Bring Up the Bodies is the sequel to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall which I previously reviewed here. It described the life and political rise of Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII and was awarded the 2009 Booker Prize. Wolf Hall closed with Henry having finally achieved his aim of marrying Anne Boleyn after Cromwell managed to secure his divorce to Katherine of Aragon. Bring Up the Bodies opens with Henry and his entourage touring the countryside and staying with the Seymour family. It is here that Henry develops an infatuation with young Jane Seymour, and a series of events begin to unfold which lead to Anne’s downfall and Jane’s elevation to Queen.
It is fascinating to view these well-known historical events through the eyes of Thomas Cromwell, who is definitely an outsider at Court, often ridiculed for his common birth. It is only through Henry’s goodwill that he is able to retain his elevated position so it is in his best interests to keep Henry happy, even if that means several (probably) innocent people are sent to the gallows. Cromwell is less sympathetic and more ruthless in this story, yet he is still an admirable figure who is trying to bring about many positive changes in England.
Bring Up the Bodies includes a huge cast of characters so some prior knowledge of Tudor history may increase your enjoyment of the book. I thought it was great!