What Is Hilary Mantel's "Wolf Hall" Trilogy About?


Quick Answer

Hilary Mantel’s “Wolf Hall” trilogy is a historical but highly fictionalized account of the life of Thomas Cromwell, a member of Henry VIII’s court. One of the most powerful advisors to the King, Cromwell survived Cardinal Thomas Wolsey’s fall from favor and remained influential in English politics through the death of Sir Thomas More.

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The first novel of the “Wolf Hall” trilogy, “Wolf Hall," finds Cromwell working to pave the way for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon to marry Anne Boleyn and hopefully produce a male heir. Cromwell is witness to England’s break with the Catholic Church and the dissolution of the country’s monasteries. Portrayed as part charmer, part co-conspirator and enforcer, Mantel’s Cromwell stands in sharp contrast to historical accounts that paint him as a dark angel to Thomas More.

The second novel of the series, “Bring Up the Bodies," finds King Henry disappointed with Anne Boleyn, who loses her closest ally when Catherine of Aragon dies in exile. Cromwell works with Rome to denounce Boleyn and her suitors publicly for adultery and treason in a three-week trial that puts Boleyn’s powerful family against the King, Cromwell and Jane Seymour, her rival to produce an heir to the throne.

As of October 2015, the trilogy’s third novel, “The Mirror and the Light,” is still in progress and is expected to be released in the first half of 2016.

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