B the BookAddict's Reviews > Bring Up the Bodies

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel
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it was amazing
bookshelves: hist-fact-fiction, hist-fiction
Recommended to B the BookAddict by: Jeffrey Keeten
Recommended for: Most Highly Recommended

In her Author’s Note, Hilary Mantel says: “This book is of course not about Anne Boleyn or about Henry VIII but about the career of Thomas Cromwell, who is still in need of attention from biographers. Meanwhile, Mr Secretary (Cromwell) remains sleek, plump and densely inaccessible, like a choice plum in a Christmas pie…”

For me, Cromwell remains admirable, he had such exemplary hopes for England: one country, one coinage, one set of laws, one church albeit at Henry's bidding, good roads, good crops, good trade, good tax laws and care for the poor. He put the English Bible in every church.

The events from September 1535 to April 1536 move with astonishing haste and Cromwell is recording them as they happen. Was it the miscarriage of Anne’s next baby, was it the court gossip, was it her constant maligning of his old friends, was it the prospect of the demure Jane Seymour or was it the death of Katherine, which hastened Anne's downfall? Whatever the reason, the thought is finally vocalized by Henry: "What if there was some impediment to my marriage to Anne?" You can almost hear the death knell sound for Anne... The next three weeks move very rapidly. Fault must be found and blame proportioned:

“Weston because he is reckless, Brereton because he is old in sin, Mark because he is ambitious, Henry Norris because he is familiar, he is close, he has confused his own person with the person of the king; and George Boleyn, not despite being her brother, but because he is her brother.”

Regardless of his own personal feelings in the matter, Cromwell seeks to fulfil the task which Henry has set him; present the guilty, not to Henry for he has absented himself, but to the court of England.

In those same six months, Thomas More has continued to refuse to sign the oath required of him, even after Cromwell offers him ways out: "Sign it but don't think it, sign it but don't feel it." But More is stubborn to the last and refuses. He finally talks his way into an admission of guilt and has been sent to the scaffold.

The order goes up to the Tower: “Bring up the bodies”, Mark, Norris, Brereton, Weston and George are brought up for trial, charges read, sentences passed. The next day, Anne faces the court, a plethora of charges is read and she found guilty. A few days later, the executioner steps up to fulfil his task and heads roll. Cromwell is in Lambeth, he has no wish to watch the spectacle. But for Anne, Henry summons an expert executioner from Calais and she faces his well-honed sword; “a swish, a whisper through the air” and Anne "the Most Happy” is no more. Ten days later, Henry quietly weds the demure and gentle Jane Seymour. The Boleyns are out and the Seymours are in. Cromwell is astute enough to realize that his newfound friends will just as quickly desert him when it suits them. The clock has started to wind down for ‘Master Secretary’.

In a moment of reflection, I feel sorry for Anne Boleyn; she was never caught en flagrante and by today’s laws, her charges may well be considered hearsay. Only Anne herself could tell us the truth and the lady is long dead. While many detractors may saddle Cromwell with Anne’s downfall, read this book and then make up your own mind. Hilary Mantel presents us with a Cromwell sculptured with careful study and diligence. She shows you the man who still mourns his deceased wife and children, still misses The Cardinal Wolsey, becomes father/sponsor to many young men who come to live, learn and thrive in his household. She draws you through this novel at a breakneck speed. While you might have found Wolf Hall hard to follow in parts, this sequel moves like a fast moving river. It is engaging, riveting and all the while thoughtful. You cannot help but think at the novel’s end: ‘now I know and understand Thomas Cromwell a little better'.

Most Highly Recommended 5★

An interesting link titled Thomas Cromwell Controversies: http://www.thetudorswiki.com/page/Tho...
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Reading Progress

June 24, 2014 – Shelved
June 24, 2014 – Shelved as: to-read
September 12, 2014 – Started Reading
September 12, 2014 –
page 128
31.45% "Cromwell had such admirable hopes for England; one coinage, one set of laws, one church albeit Henry's bidding, one country, good roads, good crops, good trade. He was not after a titled position from Henry, unlike so many others of that time; was quite happy to remain a commoner. He only did Henry's bidding regarding Church matters. I'd disliked him in the series The Tudors but my feelings have done a big U-turn."
September 12, 2014 –
page 146
35.44% "In this link, Mantel talks about writing about Cromwell: http://www.thetudorswiki.com/page/Tho... \n A really interesting read in conjunction with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies."
September 13, 2014 –
page 365
89.68% "Was it the miscarriage of her next baby, or court gossip, or her maligning his old friends or the prospect of the demure Jane Seymour, or the death of Katherine, which hastened Anne's downfall? Whatever the reason, the thought is finally vocalized by Henry "What if there was some impediment to my marriage to Anne?" You can almost hear the death knell sound for Anne... The next thee weeks move very rapidly..."
September 14, 2014 – Shelved as: hist-fact-fiction
September 14, 2014 – Shelved as: hist-fiction
September 14, 2014 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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message 1: by Carolyn (last edited Sep 14, 2014 02:47PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Carolyn Great review Bette!
Thanks for posting the link to the Cromwell Controversies.It's interesting to hear the speculation on what really caused Cromwell's downfall.


B the BookAddict Thanks, Carolyn. I always find it handy to read facts about an Historical figure other than what is in the book. And that link has some comment by well known historians and writers; I really enjoyed reading it.


Carolyn I like to know what is historical fact and what is conjecture or opinion and it's so hard to tell that from a novel. I love it when the author takes a bit of extra time to comment on this at the end of the book.


message 4: by Angela M (new)

Angela M Bette , thanks for the recommendation but I wasn't crazy about Wolf Hall so I'm not sure I could get into it .


B the BookAddict Carolyn wrote: "I like to know what is historical fact and what is conjecture or opinion and it's so hard to tell that from a novel. I love it when the author takes a bit of extra time to comment on this at the en..."

The line between conjecture and truth is a hard one for good historical novelists. They often have to rely on what was said, passed on and things often become like a chinese whisper e.g. distorted and quite unlike the real facts. But very little solid evidence probably remains from these times. I think Mantel covered this issue in the link "Thomas Cromwell Conspiracies".

I've recently read Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions compiled by Historian/History Professor G.W. Bernard. In the book, he presents you with all the evidence known to historians about Anne and the men charged at her trial. He then allows you to make up your own mind. It's not a book you can 'zoom' through; you need to really concentrate while reading it. But I would recommend it if Anne really interests you.


Carolyn Better BookAddict wrote: "Carolyn wrote: "I like to know what is historical fact and what is conjecture or opinion and it's so hard to tell that from a novel. I love it when the author takes a bit of extra time to comment o..."

That does sound interesting Bette. So much of history is affected by the politics of the time as well as the opinion of the writer so to be able to tease out the bare facts and present them without bias from your own opinion must be quite difficult.


Sally Howes It just so happens that I read your review immediately after watching the penultimate episode of Season 2 of The Tudors, in which Anne's supposed lovers are executed. Cromwell's overseeing of the torture used to secure their confessions is certainly shown in a worse light in the TV series than in Bring Up the Bodies, but still, I could see him as a man doing what he thought to be a necessary job and not enjoying it at all. The one overwhelming thought that remains with me in anything I watch or read about Henry VIII, though, is: 'This man is one of the most vain, selfish, and thoroughly EVIL men who ever lived.' Whatever his justifications and whatever the pressure he was under to produce a male heir, the buck stops with him. He married and then destroyed the lives of four different women (I'm not counting Jane Seymour, who died before Henry had time to tire of her, or Catherine Parr who was lucky enough to outlive Henry) quite simply because he became bored with them. The simple answer is often the right one, and I believe it is in this case. And for that, I loathe and revile King Henry VIII of England.


message 8: by B the BookAddict (last edited Sep 16, 2014 10:48AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

B the BookAddict Sally, I was taken aback to read in BUTB that if the men were tortured, then Cromwell did not oversee it or even order it although perhaps he gave a veiled message to the gaolers: "Get a confession no matter how". Most history would have us believe that he was the instigator. But I've since read other links from historians who say he was not. What to believe?


Diane Barnes I like your review a lot and agree with most of it. Mantel's Cromwell is a good man caught in Henry's web. Whether he agrees with him or not, he must be careful of his own head. But he's sly and smart, whatever he's feeling. I felt that he was getting revenge on the accused men for their treatment of the Cardinal at his death. In any case, I can't wait for the 3rd book.


B the BookAddict Diane, very true about revenge for the Cardinal. How did I forget to mention Wolsey in my review (dumb of me) because although dead, Wolsey does still feature in the book.


Sally Howes Oh yes, I remember now - it was implied in BUTB that Cromwell went after the four men who participated in that cruel play about Wolsey immediately before his death, the one about him going to hell. Cromwell kept his enmity for those four stored away until he found the perfect way to take revenge by 'encouraging' their execution along with Anne. It was like the King demanded scapegoats, so Cromwell took the chance to use them and avenge the Cardinal.


message 12: by B the BookAddict (last edited Sep 17, 2014 12:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

B the BookAddict @Sally. Oh yes, he wanted those guys, no matter what, didn't he? He hated Wolsey being made fun of that way; what a good opportunity Henry provided him with the avenge their cruelty in making Wolsey a laughing stock.

I'm glad you brought up the Wolsey factor; for some reason, his mention in BUTB got lost in my thoughts about Henry's wants and Cromwell's efforts.


message 13: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten I'm really amazed at how many readers I'm seeing crash and burn while reading this book series. I blazed through Wolf Hall and need to get time to read this one as well. Wonderful review Bette! Loved the LINK!


B the BookAddict @Jeff. Thanks, I loved the series. I'll admit I found Wolf Hall required much concentration while Bring Up The Bodies seems a much more flowing read. I love to suss out stuff about historical people after I've read a book. The link was great because you got Q&A, and opinions by Mantel, references to Weir and in a small part David Starkey.

I found it intriguing that after Anne's demise, Cromwell realise he has only 'fair-weather' friends but seems to accept this. He could have fled England but does not; I wonder why...


message 15: by Jeffrey (new)

Jeffrey Keeten Bette BookAddict wrote: "@Jeff. Thanks, I loved the series. I'll admit I found Wolf Hall required much concentration while Bring Up The Bodies seems a much more flowing read. I love to suss out stuff about historical pe..."

He is an Englishman through and through. He came from nothing, became so much. The thought of leaving must have been impossible to consider. I'm afraid that most of us would find we only had fair weather friends especially under those circumstances and in those tumultuous political times. There is being a steadfast friend and then there is having your detached head lying next to your good friend Thomas Cromwell's head.


B the BookAddict @Jeff. lol! The same can be said about modern day friends, I suppose. You have acquaintances who will socialise with you in the good times and then good friends who will stick by you no matter what.


message 17: by Dale (new)

Dale Harcombe A fair comment re friends, Bette.


Sally Howes I've heard a lot of people had trouble with Wolf Hall but I breezed through that as well as Bring Up the Bodies possibly because I listened to them as audiobooks instead of reading them, and the narrator, Simon Slater, was really good. He had a dry, sometimes almost sarcastic tone to his voice that I thought suited Cromwell to a T!


message 19: by Mike (new) - rated it 5 stars

Mike Warble I like everything abut this comment, but the victim role is mentioned about Anne. Her family was very amibitious...this cannot be denied...and she also took many heads as trophies to her grim end.


B the BookAddict Mike wrote: "I like everything abut this comment, but the victim role is mentioned about Anne. Her family was very amibitious...this cannot be denied...and she also took many heads as trophies to her grim end."

Oh, I agree, Anne was guilty of many, many things but in her demise, I think she was a pawn in Henry's marital machinations.


Sandy *The world could end while I was reading and I would never notice* Thanks Bette - I was given both books for Christmas, but haven't started them yet. Will have to move them up my pile I think! 8:D


B the BookAddict Sandra wrote: "Thanks Bette - I was given both books for Christmas, but haven't started them yet. Will have to move them up my pile I think! 8:D"

Hope you like them! My twin, who usually loves what I read, hated them. Lots of people on GR are very ambivalent about them. Good luck:)


message 23: by [deleted user] (new)

B, I am so thrilled that you loved part 2, and you have whet my appetite for an immediate start as soon as I finish the book I am on. I am thrilled that you saw Cromwell as I did, that shows that perhaps I was on the right track. I have an idea of what will happen in this volume because I did see the PBS production. Thank you for such a sumptuous review that hints at the mystery of Cromwell.


message 24: by B the BookAddict (last edited Jan 01, 2016 10:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

B the BookAddict Thank you, Steve. I think that Cromwell has suffered over five hundred years of bad press; it's good for people to see another view of him. I love British history so the story of Henry, Cromwell, More and Wolsey, not to mention the unfortunate women who became Henry's wives is not new to me. Mantel provided, for me, a more gentle portrait of Cromwell and I am appreciative for that; she doesn't absolve him but she is a more positive biographer.


message 25: by Carol (new)

Carol Dobson Your review has just popped up on my screen. I have no idea why as you wrote it some years ago. However, I was very pleased to read it. It is a wonderful review, with a real feeling for the characters and for the history. Am not sure I will read the book as it is a little too sad for my taste (am still struggling with CJ Sansom's Lamentations, a beautifully written novel, but grim.)


message 26: by Sharon (new)

Sharon Metcalf It popped up on my feed also Bette and I was excited that you'd foubd a 5 star read so soon after coming out of a reading slump. Either way, great review and a very interesting set of comments.


B the BookAddict Carol, I am re-writing reviews of books read, as a way to get back in the habit of writing them again. I am seriously out of practice.

Thanks, Sharon.


message 28: by Carol (new)

Carol Dobson B the BookAddict wrote: "Carol, I am re-writing reviews of books read, as a way to get back in the habit of writing them again. I am seriously out of practice.

Thanks, Sharon."

That's a good idea Bette. I often struggle with writing reviews as if I have enjoyed the book I like to do it justice but that takes time. So I end up with a lot of books which I appear to be currently reading, but have actually finished, but haven't yet managed to write a proper review.


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