The Cromwell Trilogy is Hilary Mantel’s acclaimed historical fiction series on the life of Thomas Cromwell. Set in the midst of religious, political and popular revolutions in Tudor England, it features unforgettable scenes between Cromwell and its other major characters such as Henry VIII, Thomas More, Anne Boleyn and others. The first two novels in the series, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, each won the Booker Prize in 2009 and 2012 respectively, while the third novel, The Mirror and the Light was nominated in 2020.
England in the early 16th century is simmering with an uneasy peace. Far better than the bitter War of the Roses period, the Tudor hold of the crown is nevertheless insecure. Though none threaten open civil war, rival claimants to the throne are patiently waiting for an opportunity. The King, though not yet old, is without a male heir and unlikely to sire one from his older wife. The War of the Roses and the Hundred Years’ War which preceded it has severely diminished England’s wealth and power and Henry VIII’s influence appears small compared to predecessors and his main rivals, the King of France and the Holy Roman Emperor, each of whom may turn an eye towards England if they were not so consumed with each other.
It is 1535 and Henry VIII’s Master Secretary, Thomas Cromwell, now past middle-age, is growing rich and fat. Much has worked out well for Cromwell; Thomas More has been eliminated, the King is married to Anne Boleyn, the process of dissolving monasteries is underway and new opportunities are always arriving. One of those is an alliance with the Seymour family who reside at Wolf Hall. Henry has taken a fancy to Jane Seymour and Cromwell can see the advantage of Henry taking Jane as a mistress as Edward Seymour would make a useful ally.
Cromwell has built security, wealth and power despite his humble origins through the exercise of his various strengths. Among them are understanding people and their motives, drawing talented people towards him and his diligence in never making an error in word or deed that could be used against him. But even he could not predict the trouble brewing in the north of England. A popular rebellion, the Pilgrimage of Grace, the most threatening of Henry’s reign, has risen with Cromwell and his policies as their main target. Cromwell will have to use all of his skills and count on his few allies to keep him safe.