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.

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

Hilary Mantel

About the Author

Hilary Mantel is the author of 15 books, including A Place of Greater Safety, Beyond Black and the memoir Giving Up the Ghost.
More about Hilary Mantel

Listen to an extract of Wolf Hall

Downton Abbey actor Dan Stevens brings Thomas Cromwell’s voice to life in the Wolf Hall audiobook.

Wolf Hall audiobook cover on a red background.

I don’t think you can write any intelligent historical fiction these days without it also being historiographical fiction

Hilary Mantel and Pat Barker in conversation

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Booker Prize, Hilary Mantel and Pat Barker appeared at Southbank Centre, in conversation with James Naughtie, to talk about rewriting the past.

Hilary Mantel, James Naughtie and Pat Barker

Hilary Mantel on writing Thomas Cromwell

Filmed at her Devon home, Hilary Mantel spoke to the Guardian’s chief culture writer Charlotte Higgins for the 2020 Edinburgh International Book Festival.

The pair talked about Mantel’s depictions of women including Anne Boleyn, creating a 16th century world from a 21st century perspective, and how Mantel got inside the head of Thomas Cromwell.

‘I have to do a slightly different job from a historian, because once the record stops, that’s where I begin,” said Mantel about whether her work was like that of a historian. ‘That’s where my real work begins. Once you’ve identified the gaps, then you work out ‘could they ever be filled?’ and sometimes you think, ok, well it would take a discovery of another document that bridges this gap. But sometimes you’re in the realms of private life and private thought, and you know the material by the nature of this historical record will never come to light. We never really know what people thought, only what they said, what they did.’

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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