‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel


‘The Mirror and the Light’ has to be one of the most anticipated books of 2020. It’s been 8 years since the previous book in the trilogy, ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, was published.

The trilogy as a whole focuses on the life of Henry VIII’s chief minister after the fall of Cardinal Wolsey – Thomas Cromwell. For those who don’t know the background, Cromwell was at the heart of Henry VIII’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s fall and execution, and Henry VIII’s 6-month marriage to Anne of Cleves. There is debate in the historical community over this involvement in these events, but Mantel puts him at the forefront.

It’s taken me around 2 months to read this – not because of any real problem with the book, but because of this COVID-19 outbreak. I’ve seen quite a few people saying that they’ve been struggling to read during lockdown, and I’ve fallen into that hole. Nevertheless, I have finished it finally and I’m really glad I finally got to see Cromwell’s end written in Mantel’s hand.

“Sometimes it is years before we can see who are the heroes in an affair and who are the victims.”

‘The Mirror and the Light’ by Hilary Mantel

I loved the way that the last few chapters were written in particular. For anyone who knows how Cromwell’s life ends (I feel like most people reading this blog probably will, but I still won’t drop any spoilers!), it felt like a different way of ending than those we’ve seen before, either in books or on TV or film. It was a sympathetic way of seeing it, as Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell has been throughout the series. Whether her view is right or wrong her grasp of the historical context is demonstrated by the tiny details that are included, looking not just at the events established but what is hinted at in letters left behind.

One thing I will say, though, is that this is actually my least favourite of the trilogy; ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ was my favourite. In some ways this felt too long, like it dragged on – I didn’t feel like it had the same pace as the others. The section between Jane’s death in 1537 and the marriage to Anne in 1540 felt a little forced in places, as Mantel tried to fit in everything that happened and could have a bearing on Cromwell’s fall.

Nevertheless, a worthy ending to a series about a man that has often been maligned by history, rightly or wrongly; I’ll leave it to you to make up your own minds.

If you want to read more about the fall of Thomas Cromwell, see my earlier blog post https://tudorblogger.wordpress.com/2012/11/27/the-fall-of-thomas-cromwell-1540/

This review has also been published on my sister blog bookbloggerish.wordpress.com.

Who Was … Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford?


Jane Parker, Lady Rochford, was the wife of George Boleyn and sister-in-law to Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. She is said to have been the source of the incest charge against Anne and George, as well as being involved in the fall of Katherine Howard. She allegedly went mad while in the Tower of London awaiting execution in 1542. She had served 5 of Henry VIII’s wives – Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Name: Jane Parker / Jane Boleyn

Title/s: Lady Rochford / Viscountess Rochford

Birth: c.1505

Death: 13 February 1542 at the Tower of London

Burial: Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London

Spouse: George Boleyn, Lord Rochford c.1503-1536

Children: None

Parents: George Parker, Lord Morley (c.1476-1556) & Alice St John (c.1484-1552)

Siblings: Henry Parker (c.1513-1553) & Margaret Shelton (?-1558)

Noble Connections: Through her marriage to George Boleyn, Lord Rochford, Jane was the sister-in-law to Henry VIII’s second wife, Anne Boleyn. This also made her aunt to the future Elizabeth I. Jane spent a lot of time around Henry VIII’s court and was familiar with the likes of Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex, Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. She also served in the households of Katherine of Aragon, Anne Boleyn, Jane Seymour, Anne of Cleves and Katherine Howard.

Continue reading “Who Was … Jane Boleyn, Lady Rochford?”

Who Was … Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley?


Thomas Seymour was brother to Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour, and to Edward Seymour, Duke of Somerset and Lord Protector to Edward VI. He married Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, after Henry’s death, and supposedly then proposed marriage to Princesses Mary and Elizabeth after her death. He was executed on the orders of his brother and nephew (the two Edwards) for treason in 1549.

Name: Thomas Seymour

Title/s: Baron Seymour of Sudeley

Birth: c.1508, probably at Wolf Hall, Wiltshire, England

Death: 20 March 1549 on Tower Hill, London, England

Buried: Chapel of St Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London, England

Spouse: Katherine Parr 1512-1548

Children: Mary Seymour 1548-?

Parents: Sir John Seymour 1474-1536 and Margery Wentworth 1478-1550

Siblings: John Seymour ?-1510 / Edward Seymour Duke of Somerset c.1500-1552 / Henry Seymour 1503-1578 / Anthony Seymour ?-1528 / Jane Seymour c.1509-1537 / Margery Seymour ?-1528 / Elizabeth Paulet Marchioness of Winchester 1518-1568 / Dorothy Leventhorpe 1515-1552

Noble Connections: His sister, Jane, became Queen of England as the third wife of Henry VIII, and through this marriage he was uncle to Edward VI. His brother, Edward, was Lord Protector during the minority of Edward VI, and he married the dowager queen, Katherine Parr.

Continue reading “Who Was … Thomas Seymour, Baron Seymour of Sudeley?”

Who Was … Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury?


Thomas Cranmer was Archbishop of Canterbury under Henry VIII and Edward VI, and briefly under Mary I, and was seen as a leader of the English Reformation. He was responsible for the Book of Common Prayer in 1549 and supported many reformers from England and abroad. Cranmer was arrested on the orders of Mary I for heresy, and initially recanted before dismissing his recantation and being burned alive in 1556.

Name: Thomas Cranmer

Title/s: Archbishop of Canterbury

Birth: 2 July 1489 in Aslockton, Nottinghamshire, England

Death: 21 March 1556 in Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Buried: Martyr’s Memorial, Oxford, Oxfordshire, England

Spouse: None (unofficially, Margarete Hetzel 1511-1576)

Children: Margaret Cranmer 1536-1568 / Thomas Cranmer 1538-1598

Parents: Thomas Cranmer 1467-1501 & Agnes Hatfield 1469-1556

Siblings: Agnes Andrews 1491-1556

Noble Connections: Cranmer was patronised by Anne Boleyn, Queen to Henry VIII. He was close to both Henry VIII and Edward VI and was instrumental in allowing Jane Grey to take the throne in 1553.

Continue reading “Who Was … Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury?”

Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. The novel starts off with a description of hawks soaring in the sky and swooping in to slaughter their prey. In the same manner, the novel closes off with an image of a fox attacking a hen coop. What is the significance of these animals and what do they symbolise?

'Bring Up the Bodies' by Hilary Mantel (2012).
‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel (2012).

Hawks tend to symbolise awareness, intelligence and a regal bearing. Possibly this is a sense of what is to come – the intelligent and ambitious Anne Boleyn losing awareness of her position as queen and what it relies on (Henry VIII’s love) and ending up being beheaded on the orders of her husband, the king. In the case of the fall of Anne Boleyn the fox represents Cromwell, and the hens are Anne and her faction who are brought down. However, this could also foreshadow what is to come for Cromwell when he becomes one of the hens, along with the rest of the reformist party, and they are attacked by the foxes (the conservative faction).

2. How has Cromwell’s upbringing influenced him to become the shrewd and ambitious man that he is? What is the significance of Cromwell refusing to adopt the coat of arms belonging to a noble Cromwell family even as he widens the chasm between his father and himself? How does Cromwell view family and how is it different from his own experience growing up?

I think the fact that Cromwell had such a difficult relationship with his father encourages him to get away and prove himself. He wants to be a better person than his father. I think this difficult relationship also enhances Cromwell’s ambition and desire for power – he wants to feel the power that he didn’t have when at the mercy of his father. Cromwell doesn’t want to be a part of the inherited nobility – his religious beliefs encourage the rise of self-made men, and promoting them on the basis of their abilities and not their wealth or title. I think Cromwell doesn’t want his own wife and children to experience the family life he had when he was younger – he tries very hard not to exhibit the same characteristics as his father did, and tries to create a happier home. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ by Hilary Mantel”

Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel


  1. What does Holbein’s portrait capture about Thomas Cromwell’s character that even Cromwell, himself, recognises? What kind of man is Cromwell? In the rapacious world of Wolf Hall, do you find him a sympathetic character, or not?

Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.
Thomas Cromwell by Hans Holbein.

I think that Cromwell becomes more ambitious when he gets a taste of power. I think he likes to thwart those in power with his knowledge, like when Wolsey is demanded to give up the great seal. I think that Cromwell doesn’t come across as more sympathetic in ‘Wolf Hall’ than in other books featuring him, as we see the deaths of his wife and daughters, and the fall of his mentor in his own eyes, rather than the eyes of Henry VIII or Anne Boleyn. I think he is a very caring person with a ruthless streak in his religious beliefs. I think Holbein’s portrait captures Cromwell’s essence in not flaunting his rising position, but still showing his power with the books and papers around him. It’s very clever that it’s not explicit, but it still shows the reined-in power.

  1. What effect did Cromwell’s upbringing have on his character and his later views about the privileged society that permeates the court? How does he feel about the aristocracy and its insistence on ancient rights?

I think that Cromwell’s relationship with his father affects a lot of his thoughts and actions now he is an adult. He seems to be very fixed on not ending up like his father, and having a better relationship with his children than his father had with him. He wasn’t brought up to a privileged way of life, so he can see more clearly than those at court the importance of promoting people for their abilities rather than their wealth and titles. He believes that, in the future, self-made men will have an important role in running the country, more so than the old nobility who represent the medieval period that has now been left behind – men like him represent the future. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel”

Documentary Notes – ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’


Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.
Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.

Framed? By whom? What reason?
Weir “Anne burst upon [the English court] with a certain brilliance.”
Gregory “sexiest girl at court.”
Mantel = too detached and intelligent to stake everything on love – did Anne ever love Henry?
Lipscomb “Anne as a usurper.”
Starkey = “Anne changes all the rules” but Henry is a failure without a son.
Mantel = Henry thinks of annulling his second marriage due to lack of consent.
Gregory – malformed foetus. Adultery, incest or witchcraft – Mantel disagrees, sees above as Catholic propaganda.
Mantel – Jane was Anne’s opposite.
Starkey – Jane was plain “she doesn’t really exist.”
Lipscomb – Henry didn’t want to annul his marriage, he saw Jane as a mistress.
Walker = Anne wasn’t like Katherine and was involved in politics – John Skip sermon “wonderful satirical sermon.”
Mantel – Cromwell was Henry’s first minister “clever as a bucket of snakes.” Continue reading “Documentary Notes – ‘The Last Days of Anne Boleyn’”

Spotlight: Anne Boleyn


Name: Anne Boleyn / Anne Bullen.

Title/s: Lady Anne Rochford, Lady Marquess of Pembroke, Queen of England.

Birth / Death: 1501? – 19 May 1536.

Spouse: Henry VIII of England 1592 – 1547.

Children: Elizabeth I of England 1533 – 1603.

Parents: Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde 1477 – 1539 & Elizabeth Howard 1480 – 1538.

Siblings: Mary Stafford c.1499-1543 / Thomas Boleyn c.1500 / Henry Boleyn c.1502 / George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford c.1504-1536

Noble Connections: Her uncle, Thomas Howard, was the Duke of Norfolk; her cousin, Henry Howard, was the Earl of Surrey; her father was the Earl of Wiltshire and Ormonde; her brother was Viscount Rochford; her sister-in-law, Jane Parker, was the daughter of Baron Morley.

Continue reading “Spotlight: Anne Boleyn”

Personal Tudor 20 Questions


1. Favourite Tudor Monarch: Elizabeth I

2. Favourite Tudor Consort: Anne Boleyn

Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.
Anne Boleyn National Portrait Gallery.

3. Most intriguing Tudor personality: Jane Grey

4. Favourite Tudor marriage: Prince Arthur and Katherine of Aragon

5. I want to learn more about: Catherine Carey and Katherine Grey

6. Aspect of the Tudors least interested in: Military and naval

7. Least favourite Tudor personality: Thomas Seymour

8. Least favourite Tudor Monarch: Edward VI

9. Favourite Tudor place: Hampton Court Palace Continue reading “Personal Tudor 20 Questions”

My Masters Thesis


My Masters Thesis

A small snippet of what I’ve been working on lately, and why I haven’t updated much – my Masters thesis!