Bring Up the Bodies | Hilary Mantel #Readalong

His children are falling from the sky.

Part of my desire in (re)reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies was to refresh my memory, so that I could have it all front of mind for my very first reading of The Mirror and the Light. As I started BUTB, I realised that Mantel helps with this by some clever recapping. Usually, I find recaps annoying within a series. They’re so often clunky, slow to the point and unnecessarily long. This was well done by comparison.

Wolf Hall finished with the itinerary planning for Henry’s big summer tour of the counties. Bring Up the Bodies starts at the end of this summer tour with Cromwell and Henry VIII hunting in and around Wolf Hall, the family home of the Seymour family. Cromwell has his falcons out – curiously named after his dead daughters and wife. He faces some ribbing from the others about his name choices, but it does allow Mantel a chance to give us a quick recap of how Cromwell got to be here, hunting alongside Henry VIII.

Mantel also used Hans Holbein’s many portraits as a way of fleshing out the characters and their history. She created anecdotes around the sittings, that give little insights into another world and time.

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell. Hans Holbein the Younger 1532-34.

At home in his city house at Austin Friars, his portrait broods on the wall; he is wrapped in wool and fur, his hand clenched around a document as if he were throttling it. Hans has pushed a table back to trap him and said, Thomas, you mustn’t laugh; and they had proceeded on that basis, Hans humming as he worked and he staring ferociously into the middle distance. When he saw the portrait finished he has said, ‘ Christ, I look like a murderer’; and his son Gregory said, didn’t you know?”

Even though, Bring up the Bodies, is all about Thomas Cromwell at the height of his influence, many ominous warnings and signs prepare us for what will happen in book three. The rewriting of history, the playing with truth and Henry’s need of a scapegoat all bode ill for Cromwell. And he knows it. All he can do is seek the revenge he desires on those who betrayed the cardinal, while he can, as well as set things up for his family, in the hope they will not suffer his fate too.

Cromwell does not live his life like a doomed man, in fact, he hopes for the best. But he’s no fool. He can imagine a time when he may no longer please the king, just like Katherine and Anne, just like Thomas Wosley and Thomas More, and just like George Boleyn, Sir William Brereton, Mark Smeaton, Henry Norris and Sir Francis Weston.

On Jane:

She is a plain young woman with a silvery pallor, a habit of silence, and a trick of looking at men as if they represent an unpleasant surprise.

On Ghosts:

Sometimes when he is on the verge of sleep the cardinal’s large scarlet presence flits across his inner eye. He wishes the dead man would prophesy.

On Weather:

In England it’s been raining, more or less, for a decade, and the harvest will be poor again…in village alehouses up and down England, they are blaming the king and Anne Boleyn for the weather.

On Anne:

He used to admire her as a person who learned from her mistakes, who would pull back, re-calculate; but she has a streak of stubbornness to equal that of Katherine, the old queen.

On Eustache Chapuys:

Eustache is seething with question; you can feel them, jumping and agitating in the muscles in his arm, buzzing in the weave of his garments.

On Henry:

Henry grew up believing that all the world was his friend, and everybody wanted him to be happy. So any pain, any delay, frustration or stroke of ill-luck seems to him an anomaly, an outrage.

On Foreshadowing:

Chapuys draws his garments together, as if he feels a draught from the future.

On Being Put in Your Place:

‘You have no authority. You have put my honour in hazard. But what do I expect, how can a man like you understand the honour of princes?…I really believe, Cromwell, that you think you are king, and I am the blacksmith’s boy.’

On Guilt:

He needs guilty men. So he has found men who are guilty. Though perhaps not guilty as charged.

On Grief:

He once he thought it himself, that he may die of grief: for his wife, his daughter, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But the pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm. You think you cannot keep breathing, but your ribcage has other ideas, rising and falling, emitting sighs. You must thrive in spite of yourself.

On Revenge:

Right hindpaw…left hindpaw…right forepaw…left forepaw…

On Dead Men Walking:

The order goes to the Tower, ‘Bring up the bodies.’

Thomas Wyatt wrote this poem to honour the five men who were executed for adultery with Anne Boleyn. He thought these men were innocent. Wyatt was very lucky to not be the sixth.

In Mourning wise since daily I increase

In Mourning wise since daily I increase,
Thus should I cloak the cause of all my grief;
So pensive mind with tongue to hold his peace’
My reason sayeth there can be no relief:
Wherefore give ear, I humbly you require,
The affect to know that thus doth make me moan.
The cause is great of all my doleful cheer
For those that were, and now be dead and gone.
What thought to death desert be now their call.
As by their faults it doth appear right plain?
Of force I must lament that such a fall should light on those so wealthily did reign,
Though some perchance will say, of cruel heart,
A traitor’s death why should we thus bemoan?
But I alas, set this offence apart,
Must needs bewail the death of some be gone.
As for them all I do not thus lament,
But as of right my reason doth me bind;
But as the most doth all their deaths repent,
Even so do I by force of mourning mind.
Some say, ‘Rochford, haddest thou been not so proud,
For thy great wit each man would thee bemoan,
Since as it is so, many cry aloud
It is great loss that thou art dead and gone.’
Ah! Norris, Norris, my tears begin to run
To think what hap did thee so lead or guide
Whereby thou hast both thee and thine undone
That is bewailed in court of every side;
In place also where thou hast never been
Both man and child doth piteously thee moan.
They say, ‘Alas, thou art far overseen
By thine offences to be thus deat and gone.’
Ah! Weston, Weston, that pleasant was and young,
In active things who might with thee compare?
All words accept that thou diddest speak with tongue,
So well esteemed with each where thou diddest fare.
And we that now in court doth lead our life
Most part in mind doth thee lament and moan;
But that thy faults we daily hear so rife,
All we should weep that thou are dead and gone.
Brereton farewell, as one that least I knew.
Great was thy love with divers as I hear,
But common voice doth not so sore thee rue
As other twain that doth before appear;
But yet no doubt but they friends thee lament
And other hear their piteous cry and moan.
So doth eah heart for thee likewise relent
That thou givest cause thus to be dead and gone.
Ah! Mark, what moan should I for thee make more,
Since that thy death thou hast deserved best,
Save only that mine eye is forced sore
With piteous plaint to moan thee with the rest?
A time thou haddest above thy poor degree,
The fall whereof thy friends may well bemoan:
A rotten twig upon so high a tree
Hath slipped thy hold, and thou art dead and gone.
And thus farewell each one in hearty wise!
The axe is home, your heads be in the street;
The trickling tears doth fall so from my eyes
I scarce may write, my paper is so wet.
But what can hope when death hath played his part,
Though nature’s course will thus lament and moan?
Leave sobs therefore, and every Christian heart
Pray for the souls of those be dead and gone.

By Thomas Wyatt



  • Winner of the 2012 Man Booker Prize
  • Winner of the 2012 Costa Book of the Year


‘Am I not a man like other men? Am I not? Am I not?

Henry VIII to Eustache Chapuys, Imperial ambassador
Book:  Bring Up the Bodies | Hilary Mantel
ISBN: 9780008381684
Publisher: 4th Estate
Publication Date: 6th December 2019 (first published 24th May 2012 )
Format: Paperback


12 thoughts on “Bring Up the Bodies | Hilary Mantel #Readalong

  1. I recently watched the Wolf Hall adaptation, and it was somewhat of a refresher to prepare me for The Mirror & the Light. Although I was confused by all the people and reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies was not enough to help out with that.

    Anyway, I will be starting reading The Mirror & the Light on May 1st, or maybe before, and looking forward to it.


    1. It’s so satisfying as the unpacking comes to an end, isn’t it, & you find those things you’ve been looking for! Join in as you can, no pressure 😊 I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wasn’t able to get through BUTB. It seemed like an excellent book, but I am not in the right mental space at the moment for something so challenging. Perhaps I will pick it up again in a different season. Thanks for inspiring me to read Wolf Hall!


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