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Thomas Cromwell #3

The Mirror & the Light

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If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?

England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith’s son from Putney emerges from the spring’s bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves.

Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry’s regime to the breaking point, Cromwell’s robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him?

With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man’s vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion, and courage.

757 pages, Hardcover

First published March 5, 2020

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About the author

Hilary Mantel

97 books6,957 followers
Hilary Mantel was the bestselling author of many novels including Wolf Hall, which won the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction. Bring Up the Bodies, Book Two of the Wolf Hall Trilogy, was also awarded the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Book Award. She also wrote A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, Eight Months on Ghazzah Street, An Experiment in Love, The Giant, O'Brien, Fludd, Beyond Black, Every Day Is Mother's Day, Vacant Possession, and a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Mantel was the winner of the Hawthornden Prize, and her reviews and essays have appeared in The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 5,068 reviews
Profile Image for Marchpane.
296 reviews2,164 followers
July 28, 2020

Aaaand… he’s back. Thomas Cromwell aka ‘Cremuel’ aka ‘Crumb’ aka ‘he, Cromwell’ aka... ‘he’. The upjumped blacksmith’s boy, now Master Secretary, is newly elevated to Baron as The Mirror & The Light kicks off, a reward for his part in disposing of Anne Boleyn.

I could go into raptures about Mantel’s exceptional prose — here sinewy, there sweeping — or the finely detailed historical research, or her vivid, textured Tudor England setting: as close to time travel as literature gets. But the real triumph of this trilogy is the use of perspective, which reaches its acme in this final instalment.

“He, Cromwell.” This is the special sauce, this close 3rd person. It’s how we ride around on Cromwell’s shoulder, seeing everything from his unique point of view. It is not objective. It’s immediate and intimate. It is also, for some readers, a major irritant, but if you have made it to book 3 you’re at least used to it by now.

In this final volume we go deeper into Cromwell’s psyche than we have ventured before. He’s a lot more reflective, not regretful exactly — he’s too pragmatic for that — but he’s seen things, done things, that prick his conscience and these things dwell in the tenebrous corners of his mind. Spectres of the past. Harbingers of what’s to come.

Every now and then we take wing, arise from Cromwell’s shoulder and soar: above the barges on the Thames, over the fields of Britain, or the alehouses where sedition foments. Sometimes his thoughts lead us further into the past, to times of heroes, saints or Roman invaders. And always he’s exhuming, turning over memories, more recent history: Venice, all slick cobblestones and mist; or Putney on a murky night, a cellar and a knife.

As we loop back to scenes from the earlier books, our view is shifted ever so slightly, casting light in new places, where fresh details glint and catch the eye. Which means The Mirror & The Light isn’t merely a continuation of this story, it also enfolds and contains everything that came before, adding richness and complexity to the whole.

At around 900 pages, this is nothing if not comprehensive. There is much minutiae of politics, religious reform, scheming and conspiring, and a huge cast of characters, all of which will no doubt test the patience of some readers. But this is it, fin, no more, and so ardent fans, savour every page of this masterful, shining achievement.
Profile Image for Adam Dalva.
Author 8 books1,634 followers
July 23, 2020
It does not disappoint. It sticks the landing. And more: though it lacks the seductiveness of Wolf Hall, it gradually becomes the highpoint of the series. Mantel does the impossible here: she accelerates through time, expanding Thomas Cromwell's life in both directions as he ages and becomes haughty, as Henry VIII rushes through his wives, as England veers through myriad catastrophes in the backdrop.

Light spoilers will follow. What a relief for me to finally, 11 years after Wolf Hall, to read Thomas Cromwell's wikipedia page! And Henry's, and Queen Jane's, and all the rest.

We open with Anne Boelyn's death: it's a bit of a stagger, assuming, like me, you haven't read Bringing up The Bodies again, and you finished in 2012. There's a curious effect here - I remember the characters faintly, spirits from long ago, but after the initial slog of figuring out who everyone was again, they seemed axiomatic. Mantel's Henry VIII is a particularly indelible character, whose caprices, weight, and self-regard shift and expand as the book draws along, as the unseen net begins to circle around Cromwell. As effective as the great scenes of court (the future Queen Mary and the delightful ambassador Chapuys crackle especially) are, Cromwell's early childhood memories, particularly those with the eel-boy, an oft-referenced interaction that takes harrowing form at book's end, spark just as well.

Cromwell is the beating heart of this, his unconscious voice and his dialogue flowing in and out of the text in a way that seems effortless and shows Mantel's absolute mastery of her famous lead. He is a broad, fascinating character (a moving scene with the daughter of his former master, Cardinal Wolsey, is partnered with a bizarre, fascinating rant about how effectively he keeps the books). The ending, which I won't spoil, is gorgeous, unique, and smart.

This is an ideal series for our life in quarantine, with soap opera twists and a fascinating educational aspect, though I will caution that there are quite a few scenes of plague-related plots. An attendant becomes sick. The court makes sure to find who he has been in contact with, to keep them at home. I, here in whatever 2020 has become, felt time collapse.
Profile Image for Violet wells.
433 reviews3,220 followers
April 17, 2020
If I could have a Hilary Mantel wish it would be that she writes a novel about Jane Rochford. I constantly found myself wishing Hilary had taken more interest in her. Was it perhaps because her and Anne were so similar that they were at loggerheads? Of all the women at court it seems to me she was the one who had the most venomous (and healthiest contempt) for Henry as a man; that she was the most thwarted by the paltry opportunities offered to women in 16th century England. I couldn't help feeling that it was with a riotous fatalistic glee that she eventually encouraged Catherine Howard to cuckold Henry. As if the angry feminist in her had had enough of all the patriarchal condescension and bullying.

I would imagine very few people are going to read this as a stand-alone novel. Hilary had already done all the hard work with the first two books. We all know what will happen to Cromwell but Hilary's skill in brushing almost every early detail with foreboding is masterful. As in the best thrillers it's like every detail radiates the importance of a consummating clue. Cromwell's demise is potently present throughout this book and this in large part is due to how brilliantly Mantel weaves detail into a kind of alternative tapestry whose story Cromwell can't see but we the reader can. Her decision to posit the narrative voice just above but not quite within Cromwell is paramount in making this split so subtle and dramatically effective. For one thing, it heightens our protective instincts towards him.

You can tell Hilary didn't want to finish this. She continually procrastinates, she lingers lovingly over every passage, if anything she indulges still more her love of the detail of the fabric of 16th century English life. Meditation plays a bigger part in this novel. Urgency is the last thing on her mind. In fact, this novel is outrageously long considering how little actually happens in his personal life - all the women have now exited the stage, Hilary has already exhausted Cromwell's memories and he forms no new relationship of much interest (an invented daughter adds nothing to Cromwell's character and wasn't for me entirely successful): he is simply left to repeat the same battles with his old enemies and come to terms with his ghosts. But Mantel performs two marvels here: one is to show how Cromwell's relationship with his past subtly change as the pressures of court politics begin to wear him down. As he becomes outwardly less vigilant he becomes inwardly more finely tuned. She kind of ghosts in the possibility that in his mind his downfall isn't entirely undue given how many downfalls he himself has presided over. Resignation begins to undo him. The other is to show how the significance of detail changes with time. One of the most exhilarating moments of the novel is when we learn what details are being used to bring Cromwell down. These details return to us electrified.

At least, it was lovingly lingered over until Cromwell's arrest. His fall from grace was so abrupt I was left feeling a bit cheated. We saw it coming; why didn't he? It's also a bit disconcerting how she hurries through his imprisonment. I thought she might have made more poignant drama of his last days and the ghosts of his life. (Though I loved it that he travelled back to Tuscany in his mind.) I would imagine one of the most difficult decisions for a novelist is choosing at what point in the text you're going to insert your material, especially with regards to a character's memories. I perhaps felt she might have made better use of some of these at the end. But suddenly, from not wanting to finish it, she seems in a hurry to get it over and done with. Probably though I felt cheated simply because I didn't want it to end.

There's little question Hilary has raised the bar where historical fiction is concerned. I watched The Tudors while reading this and it seemed like vulgar slapstick pantomime in comparison. I was appalled when Cromwell is shown laughing at the burlesque of Wolsey. And you sense, after Mantel, never again will that interpretation be possible. She's also perhaps even raised the bar where Tudor documentaries are concerned. I also watched a series about Henry VIII's six wives and was struck by how facile and flimsily but self-importantly subjective it was. Mantel's great achievement is to give us the illusion that only she has foraged through to the truth about Cromwell, Henry VIII and the Tudor court. She entered Cromwell's heart and soul with such remarkably penetrating intimacy that it was like she was writing about a member of her own family. I suspect one reason she was able to identify so closely with Cromwell is the love of detail they clearly share.
Profile Image for Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer.
1,819 reviews1,375 followers
October 15, 2021
Last night I had the pleasure to watch the stage version (having seen the first two plays some years back) - Mantel’s ability to adapt her work for the stage only adds to my appreciation of this brilliant final part of a triumphant trilogy. It also shows her ability to extract and condense the novel (which demands - possibly over demands - patience, knowledge and interest to extract its considerable rewards) for a different medium.


Simply magnificent – in my view the strongest of a Trilogy whose first two volumes were among the most deserving winners in Booker history.

A book which shines a light into history and in doing so holds up a mirror to our present day.

Last Winter, a group of colleagues from around the world visited the UK for an internal conference in Windsor and in a break from the formal proceedings we took a trip to Windsor Castle. One of the many interesting parts of the Tour for me was St George’s Hall – and its ceiling studied with the coats of arms of every Knight of the Garter since its foundation in 1348. I say every Knight – but in fact some of the shields are numbered but blank – these I was told represent Knights expelled from the order (in the early days typically accompanied by execution), and I enjoyed conversing with one of the guides asking which Knight each shield represented and seeing if I could identify the reason for their expulsion. I particularly remember a conversation around the Earl of Monmouth and how his expulsion for trying to overthow a King who only a few years later was overthrown to popular acclaim, was itself a perfect example of revolution (in the true and original meaning of the word) and the wheel of fortune.

One of the shields of course represents Thomas Cromwell (his election by the King into the order being one of the high points both of this book and Cromwell’s career; if in some ways designed to legitimized Cromwell’s being effectively made the King’s Uncle with the marriage of Gregory to Lady Ughtred (the Queen’s widowed Sister).

And the idea of Cromwell as something of a blank canvas is one which partly lies at the heart of the conception of this fabulous trilogy – Mantel writing what must rank as one of the greatest character studies of all time, of a character who as his biographer Diarmaid MacCullough says is elusive even for a historian due to what he believes to be “deliberate destruction .. [when] Cromwell’s household heard of his arrest .. they began a systematic process of destroying the out-tray of his principle archive”. The result is that “amid the torrent of paperwork through which the conscientious biographer wades to recapture what is left of Thomas Cromwell, the man’s own voice is largely missing”. He then goes on to say “Hilary Mantel has sensitively captured this quality in Thomas Cromwell’s archive in her novels: her Cromwell is pre-eminently an observer, even of himself, not ‘I’ but ‘he’”.

But in a different way Cromwell is not a blank canvas at all. Any historian writes with the background of previous biographers (as well as other historians who have included Cromwell – often far from sympathetically – in wider accounts of this pivotal period in not just English, but World history”. And any novelist writes similarly on top of previous fictional realisations of Cromwell – perhaps most notably the pro-More, anti-Cromwell account of “A Man of All Season”, an account which I can only comment seems to make as a hero a man who died in an attempt to ensure common Englishmen could not read the Gospel (and was canonised as a result).

So this trilogy is not just a novel but a palimpsest – and in this last section of the trilogy Mantel brings the idea of history being re-written, re-evaluated but always in a way which can only imperfectly erase previous versions out explicitly.

We have for example:

- The frequent references to the devices of the fallen Queens and their intertwined initials with Henry’s, needing constant repainting;

- Cromwell’s interrogation taking place in a room he decorated “for Anne Boleyn to lodge before her coronation. It was he who reglaxed them, and ordered the godesses on the walls; who had their eyes changed from brown to blue when Jane Seymour came in”;

- As the book nears its end Cromwell first due to the strictures of fever and then his imminent death, revisits his life story

- Mantel accompanies the reader on a revisit of the previous two volumes – in one bravura section of only 2-3 pages we have both the opening and closing sentences of “Wolf Hall” repeated; we also get the full story behind the opening and the young Cromwell’s escape abroad

- And Cromwell is very conscious of it as he attempts to re-model England:

“Can you make a new England? You can write a new story. You can write new texts and destroy the old ones, set the torn leaves of Duns Scotus sailing about the quadrangles, and place the gospels in every church. You can write on England, but what was written before keeps showing through…”

- And finally this idea that history is written in layers, is the reason why this fabulous trilogy is so vital – and despite its historical fiction nature, of far greater relevance to today’s world than the supposedly more contemporary fiction that surrounds us.

While reading the trilogy (a third re-read of the first volume, a second re-read of the second) I came across the following quote in the New Statesman taken from a letter written to Machiavelli (a contemporary of Cromwell and whose book increasingly features as the trilogy progresses)

“I earnestly believe that only men's faces and the outwards aspect of things change, while the same things reoccur again and again. Thus we are witnessing events that happened earlier. But the alteration in names and outward aspects is such that only the most learned are able to recognise them. That is why history is a useful and profitable discipline, because it shows you and allows you to recognise what you've never seen and experienced"

Since the trilogy started we have had the following:

Brexit – and the divides both without and within Europe, Nick Timothy/Fiona Hill/Dominic Cummings, #metoo, Trump, Covid-19, Fake News, Austerity

My view was that the main themes of this trilogy, are the following areas of the 16th Century:

- Swings in Britain’s relationships with Europe, tension between the countries in Britain on that topic, shifting power blocs in Continental Europe itself

- The North-South divide of the Pilgrimage of Grace

- Advisors and councillors to leaders – their rise, fall and their emnities

- Sexual harassment and belittling and subjugation of women

- Braggart leaders with self esteem issues emerging in fiery denunciations of their critics

- Plagues hitting London

- Manipulation of news sources, propaganda and debates around what is true and what isn’t

- Government spending cuts impacting on the poor and the tension with the well off as to whether they should support the less fortunate

Just an example: Interesting for those of us in the UK in late May to reflect on what happens when an advisor (on whom a leader completely relies for political judgment and did his European policy) alienates large parts of the country including the people, powerful Bishops and other politicians - and then behaves in a way which both outraged them further and gives them an opening to being him down. No Rose Garden press conference here more an interrogation in the the Tower by the agents of the Tudor Rose.

Interesting for those of us in the UK this weekend to reflect on what happens when an advisor (on whom a leader completely relies for political judgment and did his European policy) alienates large parts of the country including the people, powerful Bishops and other politicians - and then behaves in a way which both outraged them further and gives them an opening to being him down. No Rose Garden press conference here more an interrogation in the the Tower by the agents of the Tudor Rose. If only Cromwell had thought to explain his fondness for sourcing Lutheran texts as just to help with checking his eyesight. only Cromwell had thought to explain his fondness for sourcing Lutheran texts as just to help with checking his eyesight.



I attended an event at the Royal Festival Hall tonight to launch the book.

The evening started with two of the actors from the TV series reading first from Wolf Hall and then Bring Up The Bodies.

Then Hilary Mantel read the opening part of The Mirror and The Light.

She then had a long, detailed and very informative interview with the journalist Alex Clark and finished the evening by reading almost the end of the book (p866 if you have a written copy).

A few points I found of interest and remembered (I did not take notes so I missed much more):

On the length of the book: she emphasised that readers were not reviewers - they did not need to rush to finish the book in 48 hours so they could write a review. (Some on Goodreads may disagree!!). In particular the book is deliberately set out in five main parts (before the closing Mirror and Light chapters dealing respectively with Cromwell’s death and execution). Each of the parts is in three sections (mirroring the trilogy) and structured with an arc something like a novel. In other words she is encouraging people to read one section at a time.

While writing the book she was in regular dialogue with Diarmaid MacCullouch and the biography he was writing. I read they biography earlier on the year and it sounds like it is an ideal companion as they used many of the same sources.

Intriguingly she mentioned that all six wives feature in the book (I was unclear if book in this context meant The Mirror and The Light or the three volumes - she said elsewhere in the evening that she often talks about “the book” and even “Wolf Hall” meaning all three of the novels as separately published). In particular she said that the sixth wife (Catherine Parr) is in The Mirror and The Light and “not all readers will find her but you will be very pleased with yourself if you do”. So there is a challenge! UPDATE- a fairly easy one by most accounts.

The writing of the plays had a big impact on her - in particular realising the importance of placement in a scene reflecting the power dynamics and of how and where dialogue is spoken changing its meaning. The influence of this involvement (which happened after the first two books were published) changed the way she wrote this third book. Often when starting a scene / idea she would imagine how she would write it if she had two actors on a stage and two pieces of dialogue and then expand it from there.

She still regards her most impressive achievement as explaining the French East India Company scandal in “A Place of Greater Safety” and when faced with difficulties in this book with how to represent difficult ideas (which were more common here than in the first two volumes) she reminded herself that “you are the woman who ....)

She regards her rewriting of the historical consensus verdict on Cromwell as a bad man, as a long overdue correction to an incorrect view perpetuated in secondary sources and which did not stand up when going back to primary sources.

From writing the books she has gained a profound respect for those who fought for the reformation and the Gospel in England and has come on a journey much closer to a faith herself.

The book is full of references back to images, ideas and scenes in the first two books. “Every character has its arc. Every pigeon comes home to roost”. The night before she finished the book she did not sleep as she felt all of the characters coming back to her demanding she accounted for completing their journey. The next morning went she went down her picture of Henry VIII had fallen from her wall, which have her the sense that The character of Cromwell had our survived even Henry and gave her the impetus to write the closing chapter (which was “more of an assembly job” as she had already written it in pieces).

From the first conception of the book she had always imagined it bookended with the “So now get up”.
Profile Image for Paromjit.
2,705 reviews25k followers
July 28, 2020
On the Booker Prize Longlist!

A brilliant end to this superb historical trilogy on Cromwell, the ordinary man who rises to an exalted status under Henry VIII. Mantel’s research is impeccable, her blend of fact and fiction is extraordinary, nowhere is this more apparent than in her amazing characterisations. Despite knowing where this is all heading, the tension and suspense had me biting my nails! Simply marvellous and highly recommended.
Profile Image for Henk.
874 reviews
September 13, 2022
Superbly written but in my opinion less compelling than both the more daring, non-linear Wolfhall and the laser like focussed, pure key events tale of Bring Up The Bodies - 3.5 stars
We servants of the king must get used to games we cannot win but fight to an exhausted draw, their rules unexplained. Our instructions are full of snares and traps, which mean as we gain we lose. We do not know how to proceed from minute to minute, yet somehow we do, and another night falls on us in Greenwich, at Hampton court, at Whitehall.

The playing field
It is not written that great men shall be happy men. It is nowhere recorded that the rewards of public office include a quiet mind.
Hilary Mantel sweeps us away to Tudor England and the final ascent and fall of Thomas Cromwell. Her prose is like a warm bath, and she makes clear the peril serving Henry VIII brings with it, even to his most trusted advisors:
Once Henry says, ‘This is my wish,’ it becomes so dear and familiar a wish that he thinks he has always had it. He names his need, and he wants it supplied.
Henry feels like the CEO who just says what he wants, like 5 million new bank accounts, and then waits for Cromwell to come up with a kind of nearly fraudulent solution. No wonder that shit goes down later because of these creative solutions.

Cromwell in this installment reflects much more on the relation he has with Henry and the vulnerability that flows from this:
What have I, but what my king gives me? Who am I, but who he has made me?
The Cromwell we see in The Mirror & the Light is confronted by a real life game of Civilization: from raising gold, increasing trade, fighting insurrections with hastily raised armies to hiring great artists like Holbein and religious battles to name a few of the events in this massive novel.
Still the personal factor is very important, with sudden deaths (With this king one needs a reversible garment. One never knows, is it dying or dancing?), plagues and in the end romantic preferences taking the main stage.

The whole halfway uprising is in the end a bit pointless from a plot perspective (the fact is that Cromwell does not leave the capital, leading to the story being told as a secondhand account), if historically accurate. It does show how precarious the King’s peace is and how ill prepared for real war the realm is.

The power politics of Europe, with constant shifts in amity and enmity between the Holy Roman Empire and France, and constant fear from the side of England for invasion, also play an important part throughout the book.

The past catching up to Cromwell
Listen, son, this is what I know: right is what you can get away with, and wrong is what they whip you for.
So much reflections on the past, especially in respect to his childhood, Wolsey and Anne Boleyn her downfall haunt Thomas Cromwell. I can’t really square that with the “get shit done” practicality of his character. Also it really slows down the story and feels a bit redundant for anyone who has read the two predecessors relatively shortly before The Mirror & The Light.
Nonetheless it does lead to brilliant prose and sentences, like:

No. I am not sad. I am not allowed to be. I am too useful to be sad. &
He thinks, I can pity you, without entirely believing you. &
I never say my father taught me nothing. He taught me to bend metal.

With all the marriage and pregnancy predicaments going on in this volume you understand how Elizabeth I, who is only an infant in this book, would choose not to marry. This also leads to the most blunt quote of the book, about queen Jane Seymour and if she is pregnant is on page 444: Her titties are swollen”.

And Cromwell is equally confronted with questions of posterity. I felt the function of Jenneke, his illegitimate Antwerp daughter, to be unclear, just leading to some wistful reminiscence on what could have been. There is also a kind of dreamlike/fever dream sequence that seems to hint Cromwell killed someone at age 12 which I found a bit baffling as a new fact, more than 1.500 pages into the trilogy centered around him.

The King's Peace
Kings are subject to fate, not luck. Accidents don’t happen: dooms overtake them.
During the book it becomes more and more clear that Henry just simply sends Cromwell to break the power of the next greatest power after him, be it the church or the landed nobility and old families. High trees get a lot of wind is a Dutch saying and in Henry’s kingdom that is definitely true. With bills of attainder leading to forfeiture of property to the crown, high treason is only too easily proclaimed against one's contenders. The scene where the son of Norfolk almost loses a hand due to drawing a blade at court shows you the savage nature of royal power and how terrified the monarchy is for dissent.

Even if you are not killed immediately then a tactic of “I have dirt on you” can be applied. Cromwell is a vital cog in this system, and again the relationship with truth is touched upon by him in a profound way: But that is not true.
It will be true, in time.

Saving someone from disgrace or not using something against that person now (but keeping the threat of bringing the fact up hovering above the subject) seems a prime tactic to get subservience, often employed in Tudor England. As with torture, the imagined calamity is often more than enough to get results. The way Henry claims an inheritance only days after a death is very maffia like as well.

The general terror he brings with his favour and displeasure is something we can only compare to North Korea Juche power struggles. It makes Cromwell think things like:
I must restrain my cannibal king. &
The king never does an unpleasant thing. Lord Cromwell does it for him. &
Do not stop moving, or they will eat you alive.
Funnily enough there is also a military parade of troops of the (non-standing) army which sharply reminded me of later Communist parades, just minus the nukes.

The (literal) breaking of Catholic relics and shrines has something like a glee filled vandalism from the side of Cromwell. No wonder he gains enemies, if we consider how his own religious thoughts make him blind for the demands from the king.

Fall from grace
Honour is a luxury, when someone is trying in earnest to kill you.
Henry’s mind fuck like statement of in reality having Cromwell as highest of friends, but that for the court dynamics he will need to rebuff him and show displeasure towards him nonetheless, is one of the early signs that Cromwell is falling from favour.
However when Anna of Cleves comes into sight the fishiness becomes more pronounced: oh yeah, the girl is just so pretty no one can see her, ah and Cranach is ill so no portret but just marry her alright? Caveat Emptor Lord Cromwell, to just recite a saying you yourself brought to the attention of the king not so long ago. And then Stephen Gardiner comes back from France. I am still unclear whose plan that was, but everything starts to go sour for Cromwell when Gardiner comes back to the English shores.

In the end however a cynical reader would say that with the pacifying of the last of the great abbeys and monasteries Cromwell simply served his purpose for Henry. And now the grievances he incurred in service of the King are simply put at him, in his final act serving as a lightning rod for the king. There is already a “we had so great times in the past” goodbye scene even before Henry has set eyes on Anne of Cleves.

It also makes you think on the nature of power, because Cromwell did all this for the king to get his country Protestant, something he despite all his titles and wealth can not make real since his own vision does not seem to align with Henry.
Religion versus loyalty to the king in the end leads to Cromwell his downfall, effectively maneuvering him in a Protestant version of the predicament his former master Catholic cardinal Wolsely found himself in with Katherine of Aragon at the start of this trilogy.

This last section of the book, especially Part VIII, is exquisite in terms of language:
We are playing chess in the dark. On a board made of jelly, he says. With chessmen of butter.

Henry has ground and ground me in the mill of his desires, and now I am fined down to dust I am no more use to him, I am powder in the wind. Princes hate those to whom they have incurred debts.

Treason can be constructed from any piece of paper, if the will is there. A syllable will do it. The power is in the hand of the reader, not the writer.

But the law is not an instrument to find out truth. It is here to create a fiction that will help us move past atrocious acts and face our future. It seems there is no mercy in this world, but a kind of haphazard justice: men pay for crimes, but not necessarily their own.

Norfolk also has an epic monologue touching brilliant on the core of the book:
You think the king ever loved you? No. To him you were an instrument. As I am. A device. You and me, my son Surrey, we are no more to him than a trebuchet, a catapult, or any other engine of war. Or a dog. A dog who has served him through the hunting season. What do you do with a dog, when the season ends? You hang it.
And some kudos to the depiction by Mantel of Christophe, Cromwell’s servant from Calais. He shines in this sequence as a surrogate to a younger, boisterous Thomas.

The end of the story is well known but still touching and chilling, and it seems fitting to close my review with the following two quotes:
We are all dying, just at different speeds. &
... but this is what life does for you in the end: it arranges a fight you can’t win.

And finally some Cromwell snarkiness at its finest:
To explain that to you, my lord, eternity is not long enough.

He thinks, a good dowry would make you a beauty.

But whiffs of hostility come from him - he can no more help it than a manure heap can help stinking.

Gregory says encouragingly, ‘They will hate you once they know you, Call-me’

They can not always love the man, but they think they could love the child he was.

But those who know him have long believed that what he says is different from what he thinks.

Lisle bleats they have neither heart nor conscience, but what does he expect? They’re lawyers.
Profile Image for Fionnuala.
791 reviews
September 27, 2022
Near the beginning of this book, there's a scene in which an exotic cat, imported from Damascus, tries to escape from the confines of Thomas Cromwell's garden in London by climbing a tree near the wall. As he watches his servants try to capture the cat with a net, Cromwell puts his money on the Damascene cat outwitting their attempts because, like her, he himself has travelled far to get where he is, and he would fight anyone who tried to remove him from his high position.

That particular cat was never mentioned again, but the scene remained in my mind, and I found myself looking out for further scenes involving cats. Part of the motivation was curiosity to see how far Hilary Mantel can push a metaphor but another part of my motivation involved finding reasons to keep reading this book. I had been completely charmed by the writing in Wolf Hall, and even more enthralled by Bring Up the Bodies so it was a surprise for me to find that I was a reluctant reader of the early chapters of this third book in the Cromwell series. I wondered if it was because in this book Cromwell is older, tireder, and consequently the reader needs to worry for him? When he backs away from a fire, for instance, I worried. When he remembers the light shining on the blade of Anne Boleyn's executioner's sword, I worried. When he gets a fever, I worried. When he starts making mistakes, I almost gave up.

I also found myself concerned for Hilary Mantel's well-being. I wondered how she could bear the double strain: helping Cromwell outwit his enemies and simultaneously outwitting her own fatigue in the face of the huge task she set herself here. But she has succeeded marvelously. As one of the characters says, so many words and oaths and deeds, that when folks read of them in time to come they will hardly believe such a man as Lord Cromwell walked the earth.
Or such a writer as Hilary Mantel!

Although slowed down by my anxieties for both Cromwell and Mantel, I continued to read (with increasing pleasure), and continued to keep an eye out for cats. Soon I came across an episode where Cromwell talks of having had seven lives so far, now that he's been promoted to the office of Privy Seal. But then I worried that he'd be promoted again. He was.

As well as cats, there are similes and metaphors involving birds. A character is shown working through a mass of paperwork like a raven through a rubbish heap. Stab, stab, stab—with his pen, not a beak—till everything before him is minced or crushed or shattered like a snail-shell burst on a stone. The reader will have reason to remember raven-like Richard Riche.

Further on, another all-black bird called a chough was mentioned. The chough is known for its extraordinary manoeuvrability in flight and its unusual faithfulness to its nesting site. We learn that Cromwell has placed a chough on his family's coat of arms because it was Cardinal Wolsey's emblem, and Cromwell is utterly faithful to Wolsey, his first 'master'. Like the chough, Cromwell is very good at manoeuvring—he can twist and turn events to his advantage, and even people's minds, especially the king's.

But Cromwell has to twist and turn to evade his hoard of enemies too, and there's a fine description of a deer hunt which describes his position well: Hart may ruse, and he may fly, he may plunge into the chilly stream, but the hounds run on and never change...and as they run, they revile him, baying their taunts in a language he can understand, calling him a varlet and a knave...
In normal hunting practice, the hart has a fair chance to escape but as the king gets too heavy and too unfit* to ride his horse to the hunt, the rules of the hunt are adapted, and the deer are driven to where the king stands with his crossbow ready. The reader fears that the only way for his enemies to trap Cromwell will involve such foul means.

In Bring Up the Bodies, there was an extended falconry metaphor which I enjoyed a lot because in that book Cromwell was always the hunter and his enemies were always the prey. As this book progresses, the enemies increase constantly, and appear in the most unlikely places. One of those enemies is described as a hawk: What's she [Margaret Pole] doing? Needlework, like any beldame. Her hawk's profile is lowered over her work, as if she is pecking it.…Margaret says, "You are a snake, Cromwell."
"Oh no, no, no." A dog, madam, and in your scent.

If he's to be hunted, he'll be hunter too.

Besides the allusions to various creatures in that scene, there's also another style element that I'd begun to notice more and more. From the beginning of this trilogy, Hilary Mantel has used a third person narrative but with a first person point of view, and during this volume, the third person voice has morphed more and more into a first person voice. So I wasn't surprised when, at about the half-way mark, a 'we' voice begins to appear: He has been waiting for a clear day to see the apple trees pruned...The middle of the tree we call the crown. We take out any shoots that are frictious against each other, those that are growing backwards, inwards, any way they shouldn't.
This passage occurs during a period when Cromwell is busy suppressing rebellion in the north of the country and it is easy to see the resemblance between the pruning process and the rooting out of rebellious factions. Later we find that he is keeping a sort of journal which he refers to as The Book Called Henry. I wondered if the 'we' sections that had crept into the narrative were Mantel's clever merging of her book with his. I even wondered at times if Mantel had herself merged completely with her character. At one point he advises his nephew who works in the king's chambers, to use everything, discard nothing. The reader feels Mantel has used everything she found while researching her subject, and discarded nothing.

I made a lot of margin notes while reading this book but now I think I'll discard the rest of them as the review is too long already. Incidentally, there was a reference to margin notes which caught my eye, being someone who uses the margins of her books freely. When an English version of the Bible was being prepared for printing, the printers were asked to set the line to the edge of the page because, as Cromwell says, it does not make for a good appearance, but no white space means no perversion by marginalia.
I'm afraid my copy of The Mirror and the Light has been greatly perverted.

*Henry VIII by Hans Holbein who has a cameo role in the narrative. Cromwell seemed to imply that Holbein had slimmed the regent down considerably. Even so, he's a massive figure. Pity the poor horses that had to bear his weight..
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
September 15, 2020
Longlisted for the Booker Prize 2020
Still my favourite book of the year, and an absolute travesty that it missed the shortlist.

Shortlisted for the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020

A monumental book that brings a brilliant series to a fitting conclusion.

I am neither a historian nor a writer, which means I am far from being the best person to review this book, nor does there seem much point writing in detail about the plot, most of which is documented history, so I would rather focus on personal impressions.

As in the earlier books, whatever we may feel about her take on his motivations, Mantel's Cromwell is a brilliantly realised and very human character, for all the barbarity that survival in such times required. Once again, he is mostly described in the third person, either as he, or he with a job title (Lord Privy Seal for most of the book and Essex at the end).

The story is bookended by two beheadings - we start where Bring Up the Bodies finished at the execution of Anne Boleyn, and we finish with Cromwell's own demise (though there is a brief chapter at the end which explains what happened to the real people who were still alive at this point, and my Waterstones edition also has a brief note on some of the locations Mantel visited while researching the book and how they affected her perceptions).

He, the protagonist, is increasingly haunted by his own past, both the people and the events that shaped him, which enables Mantel to revisit key moments from the first two books. All six of Henry's wives appear, though the last two Catherines are peripheral characters.

As always there is plenty of humour, the language is lively, and Mantel's grasp of period detail is impressive, at least to a non-expert. The dialogue retains just enough archaic language to be plausible without ever becoming difficult to follow. There are a surprising number of issues that have contemporary relevance.

The core story is in six parts, each of which consists of three chapters except the last, which has just two. These chapters vary in length from a few pages to over 100.

Mantel saves the best for part six, which starts with Cromwell's arrest and imagines the interrogation, the way his allies deserted him and the way his own life is distorted just as he distorted those he sought to destroy.

A must read book which will almost certainly bring Mantel further prizes.
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,118 reviews44.8k followers
November 13, 2020
This is an extraordinarily potent and beautifully written (if not quite perfect) conclusion to the trilogy

Here Mantel closes the book on Cromwell’s life, depicting his swift downfall in all its inglory, but she has remained unflinchingly conservative (to a fault?) telling the story of his demise. I will get to that later, firstly I want to talk about the tragedy she depicts here.

“What have I, but what my King gives me? Who am I. but who he has made me? All my trust is in him.”

It is trust misplaced in a false and ungrateful vessel. The entirety of Henry's reign is stained with treachery, divorces, and murder. He elevated those useful to him and then destroyed them when they no longer were successful or could no longer achieve the impossible. All Henry’s advisers played off each other, fighting for the most power and sway over the King. They tried to set each other up for massive falls and the King let them do it, so they did not unite against him and continued to serve his whims. Above them all, though, stands Thomas Cromwell in skill, ability, and loyalty. At least, that is the version Mantel portrays.

He gained much from Henry and gave even more with his service. There are advantages he could have taken, favours he could have asked, but he does not get above himself and is simply rewarded lavishly for his success at court and the promises he has kept to his sovereign. His common birth has granted him an insane work ethic that many others that have been in his position could not match. And as such he works tirelessly for his King and country. The Cromwell here has no sense of personal advancement or ambition. It is done out of honest duty. That is enough.

“I hear you are Privy Seal. You climb so fast, my lord, the kingdom has no ladders enough.”

We all know the proverbs about those that climb too high. Cromwell always played a dangerous game. He had no family, no status, only his skill as a politician kept him in the King’s favour. And when that skill dried up, or he failed because of powers out of his control, his usefulness dried up. So, he is branded a traitor and murdered. The Cromwell here is totally innocent but I do wonder how different the real Cromwell was.

I feel Mantel has been somewhat unusually conservative here. I have always found the way she writes unique. The first time I read Wolf Hall I found it totally inaccessible and really had to take my time with it. Here, though, she seems to have reigned in some of her flair and artsy syntax to tell her story with precision and focus. This spans many years rather than the narrow focus she has used before. And it still works and it still retains much of its charm and eloquence of expression, but it is still conservative, conservative in its representation of Cromwell and his downfall. A degree of openness would have given the story a little more edge and possibility. Cromwell here is innocent and loyal (Mantel clearly favours him) but the history surrounding his actual demise is somewhat murkier.

Henry was fickle and easily swayed so Cromwell’s rivals were not hard pressed to convince him of Cromwell’s “treachery.” But I do wonder if he genuinely believed them or if it was merely a convenient excuse to ride himself of a stale minister. I just cannot fully buy into the idea of his total innocence because I cannot believe in the notion of a selfless politician in Tudor England.

Either way, the final few chapters were fantastically well delivered as this series concludes poetically.

You can connect with me on social media via My Linktree.
Profile Image for Paul Fulcher.
Author 2 books1,300 followers
October 15, 2021
Now thankfully dropped from the Booker at shortlist stage

The Mirror and the Light, and its over-hyped reception, encapsulates everything that is rotten with the state of much of British literary fiction (some wonderful independent publishers aside):

- a blind spot to the development of the novel in the 20th century and a fixation with the 19th century form (perhaps as it marked the highpoint of English literature) as if Kafka, Joyce, Musil, Woolf, Bernhard, Marquez etc had never written;
- an obsession with celebrity authors and a lack of editing of big names - there is no excuse for a novel 904 pages long, particularly one so syrupy and overwritten;
- in an industry crying out for diversity of voices, review columns dominated by a member of the literary establishment writing a novel set in England's royal past, rather than its present;
- with small publishers going to the wall, Mantel's publisher spaffing a large sum against the walls of Tower Bridge to publicise a novel that doesn't need it.

Author M. John Harrison said in a 2012 interview: A good ground rule for writing in any genre is: start with a form, then undermine its confidence in itself. Ask what it's afraid of, what it's trying to hide – then write that. Mantel's mantra seems to be the opposite, adhering timidly to the confines of historical fiction with its spurious emphasis on historical fidelity.

The first part of this novel, Wolf Hall, was published in 2009. Since then authors such as Claire-Louise Bennett, Anna Burns, Akwaeke Emezi, Eimear McBride, Isabel Waidner, Vesna Main, Valeria Luiselli, Ali Smith, Will Eaves, Derek Owusu, Gabriel Josipovici, Bernadine Evaristo, Colum McCann, Lucy Ellmann, Helen Oyeyemi, Rachel Cusk, Deborah Levy, Max Porter and Sara Baume and others have stretched the very boundaries of the English language novel. And Hilary Mantel’s response is simply to write a continuation of the same book. I can see why that is good for sales, but it doesn’t deserve literary accolades.

Sally Rooney for boomers.
Profile Image for Phrynne.
3,320 reviews2,141 followers
May 2, 2021
Throughout the whole of this amazing trilogy all I have been able to think about is what an incredible man Thomas Cromwell must have been and how well Hilary Mantel has portrayed him for us. She is an artist with words, giving the reader a clear visual picture of every one of the historical characters she introduces and there are many.

As an historical account of life in England between 1536 and 1540 The Mirror & the Light just sweeps the board. Every little detail is there - what they ate, how they dressed, where they lived and most importantly how they survived, living each day with the threat of the plague and other diseases

Add to this living under such a capricious King as Henry VIII. This may be a book about Thomas Cromwell but Henry often takes centre stage as such a flamboyant character always will. Mantel pictures him as a charismatic man who still had many of the attitudes of a small child. A dangerous mix for a King of England in those days.

Of course I knew how the book had to end, but the build up was so well done. The parts that everyone played in the lead up to the sad outcome were exposed in detail and Cromwell's own feelings well imagined. There were heroes and there were villains and many people including Cromwell were almost certainly both.

Such a great series. I loved it all.
Profile Image for Melindam.
663 reviews293 followers
July 8, 2023
R.I.P., Hilary Mantel.

“This is what life does for you in the end; it arranges a fight you can't win.”

I don't think I ever rooted for and mourned a historical-fictional character the way I did Hilary Mantel's Cromwell and all the time I wished for a different outcome: him to be turning out forever victorious and death to his enemies!!!!


Of course I knew what was coming, but H. Mantel managed to lull me into a false feeling of safety, just as Cromwell allowed himself to feel after he was granted the Earldom of Essex and it almost came as a physical shock to me as well as to him when he was arrested and taken to the Tower.

“Now, sensing that he has less than a week to live, he must pick up his images from where he has left them, walking his own inner terrain. . . He must traverse his whole life, waking and sleeping: you cannot leave your memories alone in this world, for other men to own.”

I was seriously thinking of petitioning Mantel to write an alternate ending where Cromwell actually marries (bloody) Mary Tudor and reigns by her side. :)

OK, on the serious side, while -understandably-I did not love this last installment as much as I did Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, it was still an amazing read.

The writing style continues in the same vein as in books 1 & 2, allowing you the fascinating feeling of being in Thomas Cromwell's head while standing behind him, peeping above his shoulders. On the downside, the book is a bit too long. I could've done with just a bit more focus and less flashbacks.

It's another long story. You are travelling on the back of the River History at a tight, yet sedate pace and pass by all the milestones and historical figures between 1536 and 1540.
There's King Henry's third marriage to Jane Seymour and the birth of his long awaited son; his daughter's Mary's re-acceptance into Court; the uprising in the North of England called Pilgrimage of Grace rebelling against Henry's break with the Roman Catholic Church and the dissolution of the lesser monasteries; the intrigues of the Pole and Courtenay families (Plantagenet/York bloodlines) against Henry's rule; King Henry's looking for a fourth wife and then marrying his fifth (though that's only at the very end and mentioned en passant).
All this is tied together with Cromwell who has his own journey which is taking him to his future and well as back in his past: there are lost of flashbacks to his childhood and youth (a blank page in history and Mantel fills it in nicely).
At the beginning he is at the centre and at the height of things, but of course slowly and unstoppably, things are getting out of his control: while he is still high, he is getting pushed to the side step by step. His political enemies, strongly supported by the French King, are conspiring and gaining more and more ground and Henry VIII, capricious and unreasonable and dissatisfied because not all things turn out as he wishes, and probably having some fear of Cromwell outgrowing and endangering him, deserts him.
And then this mighty and seemingly slow river suddenly becomes a waterfall: Cromwell's falling and we are falling with him.

This 3D, large as life Cromwell as well as his journey has been one of the most memorable and the one of the highlights of my "reading career" and of 2020. I am so glad I met him. :)
Profile Image for Andy Marr.
Author 3 books775 followers
December 19, 2022
That's a hat-trick of five-star ratings for this superb trilogy. Utterly spellbinding.
Profile Image for Paula K .
435 reviews417 followers
July 28, 2020
Booker nominee 2020
Women’s Prize for Fiction nominee 2020

Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy is the finest piece of literary historical fiction I have had the pleasure of reading. I listened to the three audiobooks back-to-back and approached THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT with excitement and trepidation knowing what was to happen.

Book Three starts with Anne Boleyn’s execution. A part of history that Cromwell devised well on behalf of his king to make way for another queen. But Henry VIII’s newest queen, Jane Seymour, doesn’t last long. She dies in childbirth giving Henry the long sought for male heir to his throne. Meanwhile, the king sends his right hand man, Cromwell, off to find her replacement...and this is where Thomas Cromwell’s life begins to fall apart...

Cromwell is starting to tire. He’s in his fifties. He brings Henry a bride to marry sight-unseen. However, the king doesn’t like her looks and is stuck with a new queen he wants nothing to do with. Henry is an unpredictable sort, ready to turn on anyone in his court at the slightest whim. Cromwell’s enemies can’t wait to pounce.

Cromwell has more enemies than friends. The dirty work he has done in the name of loyalty for his king has caught up with him. The Catholics remember the monasteries he has seized. The nobility have never forgiven him for their loss of property, or the fact that Cromwell is from low birth. An old enemy, Bishop Stephen Gardiner, has returned from France and will do anything to see to Cromwell’s fall. The fickle Henry decides he is sick of seeing his most loyal subject, and does the unthinkable.

THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT shows the more personal side of Thomas Cromwell. He reflects on his past and early childhood memories. The final book in the trilogy does not disappoint. It’s filled with politics and religion, ambition and intrigue, marriages and executions, and what it means to have favor or displeasure from the royal in power.

This final book in the trilogy is filled with many characters. The dialogue is exceptional. Mantel’s prose is exquisite. There is no doubt in my mind that the author has written another masterpiece.

5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books815 followers
March 15, 2021

If I wasn’t as absorbed in this work as I was in the first two, that’s not Hilary Mantel’s fault. Wizard that she is with words, she can’t change the times: neither the past nor the present.

Fairly early on I found myself wondering why I wasn’t as engaged. Then realization hit me: reading of powerful men whose every action is to appease a petty, egomaniacal tyrant while carving out power and possession for themselves is not conducive to mental health in our time of pandemic. Unlike Henry VIII, we can’t escape to a confiscated country estate during the plagues. So, the ambiguity Mantel generated for a man like Thomas Cromwell in her first two books was sorely tested.

But I never wanted to stop reading. Mantel’s gorgeous prose carried me through. Any time a woman entered the story, my interest rallied, but now there's no Anne Boleyn hovering over the proceedings; Henry’s women must now be demure and agreeable—if only for their own safety. Yet again, it’s not Mantel’s fault that political machinations were/are dominated by the aforesaid men and that women were pawns in their games. Not surprisingly, Mantel had a final trick up her sleeve near the end of the penultimate chapter to awaken my empathy.

Breathtaking paragraphs are scattered throughout, demanding to be reread, including those that illuminate the title. At first the latter are as subtle as a single candle. Add another candle, then another, and the metaphor burns brighter.


(My ratings always reflect my reading experience, thus the lack of the ½ star; and I reiterate: It’s not Hilary Mantel’s fault.)
Profile Image for Iset.
665 reviews491 followers
March 18, 2020
I feel like I have a love-hate relationship with Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell books, and that in the past I’ve perhaps been too generous in how I’ve rated them.

I love Mantel’s attention to detail. She has picked apart Cromwell’s life in her research, and woven a story of vivid colours, from the most famous matters of state down to his family and home life. One feels that she knows the lanes of London where Cromwell walks, understands the earnestly held opinions of the day rather than trying to force modern values on her historic characters, and has memorised the customs and culture; everything from scribbled poetry to popular dishes to a local village’s superstitions. This is probably her biggest strength, not just in this book but in the whole trilogy. Such intimate knowledge renders the world of Renaissance England with a high degree of authenticity and fidelity – at least, in comparison to other less strenuous novels with the same setting. Note that the two are not the same – authenticity and fidelity. By fidelity I refer to the facts known to history, and by authenticity I describe the willingness of the reader to believe the world that the story creates, to deem it plausible and not scoff in incredulity. This pleases me, both as a reader and a historian. That said, clocking in at 864 pages on Kindle, and, truly, packed with so much detail and digression into Cromwell’s past as well as his present, I can understand how it might be seen as too much for some.

I hate Mantel’s structural eccentricities. I don’t think the choice of present tense was a good one, as I find it only adds confusion and makes meaning muddier here. In Wolf Hall, Mantel seemed to be allergic to using her protagonists name, leaving her readers flailing for which “he” was whom. This is something that she corrected in Bring Up the Bodies to “he, Cromwell”, and continues here, but while this elucidates scenes, it then renders “he” redundant and comes across as clumsy and maladroit. It doesn’t help that, in The Mirror and the Light in particular, Mantel diverges into stream-of-thought writing, not occasionally but frequently, delving into Cromwell’s consciousness in sudden reminiscences or connecting thoughts and subjects that are not immediately apparent to the reader. Like a river bursting its banks, this kind of writing feels like it lacks direction and is difficult for a reader to track. It can be effective when employed judiciously, but I thought it was overused. If you’ve read some of Mantel's other works outside of this trilogy, you’ll know that this isn’t common to her writing as a whole. I therefore can only assume that it is a deliberate stylistic choice Mantel made with this trilogy, perhaps in order to stand out from what others are doing and present something more unconventional. I have seen some praise this as “edgy” and therefore good. I myself am of the opinion that edgy does not necessarily equate to good, and frankly I find these peculiarities of structure to be bewildering and headache-inducing. Maybe it could work in another book; but it doesn’t work for me here.

I love that Mantel takes on Cromwell as her protagonist. Cromwell has been a side character in a lot of novels, and he has often been villainised. To be fair, I definitely do not find everything the historical Cromwell did to be laudable, and certain things I would consider to be absolutely reprehensible. That said, however, I do not think that everything he did was driven by nefarious intent or had a bad outcome. Cromwell had his qualities, and in many ways he was a highly competent minister. His very rise encapsulates a key turning point in the Renaissance where merit began to be valued more highly than bloodright, and this revolution was something that princes found at once to their immense benefit, but also deeply threatening. I find that poor quality novels tend to reduce history down to stereotypical tropes, misunderstanding contemporary social mores, and painting some figures as moustache-twirling villains while raising up others onto pedestals of perfection. As a historian I’m aware that this is deeply unrealistic and fails to do justice to real people who once lived; but as a reader I’m just plain exasperated and tired of reading such a simplistic model which is boring, predictable, and not fun. Mantel gives Cromwell a modicum of justice for his achievements, and she manages to do so without creating a saint. Particularly in this book, Cromwell spends a good deal of time dwelling on his mistakes, failures, and the times when he caused injury to others.

I hate the fact that Mantel does not treat other characters with the same degree of humanity and objectivity. Particularly the Boleyn family and their adherents. In Mantel’s version of events, Mark Smeaton was never tortured into making confession, merely locked inside a cupboard full of spiky Christmas ornaments. Come on. Are we really expected to believe such a bare-faced free pass? Mantel borders on becoming Cromwell’s apologist. In her version, Jane Parker, George Boleyn’s wife, is still the shrewish voyeur who bore false witness against the husband and sister-in-law she hated, the same Jane Parker you’ve seen or read about in a dozen other lazy stories which all ignore the considerable evidence that their marriage was amicable and that it was not Jane but another lady, the Countess of Worcester, who committed the deed. In Mantel’s version, Anne Boleyn is still driven purely by naked ambition, a scheming hussy who lost her virginity in France, her father power-hungry and her brother a fatuous boor. There is nothing of Anne’s unusually rigorous Renaissance education, the conviction of her reformed faith, or her initial disinclination to the king. There is nothing shown of her father’s many successes as ambassador on his own merit, long before either of his daughters caught Henry’s eye, or of her brother’s intelligence and talents. Mantel derides silly, frothy renderings of Henry’s court in fiction, with their 21st century attitudes and gross oversimplification of events and conflicts, but beyond her own research on Cromwell she repeats many of the most spurious, flimsy, and disproven myths about some of his peers.

I would like to say that I have no misgivings about Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy and recommend it wholeheartedly. Her rich and human portrait of Cromwell is fresh and certainly appealing. And I feel under a lot of pressure to conform to majority opinion which has been dealing out 4 and 5 stars aplenty. But while these reviews praise Mantel’s genius, they seem to make little or no mention of her shortcomings. That is something I cannot do.

6 out of 10
Profile Image for Hanneke.
338 reviews352 followers
June 1, 2020
Absolutely brilliant! A true monumental testimony to Hilary Mantel’s virtuosity. I just closed the book and it will take me a few days to recuperate from the last chapter which left me devastated. I thought this third novel of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy was the most personal one. I wish I could allot it the 10* rating which it deserves.
1 review
Want to read
February 28, 2013
One reviewer knocked the book, claimed Mantel savages the royals just to sell books. The book is not published yet! And for goodness sake, read the speech! Mantel obviously feels sorry for Kate, and the "free press" gleefully and intentionally misrepresented her comments to sell newspapers Who is guilty here?
Profile Image for Brian.
706 reviews354 followers
March 27, 2023
“Are you innocent, if you set up the damage for yourself?”

That’s it. I’m done with Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy. It’s astounding.

THE MIRROR & THE LIGHT begins seconds after the beheading of Anne Boleyn. This is a seductive book. It pulls you in with its stylized writing and intriguing plot development, and then for 757 pages it does not let you go. This novel is about Thomas Cromwell, but Hilary Mantel is also a star of this show. I was aware of her authorial presence all along while still being immersed in the world she created with her words. I am not sure how to explain it, but it’s there, and it’s a good thing.

This novel is haunted by ghosts. Ms. Mantel threads seamlessly into the narrative remembrances and effects of Thomas More, Cardinal Wolsey, Cromwell’s father Walter (a terrifying presence), Katherine of Aragorn, Anne Boleyn (and the many that went down with her) and others into a mosaic of the past and present that is always under the surface and constantly affecting the decisions and actions of Thomas Cromwell in the present. At one point he muses, “The dead are more faithful than the living. For better or worse, they do not leave you. They last out the longest night.” Without being obvious or intrusive one is constantly reminded in this book just how much the past influences the present.

Mantel depicts Cromwell’s subtle changes with efficiency and nuance. As you are reading you realize they have crept up on you and have been fully integrated into your understanding of the character, but you would be hard pressed to point out when this happened.

One thing the close reader of this text will appreciate are all of the little hints that Mantel drops throughout the book that will play larger roles as Cromwell’s descent begins in full swing. Just as in this novel’s predecessors, her ability to weave these things seamlessly into the narrative is indicative of reality. Most things we do/say don’t have significance at the time they happen. It is later that their importance develops.

• “But if you cannot speak the truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?”
• “Go forward, sir. It’s the one direction God permits.”
• “Those who think a heart cannot break have led blessed and sheltered lives.”
• “In obedience there is strength and tranquility.”
• “But it is the present you must reckon with.”
• “You can persuade the quick to think again, but you cannot remake your reputation with the dead.”
• “…this is what I know: right is what you can get away with, and wrong is what they whip you for.”
• “Sudden pleasure afflicts like sudden pain, and leaves you dizzy, numb.”
• “We never know how to take it when our life begins to be charmed.”
• “I can see why good men want to believe that Christ is coming. We want His justice, when justice seems so long delayed.”
• “Even the worst poets, from time to time, hit on a felicitous phrasing.”
• “You cannot greet the world in the morning with anything less than ferocity, or by evening you will be destroyed.”

The intricacy with which Mantel depicts the shift of Cromwell’s fall from the graces of Henry VIII is well done. Like most relationships where the bloom falls off the rose, the drifting apart sneaks up on them (seemingly) suddenly, and then appears to take forever to fully disintegrate.

Having completed the three novels in this series, I can’t say that I preferred one over the other, and I would not attempt to rank them. All I can say is that taken as a unit they form a triumphant whole! It is a brilliant opus that reeks of authenticity, humanity, and much more.

Towards the end of the novel Cromwell realizes that “He must traverse his whole life, waking and sleeping: you cannot leave your memories alone in the world for other men to own.” Ms. Mantel is sadly gone now, there will be no more books from her. But I’m glad she left these bits for us to own.
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543 reviews605 followers
Shelved as 'mt-tbr'
April 11, 2020
It feels like we've been waiting for this one forever, but I think it's "only" five years or so.

I have never felt such kinship with G.R.R. Martin fans.

April 2020: It's come!
Profile Image for Roman Clodia.
2,488 reviews2,706 followers
March 15, 2020
4.5 stars

I'm going to keep this short as fans of the first two books won't need any urging to read this; and if you didn't love them, then this one won't change your mind. In fact, rather than a trilogy, this feels like the third chapter of one huge story opening as it does mere seconds after the ending of Bring Up the Bodies.

I found this snarkier than the previous books as we're treated to more of Cromwell's inner commentary (listening to the audio book on my commute led to grins and embarrassing sniggering on the tube!), yet, at the same time, there's a palpable air of elegiac melancholy about this: ghosts are everywhere, and not just Cromwell but also Henry are haunted by their pasts and the deaths that leave their stains on their souls.

This feels like a less tight story than that of Bodies, and there are a few places where it sags a little: the Pilgrimage of Grace, for example, since we only see it from the PoV of Cromwell who doesn't leave London. But the episodic nature of the narrative also contains many gems: Cromwell's visit to Mary with Norfolk and Charles Brandon; the rather bitchy portrait of Jane who is more concerned about her food than court machinations; the Meg Douglas/Thomas Howard affair.

There's more attention to Henrician literature than before with the text regularly punctuated by the political poems and satires of Wyatt, instances from the Devonshire Manuscript, and the on going negotiations over an English bible.

And the final 100 or so pages are a tour de force that deserve to win prizes by themselves alone:.

The prose feels slightly more experimental than in Wolf Hall as Mantel continues to focalise via Cromwell, but we still experience all the sumptuous textures and dangerous, febrile politics of the court even while attention is drawn to current parallels: religious fundamentalism, the vexed relations between England and Europe, expediency and betrayal in political life, the role of women in a patriarchy.

Gorgeous writing, complex characterization, acute intelligence, literary flair and impressive research lightly worn add up to an immersive, sophisticated reading experience that has remade what we understand historical fiction to be. Oops, seems this wasn't such a brief review, after all!
Profile Image for Emma Donoghue.
Author 68 books11.7k followers
June 9, 2020
Maybe not as dramatic a standalone as the first two Thomas Cromwell books, but to me the trilogy read like one long, thrilling immersion in a fine Renaissance mind in times of trouble.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,887 followers
December 4, 2022
I had no plan to read the mirror and the light, in fact I may well have said in my reviews and comments for Wolf Hall or Bring up the bodies that I would not read it, i can even go further and say to you that I don't think there is any need to read it. One book from the trilogy is enough really, for you to see what is going on. However then Hilary Mantel died, and I foolishly in a moment of weakness borrowed the DVD of Wolf Hall from the library and in six further small instances of madness watched again ( or possibly in places for the first time) the TV series based on the first two books of the series; and after that I realised that I either had to read the last book of the trilogy or learn to play the lute myself - and reading on balance seemed the slightly more sensible option. So it is all Hilary Mantel's fault that I am here again bothering you all about the terrible Tudors.

There was lots I enjoyed, the grim humour, the way that Mantel covers a long period of time mostly through bursts of intense conversation, the skulduggery and office politics of Henrician England, that the work of Hans Holbein illustrates the tale, particularly perhaps his the dance of death; but I wondered why park her tanks on this lawn? Or perhaps I ought to say why turn up in front of your house playing the sackbut on a Sunday morning? What is she saying? What's this all about, the reader of any of the books in the trilogy may well be like Cromwell's daughter: "She frowns. So many names, too many; too much geography, the terrain of a strange land." (p.430)

Why did Mantel want to achieve by dragging the reader through all that, apart from the love and adoration of a generation of historians?

What about our hero Thomas Cromwell, who we see as chief servant of the king, how do we understand him? Two passages towards the very and of this very long book give us a steer;
"We councillors think we are men of vision and learning, we gravely delineate our position, set forth our plans and argue our case far into the night. Then some little girl sweeps through and upsets the candle and sets fire to our sleeve; leaves us slapping ourselves like madmen, trying to save our skin. It rankles with me, that some sneak thief like Riche should best me; that a fool like Polo should hole my boat, and a dolt like Lisle should drown me. Perhaps some people will say I have died for the gospel, as More died for the Pope. But most will not think me a martyr for anything except the great cause of getting on in life." (p.855)
So, Cromwell as shitshoveller general for the king, clearing up the royal messes - but doing well for himself on the side (where there's muck, there's brass, as some say).
For a while Cromwell particularly in his 'book of Henry' sees himself as guiding the king, as his confidante and shaping policy, however the Duke of Norfolk is brutally clear, men are tools for Henry:
"You think the king ever loved you? No. To him you were an instrument. As am I. A device. You and me, my son Surrey, we are no more to him than a trebuchet, a catapult, or any other instrument of war. Or a dog. A dog who has served him through the hunting season. What do you do with a dog, when the season ends? You hang it." (p.857)

So we may wonder if in the end Cromwell is a Tudor Adolf Eichmann. Congratulating himself for being relatively humane but in the end just a loyal servant of the regime a man, who is only 'following orders' or perhaps a bit more loosely 'interpreting royal wishes', ensuring that the accused are found to be criminal, making the accusations legal if need be, attempting - on a modest scale - to run a surveillance state.
In one way, Cromwell is right, the king is lonely, he does need a confidante, however he fails to remember his own insight that the king is not a man, but half god, a beast, a giant; a thing apart and always dangerous. Cromwell is given towards the end of the novel a leopard. The leopard was the heraldic royal beast of England (heraldry does not distinguish between lions and leopards, presumably because both were somewhat uncommon in heraldic circles). Cromwell instructs his keeper not to let the leopard out - but can you keep a king contained and caged, protected against his own nature to wage war in France , devalue the currency, chase relationships that are sexually satisfying but politically inexpedient?
The giant is an interesting case because Cromwell recalls that a giant was involved either leading or following a Cornish rebellion in the time of Henry VII. Giants, royal or otherwise, suggest powers beyond the wit of royal councillors to control Cromwell's version of the words events, dear boy events attributed to Harold Macmillian. As reader I thought of Rabelais' Gargantua and Pantagruel near contemporaries of Thomas Cromwell those giants are similarly powerful and uncontrollable but genial rather than threatening
And I might say that Mantel is showing the distance between the 1530s and the present, English and British political history can be described as the eventually successful effort to contain if not completely cage the royal family and to limit the degree of destruction that they can bring about.
Then again the caged leopard is in contrast to the escaped striped Damascene cat at the beginning of book which foreshadows Cromwell's fate - to climb upwards but eventually to be brought down from his tree - for neither cats nor for blacksmith's sons from Putney is there a way to freedom in the 1530s; perhaps that is a further point that Mantel is making. Old England was not a merry or free, it was a controlled society from top to bottom, one had better think of Aesop with the lion eating the other animals, the fox aids him, but can itself become dinner. The fox can try to guide King Henry, but Harry will bite him to death one day, just because he can . There is a zoo full of animals in the first chapter, material enough for Aesopian readings.

At times I wondered if Mantel was providing the novelisation of the Tudor Revolution in government thesis, his plans to reintroduce the beaver (so odd a detail that I imagine it is true) to combat flooding stuck me as a bit much, Cromwell the statesman more far-sighted than Colbert and his plan to plant oak trees to provide for the French navy in the far future. Cromwell sees himself from time to time as loyal to Thomas Wolsey - Henry VIII's other great minister and a friend to the gospels - which could mean any number of things, both are potentially dangerous positions to take in Henry's England. Both are challenged by Cromwell's meeting with Wolsey's illegitimate daughter which I felt was one of the few moments in the trilogy when we see Cromwell from a different perspective. Then we see that Cromwell's loyalty to Wolsey was about himself, the vengeance is for the harm done to himself and to his chances at doing well for himself, and as the Tudors demonstrated, the road to power runs over the (preferably decapitated) heads of your rivals. Unfortunately for Cromwell gaining power brings you closer to the king, and the king is not to be controlled, he doesn't like to be crowded in, too much success as well as too much failure can lead to a highly undesirable behind the scenes tour of the Tower of London.

Just as this volume opens with an execution, it will close with one. The Duke of Norfolk is already sizing Cromwell up for decapitation in the first few pages, the whole book is a literary bullfight. Death is inevitable, but the performance of the bullfighters and the courage of the bull is the point.
Profile Image for Maria Espadinha.
1,027 reviews374 followers
November 2, 2020
Cromwell’s Karma

*** For all the spoilers you’ll find in this review, you’ll have to blame Cromwell and the Tudors, definitely not me ***

Anne Boleyn is now dead, whilst Thomas Cromwell ascends to the top — he’s now the most powerful human of England, right after the king.

How can we relate both events?

Well... to fulfill a mandatory wish of his majesty the king Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell performed the dark genie part, whilst doing all the dirty work that led to Anne Boleyn’s decapitation. Hence, he’s now co-responsible of that hideous act

Co-responsible?! Can we judge Cromwell for obeying an order?! What choice did he have?! Guillotine?!

Well... it seems that Cromwell partially used the confrontation between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn as a chance for a personal vendetta. Besides Anne B, 5 more people perished as a consequence of his fraudulent conspiracy, and .. 4 of them, in the eyes of Cromwell, acted against the late Cardinal Wolsey, who used to be Cromwell’s master and benefactor

So... it seems that Cromwell has been more than an innocent server in the confrontation between Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
And... because no one is allowed to escape the law of Karma, that personal revenge turned against himself — just like Anne B., Cromwell also fell from the top and ... perished beheaded.
“The mirror and the light” brilliantly mirrors those years of Cromwell’s sad decline! ❤️🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟❤️
Profile Image for Susan.
2,693 reviews595 followers
April 8, 2020
Having read “Wolf Hall,” three times and “Bring Up the Bodies,” twice, I was both excited, and apprehensive, at reading this, final volume, in the trilogy. For we all know the ending and, from the very first page, we are aware of the threat of the axe, and of Henry’s capricious nature, as we open with the execution of Anne Boleyn. She died, Cromwell later muses, expecting to be saved. Does hope ever really leave us?

Mantel combines brilliant writing with dark humour. When we come to Cromwell’s famous, last letter, to Henry – “mercy, mercy, mercy…” she has Cromwell write the word the second time, in case Henry, ‘should be distracted.’ We know, and Cromwell knows, the ‘Book of Henry,’ well. Even with Jane Seymour, who is the perfect wife; producing a son and not lingering long enough for Henry to become bored, Henry seems dissatisfied. By the time Anne of Cleves arrives, Henry is openly critical. There is a disastrous first meeting, leading to a litany of complaints – she does not sing, does not hunt, cannot speak English, she has an odd smell, he cannot bring himself…

Like previous books, “The Mirror and the Light,” is full of dreams, and ghosts. However, the ghost of the Cardinal has left him, which is not, the reader feels, a good sign. There is intrigue and Court gossip and, as before, wonderful characters – including the brilliant Duke of Norfolk. Those involved are in favour, out of favour, battling for favour. Meanwhile, the female characters are more passive than previously; especially without Anne Boleyn. Lady Rochford lurks in the shadows and Catherine Howard hovers in a doorway.

Watching a documentary with Hilary Mantel recently, she wrote that she thought of the ending of this book while packing her shopping in a well known supermarket. She cried. I did too. Not many novels have made me do so, but this trilogy – beautiful, moving, poignant – left me a sniffling mess. The ending is almost unbearable. The trilogy is a masterpiece.
Profile Image for Issicratea.
213 reviews378 followers
June 15, 2020
I’m not normally someone to complain about over-long books (Trollope’s 800-odd pager The Way We Live Now, was one of my favourite reads of last year). I did feel at times, though, that The Mirror and the Light dragged, in a way I didn’t find with Mantel’s previous novels in this series—and not because the novel was less meticulously written or richly imagined than its predecessors. In many ways, in fact, I felt that the stylistic quality and consistency was better in The Mirror and the Light than in the second novel of the trilogy, Bring Up the Bodies.

I’m not sure history (i.e. the period from 1536-40) did Mantel many favours in this third part of the trilogy. Some of the most vivid characters of the first two parts are dead by the start of TMATL (Wolsey, More, Anne Boleyn), and the narrative arc of the final part is less clear-cut. Much of what could have been the most compelling action, such as the Pilgrimage of Grace, takes place offstage, while Cromwell remains in and around London. Similarly, the promising antagonist figure of Reginald Pole is absent in Italy for the whole of the book.

Mantel seemed to me to be suffering quite a bit, as novelist, from the intractability of her subject matter. In the absence of any very compelling action during much of the book, she plunges back, via Cromwell’s inner monologue, to episodes from his past—his rough-edged boyhood in Putney, his formative years in Italy and Antwerp, memories of his wife and daughters, and his time in the service of Wolsey.

In some ways this technique works, providing an elegiac texture to a book that the reader knows is recounting Cromwell’s last years (even though the character does not realise it himself). In other ways, however, I felt the book was mining territory already well covered in the previous novels, so it felt rather like a greatest-hits compendium of Mantel’s Cromwell at points. There were no new characters in TMATL who struck me as particularly memorable, although it was certainly fun to revisit some old favourites (especially, for me, the suave, wily Imperial ambassador Chapuys, and the car crash that is Henry VIII by this point).

I realise I’m in a minority, to judge from this site, in not seeing this novel as quite simply a masterpiece. I think that has a lot to do with moral, or ideological, factors. Mantel makes no bones about her Protestant sympathies (and corresponding antipathy to Catholicism) in surveying this slice of English history. I found this bias quite alienating when I was reading Bring Up the Bodies, and it bothered me at points in TMATL as well. The dissolution of the monasteries, for example, is presented by and large in TMATL as a ‘progressive’ development, putting an end to a culture of superstition and corruption. The deaths of Catholics like the Charterhouse monks of London, barbarically executed in 1537, or Thomas Marshall, abbot of Colchester, hanged in 1539, are passed over very lightly in the novel. Catholic aristocrats like the Poles and the Courtneys are portrayed in a notably unsympathetic way.

This would all be fine if the novel encouraged us to see this bias as a function of Cromwell’s own prejudices and ideological commitments--but that’s not really the case. We are encouraged to identify with Cromwell throughout, and he is given enough attractive and ‘modern’ characteristics to serve as the reader’s obvious proxy within a culturally very alien world. There’s no real ‘non-Cromwell’ space in the novel from which we might take a perspective on Cromwell’s thoughts and values. Mantel’s narrative voice and Cromwell’s focalising inner monologue effectively overlap.

Thinking of Cromwell’s ‘modernity’, one thing that struck me half-way through the novel and which I then couldn’t get out of my mind afterwards, is how little inflected by Christianity his voice really is. We hear a reasonable amount about how committed Cromwell is to the Gospel and especially to Tyndale’s initiative of making the Bible available in English. At points, Mantel seems almost to flirt with the notion that this is the principal driver of Cromwell’s actions, although she is too realistic not to portray him also as driven by ambition and gain. Yet, in the entire three-part series, I barely remember a scene in which Cromwell thinks in a sustained way about grace or salvation or any theological issue. We hear more about his recollections of the Florentine game of calcio than about his relationship with God. I intuitively feel that this was not the true inner life of sixteenth-century Christians, of any theological stripe. Religion was woven into the weft of their patterns of thought and feeling in ways we can only begin to suspect.
Profile Image for Eric Anderson.
686 reviews3,384 followers
October 6, 2020
You can watch my video review where I take a trip to the Tower of London here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HqAq-XYYiwg

What a journey! I've probably devoted more time to Mantel's Cromwell trilogy than I have to any other series of books since I not only read all 2,009 pages of the novels but also biographical and historical writing to better understand this time period. Though it required a lot of concentration and effort it was definitely worth it. I'm going to miss Cromwell whose soul searching odyssey and unprecedented influence as righthand man to the King comes to a heart-wrenching conclusion in this final book.

There's a building tension which Mantel incrementally ratchets up and impressively maintains as Cromwell's enemies increase and the politics become so heated over the course of this long novel. Factions within England plot against the ruling monarch amidst the new religious divide and the country's relations with other European nations always feels delicate. Although great promise comes with Henry VIII's new wife Jane Seymour, the King's dynasty is still not secure. The unashamedly classist English noblemen also grow increasingly resentful of Cromwell's influence and power; they never let him forget he's merely the son of a blacksmith without noble lineage. So there's a lot at stake. Mantel uses many fascinating historical details to describe this complicated period of time and bring it alive. It does take patience to follow, but Mantel tempers her narrative with a fantastic humour which prevents the story from becoming dry.

Read my full review of The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel on LonesomeReader
Profile Image for Katie.
277 reviews356 followers
November 30, 2022
My favourite read of the year. Now and again you read a book that is written with so much love, with such depth of engagement that it's an urgent pulse on every page. It's a staggering achievement how vividly she has brought to life Tudor England. The beauty is often in the detail. And because we know horrible Henry is going to turn on Thomas there's a knife-edge tension throughout the third part of this trilogy. Probably lays claim to the best historical fiction ever written.
Profile Image for Nika.
150 reviews162 followers
May 20, 2022
Cromwell, who had started his life as the son of a blacksmith, managed to climb to the heights of power becoming the king’s right-hand man. He served as chief minister to the English king Henry VIII Tudor, the one who was desperate to have a male heir and executed two of his six wives for treason. Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard were accused of cheating on the king with other men, which was considered high treason back then.
If the public knows relatively well the story of the king, the story of his chief adviser remains obscure to many. Mantel’s trilogy fills the gap by presenting her narrative from Thomas Cromwell’s perspective. According to Mantel, novelists do not have to be neutral but should aspire to fairness and integrity in their depictions of history.

The Mirror and the Light is the third and final book about Thomas Cromwell written by Hilary Mantel. The trilogy is well-researched for a non-fiction work and contains a lot of details pertinent to the historical period in question. The author is meticulous about describing historical characters. There are some fictional characters and lines but she endeavours to respect historical reality.

Cromwell played a major role in the English Reformation when the English king decided to break from the authority of the Pope and declared himself the head of the Church. The dissolutions of the monasteries followed, and this led to an increase in the Crown’s revenues. Cromwell was in charge of this flow of money. He had also been quite successful in guiding the country's international policies. To make a long story short, he was a fortunate politician with a wide range of responsibilities, at least until he made the decision to goad the recently widowed king into marrying Anne of Cleves, the German princess.

Despite his successes Cromwell fell of Henry’s grace in 1540. Soon he was ruined and executed, as other influential people had been before him. Henry VIII was known to be prone to paranoid outbursts when it was not difficult to convince him of one or another of his advisers or former friends being traitors. Once the king was convinced of their ‘guilt’, he would not hesitate to punish them. Some historians think that one of the reasons behind such behavior was the king’s immense inner vulnerability. His rights to the throne which he inherited from his father Henry VII, the first Tudor monarch, looked questionable. Those who descended from the old Plantagenet royal dynasty treated Henry as “a parvenu” and “a usurper.” The king answered with suspicion and ruthlessness.
However, Henry VIII had not always been such a difficult and dangerous man. Many contemporary accounts described him as "brilliant" when he was young.

Thomas Cromwell

Mantel’s book describes different stages of the English Reformation and fighting with what Protestants called idolatry.
The bones proved durable. They survived a fire that destroyed most of the abbey. Over the years they attracted so many pilgrims that Becket’s shrine waxed jealous. Lead cross, crystal cross, Isle of Avalon: they wrung out the pennies from the credulous and awed...

On the downside, the writing style at times does not feel smooth. There could have been fewer characters. The world created by Mantel seems slightly overcrowded. Some characters are impressive and multi-dimensional, others lack depth.
To the first group of characters belongs Eustace Chapuys, the Spanish ambassador to the English court.
His conversations with Cromwell are one of my favorite parts of the novel. The two men have come to respect each other, despite often conflicting interests (England became in many aspects Spain’s antagonist after Henry VIII’s divorce with Katherine of Aragon and his quarrel with Rome). Chapuys was a faithful supporter of the Princess Mary, the King’s daughter from his first marriage.

The novel brilliantly weaves the interactions between Cromwell and his master the king. Facing almost every day such an unpredictable man as Henry VIII must have been a tough task, even more dangerous than walking on thin ice. The rules by which statesmen and courtiers played were as changeable as clouds in a windy sky. It was even more so regarding the matter of religion. Yesterday you had had to show yourself a good Catholic, now you swore an oath of allegiance to the Henry VIII as the Head of the Church of England, and only God knew what you would need to become tomorrow.

Overall, this trilogy is an excellent example of contemporary historical fiction. I will go so far as to say that it belongs to the best historical novels published in the last 20-30 years. The author takes pains to show how complicated historical events were and that no one was completely “black” nor “white.” Even the King who does commit villainous acts and is ruthless to the people in his own family is a human full of nuances, and not a classic villain.
In one of her interviews, Mantel said that her research, which had lasted for many years, taught her that one must view the historical records with a critical eye and “always question the accepted historical narrative. ”
In her recreation of Cromwell and England of the first half of the sixteenth century, the author follows the unspoken rule – the writer is allowed to give the word to his or her imagination when it comes to historical blind spots.
The author could with some caution think up motives behind decisions because no one knows for sure what was happening in the head of the people who made these decisions.
As Mantel notes, “we never know what anyone thought. We may know what they said they thought. But there may be a great gulf between what goes on the record and what’s actually going on in a person’s mind at any one time.”

In conclusion, the story is complex and multi-layered. Those who love history of sixteenth-century Europe would most likely enjoy it.
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