Bring Up the Bodies is the second book I’ve finished reading for the When Are You Reading? Challenge. It counts for the time frame of 1500-1599.
Bring Up the Bodies follows Thomas Cromwell, Master Secretary and assistant to King Henry VIII, during the year leading up to Anne Boleyn’s death. It opens with Henry growing sick of Anne and becoming enamored with Jane Seymour, one of Anne’s ladies. Cromwell, used to helping Henry get his way since his marriage to Anne herself, ends up advising Jane and her family to hold out for the ultimate prize: marriage to the king. He then, under Henry’s orders, starts working to annul Henry’s current marriage by working with his enemies at court, enemies who wish to see Anne fall.
WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD (although if you know Tudor history, the spoilers are nonexistent)
Let me start out by saying I love Tudor history. It’s probably my favorite period and place in history to read about. And Hilary Mantel’s take on the time is fascinating.
I’ve never before read from Cromwell’s viewpoint and Mantel does it brilliantly, bringing to life a somewhat controversial figure. Well, maybe it’s just me who finds him controversial. I mean, he brings Anne to power and then turns on her – albeit only after she, to some extent, turns on him, angry at his maneuverings and his willingness to help Henry lure mistresses into his bed. Which is in the modern day completely understandable, but at the time she should’ve expected it, especially since her own sister warmed Henry’s bed when he was married to his first wife.
The writing style isn’t for everyone, I’ll admit. A lot of the dialogue is unmarked, embedded in the paragraphs, and Cromwell is often referred to simply as ‘he’ or ‘him’, which can make parsing characters different when there are lots of ‘hes’ talking, as is often the case. I found the style worked for the way the story was told, however, adding to the ease of switching between Cromwell’s narration and inner thoughts without resorting to italics, and helped me feel closer to Cromwell as a character without dumping me directly into a first person narrative.
Having read accounts of Anne Boleyn’s trial and death prior to this reading, I was aware that modern day historians consider the evidence to be controversial, contradictory, and specious, so I enjoyed seeing Cromwell’s perspective that what they needed were not men guilty of adultery but guilty men.
Overall, this was a great read and I will probably check out more of Mantel’s books. If the writing style doesn’t bother you, I highly recommend this look into Thomas Cromwell’s life and court maneuvers and intrigue in the time of Henry VIII.