""If you cannot speak truth at a beheading, when can you speak it?" England, May 1536. Anne Boleyn is dead, decapitated in the space of a heartbeat by a hired French executioner. As her remains are bundled into oblivion, Thomas Cromwell breakfasts with the victors. The blacksmith's son from Putney emerges from the spring's bloodbath to continue his climb to power and wealth, while his formidable master, Henry VIII, settles to short-lived happiness with his third queen before Jane dies giving birth to the male heir he most craves. Cromwell is a man with only his wits to rely on; he has no great family to back him, no private army. Despite rebellion at home, traitors plotting abroad and the threat of invasion testing Henry's regime to the breaking point, Cromwell's robust imagination sees a new country in the mirror of the future. But can a nation, or a person, shed the past like a skin? Do the dead continually unbury themselves? What will you do, the Spanish ambassador asks Cromwell, when the king turns on you, as sooner or later he turns on everyone close to him? With The Mirror & the Light, Hilary Mantel brings to a triumphant close the trilogy she began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies. She traces the final years of Thomas Cromwell, the boy from nowhere who climbs to the heights of power, offering a defining portrait of predator and prey, of a ferocious contest between present and past, between royal will and a common man's vision: of a modern nation making itself through conflict, passion, and courage"--
Thomas Cromwell may have once been a poor man, but that was many, many years ago. He's now very wealthy and the king's right hand man. And he doesn't mind getting his hands dirty and rewarding good service. That's his modus operandi and has kept him in good stead. But things seem to be gradually changing and Cromwell is beginning to wonder if his enemies, and there are several, may be aiming to undermine him. But how can that be? He has the confidence of Henry, the king......Doesn't he?
Hilary Mantel hit another homerun in this conclusion to her Wolf Hall Trilogy, the story of Thomas Cromwell told from his point of view and in a first person narrative that was compelling, educational and heart pounding with touches of laugh out loud moments. I was a little bit surprised in the author's note to see just how many of the characters were actual historical figures. I knew the king and his family and some of the major characters were factual but I was taken aback by the minor factual characters.
But the real star here is Mantel's luscious writing and her brilliant characterizations. The characters are all so well drawn and meaty. When Cromwell's downfall begins, the presentation of Anne of Cleeves places a special burden on him, because he is responsible for the match between Henry and his fourth wife (it's his third wife's head, that lies on the ground beneath the executioner's sword in the first paragraph above). Things are not working out very well and Cromwell seems to be losing his sway over the king.
If you're new to Mantel, don't start here. You need to get the full treatment from the beginning of the trilogy. It is magnificent, in my opinion. I really didn't want it to end. People who complain about the tedious details that Mantel includes in all three books simply don't appreciate excellent historical fiction. And that's what we have here. Remarkable. Brilliant. Magnificent. I've run out of superlatives. Oh there's another one....superlative.
When I received my pre-ordered copy of The Mirror and the Light on the day it was released, I dropped pretty much everything to read it. I’m so glad I did; it was totally worth the 8-year wait (the previous book, Bring up the Bodies, was published in 2012). Set during the reign of King Henry VIII, Bring up the Bodies ends with the execution of Anne Boleyn in 1536. This third and final book in Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy begins immediately after, and I do mean immediately. This rather gruesome start is very effective at dropping the reader right into the middle of the story so you don’t miss a beat.
At this point in history, Thomas Cromwell was at the height of his career, serving as Master Secretary to the King and Lord Privy Seal -- not bad for a commoner from Putney. But what do those titles mean, in practical terms?
Somewhere--or Nowhere, perhaps--there is a society ruled by philosophers. They have clean hands and pure hearts. But even in the metropolis of light there are maddens and manure-heaps, swarming with flies. Even in the republic of virtue you need a man who will shove up the shit, and somewhere it is written that Cromwell is his name..
Cromwell is a busy man, managing the dissolution of the monasteries and quelling the uprisings that followed, fending off potential threats from France and the Roman Empire, and -- most significantly for this novel -- engineering Henry’s next marriage, to Anne of Cleves. This strategic and initially promising match turned disastrous the moment Henry set eyes on Anne, and he held Cromwell responsible. This was just the opening his political opponents needed, and thus began Cromwell’s downfall.
This book is much longer than its predecessors, but so well written that I couldn’t put it down. Despite a very large cast of characters, it was fairly easy to keep track of who’s who (and Mantel includes a helpful reference). The characters are richly detailed, and the reader gets to know them so well they can actually spot the tiny details foreshadowing the betrayal of Cromwell. And those same tiny details are used to brilliant effect in showing Cromwell’s internal failings. A man formerly on top of his game would suddenly lose focus in a meeting, or forget to handle some small but strategically important matter. The final pages are, like the rest of the novel, told from Cromwell’s perspective which, given the outcome, is a literary feat unto itself.
To fully appreciate this book you have to have read the first two in the trilogy. So please, go do that and then immediately read The Mirror and the Light.
"The monuments of dead monarchs draw together, as if their bones were counseling each other; and the prophetic pavements beneath them, those stones of onyx, porphyry, green serpentine and glass, advise us through their inscriptions how many years the world will last."
All in all, I preferred the earlier two volumes, but should I survive until I can check a hardback from the library for more than a couple of weeks, this will merit a more leisurely read.
The consistent use of the third person for Thomas, Tom, Crumb, Cremuel and yet feeling as a reader as if one lives, breathes, despairs as the person himself in the most I form one can get. That’s crafty. But it becomes crafty on the verge of stunning when one realizes the sheer number characters contained in the cast that Thomas interacts with, and whom we all get to know almost intimately… How’s that possible? Is it the detailed descriptions of mimic, facial expressions, walking habits, jokes? Mantel somehow brings to life all those dreary characters from the history books. She also applies the technique of frequent flash backs, revealing yet more from Thomas’ youth and his years in Italy (of which very little is known with any degree of certainty, thus allowing Mantel some artistic freedom to build a back story around Thomas Cromwell). Yet another feat that Mantel achieves is to show through the daily, weekly, monthly interactions of Cromwell with his sex-driven King and with the duplicitous diplomats of the Habsburg Empire and French foes, to what extent international diplomacy in those days boiled down to the politics of high-level weddings and beddings. In that sense this novel is your ultimate guide to the Machiavelli of bedding and wedding.
And yet there is more. Cromwell’s policy of hiring and firing of servants, spies and councillors as well as the re-allocation of impounded real estate formerly known as monasteries and the accompanying titles, shows how patronage is dispensed to not only concentrate power, but also foster changes in the cultural and spiritual live of England as a polity. In the process Cromwell rises to meteoric heights, whilst creating a network of enemies that will ultimately deliver him to the chopping block.
What brings him down in the end? A combination of the whimsical, lust driven character of Henry VIII; a history and commitment on the part of Cromwell himself for the protestant cause of Tyndale and Calvin (who hovers in the background) making him liable to accusations of heresy; and the ruthless, grudge driven policies of Norfolk and other ancient knightly families who consider Cromwell to be a low life and usurper of the King’s patronage that by heritage is their prerogative.
The story picks up where "Bring up the Bodies" left off. The opening pages are at the beheading of Anne Boleyn; Jane Seymour is on the scene waiting to become the next queen. Henry is besides himself wanting an heir and Thomas Cromwell is in the midst of it all. He he handling Henry, handling foreign affairs, handling the closing of the monasteries, and handling the religious crisis between the Pope and Henry and the rest of Europe.
The story ends with the beheading of Cromwell. Mantel does an amazing job of tying Cromwell's life together with the threads of his childhood.
An amazing book just like the other two.
Again and again Thomas goes back to his earlier life and the people and forces that made him what he is. It’s an effective technique for the final volume exploring his life. His regrets, his fondness or hatred for those who have gone before, his sudden understanding of events are shown in sharp relief. The reader can see him as a fully-developed man with all his faults and failings—and his virtues as well.
Mantel’s writing here is as graceful as ever; this isn’t a book to race through but rather one to savor. By paying careful attention the reader will be dismayed, just as Cromwell is dismayed, when old friends turn out to be less that that.
Two things struck me: the resolution of his relationship with Brandon; and Cromwell’s casual order to rack a prisoner, when he had done his best to avoid using torture for so long.
A fine conclusion to a mesmerizing trilogy
Reading this book was a surreal experience because, through all of it, you know the end to a lesser or greater degree. Mine leans towards the lesser - I knew Cromwell died, but not exactly how - as I'm aware of Henry VIII and especially his first two wives, but not a lot beyond that. This book is hefty in more ways than one, over 700 pages and dense with details. In Wolf Hall I remember thinking Cromwell an enigma; in The Mirror and the Light we see him thinking over his decisions and reminiscing about the past more than before. I admire how Mantel sticks close to known history while still exploring possibilities of choices and motives. A fitting conclusion to a superbly written trilogy.
Somewhat surprisingly, the most intriguing relationships in [The Mirror and the Light] are between Cromwell and a number of women. He is determined to save the life of Mary, the daughter of Katherine of Aragon, and to reconcile her with her father the king. He establishes such a friendly, protective relationship with her that rumors eventually spread that he intends to marry her and inherit the crown himself. Then there is the mistress of his friend Thomas Wyatt, set to spy on the Catholic Poles, cousins who claim to be the legitimate heirs after Henry (if not before). He also befriends Margaret Douglas, Henry's niece, who falls into disgrace after a secret marriage; advises a prioress whose convent has been disbanded and property seized (a woman who, in a different hour, he might have chosen as a wife); and meets a daughter that he never knew existed. Friends recommend that he marry as quickly as possible to dispel the rumors about Mary, but the only women that interest him--Jane Seymour's sister and Lady Latimer (aka Katherine Parr, who would become Henry's last wife) are spoken for. When the former is widowed, Cromwell chooses her not for himself but for his son Gregory, a move that sets up tensions between father and son.
In between personal conflicts, Cromwell is confronted with rebellion in the north leading to the disastrous Pilgrimage of Grace, and the machinations of the French king and the Holy Roman Emperor. All, of course, while trying to stay in Henry's good graces. As you can see, there's a lot going on in this novel, yet Mantel still manages to give us deeper insight into the heart (yes, he has one) and mind of her protagonist. While [Wolf Hall] remains my favorite part of the trilogy, [The Mirror and the Light] is definitely up to the task of following Cromwell through his rapid rise and sudden fall, all the while painting a brutal picture of the Tudor court.
Henry comes accross as less barbaric and more fallible than I would have pictured him. Cromwell is certainly interesting and one can see there must have been something commanding in his Genes as his great great grand nephew lead the English civil war.
I suspect the reformation would have persisted with or without Henry taking the church or England out of the Catholic church - but that was not a trivial event for church history.
The status of women, and the relationship between men and women is portrayed very clearly. At times I find myself surprised at the words the woman author was able to put into the mouth of the male characters - she is clearly a thoughtful observer.
There were many details of the history or that time - such as some of the rebellions that I was unaware of. Of course the Tudors took over the throne as the result of the war of the roses.
It has been said that the game of thrones is a fanciful retelling of the war of the roses.
The politicians of that time were bloodthirsty. Perhaps our contemporary politicians are just more subtle about their blood thirstyness.
This is a very long book - not something for a quick weekend read to pass the time. It is thought provoking and will surely reward pondering.
Award-winning and exquisitely written, this unparalleled work is a masterpiece of complex personalities, intrigue and conscience.
WOLF HALL, BRING UP THE BODIES and now, THE MIRROR AND THE LIGHT, give us an intimate view of Thomas Cromwell and his service to both Cardinal Wolsey and Tudor King Henry VIII.
Absolutely not to be missed. *****
I studied the Tudors in school and even then was fascinated by Thomas Cromwell, so this trilogy has been just amazing.