Bring Up the Bodies (Apr. 2014)

bring up the bodiesBring up the Bodies picks up where Wolf Hall left off: It’s September 1535, and Anne’s womb has failed England.

Henry VIII’s eyes are wandering to meek, diffident Jane Seymour though he and Anne Boleyn have only been married for two years. The plot jumps into high gear immediately, taking the reader on a fast-paced journey to Anne’s “trial” and execution (this is not a spoiler since it’s historical fact :p.)

Anne has birthed one daughter and had three miscarriages. Henry VIII now seeks to annul his marriage to Anne via a ludicrous set of charges, which include adultery (most likely true), witchcraft (pffft), treason (far-fetched), and incest (?!?!?!). So now Thomas Cromwell, as the king’s right-hand man, must unravel the marriage he spent years trying to contract – a marriage that, among other things, tore England away from the Catholic church.

The hypocrisy involved in this unraveling is so appalling as to be almost comedic.

Mark Smeaton, one of the men accused of sleeping with Queen Anne, confesses under some bizarre “torture” in Cromwell’s house which involves peacock feathers and Christmas ornaments. And then there’s Harry Percy, who was a suitor of Anne’s prior to her marriage. He was previously induced to swear that he wasn’t contracted in a secret marriage to Anne, predating her marriage to the king (which would, of course, have nullified the latter.) Now, he must take back that oath and swear that he was in fact married to her, and so her marriage to the king is no longer valid! It’s a hilarious part of the book, with Cromwell suggesting Percy say he was drunk when he took the oath or that the priest holding the bible had been incompetent.

More hypocrisy: Henry wants to float the idea that his marriage to Anne is null because he had “relations” with her sister, Mary, before and after he and Anne had wed. He thinks there’s an incestuous flavor to such a thing which might void his marriage. An “affinity”, he calls it. This despite the fact that his first wife was Katherine of Aragon, widow of his late brother Arthur! (Though it’s claimed that that marriage was never consummated.)…. basically, Affinity-schmaffinity…. Cromwell & Co wisely choose not to pursue this course.

It’s a scandalous, horrid affair, but delicious to read about.

Mantel’s prose is, again, a treat. It’s serious, honest, witty, and light. This book is much more psyche-driven, I felt, than the last one. We get a real insight into Cromwell’s mind (as the author sees it) and all the subtle (and not so subtle) machinations of the court. Thomas Cromwell is the muse Mantel was made to serve, and I cannot wait for the third part of the series.

The book is full of quotable passages. Just a few:

“Christophe, whispering: ‘Sir, they are saying on the streets that Katherine was murdered. They are saying that you sent two murderers with knives, and that they cut out her heart, and that when it was inspected, your name was branded there in big black letters.’

‘What? On her heart? Thomas Cromwell?’

Christophe hesitates. ‘Alors … Perhaps just your initials.'” 


“You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it’s like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you’re thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws.”


“Her womb remains anchored and primed for use, and shows no tendency to go wandering about her body as if it had nothing better to do.”


“The things you think are the disasters in your life are not the disasters really. Almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it.”


“The men in the tower, though they lament their likely fate do not complain as sorely as the king does. By day he walks around like an illustration from the Book of Job.”


“There are no endings. If you think so you are deceived as to their nature. They are all beginnings.”