Hilary Mantel’s truly great novel peels back history to explore the rich intersection of individual psychology and wider politics in Tudor England.

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 oppose him. Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Son of a brutal blacksmith, Cromwell is a political genius, a briber, a bully and a charmer. He has broken all the rules of a rigid society in his rise to power, and is prepared to break some more.

The Man Booker Prize 2009
Published by
4th Estate
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Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel: two-time winner of the Booker Prize

About the Author

Hilary Mantel was nominated for the Booker Prize four times, winning it twice. Her first win was for Wolf Hall in 2009 and her second win was for Bring Up the Bodies in 2012.
More about Hilary Mantel: two-time winner of the Booker Prize

Hilary Mantel on writing Wolf Hall

‘Wolf Hall attempts to duplicate not the historian’s chronology but the way memory works: in leaps, loops, flashes. The basic decision about the book was taken seconds before I began writing. “So now get up”: the person on the ground was Cromwell and the camera was behind his eyes. 

‘The events were happening now, in the present tense, unfolding as I watched, and what followed would be filtered through the main character’s sensibility. He seemed to be occupying the same physical space as me, with a slight ghostly overlap. It didn’t make sense to call him “Cromwell”, as if he were somewhere across the room. I called him “he”. This device, though hardly of Joycean complexity, was not universally popular. Most readers caught on quickly. Those who didn’t, complained.’

Hilary Mantel, Budleigh Salterton, Devon, 2012

Nicholas Pearson on editing Wolf Hall

‘In early 2008, a few days before I was boarding a plane to Australia, Hilary emailed to say she thought she had a novel finished and would I read it. A novel, she said, but not the novel: by now there were many hundreds of pages but Thomas More had only just met his end. Hilary felt that what she now had was a part of the story that was complete in itself, with an architecture all its own. The rest of Cromwell’s story could come in a subsequent book. 

‘I read the manuscript on that long plane journey, England receding hour by hour over my shoulder but on the page coming sharply into focus. Wolf Hall pulled together many of the preoccupations of Hilary’s earlier novels, but now harnessed expansively in the service of the great founding story of the modern state. There was no historical fiction I knew of remotely like it.’

Hilary Mantel hugs Nicholas Pearson on winning the Booker Prize 2012

Wolf Hall on screen

Wolf Hall was adapted into a six-part miniseries for the BBC, starring Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII, in 2015. 

The New Yorker’s Emily Nussbaum, reviewing Wolf Hall, said ‘the show’s deliberately paced six hours turn out to be riveting, precisely because they are committed, without apology or, often, much explanation, to the esotericism of their subject matter’, while the Guardian’s Sam Wollaston called it ‘event television, sumptuous, intelligent and serious, meticulous in the detail, but not humourless or po-faced’.

Among the awards the show won was Best Drama Series and Best Actor for Rylance at the 2016 BAFTA TV Awards and the 2016 Golden Globe for Best Miniseries or Television Film.

Watch Wolf Hall on Amazon Prime here

Still from TV show Wolf Hall showing Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell and Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn.

The winning moment

Wolf Hall was the first of two Booker Prize wins for Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy.

In her 2009 acceptance speech for her Wolf Hall win, Mantel shared that she had the book in mind for a long time before starting to write it.

‘I hesitated for such a long time before beginning to write this book, actually for about 20 years,’ she said. ‘I couldn’t begin until I felt secure enough to say to my publisher just what a publisher always wants to hear “this will take me several years,  you know”. But they took it on the chin. 

‘When I began the book I knew I had to do something very difficult: I had to interest the historians, I had to amuse the jaded palette of the critical establishment and most of all I had to capture the imagination of the general reader.’

Hilary Mantel 2009

Other nominated books by Hilary Mantel

The Mirror & the Light
Bring Up the Bodies
Prize winner
Beyond Black