“She is very plain. What does Henry see in her?”
“He thinks she’s stupid. He finds it restful.”


Bring Up the Bodies

By Hilary Mantel
407 Pages

Though he battled for seven years to marry her, Henry is disenchanted with Anne Boleyn. She has failed to give him a son and her sharp intelligence and audacious will alienate his old friends and the noble families of England. When the discarded Katherine dies in exile from the court, Anne stands starkly exposed, the focus of gossip and malice.

At a word from Henry, Thomas Cromwell is ready to bring her down. Over three terrifying weeks, Anne is ensnared in a web of conspiracy, while the demure Jane Seymour stands waiting her turn for the poisoned wedding ring. But Anne and her powerful family will not yield without a ferocious struggle. Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies follows the dramatic trial of the queen and her suitors for adultery and treason. To defeat the Boleyns, Cromwell must ally with his natural enemies, the papist aristocracy. What price will he pay for Anne’s head?

Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Mantel’s previous work, Wolf Hall, which covered the downfall of Katherine of Aragon and the ascendancy of Anne Boleyn from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell.

This time around it is Anne’s days who are numbered.

NPG 668; Anne Boleyn by Unknown artist
Portrait of Anne Boleyn by Unknown artist, oil on panel, late 16th century (circa 1533-1536)

Mantel again tells the story in a present tense narrative, highlighting the events in 3rd person, but through the perspective of Cromwell. Now Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII, Thomas Cromwell is tasked with putting into check and later dismantling the very same Boleyn family that he helped to put into power only a few years earlier. Over the course of the novel Cromwell does what he must to stay in the King’s favor for the sake of his own career and family, scheming against Anne, her brother, and numerous other roadblocks along the way.

I enjoyed this novel quite a bit, and more so than it’s predecessor. I suspect part of that is the material- I’ve read or viewed the story of Katherine and Anne, or More and Wolsey and the split with the Pope seemingly a million times. Wolf Hall was innovative mostly for its Cromwellian focus on those events. But the events themselves were like an old hat.

With Bring Up the Bodies, we move to Anne Boleyn’s fall from grace- her failure to provide a male heir, her alleged infidelities, her trial, her death. It is not a new story either, but from my experience at least, it is a story less frequently told. Add in that same Cromwell angle, as well as the inclusion of the Seymour family (and wife number three, Jane) and you get something that feels more fresh, different, and new.

Should You Read This?

Bring Up the Bodies is an excellent work of historical fiction, bringing an interesting new perspective to a fairly well known event in history.

That said, it isn’t the easiest title to read. In fact, though it may not be necessary to complete its predecessor Wolf Hall from a narrative standpoint (especially if you are well versed in that tale), it would probably be a good idea just to get a grasp on the syntax of the prose.

The first-person text, use of constant pronouns, and the inclusion of dozens of characters who have the same first name can make it difficult to follow. Having read Wolf Hall it was much easier to digest, and I did get the benefit of knowing some of the backstories that Bodies only alludes to.

Overall though, prose-you-need-to-adjust-to aside, this was a solid work of historical fiction, and one I would recommend to any fan of that genre, or of this general historical era.

Summary from Goodreads