Saturday, March 23, 2013

Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel

English history, especially when it concerns the time of Henry VIII, is not for everyone.  It was a chaotic time, what with him cycling through various wives trying for a male heir.  We know he ended up with 6 wives and some of them met bad ends as he used various excuses to move on to the next one.
That said, Hilary Mantel has woven a fascinating tale from the perspective of Secretary to the King, Thomas Cromwell.  It falls to Cromwell to manipulate available circumstances to allow Henry to rid himself of Ann Boleyn so he can marry Jane Seymour.  Those lords and ladies who benefit by having Ann with Henry maneuver to avoid the break, while those who benefit by Jane stepping in spread rumors and try to hasten Ann's departure.  Since Cromwell is not a peer, he is mistrusted and looked down upon by most everyone in Henry's court.  For the time being, Henry trusts him and that allows Cromwell to proceed with the king's bidding.  You really don't need to know more than that about the circumstances, but it helps to remember that plotting against Cromwell normally turns out badly for the plotter.
There are a huge number of characters and you can become confused by Ms. Mantel's sometime lack of attribution as to who is speaking.  If you focus less on the names and more on Cromwell and how he dodges and maneuvers through each day, those names become less important.  You start to sense who is going to be alright in the end and who really shouldn't have done something to make Cromwell think less of him (or her).  We tend to look at history and assume the outcome was somewhat preordained, but this book hi lites just how tenuous not only the succession of the next monarch was, but also how Henry himself had to continuously move to remain in power and alive.  I couldn't put it down.

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