The Mirror & the Light Background

The Mirror & the Light Background

Thomas Cromwell was an English lawyer who was Henry VIII's chief minister for eight years, orchestrating such things as the annulment of Henry's marriage to Catherine of Aragon and the creation of the Church of England which was founded almost entirely to enable Henry to marry Anne Boleyn, after failed attempts to obtain approval for the union from the Pope. He followed a lot of Henry's orders, but he also burned a lot of bridges, and was executed on the King's orders in 1540. Hilary Mantel's 2020 novel, The Mirror and the Light, is the final in her trilogy about Cromwell's rise and fall, chronicling the last four years of his life, from the execution of Anne Boleyn to his own beheading.

The final installment of the trilogy was a long time coming; Mantel was scheduled to finish writing it for publication in early 2019, but seemed unable to write comfortably about Cromwell's execution, having come to invest so much time and emotion in a a man whom she believed to have been both chronically strange and very misunderstood. The first book in the trilogy, Wolf Hall, was immediately sympathetic to Cromwell, and won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award in 2009. The second novel, Bring Up the Bodies, also won the Man Booker Prize. This win made Mantel the first woman to win the prize twice.

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