Becky’s One Hundred and Forty-First Book Review: “Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel

“Bring Up the Bodies” by Hilary Mantel is the sequel to “Wolf Hall”. It continues to follow the story of Henry VIII. The story is still narrated by Thomas Cromwell and picks up shortly after “Wolf Hall” left off. Thomas Cromwell is still serving Henry VIII who, at this point in time, is married to Anne Boleyn having successfully severed ties with Katherine of Aragon.  It seems appropriate that I am writing about “Bring Up the Bodies” when yesterday marked the anniversary of Anne Boleyn’s death. In “Wolf Hall” we read about Anne Boleyn making her way to the top to become Henry VIII’s wife. In “Bring Up the Bodies” Hilary Mantel focuses on Anne Boleyn’s rise and fall, so it does seem fitting.

One quote that stood out to me in “Bring Up the Bodies” has Cromwell talking about jousting and the different kinds of men that do it, how you can judge the kind of man based on if they swerve or close their eyes. Although he is focused on jousting it does represent well in my opinion the court of Henry VIII. Reading this book, living vicariously through the characters, which are based off of real individuals, it makes you realize just how dangerous life was at court during Henry VIII’s reign. You had to be aware of what was happening at all times. The second that you swerve, that you take your eye off of the target, that’s when you get hit. You never see it coming. “Some men don’t swerve, but instead they close their eyes at the moment of impact. These men are of two kinds: the ones who know they do it and can’t help it, and the ones who don’t know they do it. Get your boys to watch you when you practice. Be neither of these kinds of men.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 165). You could never really stop dancing during Henry VIII’s reign. You never knew when he might change his mind.

Part of what makes this book so exciting and easy to devour is that knowledge that the bones of the story, that actually happened. These characters are based off of real people – people that existed during Henry VIII’s reign. Some lived to tell their tales, but most didn’t. There was so much change during that time that it was near impossible to keep up with it. With each new queen, new fashions came to play and anyone who wasn’t following her style was instantly suspect. People saw what Anne Boleyn did – a commoner rose up to become Queen of England. She burned brightly in that court, but that which burns brightest usually does so for a shorter period of time. “…No one need contrive at her ruin. No one is guilty of it. She ruined herself. You cannot do what Anne Boleyn did, and live to be old.” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 309). It’s a very good point. Henry VIII is a name that everyone knows but Anne Boleyn is arguably just as well known. She made history and she changed history, England was not the same after encountering Anne Boleyn.

Another quote that I really enjoyed in “Bring Up the Bodies” would be, “This is a business that tries the most experienced. He remembers that day in the forge when a hot iron had seared his skin. There was no choice of resisting the pain. His mouth dropped open and a scream flew out and hit the wall. His father ran to him and said ‘Cross your hands,’ and helped him to water and to salve, but afterwards Walter said to him, ‘It’s happened to us all. It’s how you learn. You learn to do things the way your father taught you, and not by some foolish method you hit upon yourself half an hour ago.’” (Bring Up the Bodies, pg 278) I liked this quote because it made me reflect on Henry VIII and all the changes that he made to England once he was king. There have been many theories as to why Henry VIII did all that he did – he must have set some sort of record in regards to how many people he had killed during his reign. He ended up having six wives (we all know the rhyme: divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survive) and you have to wonder how much of what he did was thought through. Was Henry VIII mad? Was he just an impulsive child? Or was he some combination of the two?

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that “Bring Up the Bodies” was just as well written if not more so than “Wolf Hall”. This series is addictive and I cannot wait for the next book to come out. In the meantime, I’m planning on getting my hands on more of Hilary Mantel’s works. She is quite talented and I’m interested in what else she had produced. 

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Becky’s One Hundreth and Seventh Book Review: “The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory

“The Constant Princess” by Philippa Gregory was yet another novel focused on the royalty in Europe, largely in England. This novel is about Catalina, Princess of Spain – the youngest daughter to Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon and practically from birth she is also known as Princess of Wales – destined to be Queen of England. Catalina changes her name later to the more well known ‘Katherine of Aragon’. History remembers her as the woman that Anne Boleyn pushed off her throne. But in “The Constant Princess” we know Katherine of Aragon first by the name Catalina. From the very beginning Catalina radiates power and confidence. “My parents’ names are blessed by the Pope as the finest kings to defend the faith against the might of Islam; they are the greatest crusaders of Christendom as well as the first kings of Spain; and I am their youngest daughter, Catalina, Princess of Wales, and I will be Queen of England.” (The Constant Princess, pg 5)

She radiates confidence, but at the same time she often is reflecting on the difficulties of being sent away to England. Once she is married she finds herself surrounded by strangers including the one that she is married to. Their marriage starts off as strictly a royal match but soon we see her fall in love with her husband. As she is becoming comfortable being married to Arthur, she suddenly loses him only a few months into their marriage. On his death bed, he makes her promise that she will fulfill her destiny of becoming the Queen of England. She promises to state that their marriage was not valid because it was never consummated. “I shall have to be clever. I shall have to be more cunning than King Henry Tudor, more determined than his mother. Faced with those two, I don’t know that I can get away with it. But I have to get away with it. I have given my promise, I will tell my lie. England shall be ruled as Arthur wanted. The rose will live again. I shall make the England that he wanted.” (The Constant Princess, pg 166)

Catalina finds that her plan to deny her marriage to Arthur and instead marry Arthur’s younger brother is not as easy as she initially thought. Instead of marrying Harry, she finds her own father-in-law is trying to marry her for himself. This would make her Queen of England, but her sons would not be destined to be king unless something happened to Harry. “Dear God, I am a fool, and a childish, vain fool at that. I have not lured the king into a trap of my own satisfaction but merely baited his trap for me. My vanity and pride in myself made me think that I could tempt him to do whatever I want. Instead, I have tempted him only to his own desires, and now he will do what he wants. And what he wants is me. And it is my own stupid fault.” (The Constant Princess, pg 213) Catalina is forced to find a way around marrying a man old enough to be her grandfather, a man she once knew as her father-in-law. She struggles constantly and finds herself alone much of the time. She pulls from the strength within herself to make things happen for her, to fulfill her destiny.

The various trials that Catalina finds herself going through while in England were interesting to read about. I don’t know how much of the book was Philippa Gregory’s imagination and how much was known historical fact. The bones of the story are true, Katherine of Aragon did come from Spain to England to marry Arthur, only to lose him a few months into their marriage. She then married his younger brother, Harry. He is destined to become Henry VIII, the King with six wives total. (There is that handy rhyme to remember the fates of the various wives, ‘divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived’). Among historians, many believe that Catalina and Arthur did consummate their marriage, but Catalina denied this to her dying day.

It was interesting to read about how Katherine viewed Harry, her opinions of him and how she is able to influence him so well during the beginning of their marriage. Not too long into their marriage, she discovers that he might not be just as easy to manipulate as she thought. “I am glad to know that he can play the hypocrite. The court room in the Alhambra Palace has many doors, my father told me that a king should be able to go out of one and come in through another and nobody know his mind. I know that to rule is to keep your own counsel. Harry is a boy now, but one day he will be a man and he will have to make up his own mind and judge well. I will remember that he can say one thing and think another.
        But I have learned something else about him too. When I saw that he did not weep one real tear for his grandmother I knew that this king, our golden Harry, has a cold heart that no one can trust. She had been as a mother to him; she had dominated his childhood. She had cared for him, watched over him, and taught him herself. She supervised his every waking moment and shielded him from every unpleasant sight, she kept him from tutors who would have taught him of the world, and allowed him to walk only in the gardens of her making. She spent hours on her knees in prayer for him and insisted that he be taught the rule and the power of the church. But when she stood in his way, when she denied him his pleasures, he saw her as his enemy; and he cannot forgive anyone who refuses him something he wants. I know from this that this boy, this charming boy, will grow to be a man whose selfishness will be a danger to himself, and to those around him. One day we may all wish that his grandmother had taught him better.” (The Constant Princess, pg 281)

Would I recommend this book? Yes, I think that this book especially puts Katherine of Aragon into a different light from what people usually think of when they hear her name. I really enjoyed reading about what her life was like before she came to England, to learn about all the different trials that she had to endure while she was clawing her way to the throne. Often, Katherine of Aragon is looked on with pity — she is the wife that Henry VIII put aside so that he could marry Anne Boleyn. “The Constant Princess” paints Katherine of Aragon in a different light and I for one very much enjoyed the story.