Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520's was a country in turmoil.  Henry VIII was the king but has failed in one of his main duties; providing a male heir to continue his dynasty after his death.  He married his brother's widow, Katherine from Spain, but the marriage has produced no male heirs.  As he nears his late thirties, he becomes restless and Anne Boleyn, a lady in his court, catches his eye.  As he becomes more and more entranced with her, he determines that he will put aside his wife and make Anne his queen instead.  But how is this to be accomplished?  He puts his main advisor, Cardinal Wolsey to the task of requesting an annulment of his marriage from the Pope.

When the Pope refuses to grant the annulment, chaos erupts.  Henry decides to break with the Church and marry Anne anyway.  Wolsey is stripped of his possessions and sent to exile and later killed for his failures.  His staff remains loyal to him and none is more loyal than Thomas Cromwell.  Thomas was not born to a noble family.  He was a blacksmith's son who has made his way up in society by sheer effort and intelligence.  He spends time in Europe as a soldier and then makes his fortune in importing fabrics and other goods.  He is fiercely loyal to Wolsey and when his mentor is disgraced and killed, he is determined to bring that same ruin on the individuals who oversaw Wolsey's ruin.

Henry likes Cromwell, as do many people.  Fiercely loyal and ruthless, he is also charming.  He sees the conspiracies of royal life and can thread his way between them, always pursuing his ultimate goals.  He pushes through various laws to support Henry's desires and mentors many young people in his household.  But more than anything, he works to ruin those who cross him and who dare to stand in the way of the king's desires.

There is little new that could be said about Wolf Hall.  Winner of the 2009 Booker Prize, along with other literary awards, this novel has been praised as a fascinating new look at one of the most written about periods in English history.  Many know little about Cromwell and his place in this drama, and Mantel brings him to life in such a way that the common opinion of him is set on its head.  This is an excellent book and one that richly deserved its accolades.  This book is recommended for readers of historical fiction and those interested in character delineation. 

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