Wolf Hall A Novel

Hilary Mantel




Trade Paperback

640 Pages


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Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award
Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change. England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king's freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In Mantel's 16th century monarchy, individuals must fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.


Praise for Wolf Hall

"It is a famous portrait by Hans Holbein the Younger: Thomas Cromwell in his finery, about 1534, looking formidable and clutching a piece of paper while he sits at a desk that holds the implements he used to write Henry VIII's correspondence and draft Henry VIII's laws. In Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel's arch, elegant, richly detailed biographical novel centered on Cromwell, she has used Holbein's delivery of the portrait as the basis for a dagger-sharp moment of truth . . . It is Ms. Mantel's velvet-gloved delivery of such devastating observations, her book's broad historical sweep and her counterintuitive choice to make Cromwell its primary focus that have helped make Wolf Hall a widely favored contender for this year's Man Booker Prize . . . Her book's main characters are scorchingly well rendered. And their sharp-clawed machinations are presented with nonstop verve in a book that can compress a wealth of incisiveness into a very few well-chosen words . . . Ms. Mantel also has improbable success in reinventing Anne Boleyn. Or at least she succeeds in newly underscoring Anne's debt to Niccolo, as this book's characters refer to Machiavelli. With the king's friends, Cromwell notices: 'Anne is brittle in their company, and as ruthless with their compliments as a housewife snapping the necks of larks for the table. If her precise smile fades for a moment, they all lean forward, anxious to know how to please her. A bigger set of fools you would go far to seek.' And when Anne bears a daughter who can seemingly never inherit the throne (though she will of course grow up to be Queen Elizabeth I), Ms. Mantel provides a prime example of acerbic flair. The baby is described as 'an ugly, purple, grizzling knot of womankind, with an upstanding ruff of pale hair and a habit of kicking up her gown as if to display her most unfortunate feature.' Deft and diabolical as they are, Ms. Mantel's slyly malicious turns of phrase would count for little more than banter if they could not succinctly capture the important struggles that have set her characters to talking. But she is able to place Cromwell on plausibly familiar terms with royalty and on a fair moral footing with More, that paragon of self-sacrifice . . . Wolf Hall is far too tricky a book to let Cromwell's pronouncement be taken at face value. He is, after all, the king's wily advocate. And he is never without an agenda. But this much is certain: More's downfall has been assured by the time Cromwell finishes with him. Cromwell's troubles, which will be no less lethal, are barely stirring when Wolf Hall ends. It is to be hoped that Ms. Mantel makes Cromwell's endgame part of her future."—Janet Maslin, The New York Times

"A brilliant historical novel focused on the rise to power of a figure exceedingly unlikely, on the face of things, to arouse any sympathy at all . . . This is a novel too in which nothing is wasted, and nothing completely disappears."—Stephen Greenblatt, The New York Review of Books

"Whether we accept Ms Mantel's reading of history or not, her characters have a lifeblood of their own . . . a Shakespearean vigour. Stylistically, her fly-on-the-wall approach is achieved through the present tense, of which she is a master. Her prose is muscular, avoiding cod Tudor dialogue and going for direct modern English. The result is Ms Mantel's best novel yet."—The Economist

"A novel both fresh and finely wrought: a brilliant portrait of a society in the throes of disorienting change, anchored by a penetrating character study of Henry's formidable advisor, Thomas Cromwell. It's no wonder that her masterful book just won this year's Booker Prize . . . [Mantel's prose is] extraordinarily flexible, subtle, and shrewd."—Wendy Smith, The Washington Post

"Mantel has filled in the blanks plausibly, brilliantly. Wolf Hall has epic scale but lyric texture. Its 500-plus pages turn quickly, winged and falconlike. Trained in the law, Mantel can see the understated heroism in the skilled administrator's day-to-day decisions in service of a well-ordered civil society—not of a medieval fief based on war and not, heaven help us, a utopia . . . Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is both spellbinding and believable."—Christopher Benfey, The New York Times Book Review

"[Mantel's] interest is in the question of good and evil as it applies to people who wield great power. That means anguish, exultation, deals, spies, decapitations, and fabulous clothes . . . She always goes for color, richness, music. She has read Shakespeare closely. One also hears the accents of the young James Joyce."—Joan Acocella, The New Yorker

"Mantel's abilities to channel the life and lexicon of the past are nothing short of astonishing. She burrows down through the historical record to uncover the tiniest, most telling details, evoking the minutiae of history as vividly as its grand sweep. The dialogue is so convincing that she seems to have been, in another life, a stenographer taking notes in the taverns and palaces of England."—Ross King, Los Angeles Times

"Instead of bringing the past to us, [Mantel's] writing, brilliant and black, launches us disconcertingly into the past. We are space-time travelers landed in an alien world . . . history is a feast whose various and vital excitements and intrigues make the book a long and complex pleasure."—Richard Eder, The Boston Globe

"Historical fiction at its finest, Wolf Hall captures the character of a nation and its people. It exemplifies something that has lately seemed as mythical as those serpent princesses: the great English novel."Bloomberg News

"[Mantel] wades into the dark currents of 16th century English politics to sculpt a drama and a protagonist with a surprisingly contemporary feel . . . Wolf Hall is sometimes an ambitious read. But it is a rewarding one as well."—Marjorie Kehe, The Christian Science Monitor

"The story of Cromwell's rise shimmers in Ms. Mantel's spry intelligent prose . . . [Mantel] leaches out the bones of the story as it is traditionally known, and presents to us a phantasmagoric extravaganza of the characters' plans and ploys, toils and tactics."Washington Times

"There are no new stories, only new ways of telling them. Set during Henry VIII's tumultuous, oft-covered reign, this epic novel . . . proves just how inspired a fresh take can be. [Mantel] is an author as audacious as Anne [Boleyn] herself, imagining private conversations between public figures and making it read as if she had a glass to the wall."People Magazine

"Fans of historical fiction—or great writing—should howl with delight."—USA Today

"This masterwork is full of gems for the careful reader. The recurring details alone . . . shine through like some kind of Everyman's poetry. Plainspoken and occasionally brutal, Wolf Hall is both as complex and as powerful as its subject, as messy as life itself."—Clea Simon, The Boston Phoenix

"Reader, you're in excellent hands with Hilary Mantel . . . for this thrumming, thrilling read. . . . Part of the delight of masterfully paced Wolf Hall is how utterly modern it feels. It is political intrigue pulsing with energy and peopled by historical figures who have never seemed more alive—and more human."—Ellen Kanner, Miami Herald

"Wolf Hall is a solid historical novel that's also a compelling read . . . Mantel's narrative manages to be both rich and lean: there's plenty of detail, but it's not piled in endless paragraphs. The plot flows swiftly from one development to the next."—David Loftus, The Oregonian

"[Mantel] seamlessly blends fiction and history and creates a stunning story of Tudor England . . . With its excellent plotting and riveting dialogue, Wolf Hall is a gem of a novel that is both accurate and gripping."—Cody Corliss, St. Louis Post-Dispatch

"[A] spirited novel . . . Mantel has a solid grasp of court politics and a knack for sharp, cutting dialogue."—Thom Geier, Entertainment Weekly

"The monarch is the focus of history, but somebody has to make the show run behind the pageantry. For Henry VIII, it was Thomas Cromwell, for a time, at least. Henry had his own take on term limits—an ax—and in time many of his advisers lost their heads on the chopping block. While Cromwell (a very distant relation to Oliver Cromwell, who was keen on the ax as well) managed the king's monumental project of taking the church away from Rome efficiently and loyally, he eventually rankled the irritable Henry (all those wives!) and was executed. Most Americans can be forgiven for confusing the Cromwells, but the English know the difference. Thomas is usually portrayed as a cunning, ruthless villain who smashed the monasteries while persecuting the real or imagined enemies of the king and of his heretical takeover of the Catholic church in England. All of this happened in the 16th century, when England was riven with religious upheaval and governed by a king desperate for a male heir. Married to the older Catherine of Aragon, a Spaniard and widow of his brother, Henry was unsuccessful in siring a son, only a daughter, Mary, who caused much mischief later. Guided by Cromwell, the king dumped Catherine for the younger and presumably more fertile Anne Boleyn. While this history sounds better suited for horse-breeding operations, lovers of royalty revel in it. It is the stuff of romance and mythology, and frequently the human dimension takes a backseat to the intrigue. Hilary Mantel has brilliantly restored that dimension to history in this highly original novel, a fictional biography of Cromwell that won the Man Booker Prize in September. History aside, Wolf Hall breathes life into a world of 500 years ago through Mantel's fully realized central character and the people who surround him. Much of the novel is about day-to-day living in the 16th century—the stocking of kitchens, making of clothes and, most vividly, the lives of families . . . If you give yourself over to her prose, you can find yourself in Cromwell's world in the profound way only fiction can deliver."—Bob Hoover, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Henry VIII? Anne Boleyn? 500-plus pages? If Mantel hadn't won the 2009 Booker Prize for this I would never have read it. And would have missed out big-time. Mantel approaches this well-traveled road from a fresh viewpoint: that of the tolerant, brilliant, and witty Thomas Cromwell . . . Mantel shows Cromwell a contented and involved family man, despite his long hours. We are ever aware that life is precarious in this world and this is driven home when, escaping one year's plague season, his wife and two daughters succumb in the next. Cromwell never really recovers. Still, over the years his household grows as he takes in stray relatives, protégés and promising servants and indulges his passion for building. Mantel skillfully portrays his rise—his use of diplomacy and his own protestant sympathies to give Henry the freedom and money he wants—as the tumultuous life of the court unfolds in scandal and self-interest. Unlike the aristocracy to whom ordinary people are almost an alien species, Cromwell remains aware of the rhythm of common lives and ambitious for the country's practical needs—roads, better nutrition, even maps . . . Mantel's prose is clean and straightforward; she evokes the era without wielding archaic forms. Her research never protrudes, but the details paint pictures in the mind's eye. Dialogue drives much of the narrative, as words are meat and bread to Cromwell . . . Mantel intends a sequel, though so far it is only a title and a box of notes, she has said. Readers who were sorry to see this beguiling, dense, colorful and often funny novel end, will look forward to it."—Lynn Harnett, Portsmouth Herald

"The essential Mantel element . . . is a style—of writing and of thinking—that combines steely-eyed intelligence with intense yet wide-ranging sympathy. This style implies enormous respect for her readers, as if she believes that we are as intelligent and empathetic as she is, and one of the acute pleasures of reading her books is that we sometimes find ourselves living up to those expectations. . . . If you are anything like me, you will finish Wolf Hall wishing it were twice as long as its 560 pages. Torn away from this sixteenth-century world, in which you have come to know the engaging, pragmatic Cromwell as if he were your own brother—as if he were yourself—you will turn to the Internet to find out more about him . . . But none of this, however instructive will make up for your feeling of loss, because none of this additional material will come clothed in the seductive, inimitable language of Mantel's great fiction."—Wendy Lesser, Bookforum

"Mantel sets a new standard for historical fiction with her latest novel Wolf Hall, a riveting portrait of Thomas Cromwell . . . Mantel's crystalline style, piercing eye and interest in, shall we say, the darker side of human nature, together with a real respect for historical accuracy, make this novel an engrossing, enveloping read."—BookPage

"This is in all respects a superior work of fiction, peopled with appealing characters living through a period of tense high drama . . . There will be few novels this year as good as this one."Library Journal (starred review)

"Mixing fiction with fact, Mantel captures the atmosphere of the times and brings to life the important players."Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

WOLF HALL (Chapter 1)
Across the Narrow Sea
PUTNEY, 1500

So now get up."

Felled, dazed, silent, he has fallen; knocked full length on the cobbles of the yard. His head turns sideways; his eyes are turned toward the gate, as if...

Read the full excerpt



  • Trailer for Wolf Hall (BBC/PBS Masterpiece)

    Watch the trailer for Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall! Wolf Hall premieres January 21st on BBC 2 in the UK and April 5th on PBS Masterpiece in the USA.

  • Hilary Mantel Interviewed on PBS' NewsHour

    The infamous King Henry VIII, his many wives and scheming ministers were the stars of Hilary Mantel’s award-winning novels, and are now conquering stage and screen. Her books, “Wolf Hall” and “Bring Up the Bodies,” have inspired a new Broadway play and a dramatic mini-series on PBS’ Masterpiece, premiering Sunday. Jeffrey Brown talks to Mantel about writing fiction from history on PBS' NewsHour.

  • Hilary Mantel on winning the 2009 Man Booker Prize

    2009 Man Booker Prize winner Hilary Mantel talks about her novel Wolf Hall and what the accolade means to her personally.

  • Hilary Mantel and David Starkey discuss Henry VIII - Part 1

    Hilary Mantel and David Starkey discuss the shared subject of their new books - Henry VIII. Filmed in location in the Upper Bell Tower in the Tower of London: the scene of John Fishers imprisonment prior to being martyred.

  • Hilary Mantel and David Starkey discuss Henry VIII - Part 2

    Hilary Mantel and David Starkey discuss the shared subject of their new books - Henry VIII. Filmed in location in the Upper Bell Tower in the Tower of London: the scene of John Fishers imprisonment prior to being martyred.

  • Hilary Mantel and David Starkey discuss Henry VIII - Part 3

    Hilary Mantel and David Starkey discuss the shared subject of their new books - Henry VIII. Filmed in location in the Upper Bell Tower in the Tower of London: the scene of John Fishers imprisonment prior to being martyred.

  • Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel--Audiobook Excerpt

    Listen to this audiobook excerpt from Hilary Mantel's Man Booker Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award-winning novel, Wolf Hall, narrated by Simon Slater. In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII's court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king's favor and ascend to the heights of political power.

MORE MEDIA Access more related media on the web



  • Hilary Mantel

  • Hilary Mantel is the author of nine previous novels, including A Change of Climate, A Place of Greater Safety, and Eight Months on Ghazzah Street. She has also written a memoir, Giving Up the Ghost. Winner of the Hawthornden Prize, she reviews for The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, and the London Review of Books. She lives in England.

  • Hilary Mantel John Haynes
    Hilary Mantel




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