History tends to demonise Thomas Cromwell as being a dark figure, perhaps jealous of his betters due to his own low birth, and who abused his power and stopped at nothing to dissolve the monasteries. But in this book, history is told from his perspective, and we see a dynamic and loyal man, who was compassionate and lacking in superstition.
Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell’s rise from his work as a lawyer with the ill fated Cardinal Wolsey, a man who he loves and who has helped him rise, to a man who has a place in King Henry’s court and helps to dissolve the king’s first marriage so he can marry Anne Boleyn. The story takes in his past as the abused child of a blacksmith and his time as a soldier and banker in Europe through flash back. The story starts with the Cardinal’s fall from power as Cromwell tries to help him, and shows how all the Cardinal’s enemies would fall in time, with a little extra help from Cromwell himself.
Hilary Mantel followed this book up with Bring Up The Bodies, which follows from the events of this one. Both books won the Man Booker Prize.
It’s nice to see history from a different perspective, and Mantel has a real grasp of the details of life of that era. I loved seeing people like Thomas More sent up a little bit for being overly serious and severe, a bit of a bore. It’s so nice to read a well researched and intelligent historical fiction, and this is so beautifully written and evocative. It’s a real pleasure to sink into and escape from modern life into a darker time of intrigue, religion and romance, where plague and burning of heretics were part of everyday life. Fascinating.
Read It If: you love historical fiction and stories of live, love, religion and politics in Henry VIII’s time.