Hilary Mantel – Bring Up the Bodies


“You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it’s like sporting with a tamed lion.  You can tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you’re thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.”

Title: Bring Up the Bodies (Book #2, Thomas Cromwell Trilogy)
Author: Hilary Mantel
Language: English
Publication details: London: Fourth Estate, 2013. (Originally published 2012)
Pages: 485


The gist of it:

  • Thomas Cromwell. Master Secretary.
  • Tries to run nation while procuring new wife for Henry. Happy king is happy country.
  • Queen Boleyn not happy (understandably). Plots to get rid of Cromwell.
  • Cromwell better at plotting. 
  • Not-so-spoiler alert: Anne dies.
  • King Henry in happy marriage with new wife. For now.

My ponderings:

I’m a huge fan of Tudor history, so I was very excited for this book in terms of genre. Even so, the fact that it was told from Cromwell’s point of view made me have my doubts. I was more used to reading historical fictions told by a main player’s point of view, i.e. the king, the queen or any other royal member of court. They were involved in the action, all eyes were on them and they were pressured to act wisely, even if they were really just plain dumb. Sometimes. Personally I have always revered Elizabeth I, though Mary, Queen of Scots is really just…a lost little girl, I suppose.

Thomas was just the Master Secretary, and I foolishly thought that much of the narrative would be rather dull since he’s just a viewer from the side-lines. Alas, I was proven delightfully wrong, so very wrong! Dear old Crom’ is shrewder than any monarch to have taken reign, and why wouldn’t he be? Monarch’s, in the end, are the top of the food chain. There’s still the comfort that “Well, I’m the king/queen so whatever I say goes.” Thomas on the other hand, has to think of preserving his own life while managing everything that goes on with the regents’.

“Account books form a narrative as engaging as any tale of sea monsters or cannibals.” 

A quote from Master Cromwell himself, and boy was he right indeed.

I just can’t get over how this book is so different from what I’ve come to expect from most historical fiction novels. There’s hardly any mention of love; relationships are political, profitable and most of all uncertain. Especially when in regards to the king. One moment you’re in with Henry, the next moment you’re out. This wouldn’t be so bad if he wasn’t the king of England, but there you go.

Henry is basically an asshole, but he’s also the king of England. Got to love him.

Thomas was brilliant, I absolutely loved him as a character! Some might think him cold-hearted and ruthless, but I actually found him rather likable, and dare I say it, charming. He’s simply doing what it takes to survive, and remains loyal to his friends while vanquishing his foes with subtle precision. What’s not to like?

There was a little scene where he played around with the Spanish Ambassador’s hat, and really I found the ambassador quite endearing as well. He seemed like the one honest character in the book, appealing to see Katherine (Henry’s ex-queen) because he cared for her and not for some ulterior political motive, which trust me, about 95% of the characters in the book had when doing absolutely anything. One would tell a joke and observed who laughed after so that you may jot down their names and hand it over to the king as proof of their sacrilege towards the royal crown!

Love wouldn’t exist till you’ve drawn out an accurately elaborate family tree depicting your future fortunes should you wed a particular man/lady of court. Unless you were the king of course, then by all means fall in love. Screw the church for love. Behead a few dozen people, including your current wife for love. Anything goes in the name of love.

Anne was depicted well here. Not compassionate, but not too evil. Just a queen who knew what she was doing when she snagged the king, and had to fight rather viciously in order to maintain her precarious position. I kept thinking about how in the current day, she’d just be a mean bitch who would learn a lesson or two. But back in Henry’s day…well she’s dead to him. Literally.

In terms of characters, Thomas Cromwell shines. A character I would love to have invented. Not so sure if I’d want to be his friend, but I would want to be in his good books at any rate. Prose-wise, I really, really do enjoy the books writing. I’ve read in other reviews that Mantel rather excessively uses the word ‘He’. While I do agree, she still had some lovely sentences and personally the ‘He’ thing didn’t really disrupt my reading experience.

I got this book before the first one, but after enjoying it so immensely, I’m definitely going to get Wolf Hall now! Can’t wait for the third book as well, The Mirror and the Light.

I know that BBC has a Wolf Hall TV series. Seeing as I love most BBC programs, I do believe that I will enjoy it! Hopefully.

Ooh, ooh, there was one scene in Bring Up the Bodies that I absolutely adored:

“He looks around at his guests. All are prepared. A Latin grace; English would be his choice, but he will suit his company. Who cross themselves ostentatiously, in papist style. Who look at him, expectant. He shouts for the waiters. The doors burst open. Sweating men heave the platters to the table. It seems the meat is fresh, in fact not slaughtered yet. It is just a minor breach of etiquette. The company must sit and salivate…”

Wait for it…

“…The Boleyns are laid at his hand to be carved.”

GAH! When I read that line, I actually felt myself shiver. I could picture the macabre tableaux right in front of my eyes, the camera panning around the room slowly, taking in the luxurious deco and the well-dressed guests before panning down to the table to reveal the Boleyns’ decapitated heads.Hearing me say this, you wouldn’t think me squeamish and afraid of gore, but I am, I truly am! I just really didn’t expect that last sentence, that it was the Boleyns being served. It caught me off guard and had me applauding bravo at the way the scene was built up. I think it would make for an excellent cinematic scene.

I also liked this part:

“I am disgusted,” George says. He edges away from his father.
He (Thomas) says, “Minute Lord Rochford’s disgust.”

Wriothesley’s pen scratches.

Oh, so sassy Thomas! So sassy. Thomas the Master Secretary, more like Thomas the Master Sassytary!I apologize. Moving on.

Thom Crom. Sass Master est. 16th century

I also liked how Thomas casually mentioned that everyone just called Wriothesley “call-me”, and Wriothesley was then referred to as “call-me” from then on out. As small a tidbit as this may seem, it actually had a subtle yet strong effect of making me feel immersed in the story. Like even I knew who “call-me” was supposed to be, because c’mon, that’s what we all call him! Isn’t that right, fellas? *laughs with imaginary Tudor friends*Just kidding, I don’t have any imaginary Tudor friends. If I did, they’d all be dead by now. Oh don’t judge, it’d be them or me.

My rating: ★★★★

Recommends it to: People who would like reading about a shrewd, cunning yet likable man maneuvering his way through the murky ocean of court intrigue. He’s witty, he’s stoic, he’s understandably ruthless: he’s Thomas Cromwell.


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

“He is not in the habit of explaining himself. He is not in the habit of discussing his successes. But whenever good fortune has called on him, he has been there, planted on the threshold, ready to fling open the door to her timid scratch on the wood.”

“Why did you let her take the head off London Bridge?”
Cromwell: “You know me, Stephen. The fluid of benevolence flows through my veins and sometimes overspills.”

“Truth can break the gates down, truth can howl in the street; unless truth is pleasing, personable and easy to like, she is condemned to stay whimpering at the back door.”

There were many other great quotes, this book has really fine writing.

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