Scan 12So having finally finished Wolf Hall at the second attempt I was so absorbed in the story of Thomas Cromwell that I immediately picked up the sequel, Bring Up The Bodies. This turned out to be a wise decision as it was equally as well written as its predecessor though potentially darker in tone and with a slightly different style which I can’t quite put my finger on.

This picks up from the end of Wolf Hall, with Henry VII divorced from wife one, married to wife two and casting his eye around at other women in the court, with a particular fancy for Jane Seymour whom we know will become wife three. Although he now has Anne in his possession she id pregnant and the King needs female companionship. It’s also becoming clear even at this early stage that he is becoming tired of Anne as a personality; Mantel portrays her as manipulative and unforgiving and her behaviour will sow the seeds of her inevitable downfall when she fails to provide a male heir. She does of course produce Elizabeth I, my great heroine of which I will say no more other than that her rare appearances as a baby and toddler in the book are rather sweet.

This reads like a thriller and I tanked my way through the second half in a single sitting. Once its clear that no son is forthcoming Henry starts casting around for reasons to get rid of Anne and Cromwell, with his informants everywhere and his growing attachment to the Seymour family , helps pull together the evidence required to have her executed for treason. I found the portrayal of Anne really compelling; I’ve always felt she was hard done by, and I know Mantel is taking a particular position here but I have to say that her descriptions of Anne’s alleged behaviour shows her to be at the very least a foolish woman who overestimated her power and influence over the King.

The role of families in court politics is also fascinating, the way fathers and brothers effectively pimped their women folk to royalty for land and power and influence is remarkably dismaying but, of course, par for the course over many centuries.

I still like Cromwell. His attempts to help Katherine, Mary and Anne to give the King what he wants and needs while allowing them to retain some form of dignity are admirable but doomed. Pride is a very important commodity for these women, and for Henry himself, who comes across as rather more petulant and self-serving in this volume. Still can’t stand the man though.

There will be a third book which will take us up to Cromwell’s death; not sure when that will appear but I’m already looking forward to seeing how my favourite Henrician queen, Anne of Cleves, is handled. Wonderful stuff.