Book Review: Hilary Mantel ~ The Mirror and the Light (2020)

The scale of the success of the Thomas Cromwell trilogy is that it’s a 2112 page story about a Tudor civil servant. Cromwell’s speciality was as a courtier and sycophant endlessly grovelling to Henry VIII. He was also a ruthless opponent, a murderer, an administrative genius, utterly duplicitous and callous in the extreme. He was an essential part of the king’s inner circle. Cromwell ‘anticipated’ Henry’s wishes making himself indispensable.

Henry was a despot and sometimes had desires which were unobtainable. Needless to relate that didn’t stop Henry from blaming Cromwell if they weren’t met. Success however was extremely well rewarded and especially in a period of unprecedented looting and plunder through the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Those in pivotal positions gained enormously. Cromwell being one.

In the immortal phrase, ‘The lord giveth and the lord taketh away’, many courtiers had gold dust thrown at them but Henry was capricious. A courtier out of favour not only lost property but also their lives. Henry’s fear of civil war generated his famous search for a fertile wife and a healthy son. That he was diseased and infertile wasn’t mooted – it was too dangerous!

Although Cromwell was a genius and a pivotal figure at Henry’s court the centrifugal forces of the ancient nobility and a few miscalculations – creating enemies where it was unnecessary – led to his downfall.

This third part of the trilogy is too long, too self-indulgent and needed brisk editing. It didn’t get it because Mantel’s a super-star. Could it be she’s suffering from Cromwellian hubris?

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