The books should be read in order of publication.

Is it worth watching Wolf Hall? ›

Simply put, Wolf Hall is delicious. Smartly put together and exquisitely acted, it's a character study of sorts, much like The Godfather, Part II. You almost expect Cromwell to whisper to whatever courtier he's just destroyed, “It's just business.”

What age is the prettiest book for? ›

8 - 12 years

What age is library lion book for? ›

Product information
Publisher‎Candlewick; Illustrated edition (July 25, 2006)
Reading age3 - 7 years, from customers
Lexile measure‎470L
Grade level‎Preschool - 3
9 more rows

What reading level is wolf by wolf? ›

Wolf by Wolf
Interest LevelReading LevelWord Count
Grades 9 - 12Grade 686871
Oct 4, 2016

What historical period was Bring Up the Bodies set in? ›

Bring up the Bodies is set in 1535-36, when Henry is married to his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Thomas Cromwell has risen from humble birth to a place as the King's Master Secretary. He engineered Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn.

What was the king's great matter? ›

The King's “Great Matter” was the euphemism used by those surrounding Henry VIII for his interminable effort to get a legal divorce from his original Queen so he could marry someone who could provide him with a legal heir.

What is the order of the Wolf Hall series? ›

Is Wolf Hall on Netflix? ›

Wolf Hall is now on Netflix.

Was there a sequel to Wolf Hall? ›

Hilary Mantel was a renowned English writer who twice won the Booker Prize, for her best-selling novel Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies.

How long is Wolf Hall? ›

The average reader will spend 10 hours and 4 minutes reading this book at 250 WPM (words per minute).

What is the sleeping sickness in Wolf Hall? ›

In the first episode of BBC historical drama Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel's novel of the same name, Thomas Cromwell returns home to find his wife and two daughters have all died during the night, victims of a pestilence – the “sweating sickness” – that is scything through the Tudor world.

Which books are in the Wolf Hall trilogy? ›

What is the first sentence in Wolf Hall? ›

'Wolf Hall', Hilary Mantel (2009)

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if someone might arrive to help him out. One blow, properly placed, could kill him now. '

What is the number 1 most read book? ›

The Bible. Easily the most read book in the world is the Bible for obvious reasons. It is estimated to have sold over 40 million copies in the last 60 years. You can even find it at most hotels.

What is the most read book in the last 50 years? ›

The Holy Bible is the most read book in the world. In the past 50 years, the Bible has sold over 3.9 billion copies.

What reading level is a fairy called Hilary? ›

Grade 2-4-This contemporary story seems oddly old-fashioned. Originally a serialized tale in Cricket magazine, the episodic plot reflects the book's origin.

What medical condition does Hilary Mantel have? ›

Mantel had endometriosis. Like many sufferers, she recognized the disease in a medical textbook and was diagnosed only after she told her physicians about it. Endometriosis, she notes, had a reputation for plaguing high-achieving women.

Which 4 authors have won the Booker Prize twice? ›

Peter Carey won first in 1988 and then in 2001. Hilary Mantel won in 2009 and 2012 making her the first woman and the first British author to win the prize twice and the first person to win the prize for two novels in a trilogy. Margaret Atwood won first in 2000 and then in 2019.

Who is the youngest author to win the Booker Prize? ›

Her second novel, The Luminaries, won the 2013 Booker Prize, making Catton the youngest author ever to win the prize (at age 28) and only the second New Zealander. It was subsequently adapted into a television miniseries, with Catton as screenwriter.

Why was it called Wolf Hall? ›

Historians have suggested that Mantel's title alludes to the Latin saying 'Man is wolf to man' ( Homo homini lupus est), signifying the opportunistic political world that Cromwell negotiated, rather than to his physical relationship with the Wiltshire hall.

Is Bring Up the Bodies a TV show? ›

The first two novels in the trilogy – Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies – each won the Man Booker Prize. In 2015, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were adapted into a Bafta and Emmy award-winning television series, starring Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as King Henry.

Is Wolf Hall a movie? ›

Series Info

Starring Damian Lewis, Mark Rylance and Claire Foy, this series is a six-part adaptation of Hilary Mantel's novels "Wolf Hall" and "Bring Up the Bodies." The historical drama follows the story of Thomas Cromwell through his rise in social hierarchy.


1. Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies and The Mirror and The Light by Hilary Mantel | Book Review
(Roisin's Reading)
2. Friday Reads + Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel REVIEW
3. Hilary Mantel talks about Bring Up The Bodies
(4th Estate Books)
4. Hilary Mantel Reads from Bring Up the Bodies - Anne Boleyn is Arrested
(Henry Holt)
5. Wolf Hall Trilogy Review/Discussion
(Coynie Reads)
6. Hilary Mantel discusses Bring Up the Bodies


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