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Novelist Hilary Mantel On The Age Of Henry VIII

We go back to the deadly intrigues in the court of Henry VIII with celebrated “Wolf Hall” author, Hilary Mantel.

Portrait of Henry VIII

Portrait of Henry VIII

Henry VIII and his many wives have made for winking fun for centuries.  His beheading of Anne Boleyn, high drama.  His break with the Pope and dispatch of Thomas More, moral drama.

Hilary Mantel’s bestselling historical novel “Wolf Hall” made it all, once again, a gripping read.  And it made a whole new hero of the story’s anti-hero, Thomas Cromwell – the Tony Soprano of the Tudor age.  The low-born commoner who became the calculating power beside the lusting king.  Now there’s more.

This hour, On Point:  Henry VIII, Hilary Mantel, and her sequel,  “Bring Up the Bodies.”

-Tom Ashbrook


Hilary Mantel, a writer and critic, she’s the author of the new book Bring Up the Bodies: A Novel. In 2009, she won the Man Booker Prize for her novel Wolf Hall.

From Tom’s Reading List

Washington Post“Hilary Mantel would make a terrible fortuneteller. Several years ago, when the English author began conceiving a novel about Thomas Cromwell, the chief minister of King Henry VIII during his break with the Vatican over the little matter of divorce, she thought it would be a single volume.”

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell

Huffington Post “Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall was the literary event of 2009, winning the Man Booker prize, breaking onto the bestseller list and ultimately becoming inescapable. Simply everyone read it and loved it. Mantel’s accomplishment was multifold: she brought history to life, turned the very familiar event of Henry VIII dumping his wife for Anne Boleyn into a nail-biting political thriller and upended our image of Thomas Cromwell from a villain who persecuted the saintly Thomas More into the most modern and likable of men.”

Globe and Mail “It created such a buzz that any reviewer who wanted to read an advance copy of the new Cromwell novel, Bring Up the Bodies, had to sign a non-disclosure agreement first, a restriction usually reserved for Hollywood blockbusters. (Spoiler alert: Anne Boleyn dies in the end.)”


You can hear excerpts from the audiobook read by Simon Vance from Macmillan Audio here and here.

Video: Bring Up the Bodies

Author Hilary Mantel talks about her new novel, Bring Up the Bodies.

Excerpt: Bring Up The Bodies

Use the navigation bar at the bottom of this frame to reformat the excerpt to best suit your reading experience.


England Be Glad by Hilliard Ensemble

Grene Growith the Holy by Sirinu

The Duke of Sommersette’s Dompe by Hilliard Ensemble

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  • Samantha

    I recently discovered Hilary Mantel’s books. I picked up “Every Day is Mother’s Day” and “Vacant Possession” and could not put them down. Outstanding prose with a dash of Patricia Highsmith. Why is she not the most famous writer on earth? 

    I am looking forward to reading “Wolf Hall” and “Bringing Up the Bodies.”  Thank you for writing, I promise to keep reading! 

  • Julia

    More Tudors, please!!

  • Nancy

    Enjoyed “Wolf Hall” and am very  much looking forward to “Bring Up the Bodies: A Novel” Am just finishing “Elizabeth I” by Margaret George…cannot get enough!

  • marym

    “Let’s see what Anne can produce”… blithely ignoring the fact that it’s the male sperm which is responsible for the sex of the child.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      No one knew that at the time.

    • Tncanoeguy

       Correct Greg – what are we ignorant of today? 

      • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

        If we could answer that question, we wouldn’t be ignorant of it.

        • Tncanoeguy

          Right, to paraphrase Rumsfeld – we don’t know what we don’t know. 

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            What are you aiming at here?

          • Tncanoeguy

            Simply affirming what you said.  Rumsfeld was given a hard time for saying that, but it’s true. 

          • Steve_T

             You may not know, but be aware, of what you don’t know.

        • Tncanoeguy

          I wonder if we’ll look back on, for example, negative views towards homosexuality and see how wrong we were.  Maybe biology will explain it. 

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            That’s not a lack of knowledge.  It’s a position of values.  We know everything that we need to know to understand the biology and sociology in question.

          • Tncanoeguy

            Not sure everyone accepts that there could be a biological reason for its existence. 

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            Does that matter, in terms of rights?  In political terms, I don’t care why some are gay and some are straight.  I generally want to let people be who they are.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

            To expand, we may learn more about the biological origins of homosexuality in the future, but that’s not really important for the present concerns.  I take the position that as long as what you do doesn’t harm me, you should be free to do it.  I also say that if the government is going to extend benefits to any kind of marriage, it ought to go to all.

      • Steve_T


    • Clea Simon

      which Henry et al. didn’t know, Marym.

    • ToyYoda

      Yes, it is true that the sperm is responsible for the sex of the child, as it is presented in school.  But that’s not the interesting part.

      *Which* type of sperm, X or Y, gets to fertilize the egg is a lot more complex.  And some of the factors that go into that are the womb conditions, the general health of the two partners, the timing of insemination and the ovulation cycle, etc, etc.  

  • J__o__h__n

    I love Leo McKern.  I’ll have to watch that.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Yup, McKern embodied Rumpole in the way that Jeremy Brett was Sherlock Holmes and John Thaw was Inspector Morse.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Ask Mantel about the difficulties in turning a well-known story into compelling fiction.

  • Tncanoeguy

    “Seething mass of insecurities” – great

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Writing in the present tense is unusual for fiction.  Why did Mantel choose that tense?

  • Leora

    I was interested in the author’s comment that many of her fellow historical novelists are lazy. I have read a lot of actual history about the Henry VIII, Elizabeth I and MAry Queen of Scots but have been wary of historical fiction. I am glad to hear that Ms. Mantel does such thorough research and look forward to reading her books. Are there other authors of historical fiction whom she admires for their research skills and authentic retellings of history?

  • Rex

    I heard the Prince Charles forecast. I thought it was a joke at first but it was HILARIOUS. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Why do modern readers insist on imposing their understanding of the world on the past?  It took us generations to come to our present beliefs about women’s rights.  Complaining that the people of Henry’s age didn’t see things as we do is the equivalent of criticizing them for not understanding quantum physics.

    • Brett

      This is an excellent point. A good historical novel, as well as its reception/reviewing, needs to honor the perspective of the characters within the context of their era.

  • Clea Simon

    Loved both books (and reviewed them for the Boston Phoenix) and very excited to be listening to this. 

  • Libervir

    Becoming a widower alike made Henry VIII and Prince Charles eligible to remarry.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

       There are some differences.  Charles has no power and can’t arrange much that matters.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    If only we all could be as wrong as Shakespeare was. . .

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=38414113 Amanda Clelland

    I would like to know Mantel’s opinion on the validity of Anne’s “final letter” found among Cromwell’s possessions after his execution. It was reportedly written after her arrest and given to Constable Kingston, then intercepted by Cromwell because in it, Anne expresses her utter confusion and anger at his arrest and the charges against her and the other men. Does she think this letter was actually written by Anne? And if so, what might have been Cromwell’s motivation in hiding it from Henry?

  • Clea Simon

    I’d love for Ms. Mantel to comment on this book as compared to her “A Place of Greater Safety,” which is my favorite of hers: It seems like you’ve gone further out with the language, playing with the language, but the focus on the larger repercussions of minor, daily choices seems similar.

  • Nmr

    I may be the only person who read Wolf Hall and did NOT appreciate writing style. I found it extremely hard to track the dialog between characters in scenes, much of which is not given attribution to the speakers to the point of slamming the book in frustration sometimes.  I found many scenes to be disjointed and seemingly irrelevant to the plot.  It is clear that her scholarship in Cromwell is deep, but it is a shame that her writing style negates my appreciation of it.  I am widely read in English history and widely traveled in the UK, so I was eager to read this book (particularly as it won Mann-Booker).  I am sorry to say it was among the worst writing style I’ve ever encountered in any subject. 

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Oh, thank you, Hilary Mantel.  One of my continual complaints about writers who set stories in the past is that they don’t bother to understand how someone back then would have thought and spoken.

  • Nmr

    I should add that in hearing the interview with Ms. Mantel, I am delighted that she speaks considerably more clearly than she writes.  I sincerely hope her next book has a substantially better flow of text than Wolf Hall.  She is clearly a serious expert in the subject; I would love to be able to enjoy her written output.

  • Jack Marshak

    Anybody who believes in the corrupt and heretical theory of the ‘divine right of kings’, as Cromwell did,

    deserves to have their head on the chopping block.

  • Robert

    I truly love listening to your artist guests. Toni Morrison and Hilary Mantel were both brilliant to listen to. I would enjoy other artist guests too. Painters, playwrights, photographers, etc. Artists have such great things to say and look at things with such a great perspective. Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=185109284 Denise Haughian

    Excellent interview with Ms. Mantel. Wolf Hall was the best book I have read in a long time, and I’m not particularly interested in Tudor history. Looking forward to reading Bring Up the Bodies.

  • Kitty34

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  • Tyranipocrit

    The British have always favored Cromwell.  But he was a fascist dictator. (relax pedantics–fascist in the sense of i need a word to label the terrorist–as no better word will fit.)
    And Henry is so–trite. 

    how about a novel on Winstanley. 

  • 84dogvet

    Thomas More was a cruel murderer who hunted and tortured people for wanting to read a Bible in their own language.  Hardly a figure for looking up to.  

  • Pingback: HNS Book Updates: Bring Up the Bodies, The First Crusade | varnam

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