Bring Up the Bodies – The Facts Behind the Fiction
Posted By Claire on June 26, 2012
Since Hilary Mantel’s novel Bring Up the Bodies has been published, I have been inundated with emails asking me if I was going to review it and also asking me whether certain things are true. Well, I’m not going to review it because I don’t feel right doing that when I’ve also written a book on Anne Boleyn’s fall, but my good friend Clare Cherry and I have made a list of some of the things in the book which are not true or that are, at best, questionable.
“Why have we bothered to do this when it’s only a novel?”, you may ask; well, in historical fiction there is a blurring of fact and fiction, and when a book is being applauded for its accuracy then it is important to know just what is true and what is not.
- George Boleyn cries at his trial and has to be helped to a chair for fear that he will collapse – In actual fact, George’s defence was so impressive that a number of people commented on it. Following his condemnation, he met his fate with composure. He begged only that his debts would be paid out of his estate prior to confiscation by the crown so that no one would suffer financially because of his death.
- He’s portrayed as a bit of a dandy or a fop with his clothes “braided and tasselled, stippled and striped and slashed”, not as an intellectual reformer, diplomat and poet.
The Five Men
- In Bring Up the Bodies, George Boleyn, Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton performed in a play about Wolsey being dragged to Hell. In reality, Thomas Boleyn commissioned the play, which was performed at a private meal for the French Ambassador, and the Duke of Norfolk arranged for the play to be published. There is no mention of any of the men even being present when it was performed, let alone acting in it. George probably was there, but the notion of an aspiring courtier, diplomat and politician demeaning himself by performing in a farce is… farcical!
- Hilary Mantel has Cromwell conspiring against George, Norris, Weston, Brereton and Smeaton out of pure vengeance for their parts in the play about Wolsey: “‘All the players are gone, ‘ Wriothesley says. ‘All four who carried the cardinal to Hell; and also the poor fool Mark who made a ballad of their exploits.'”. However, in real life, Francis Weston was arrested after Anne mentioned him in her panicked ramblings in the Tower following her arrest, William Brereton had previously come to blows with Cromwell, and Henry Norris was a powerful and influential courtier. They were thorns in Cromwell’s side in his quest for power and influence over Henry, none of which is mentioned.
- Weston, Norris, Brereton and George are portrayed as unremittingly arrogant, obnoxious and unpleasant. However, Henry Norris was a decent and honourable man. In fact it was Norris who offered Wolsey a room following his disgrace and banishment to the north. He showed great kindness to Wolsey which is commented on in George Cavendish’s biography of Wolsey (Cavendish was Wolsey’s gentleman usher). Norris appears to have been universally liked, and his death was deeply mourned. Likewise Francis Weston is described as a likable young man. There is no evidence to support the portrayal of Norris, Weston or George Boleyn.
- Mark Smeaton – When Cromwell meets musician Mark Smeaton, he thinks to himself “I wouldn’t trust you around my little boys”. There is, however, no evidence that Smeaton was anything other than a talented musician and he was definitely a favourite of the King, “wholly supported and clothed” by Henry VIII.
- Henry Norris is portrayed as being in love with Anne and she is portrayed as encouraging him. In reality, there is no evidence of this. Norris was one of the King’s closest friends and was also courting Anne’s cousin, Madge Shelton, so it would have been natural for him to be close to the Queen and to partake in the chivalric tradition of courtly love which Anne was keen on.
- William Brereton is named by Jane Boleyn as being a man who was interested in Anne and who may have committed adultery with her, yet Brereton was not a member of Anne Boleyn’s inner circle and it appears that his arrest and execution were more to do with his activities in Wales and his opposition to Cromwell’s reforms there. Cromwell was planning further administrative reforms for Wales and did not want any obstacles in his path. He was the perfect fall guy for Cromwell, having already garnered a reputation for corruption. He may have been a corrupt character, but, as Norris’s servant, George Constantine, said, “yf any of them was innocent, it was he”. He was the odd one out.
- The gossip, well before anyone is arrested, is that Anne “has all the gentleman of the king’s privy chamber, one after another” and that they are all jealous of one another. There is no mention in any contemporary sources of Anne having a reputation for such behaviour. The arrests were a shock to everyone because they were so out of the blue.
Cromwell and Wolsey
- Thomas Cromwell is portrayed as being entirely loyal to Wolsey, hence his loathing for those who brought Wolsey down. In reality, whatever Cromwell’s personal feelings towards Wolsey may have been, he took full advantage of his fall. Although Cromwell advised Wolsey to bribe some of Anne’s favourites in an attempt to gain favour with her, he ensured that all of the recipients to those bribes knew that the suggestion came from him, and therefore they had him to thank for them and not Wolsey.
- Despite quoting Julia Fox’s, ‘The Infamous Lady Rochford’, Mantel regurgitates the old myths about Jane Rochford providing evidence to Cromwell to support the incest allegation. Mantel also portrays George and Jane’s marriage as unhappy, with George humiliating Jane by sleeping with whores and Jane telling Cromwell that she thinks that George has given her a disease and that is why she cannot have children. Jane goes on to say, “Nothing is forbidden to George, you see. He’d go to it with a terrier bitch if she wagged her tail at him and said bow-wow.” He comes across as depraved and capable of incest.
There is no extant evidence to suggest Jane gave testified against Anne and George other than saying that Anne had spoken to her of Henry’s impotency. There is also no evidence regarding George and Jane’s marriage or evidence of any deviant sexual behaviour.
- Jane is an unsavoury character in “Bring Up the Bodies”, just as she is in “The Other Boleyn Girl”. Cromwell says “If someone said to Lady Rochford, ‘It’s raining,’ she would turn it into a conspiracy; as she passed the news on, she would make it sound somehow indecent, unlikely, but sadly true.” She is a gossip and tell-tale. In reality, we don’t know what Jane was like but her involvement in Catherine Howard’s fall has led people to label her as a ‘meddler’.
Anne Boleyn, Reform and the Dissolution of the Monasteries
- The religious upheaval of the dissolution of the monasteries and the question of the use of Monastic funds is largely absent from Bring Up the Bodies, yet we know that Anne Boleyn was committed to those funds being used for charitable purposes. Her commitment to preventing the corruption of those funds by Henry and Cromwell is entirely absent, as is her and her brother’s genuine commitment to reform of the Catholic Church.
Anne Boleyn and the Boleyn family
- Anne Boleyn is reduced to a similar caricature to the one portrayed in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’. She is calculating and is forever plotting. Cromwell describes her as “a serpent” and Lady Rochford tells him of how “she used to practise with Henry in the French fashion”. Her behaviour, both generally and sexually, is seen as depraved and the Anne of the book is certainly capable of the charges laid against her. The religious, intellectual and charitable patron of history is sadly lacking.
- The issue of whether Anne and the men were guilty of the crimes they were accused of is left wide open, but there is a strong suggestion in the novel that Anne may have been guilty and also an indication that Cromwell believed she may well have been guilty after all. There is also an indication that Henry turned against her due to her sexual depravity in bed (see above). People are falling over themselves to provide evidence against her, including her own ladies. Again, as in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, there is a suggestion that Anne and George may have copulated in order to produce a son. In reality, it has been established by most historians that a combination of factors resulted in Anne’s downfall i.e. her failure to produce a son, her opposition to Henry’s policies on Monastic funding, Henry’s increasing attachment to Jane Seymour and Anne getting in the way of Henry’s preferred foreign policy. None of this is fully explored. Although G W Bernard argues that Anne may have been guilty with at least some of the men, his arguments are weak, and, in any event, not even he attempts to argue that Anne and George were guilty of incest, and there was no direct evidence of wrongdoing. The majority of historians believe that Anne and the men were innocent and were framed.
- In the novel, Cromwell loathes Thomas, Anne and George Boleyn and holds Thomas and George in complete contempt. At one point, he asks of George Boleyn, ‘what are you for?’! George is completely obnoxious and arrogant towards Cromwell, which illustrates the point that George is simply a foolish, ignorant young man. However, in real life, Cromwell achieved success partly with the patronage of the Boleyns. He worked closely with them and had a good working relationship with Anne for many years. Both Thomas and George were highly competent and highly thought of courtiers, politicians and diplomats. They were talented men who Cromwell would have been foolish to hold in such low regard. Cromwell had a lot to thank the Boleyns for, and likewise the Boleyns had a lot to thank Cromwell for. It was a symbiotic relationship, which worked well for all of them.
- Norfolk and Surrey discuss the attempted poisoning of Bishop Fisher and the gossip that the Boleyns were responsible for this. When he was arrested, Fisher’s cook, Richard Roose, allegedly claimed that had had just put purgatives into the food as a joke and that he meant no harm. Two poor people, Bennett Curwen and Alice Tryppytt, died from eating the food and Roose was “attainted of high treason” and “boiled to death without benefit of clergy”. There is no mention in the official records of the Boleyns being implicated, however, there was gossip.
The Seymours and Wolf Hall
- John Seymour and his daughter-in-law – Hilary Mantel describes Jane Seymour’s father, John Seymour, as being “notorious for having had an affair with his daughter-in-law”, but although this is repeated as fact in many novels and history books we don’t actually know whether it is true. Author Susan Higginbotham writes in her article on Edward Seymour:
“Modern writers, even authors of nonfiction, have improved upon the bare allegation of incest. Alison Weir in The Six Wives of Henry VIII writes that “the scandal had shocked even Henry VIII’s courtiers,” while Elizabeth Norton in her biography of Jane Seymour states that the relationship between Edward Seymour and his father “would have been irreparably damaged” and that society would have “shied away from any alliance with” the Seymour family. Joanna Denny in her peculiar biography of Anne Boleyn writes of “the great scandal that attached to the Seymour name.” None of these writers give any sources for their statements. In fact, there is no contemporary evidence of hostility between John Seymour and his son, no evidence that Somerset’s marital difficulties excited any interest at Henry VIII’s court at the time, and no evidence that the Seymour family was shunned. Far from being a pariah at court, Somerset enjoyed increasing royal favor throughout the 1520’s, long before his sister Jane came to Henry VIII’s attention. Thus, while Katherine Fillol may have been unfaithful to her husband, or at least may have been thought by him to have been unfaithful, there is no contemporary evidence to support the later story that her sexual partner was her father-in-law.”
- In Bring Up the Bodies, Henry VIII visits Wolf Hall without his wife, yet Wolf Hall was one of the main stops on Henry and Anne’s 1535 summer progress and the couple stayed there from the 4th to 10th September.
Thomas Wyatt and Anne Boleyn
- In the novel, poet and courtier Thomas Wyatt is “widely believed of being a lover of Anne Boleyn” and Sir Francis Weston comments, “of course, Wyatt’s had her.” In reality, it is thought that Wyatt’s feelings for Anne were unrequited and there is certainly no evidence of a romantic or sexual relationship.
- Wyatt is portrayed as being bitter about his involvement with Anne and the way that she teases men and plays with them. Wyatt tells Cromwell of how Anne boasts to him of how she says “no” to him, “but yes to others” and Cromwell agrees, thinking to himself that Anne is “a woman who took her maidenhead to market and sold it for the best price”. In reality, there is no evidence to back up this idea of Anne, or Wyatt’s alleged bitterness.
- In the novel, Henry Fitzroy replaces George Boleyn as Warden of the Cinque Ports – Alison Weir writes of how Richmond was “appointed Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle in place of Rochford” and cites Beverley Murphy “Bastard Prince: Henry VIII’s Lost Son”(2001), but Letters and Papers records Sir Thomas Cheyne (Cheyney) being appointed Warden of the Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle in May 1536 (LP x.898, 1015)
In her Author’s Note, Mantel comments that Cromwell “is still in need of attention from biographers” and makes no mention of John Schofield’s excellent biography of Cromwell. If you are interested in reading more about this fascinating man then do read Schofield’s book “The Rise and Fall of Thomas Cromwell”, I highly recommend it.
Last Thoughts from Claire
Bring Up the Bodies is a very readable book and I will always enjoy reading fiction on Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell, but I was disappointed by the characterization. I felt no empathy with any of the characters and if I hadn’t known their real stories then I would not have cared about their tragic ends. The sympathetic portrayal of Cromwell seemed to be at the expense of everyone else, which is a shame. That is, however, just my opinion.
What did you think?
By the way, the above list of inaccuracies is not exhaustive so please do feel free to add to it by commenting below.
Notes and Sources
- Bring Up the Bodies, Hilary Mantel
- The Marital Misadventures of Edward Seymour, article on author Susan Higginbotham’s blog.
- Letters and Papers, Foreign and Domestic, Henry VIII, Volume 10
117 thoughts on “Bring Up the Bodies – The Facts Behind the Fiction”
After reading this article, I feel so strongly about this book that I’m never ever goinf to read it.. Come on!! George crying and being a foolish dandy? Cromwell practically an angel?
This is fiction alright, but remeber these people were real, they existed. One cannot smear their reputation just because they feel like it!
In point of fact, Cromwell is not pictured as an angel, He is less empathetic is this book than he was in the first book of the trilogy. He has reached the height of his power in this book and Mantel foreshadows his downfall.
George B. is pictured as an arrogant dandy in many accounts. Don’t blame Mantel. And remember Mantel doesn’t claim to be writing history. I can tell by your attitude that you wouldn’t like it.
Good job Claire showing the book’s inaccuracies. That is why I don’t read historical fiction. Way too often, the authors of historical fiction will change history to suit their plotline. Problem with that, though, is that people who read these novels don’t seem to understand it is a novel, not a historically valid text.
And, it sounds as if the writer of this book watched “The Tudors” instead of doing some solid research.
One of the things I always think of when I hear rumors and speculations or read a book based on the Tudors or anyone connected to them (well for anyone in history really), is what would they think if they were alive today?
Would they be impressed that we got things right? Or would they be shocked and embarrassed of the way they were betrayed? For me, if you are going to write a book based on historical figures, show some respect as if they were alive today, do your homework, get it right or don’t bother. It confuses people, it keeps those ugly rumors going, and it’s beyond tacky. Not to mention, it tarnishes the images even more of these people as if they don’t matter anymore. They mattered when they were alive and they still matter to this day.
I love historical romance, but I’ve learned long ago, don’t believe a word of it until I can find the evidence to back it up.
Thank you Claire for showing the difference between truth and fiction.
Well done, Claire. Your article: true, informative, exhaustive as always. George crying on the scaffold? Come on!
I’m so disappointed this book is garnering such praise in mainstream publications. It seems like a version of The Other Boleyn Girl marketed–deceptively–as highbrow reading. I have to say, though, I am not surprised; I was put off by the two-dimensional portrayal of Anne in Wolf Hall.
Claire and all, the truth, or what can be perceived to be the truth nearly 500 years on, is for writers like Claire and Starkey, etc. Mantel is a novelist. Believe me when you are weaving characters and plot into a period, it can become nigh impossible to conform to history in any of its interpretations…and they are many. Historical novelists attempt to get as close to truth as they can, but it must be truth for their characters…characters we may actually know little about, have only sketchy facts that are often disputed.
For instance, in my book The Spymaster’s Daughter, I found two sources for Walsingham’s wife…both with different names.
I found Bring Up The Bodies a stunning piece of writing. Mantel exposed Cromwell’s soul. But I also felt that I was reading about pure evil.
My best to you all.
I’m certainly not criticising Mantel (for being creative) or the genre of historical fiction as I love it. This article was written by Clare and myself because of the amount of emails I’ve received asking me about which bits are accurate and which aren’t and also in response to those reports which are talking about the book as if it is actually factual, rather than a novel.
I didn’t actually enjoy it as a novel and when I’m reading I like to feel empathy for characters but as I said in the article I actually didn’t feel empathy for any of them and that was a shame. I wasn’t made to care about any of them and I felt that they deserved their fates, which was a horrible feeling when I certainly don’t feel that in real life.
Readers of Claire’s post may be interested in this piece of mine, published when “Bring Up the Bodies” had just come out: http://chronicle.com/article/When-Fictionalized-Facts/131759/.
I just finished reading the Chronicle article after reading Claire’s “fact vs fiction”. That was a well written article and again, brings home that these books are not historical fact, not historical biographies in the true sense of the word but rather, they are “Novels”. It is a personal choice which novels to read, but please do forget that they ARE “NOVEL” and be further confused by the story of Cromwell, Anne and more. I prefer historic biographies for learning more; however, I still enjoy a NOVEL for fun and read them with a grain-of-salt, remembering they ARE novels and meant to “entertain” not enlighten nor teach.
Good article, definitely worth reading.
Thanks so much for the list of facts vs fiction. I’ve been interested in reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies since I heard about the book coming out. It’ll be good to know going in exactly what Mantel took liberty with. I’m pretty shocked she completely negated Anne’s role as a reformer and political liability, for Cromwell especially. It seems like by ignoring some of the facts Mantel has actually done a disservice to how interesting and complex Anne’s fall really was, which is what I assumed the second book was actually exploring.
And seriously, George Boleyn crying on the stand? I’m not even close to being an expert and even I know the story about how well George defended himself! Geez.
I read “Wolf Hall” and found the portrayal of Cromwell interesting. I am not rushing out to purchase “Bring Up The Bodies” as the inaccuracies would only make me cross. And I knew before reading this article there would be blatant inaccuracies. If you are portraying Cromwell in good light then it seems the Boleyn’s and all others who fell during his rise and tenure must be villains for how could the loyal servant be anything but righteous in his actions. I am also very weary of the weeping, cringing depiction so many authours write of George Boleyn at trial and on the scaffold.
I have not read Bring up the Bodies but I am half way through Wolf Hall and so far I agree with Claire. When I started the book I thought it would be an insight into Cromwell but it has come at the expense of the characterisation of others and makes me disbelieving of the whole book and story line, I was hoping it picked up towards the end but having read this I am guessing it doesn’t and that the next book wil; be no different!
I’m a great fan of Anne Boleyn and have been fascinated by her since young however I very much enjoyed wolf hall and even dare I say it the other boleyn girl but enjoy as a work of fiction. When looking for factual information will look at place like this where you get a rounded factual picture or books like Eric Ives however these books do get others to look into history who may not otherwise have done so and they may go on and actually research the facts I know I looked at Thomas Mores history a bit more after reading the first book as I probably took a man for all seasons as factual and so prob gained a more rounded opinion.
I just finished Hilary Mantel’s latest book and did find it a struggle to get through the last third of the book. All characters did seem sacrificed to the glory of Thomas Cromwell. It is a shame that fiction writers do seem to want to continue stereotypical portrayals of historical characters rather than cling closer to the truth. I guess they think the books will sell better with such scandals! I find Anne Boleyn more fascinating with real historical detail. Just my thoughts! Laureen
Thank you, Claire for this article, and you and Clare did a great job, and I thank you very much for this one, especiallly! I read about the first 70 pages of this book and put it down, and returned it to the library. It would seem to me that Mantel is a kind of “copycat” of Phillpa, but in different ways. It is more fictionalized than true, and if Clair and I had no “empathy” for the characters in the book, it serves interest in the Tudors, but in Phillipa’s it does in the wrong ways. The point of historical fiction or even the outlandish ones like Phillipa is a hope that it will bring interest in the Tudor Dynasty, and maybe to this site. If I’m wrong, please feel free to comment, as I like to hear what others think. Mantel is intersted in the $ more than anything else.
Mallory, please think twice about historical fiction. There are great authors out there who do wonderful jobs at finding the facts and then having an extra character and giving what the person might have been thinking, etc. These make people like me more interested in what is actually the truth. Sandra Byrd, Ann Barnhill, C.W. Gortner, and Sandra Worth are the ones I have read (even though I have been a professor, but htat hardly matters when reading historical fiction, as I love to read authors who make it great and might one day get to this site or enter what used to be my profession!) among the best I’ve read so far….Try one of them, and you’ll see that all are not like Mantel and Gregory as they are the rapers of historical fiction, and this is what promotes an interest that just might be there! Thank you Claire and Clare, once again, as this is great (it even reminds me of the Bertram Fields article Claire wrote from emails received a while back and what fun reading the laundry list [no offense, as this stuff is great] of inaccuracies and getting the facts of the characters right. I see nothing wrong with an author getting the facts straight and then writing with historical accruacy those things that bring to life those people we never knew – about – or their stories on those we might like to have known. Thank you, WilesWales
So agree with WilesWales. Historical fiction is just that, a great read and fiction. If read in that context, many of the authors listed by WilesWales are excellent writers of historical fiction and “good reads”. Enjoy them for what they are…historical FICTION.
Thank you, GADawn
Okay, I will give one of them a try. Since I see the Sandra Byrd banner constantly on this website, I will give that one a try and let you know what I think. Hopefully, that author won’t put plot above veracity in regards to her historical characters, for I agree with what many others have written here: too often fiction writers forget that their historical characters were once alive. I am going to quote from Nikki who summed up my feelings on this perfectly:
“Would they be impressed that we got things right? Or would they be shocked and embarrassed of the way they were betrayed? For me, if you are going to write a book based on historical figures, show some respect as if they were alive today, do your homework, get it right or don’t bother. It confuses people, it keeps those ugly rumors going, and it’s beyond tacky. Not to mention, it tarnishes the images even more of these people as if they don’t matter anymore. They mattered when they were alive and they still matter to this day.”
Sandra Byrd is an author who puts detailed notes at the back of her novels, along with a bibliography of her research material. She is creative with her stories but makes it clear what is true and what is not, and I really appreciate that when I’m reading a novel. Susan Higginbotham is another author who does that and she feels very strongly about what she calls “defaming the dead”.
I just downloaded Bryd’s “To Die for” on my Kindle. I actually liked the sample! And, I will check out Higginbotham too.
I don’t see why every writer of historical fiction doesnt do this. It would respect those who can no longer give their version of events, and would surely increase the authors credibility as a fine weaver of tales. Who could object to outlining the bare bones of truth with a reference section at the back? Everybody wins.
Great Mallory! Like Claire, there are many good historical fiction books out there,with biblographies, detailed notes, and maps, royal and relevant family trees, etc. to help one find about whom they are reading along with thoughts, settings, historial settings, etc. This is what makes historical fact so fun to read. It makes historical figures come alive. These were real people, and Byrd and others reseach their novels with more than find toothed combs.
They are not “David Copperfield,” which is great fiction, a not Barbara Taylor Bradford’s latest book!
I am going to look at Byrd’s new novel myself right now! Thank you, WilesWales
I just downloaded Bryd’s “To Die For,” and will start reading it tonight. My problem is that I am a professor, and I want good research. Based on the reviews of Bryd’s work, she does seem to value research too.
Will let you know how it goes and thanks for the info. Always love to try new reading material:-))
Thank you for your succinct view. I read Wolf Hall and I enjoyed it. I am a third of the way through Bring Up The bodies and I have to tell you it’s chore. I don’t like the tone of it. The prose is so flowery and free flowing I find myseld skimming through parts of it.
From what I’ve read here I don’t have much to look forward to. I imagine I’ll be doing doing a lot more skimming.
THANK YOU! This is a great article, and I definitely agree, especially in terms of the characterization–I found it too convenient and ridiculous that EVERY person whose death Cromwell helped along just HAPPENED to be a horrible human being anyway–like Cromwell was doing the world a huge favor by offing them! *rolleyes* Just no, this is not the way to create moral complexity and balanced characters, by making all of their enemies evil and unsympathetic while the main character is perfectly perfect and the best (and in the moral right) in everything…
Claire, I am so glad to have read your article before I wasted any money on this book. Thank you! 🙂
I’m not trying to put people off the book, just pointing out where it has strayed from history. Sorry!
Another hatchet job? I guess the truth is WWWAAAYYYY too boring for readers to handle, huh?
Miladyblue,Very well said!!!!! Baroness
WilesWales asked me to post this comment on his behalf as he’s having trouble commenting:
“Thank you, Claire, and I have read Susan Higginbotham as well, and it was a complete lack of giving out the GREAT authors, and wonder how I forgot mention her! I love her statement, “defaming the dead.” I also remember when you told us about reading “To Die For” by Sandra Byrd and you read a few pages, then just couldn’t put it down until it was finished. She also lists an historical bibliography at the end as well, as well as questions for a reader’s discussions group, and an interview with her. C.W. Gortner does the same with “The Last Queen,” on which there is same thing. and hypothesizes that “Juan Loca,” was not crazy, but just wanted to be left alone. There are also great interviewers with many reputable sources on, I believe, Susan Worth’s web site (author of “The King’s Daughter,” with a very annotated authors note, a select bibliography, and reader’s group questions, . It took C.W. Gortner took five years to research and write “The Last Queen,” and on his site (without having to quote but one thing, “Historical fiction at it’s best where we by revealing where we’ve been.) http://www.cwgortner.com gives great interviews, and Sandra Worth’s site, http://www.sandraworth.com“
Thank you, Claire! WilesWales
Historical fiction is probably the oddest genre of literature. It takes real people and puts them into fictional situations (in fact it’s a bit like Big Brother)!! That was a joke.
The people being written about aren’t fictional, and I wonder how many of them spin like tops in their graves at our cavalier attitude to them.
When I read historical fiction I wonder how I would react if someone wrote a novel of my life. Obviously it would be incredibly boring and only my mother would buy it (and I’m not too sure about her)! But what if I was portrayed, without justification, as a whore or a coward or a person completely lacking in morality? Even if the novel clearly stated it was a fictional account of my life I would still be mortified. Could I honestly shrug it off if I was depicted as either Anne or George Boleyn are in so many novels that are written about them, even with the excuse that it’s just fiction? No I couldn’t and I don’t think many people could. I would be humiliated and distressed that people were reading about me in that light. I would decry the representation and probably sue for deformation, fiction or not.
Clare,Claire. I agree how could anyone write nonfiction about those poor those inoccent souls. I hardly think George did’nt cry his way to the sccaffold ,he went as a brave man.AS for the digging up the bodies they were very religious,that would be sacralige a sin and it still is now a day.When your writting about real people who live then ,a cruel sinfull evil as they were, inoccent know truth,all lies,simpley ,presumtion there no facs.I pray for all whom died in vain. As well I could’nt not belieavethat Phillpia Gregory was a commentater at Queen Elizabeth 2,Queens Jubbillee,I was looking for CLARE and CLAIRE were could those ladies be?? Well this is what I know ,fiction is fiction and facs are facs,so for you who like to read fic,thats great but when your reading about those who lived a very hard lives and there were know truth, all lies,paid for by the King please read fictual,these souls have been DEFACED long enough give them there FACES back.Great read Clare and Claire!!I also like Susan HiggInbotham Her Highness,THE TRAITOR Kind Regards Baroness x
Well said, Clare! I can definitely see the attorney in you, even in my post-graduate studies we had to take Education Law, and these kinds of things did come out. I was accepted to law school, and chose academia instead, as well as my corporate career which involved a lot of interpretation of state regulations and accrediaton standards. I was terrified of the Socratic Method used in law school, but never expected it in my career
Also what a great definition of historical fiction! Thank you, WilesWales
Excellent post Clare. I totally agree. Also, If one wants to
write fiction then one should do so with fictional
I have not read the book but it does seem that modern authors seem to favour portraying Anne Boleyn as “a scheming trollop”, to quote the Daily Mail, in their works, as seen notoriously in “The Other Boleyn Girl”. This is probably because depicting her as a religious patron and an intellectual would be less interesting and would not produce as much drama as this less accurate portrayal
No, depicting her as a religious patron and an intellectual would be less interesting and would not produce as much sales and $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
JLF, YOUR SO RIGHT $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$and$$$$$$$$$$ THX Barones
And so is this outline of all the factual errors, which is 1000 times better than any review. The awful truth speaks for itself. People who think this is proper historical fiction, which diligently reconstructs actual events, have been conned. If I were one of them I’d want my money back. Thank goodness I got it from a library.
But I also think some historical fiction is brilliant, if not always accurate. For instance, no one seems to read Jean Plaidy anymore but I have ALL her Tudor novels and I love them! (“The Lady in the Tower”, about Anne Boleyn, is a personal favourite).
I would recommend them because they are much better written than works by the likes of Gregory.
Yet even if “The Other Boleyn Girl” is heavily criticised, I would recommend “The Boleyn Inheritance” by the same author for its portrayal of Katherine Howard; unlike most modern works, Gregory actually gets Katherine’s birth date pretty accurate (not 1521), even though her depiction of Jane Rochford is dark, to say the least.
Thanks, Wiles Wales (and Claire!). I can’t take credit for the “defaming the dead” phrase; it comes via Sharon Penman, who I believe credits novelist Laurel Corona for the phrase.
Thank you, Ms. Higginbotham! I have respected your works for a long time, and now I respect you. It takes lot of character to give credit to those who give credit to those who quote their credit creators. You remind me of one very fine and notable first lady who made a theme of the White House (no politics involved here), who during her tour on this in 1962, was most happy to say that each donor would receive a gold plaque with their names on them for donating each thing that was kept in order for it altogether came back to the original them and making it a permanent museum as well! Now that is what a person who has class does.
That you do, along with other historical fiction writers, when a “person” or “theme” is established and takes all kinds of sources, bibliographies, annotations, etc. and give them credit for the credit you also earn in researching and in historical fiction bring these all together in one piece. That is talent, and you have it! Thank you, WilesWales
Forgive me, Claire has done a fantastic job at this as well. She also gave a report called, “Anne Boleyn Research Guide,” giving a comprehensive *.pdf file (and I have it printed out) as how to read the annotations, and how to find out the research on finding a good history/ biography to read and evaluate. She even goes into great detail no what a annotation Eric Ives'”The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn,” a notation and how to read it and how she researches primary materials, etc., and making also what I think is a great thing as well (the professor in me). She actuallly gives it all. So it is up to the reader or possible writer a way to do things. When I read an historical fiction or fact book and the annotation is there, I immediately go and read that annotation before proceeding as it wouldn’t be clear to me what is actually going on in a complete picture to me.
I also think Claire and Clare did a great job on analyizing the the myths in Mantel’s book, and the truth about each character as the major thing in this article and to those reallly getting off the scale! I read “The Chronicle of Higher Education” artilce about the movie “Anne of the Thousand Days” and comparing it with Mantel’s book, and it is amazing to me that some (some meaning at least one) tears apart Phillipa and loves that movie so much.
I think Claire might is right tha bringing in other authors like Phillipa into this comment section is inapproprate for what she and Clare set out to do! Thank you, WilesWales
Susan, I am so looking forward to reading your novel I have heard olny great things about,so once I finish up this last book ,Claire’s last novel, I like to read slow so that I can all in my thoghts.Susan best wishes!! Claire,Clare, kudo’s great job. Best Wishes Baroness.
I am wondering whether I read the same book!
I enjoyed ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ very much. I didn’t the portrayal of Anne Boleyn a caricature – she is not a particularly sympathetic character, but she is seen through Cromwell’s eyes and he sees her as a threat to his power and possibly his life. I also didn’t view the book as ‘strongly suggestive that Anne may have been guilty’ – rather the opposite. However, the point to me was that it didn’t really matter to Cromwell whether she was guilty or not, the accusations were a way to bring her down.
As far as George Boleyn is concerned, I don’t think that it is contrary to historical fact to portray him as arrogant and a dandy. He also came over, to this reader at least, as intelligent and capable. His fondness for women was rumoured at the time. We don’t really know enough about Jane or his relationship with her to say whether their marriage was unhappy, but I don’t think that it contradicts the known facts for a novelist to portray it as such or, indeed, for Jane to be shown as a gossip.
Many of the other points raised seem to be matters of interpretation of character rather than hard facts. After all, ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ is a novel, not a biography, and a novelist surely has leeway to flesh out characters and invent dialogue.
Lastly, on the subject of C.W. Gortner, his ‘afterword’ to ‘The Last Queen’ is almost as historically inaccurate as the novel that precedes it! In his supposedly factual section, he manages to marry a character off to her brother and kill off another over twenty years before his actual death, to name but two errors!
Thank you, Jillian. I will read those, and compare them with “Europe 1506,” and such and get back with you. I’ve read nothing about these in book reviews, and he did research this for five years on site before writing it. This is also historical and he’s the only one who has written much about Queen Juana of Castile. She was “betholled” and only married once to her Philip, heir to the Hapsburg Empire. Please me read it, and cross check. It is also not brought up in any book reviews, such as “Publisher’s Weekly,” “Library Journal,” “Kirkus Reviews,” “The Chronicle…,” etc.
Although royal genealogy is sometimes hard to figure out. So let me read this again. Maybe I didn’t catch anything there. I also noticed nothing in “The Confessions of Catherine de Medici,” nor, “The Secret Lion,” and WIILL keep my eyes peeled while reading “A Queen’s Vow” as well!
Thank you for the heards up! Please give me a lttile time! I love these kinds of things! Thank you, WilesWales!
The most glaring ‘howlers’ in the so-called ‘historical note’ concern the Admiral of Castile, who is said to have died in 1509 when he died in 1538 at a ripe old age; the marriage of Princess Eleanor to ‘the King of Naples’, who was her brother Charles, rather than the King of Portugal (to be fair, this may be sloppy editing), and the statement that Ferdinand and Germaine had no children (they had a son who died young).
The novel itself has far more, but rather than bore everyone here, I will contact you through ‘The Tudors’ wiki, if I may.
I suspect that the numerous inaccuracies have escaped English-speaking reviewers and readers because of a lack of knowledge of Spanish history. In contrast, there are many people with knowledge of Tudor history, in part thanks to this site and others, so errors are more likely to be picked up..
Is this the book about Juana you mentioned above?
Yes, Mallory, that’s it, and on http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/, which is Sandra Worth’s site, under book talks, is an an interview with C.W. Gortner as well. He also has a vidoe interview on http://www.cwgortner.com which is very welll done as well.
Thank you Gillian for doing my research, as I was about to come back with that very same thing today. But, forgive me, you will never see me on ‘The Tudors’ wiki.
In his afterward, you will also see that Gortner does make statements of inprovsing, and switching dates, and such in order to make an historical novel work. Please refer to Clare’s most superior definition of historical fiction above.
I make it a policy not to argue or insult any commentors on this site, as it is Claire’s site, and such a reference to a forum that you know is unflattering is running into that kind of things. I will not debate nor converse with anyone who insults comments. I asked for some time….I am now, because of this extricating myself from anymore comments on this article, and I was only one today to get to answer you that you are right…Thank you, WilesWales
Just to clear up some confusion here. The On the Tudor Trail blog is nothing to do with Sandra Worth, it is run by Natalie Grueninger. It does, however, feature an interview with C W Gortner – http://onthetudortrail.com/Blog/book-talk/author-interviews/q-a-with-c-w-gortner/.
I can’t comment on the accuracy of Gortner’s work because I’ve only read one and my Spanish history is not brilliant, although I am learning more as I help my children with their history assignments! Nobody is being insulting or inflammatory here, so I’m not sure what you mean, WilesWales. Jillian has simply pointed out some inaccuracies in Gortner’s work, just as I have done with the works of PG and Mantel. Debate and discussion are welcome here.
Yes, that it is the right book.
I would not want to put anyone off reading it – or any other book for that matter – as it is well written and has many positive qualities. And I can well understand that a novelist, or television dramatist or film scriptwriter, may have to change timings or combine characters in order to keep the narrative flowing. My concern about this novel is that there are many inaccuracies in the ‘historical afterword’, which I think most readers would expect to be entirely factual.
Oop’s on the site, and thank you, Claire, as I did take this the wrong way. Yes, debate and discussion are welcome here. Just as in any hisorical novel there has to be some creativity and some rearranging, and Jillian has done for “The Last Queen” what you did for this article. I have made sure I am no longer a member of Tudor Wiki, and thank you all for such an interesting discussion! g*
Thank you, WilesWales
I have read ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ and because I am fascinated with history, both fact and fiction, I enjoyed it. It was while I was reading this that I discovered Claire’s site, and immediately bought her Countdown. I was then able to compare the fact with Hilary Mantel’s fiction. This helped enormously and added to my interest in the novel. I prefer historical novels in which the hero or heroine are the fictional character which helps, I think, to keep the actual historical figures and events more true to life. This is the case in both of Sandra Byrd’s novels and it works brilliantly.
I am always on the look out for new historical books to read on England especially during the Tudors reign. I have read many books that were historically inaccurate and watched movies that were the same. Enjoyed most of them even though I knew that they were not the real historical events, behaviors etc that took place in that time period.
I also realize that there is not much of historical documentation to go back to that sometimes we must fill in the blanks the best we can.
But I am quite frankly dismayed as of late to read or view etc., that is so blatant in it’s historical inaccuracies and personality assassinations.
This appears to be another of those books that are offering up drama etc., and not truth. So this will be a book that I will definitely not waste my time or money on.
Great points especially about character assassinations.
To me its just so wrong and unfair. I have no use
for writers who do this.
I don’t have time right now to carefully consider Claire’s various points, many of them smart and perceptive. I will say that Mantel is attempting to write from inside the sort of man she believes Cromwell might have been–and a 16th-century Englishman, however intelligent and sophisticated, is not us. Many of us here at TABF see Anne as a sort of feminist precursor, as an enlightened woman, whatever her negative qualities. I think that’s quite possible. I like Anne, and I’ve been on her side for almost 50 years. But Cromwell was a deeply ambitious man whose apparent primary goal was to serve his king, not Anne and not our 21st-century ideal of justice. I don’t see Mantel’s Cromwell despising Anne. He tends to take her seriously, even though she’s a mere female. She’s just no longer of use to the king and she must be got rid of. A nasty conclusion; it was a nasty age in many ways.
Lastly, keep in mind that we’re also seeing Cromwell, so witty and companionable, so humane in his domestic life, slowly morphing into a fascist. He’s becoming a tragic hero, in the classical sense of tragedy. And I, for one, can’t wait for the third book. I think Mantel is a very fine writer, whatever her Cromwell’s view of Anne Boleyn.
I agree. I am an Anne fan but found Mantel’s theories interesting and thought provoking. I have since read more of her work with much enjoyment. Cromwell was the king’s man and did what he had to do, is my opinion. He paid for it.
After reading this, no way would I waste my money on Bringing Up The Bodies…(I could barely get through Wolf’s Hall)!!!
I recently borrowed Bring Up the Bodies from my local library. I am an ardent fan of all Tudor books, and always vet new books on the subject by borrowing them. I don’t add them to my collection unless I deem them worthy. I won’t be adding either of Mantel’s Cromwell novels.
I don’t think that Hilary Mantel needs ME to defend her…but I think after reading both Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies that we are judging her foray into literary historical fiction too harshly. As I have heard her say she is merely using Cromwell as a vehicle with which to view this particularly perilous time in British history. I think she is far more interested in a nuanced and more modern reading of Cromwell’s imagined inner life…as a way to think about politicians of any period… driven as they all are by psychology, intelligence, and personality.
Actually I got your Countdown book, Claire, AFTER reading Bring Up the Bodies because I did want a historical review of the facts. I enjoyed it very much and consider it a different but equally satisfying read. I am now reading Threads…which most of you know is a completely IMAGINED inner life of Anne. I am enjoying it too but for different reasons.
Anne will always be a polarizing figure but I think that is what attracts me to her!
what i am curious about…. is why does author create so many untruths about Queen Anne Boleyn? I feel like one of your other posters. I WILL NEVER READ THIS BOOK. Should it line the garbage box? Maybe
Patricia,The Idiots that write this junk and make these movies our to,Claire does research.over and over and she is right on. I go to Amazon and read the replys it will save you time and money,The TudorsI cancelld that one,The Other Boleyn Girl that was a fictional nightmare,it gave me nightmares.My next read is going to be HER HIGHNESS,THE TRAITOR,BY Susan Higginbotham ,as I read her on Claires site and found a very smart women,of croase will go to my trusty Amazom.Why these so called Authors it’s the all mighty buck,they will faid soon enough History Buffs can spot this junk writting in a nano second. I just want these inoccent soul stop being DEFACED and give them the honor they deserve. Kind Regards Baroness
Interesting! 🙂 I look forward to reading! 😀
A very interesting topic, I couldn’t get through “Wolf Hall”‘ but I did rather enjoy “”Bring Up the Bodies”‘, perhaps because I knew the topic so well, I do agree that Anne fares badly here and that Mantel has played pretty loose with the historical record, She is also quilty of the “sin of omission”‘ in that she excludes Anne’s speech at her trial and on the scaffold and thereby weakens her character. But I think the popularity of the book reflects Mantel’s magical ability to render this story in modern terms “”One of the reasons for this literary success is that Mantel seems to have written a very good modern novel, then changed all her fictional names to English historical figures of the fifteen-twenties and thirties”‘ (New Yorker magazine review of the book) But does this end justifiy the means? As some of the others above have argued, do we owe a debt to the dead to tell their stories fairly and accurately when we share with a wider audience? Do facts matter in historical fiction? Is it enough to evoke the sense of a period of history, to present a particular view, to make historical persons relatable to a modern audience who are fascinated by celebrity and scandal? As a student of history, I can only hope that that at least some of the many people who are entertained by Mantel’s books balance her tellings with an understanding of the factual record.
Read more http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2012/05/07/120507crbo_books_wood#ixzz1yx2rj9IR
I have had the unpleasant experience of having people write about me and present stories of what I supposedly said and did which I never did. I successfully repudiated all of the charges brought against me but have never received any sort of apology or even any statement which cleared my name. The matter just quietly went away. I would love to see those who fabricated stories have to be held accountable. I always said and still do that I would swear in court and not perjure myself but those who came up with these stories could not do the same. So I can see how someone could take what they know about me from written records and write a very ridiculous story and claim it was fiction. And yes, I would turn in my grave and want to haunt you if I could. I am sick of hearing about George Boleyn and the others in the same negative way/ So I will pass on this book.
Spellig Malfuction Factaul sorry. AB Friends.
I just finished reading the book, and I was amazed at the portrayal of the characters. I enjoyed reading it, but didn’t really feel like I was reading a novel about Tudor times. Nothing was portrayed how I have come to regard history. -M-
I well remember having a rant about this dreadful piece of character assassination before on this site. Mantel may well be writing a piece of fiction, but we all know how some will take it as fact. And there is my issue with the likes of Mantel and Gregory – the film of TOBG had Anne snivelling on the scaffold. My biggest issue with Mantel is her arrogant statement in her end notes that the historical sources were as inaccurate sd her book (or words to that effect.) Mantel knows better than those who were there? Beggars belief!
Spot on! I am reminded of David Starkey’s snide comment, in Six Wives, about “the fashionable band of ‘revisionist’ historians who are blessed with the happy confidence that they understand the past better than those who were alive at the time” (p. 295, US Edition). Clearly it’s not just historians.
This book, along with Wolf Hall, has provoked a lot of mixed opinions, some good, some bad and some indifferent. Which is great because we all have different tastes and its good to hear other views, whether we agree with them or not..
Claire always gives an honest opinion of a book, as a historian, and from a personal enjoyment aspect, and has done so with this fictional novel, she has listed some of the inaccuracies, and said it was a readable book, though she was dissapointed with the characterization. And we all welcome what she has to say because of her vast knowledge of the subject matter . But what I find most strange is that because of Claire’s comments, and other negative comments too, some people have decided not to read the book at all, and ‘glad they have not wasted their money’, why…. you could loan it and give it a chance, you might be pleasently suprised, or not as the case maybe..
I agree with what Denise Hansen says above, and others too. Anne is not seen as we see her, but this is about Cromwell, or Mantel’s version of Cromwell. Is it factual, no, but it is an interpretation, some will like, some won’t, but at least try to read it before condemning it It is actually on audio book too, (Wolf Hall) expensive though at the moment, the unabridged version is anyway, but maybe that will be on lbrary selves too soon. And on that subject I have noticed of late quite a lot of Tudor fact and fiction novels being put on audio, I have a few, I listen to them in such places as the greenhouse, garden or getting through that large pile of ironing… or even when I am actually too tired to read, its very relaxing and gets you through those boring chores.
Have you ever though of listing audio books as well as books Claire?
I would never want to put someone off a book and I actually think that this one should be read. I hated Wolf Hall but I have many friends who thought it was one of the best books they’ve read. We all have different tastes and opinions, as Dawn says. Someone accused me on Facebook of attacking Hilary Mantel which I don’t believe I’m doing. I don’t say anything about Mantel personally, just as I don’t about Philippa Gregory or Alison Weir etc. This article was answering the many questions that I’ve had in relation to the historical accuracy of the book and an exploration of what Clare and I had found in reading it. I do have concerns about the author’s notes in Mantel’s book, but it’s up to her what she does and she’s a good writer.
With regards to audio, I’d love to do audio books and also translate my books into other languages but companies like audible will only consider you if you have a large backlist or you’re selling hundred of thousands of books. I have been looking into it but at the moment it’s just not cost effective.
Thank you, Claire! I should have read the comments earlier on down. You never say anything personally about authors. The audio book thing is a great idea. Please keep it in your backlist! I personally can’t wait for your new book! Thank you, WilesWales
I think the major problem with both WH & BUTB is that Mantel has gone with the Cromwell conspiracy theory and therefore felt the need to show Anne & the men accused in a negative light. What you have to remember reading the book is a lot of what is shown is Cromwell’s perspective and he is biased against them. So his interpretation of events is not neccesarily the whole truth of the matter. This is true not just of him but to an extent of all the characters in the book. The tone of the book is ambigious and there a lot of people in the book who are deceiving themselves as well as others. To be fair to Hilary Mantel she does make it very clear that her two books are fiction and some of the facts quoted in the article (which was very good) are open to debate. She is not trying to pass herself off as a historian or expert in Tudor matters as some writers of bodice rippers are.
You know, I feel sorrier for George Boleyn than even for Anne when it comes to these modern retellings. He is made to come off consistently badly in one way or another, and he seems to have been a much more admirable sort than a lot of courtiers. Here’s a challenge: someone out there, write a historical novel based on George that is true to what we know about him. It would be quite a story–one doesn’t need all the cartoonish vilification or weakening of his character to tell a thrilling, if tragic, tale. It would, indeed, probably be a good deal more gripping than turning him into a coward or rapist. And please, whoever is so good enough to take up the challenge, make sure to portray his role in religious reform.
I have considered writing a fictional account of the lives of George and Jane, but based on history. I might just do it one day!
Oh, Claire, PLEASE do!
Please do, Claire, and soon. I’d say Jane could be difficult though – there seem to be few actual facts about her out there.
Please do, Claire. I wasn’t going to go back to this site, but I found a few things very interesting that I’d like to read, and got them.
Claire, I beg you to do the audios and the book! I can’t wait four your next one, and the four essays. Now that I’ve put enough on your overloade table, I hope you have a good day!
To a very talented, incredible, and honorable person, WilesWales
It certainly would be welcome to have a fiction about the Tudor period that showed people as complex individuals with motive & beliefs rather than the usual black/white sterotypes.
Emma,You look very young in your /? I so thats great to see egare young wantinng to learn what reallly happen.I find the best way is find a a factual read is search Claire both very good, or go to the English Histoy Arcives.com you can read all you want,but thats a little hard to undrstand ,so any of Claires book are to the FAC,not the FICS good to see young kids egear to learn,so you go girl! Thanks Baroness
I think you may be confusing me with Ellie.
Emma Sorry ,Your pic looks very young kudos to you anyway,its just my thouht any way.so sorry AB friend. Kind Regards Baroness x
I agree with Dawn – it is great pity that some commentators are suggesting that the book should not be read, or even put in the bin. It is also unfair to compare Hilary Mantel with Philippa Gregory: the latter is a competent if somewhat pedestrian writer, whereas the former is one of the most innovative and stylish novelists currently writing in English.
Ms.Mantel’s deviation from fact are also minor compared to those of Ms. Gregory and many other current historical novelists. Anne’s reformist sympathies and positive qualities are not ignored in ‘Bring Up the Bodies’, but the negative aspects of her personality are to the fore as Henry falls out of love with her – to some extent, Cromwell sees her through his master’s eyes as well as his own and her flaws are magnified. Cromwell is not whitewashed – he uses whatever means come to hand to free the King from his unwanted marriage.
One of the most impressive things about the book is the gathering pace towards the end, a sense that events are sweeping the Queen towards her fate. Cromwell does not set out to accuse her of adultery but a foolish boast from Mark Smeaton, casual gossip about her relationships with certain courtiers, and the men are suddenly whisked away to the Tower.
The first two books of Ms. Mantel’s Cromwell trilogy may not appeal to Anne’s more fervent and devoted fans, but that does not mean that they should be dismissed out of hand. For many readers, there is much here to admire,.
I actually thought that Bring Up the Bodies was very similar to The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory in its storyline and in particular Mantel’s portrayal of Jane Boleyn. The writing styles were different but the characterization was similar and I did find myself comparing them a lot as I read Bring Up the Bodies.
I would recommend reading it because liking or disliking a book is a completely personal opinion and this article was not a review or a critique of the book, it was a look at what was fiction in the book which is what people have been asking me to do. I think it is important to do this because some people make the wrong assumption that because a novel is historical in its theme that it is accurate.
I was annoyed by the characterization of the men – Weston, Brereton, Smeaton, Norris and George Boleyn – I felt that it was very stereotyped and I got a little fed up with Weston smirking. I was disappointed because I wanted her to handle it differently from Gregory and I don’t think she did. This is my own personal opinion and others can make their own minds up. I would never encourage people to not read a book but this is one that will obviously divide people, just as Wolf Hall did.
Claire,You could not of said it better! I am so tierd of these people, keep getting DEFACED,and thats the problem here, if your going into a place in time were your writting about humans that were just pitched aside ! I am so greatfull that you have finally put on the table,you mince know words, say it like it is as for, MS. Gregory, all that comes to mind is ???? What was she thinking? Also I about fainted ,when watching the Queen’s Jubbillee,I could’nt ?, well the Brits must love her. I find her work a waste of time for her and for me and all others, that had the grueling misfortune to read her novel and make a movie that, was two of the darkest things I have read ,and well seen. I threw it to he trash.Sorry for being so blunt but it is what it is. THX Baroness
I really enjoy historical fiction, and don’t really get annoyed unless it plays wildly with history (The Tudors, The Other Boleyn Girl etc). I didn’t feel that Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies played too much with history, maybe just characterisation. I feel that Hilary Mantel is one of the few authors that doesn’t portray Thomas Cromwell as a pantomime villain, and offers a multi-faceted character is definitely in the ‘grey area of the black/white spectrum! It is therefore justified in villainising (if that’s a word!) other characters. There are other portrayals of Anne and co that are more sympathetic, and I feel that none of these characters from this period are wholly good or bad and therefore, historical novelists have the right to portray their characters however they like, as long as they don’t play with the facts too much!
After reading all of the comments of the book and the article, I really want to read Mantel’s both books. Curiosity is a fine way to get things done. Thanks! 🙂
Lina, I don’t think you’ll regret it. I’m rereading “Wolf Hall,” and enoying myself all over again. As for Mantel’s Cromwell and Anne, here’s how he views her as the mother of a baby: “The princess, unswaddled, had been placed on cushions at Anne’s feet: an ugly, purple, grizzling knot of womankind, with an upstanding ruff of pale hair and a habit of kicking up her gown as if to display her most unfortunate feature….The brief respite is over, the princess sets up a screech that would bring out the dead. Anne’s glance slides away sideways and a sideways grin of infatuation takes over her whole face, and she leans down toward her daughter, but at once women swoop, flapping and bustling; the screaming creature is plucked up, wrapped up, swept away, and the queen’s eyes follow pitifully as the fruit of her womb exits, in procession. He [Cromwell] says gently, ‘I think she was hungry.'”
(The scene of Anne’s execution in the second book is the most moving I’ve ever read– something about the way Mantel captures the split-second shift between life and death. And, yes, Anne does die with spirit and courage, the way the historical Cromwell himself described her. I just don’t think her intelligence was quite great enough to deal with the machinations of Henry’s state. No one’s was.)
I have read Bring Up The Bodies. Whilst I would say it is an interesting read as long as the reader remembers it is a work of fiction. I personally did not enjoy it that much. The main things that annoyed me were the fact that not only Anne but also every person implicated with her at the time of her fall is shown in a bad light. It is as if we, the readers are being prepared for .the fate that awaits them, and will be thinking “ah well I always knew that they were a thoroughly bad lot!” I know because it is fiction it will be deemed acceptable by many. However, it might be fiction but the characters were living men and women and therefore to me it is important to respect their memory.
I was wondering the same thing how much fact is in this fiction since I am reading both Bringing up bodies and Wolfe Hall. I am enthralled by Tudor History however it seems so much of it out there is more fiction then fact.
I get so tired of “George the beast”, as if he is some kind of Incredible Hulk with too many hormones. He and his father are the subjects of my PhD, and my PhD supervisor had to stop reading this book as she was worried it would influence her views on the men. I am very glad she did!
Are you going to try to get your PHD published as a history book? If Jane Boleyn was deemed worthy of an entire biography published by a major publisher (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) then surely there’s room for a joint one about her husband and his father. The public should be able to have access to a proper, substantiated biography of George Boleyn as a counter to the unsubstantiated, defamatory stuff that gets written about him (ie The Lady in the Tower and Bring up the Bodies). I’m not very impressed by Amberley’s editorial standards (typos all over the place) but at least they do accept unsolicited submissions for history books: http://amberleybooks.com/shop/page/2
I quite agree, and once I have finished the PhD I intend to publish it. However, I am currently contracted with Amberly to write a biography of Eustace Chapuys!
Yes, it sounds very interesting.
Incidentally, Chapuys is one of the most sympathetic characters in both ‘Bring Up the Bodies’ and ‘Wolf Hall’. Cromwell llikes him and finds him congenial company, despite their religious and political differences.
That’s a very good idea. Another seriously under-biographied Tudor figure is Lady Margaret Douglas, as well as Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk. Now there are two more projects that should be commissioned.
A biography of Chapuys is long overdue. I look forward to reading it.
I read Wolf Hall & I just finished Bring Up the Bodies yesterday. I enjoyed them both but I enjoyed them as fiction, not historical fact. I think if you keep in mind that these books are written in Cromwell’s view & the story is told through his eyes, it makes sense that Anne, George & the men executed with them are portrayed the way they were. This is what the Cromwell in the story thought about them, not historical fact. He is biased against these people and so this is what is portrayed. I do understand, and share, peoples frustration with historical fiction accepted as fact when it’s not, especially when it’s not made clear that it’s fiction, such as “The Tudors.” However, in this case, since it’s being told from the perspective of Cromwell, I didn’t have an issue with it.
Wonderful article, it was great reading through your views on the book. I do, however, want to mention a few things about my views on historical fiction. As someone who is studying history at university, I love reading historical fiction, from a wide variety of periods. I think, as a whole, this type of literature gets a bad rap. The title itself implies a percentage of invention and interpretation on the author’s part. While I agree it’s frustrating when a book, or movie or tv show get a character and and event wrong, the great thing about historical fiction, for me at least, is that it encourages people to go research what really happened, and who those people really were. This is what happened for me. After reading ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’, I became fascinated by the Tudor period, and began reading every book, fiction and non fiction, I could get my hands on. And yes, even though I adore Anne, I still love the book, along with others Philippa has written (my favourite being The White Queen). I’m rambling a bit, but basically, I love historical fiction, when done right, for its portrayal of characters that we can’t get from a non-fiction work, and for its ability to encourage people to further explore history.
I agree with you completely Meg,although I was became facinated long before TOBG, because I am probabley a lot older than you, lol…I have read the book twice, and enjoyed her ‘twist’ to the tale, and I also like the fact that fiction gives these people a voice with the imagined conversations they would have, their emotions etc, this brings them alive again. I have read many of the factual history books on this era too, and enjoy them also, but it is nice to pick up a fictional book and do some ‘lighter’ reading.
This is my very last thing I will write on this wonderful article, and what I “thought” were the rules for writng comments of which I agreed with when I join. The title of a book or or other source should be put in quotation marks as in, Eric Ive’s “The Rise and Fall of Anne Boleyn.” Putting things things on this site and even email etiquette in upper case letters is like shouting. Just a reminder both to myself and perhaps a tip for others. Thank you, WilesWales! P.S. Now to move out of this and on to the rest of my life with so much I’ve missed in the past few days…
There aren’t any rules for writing comments so I’m not sure what you mean about agreeing to them when you ‘joined’! I delete spam ones (those selling handbags or meds etc.), I will not publish ones with expletives in and I will step in if I feel people are being offensive or attacking in some way, but I don’t have rules. I realise that people are often commenting from their phones (the joys of autocorrect!) so I really don’t mind about typos, spelling mistakes, capital letters, quotation marks/lack of quotation marks etc. I want EVERYBODY to feel free to comment. I really don’t want to be petty, but if anyone is entitled to make up rules for the site then it would be me as site owner, moderator and admin.
I hope that clears it all up!
I am sorry Claire but I feel I must say this…
I feel your last comment Wileswales was condescending and bad mannered.
People do not come to this site to be grammatically corrected, or to be scutinised on their punctuation, this will be very off putting for some and, all opinions count punctuated or not…
You also have to remember some people that post on this site have English as their second language, and I admire them, I cannot speak two languages.
Even English speaking countries have different ways of punctuating, as they do in spelling eg’ ‘Color’ as spelt in USA, and ‘Colour’ as spelt in Britain. You have used double quotation marks, I was taught to use single, unless it was to punctuate speaking, eg, “The Anne Boleyn Files is a marvelous site” she said. So I really think remarks such as this are uncalled for, and if you look to your last post you will see that you have punctuated Eric Ives name, when it shouldn’t be…we all make mistakes, and non of us are perfect….
Dawn, that was exactly how I felt too and I had to step in because I don’t want anyone to be put off by someone commenting like that. As I said to WilesWales, this site does not have any rules like that and what I care about is history, debate and conversation, not spelling, punctuation and grammar. I also felt that WilesWales’ comment came across like he was a site admin or moderator, and he is not.
To reiterate, this site is for EVERYONE and I never want anyone to worry about their use of English or making typos while typing on their phone.
I just finished “To Die For” by Sandra Byrd and was pleasantly surprised by her trying to stick to historical facts while filling in the gaps in a way that made sense. My only objection was how Jane Rochford came across but since so little is known about her I suppose there is room for using your imagination. The characters seem more real overall, with their good and bad qualities. I would suggest that anyone who likes Tudor historical fiction might want to read this book. I had jury duty and had to sit around for almost 2 days and this book really helped keep me from falling asleep..
Just another Anne Boleyn hater in need of exerting her dislike for the subject. I have no desire whatsoever to read another pack of lies and propaganda against a women no longer here to defend herself against any of these so called allegations against her from a mediocre writer at best armed with little facts and a whole lot of fiction to attempt make her story interesting enough to waste money on. The only time or effort I would spend on this book would to be on adding it to the pile crap of other warped fantasies of the life and time of Anne Boleyn.. But it does do one good, it proves how interesting a subject Anne Boleyn remains after nearly 500 years after her death, and the envy and jealousy she still conjures in women who lack self esteem.
I love your post and totally agree.
Claire and Claire
Having listed the inaccuracies it would be good to balance the picture by adding a list of areas where Mantel was absolutely correct – particularly where she could only have got information from detailed study.
Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies are remarkable works of fiction, not least because of the extraordinary writing style Mantel adopts. I agree accuracy is important, but so is story telling. I loathe historical inaccuracy when history is reinterpreted to support current political projects, so films like ‘Braveheart’ and ‘the Patriot’ are quite simply appalling. Do you feel Mantel has a similar project of her own, or are the inaccuracies honest ones on the basis that Mantel is a novelist not a historian.
Here is a possible inaccuracy that doesn’t fit under any of the headings already in the article.
Did Anne have a fool she started calling Mary, as Hilary Mantel has it in Bring Up the Bodies?
… she pulls at her mistress’s skirts. ‘Get away, Mary,’ Anne says. She laughs at his expression. ‘Did you not know I have rebaptised my fool … (p 108)
Internet these days is a great help in purchasing one of these.
It is always a good idea to have containers which collect rainwater throughout the rainy season. There
are lots of available garden decorations that we can use to beautify our garden.
Attractive section of content. I just stumbled upon your website and in accession capital
to assert that I acquire actually enjoyed account your blog posts.
Anyway I will be subscribing to your augment and even I achievement
you access consistently quickly.
Hello everyone! I have a question. How exactly is Anne Boleyn portrayed in this book? And does anyone have a comparison between Bring up the Bodies and The Other Boleyn Girl? It’s for my thesis. Thank you!
The drama and the books give you the impression that a number of people are sneaking around Cromwell informing him or intimating to him that Anne is keeping more than court in her bedroom. Jane Rochford has all but said that Anne entertains men, she was not specific but she dropped several hints. The young Raph is reporting in episode five that the four men are competing for Anne’s bed to take Henry’s place if Henry cannot or will not give her a son. In the book we see Suffolk attempting to get to Henry, declaring that the child is not the kings, only to be prevented, wisely by Cromwell. Jane Rochford loves to stir things up. The Boleyn s act more like the Mafia or the Borgia bully boys.
Although history shows that the progress of 1535 came to Wolf Hall with the King and Queen, a progress that was something of a triumph and seems to have been a fact finding mission from the religious houses and the state of many places in the south and central areas of England. However drama and fiction love the traditional story that has Henry visit Wolf Hall with a few hunting pals and stayed without Anne. In this version he is introduced to the daughter of Sir John Seymour, formally, Lady Jane and becomes enchanted. Anne was not there in this version, and Henry gets to know her well, then asks for her to come to court, were he plays attention to Jane. At some point Henry falls for Jane and wants to serve her. History tells us he sends a letter and money which Jane returns saying he should send her money when she made a good match. Henry was pleased and courted her honourably. Henry gave Jane a locket which Anne found and tore from her neck, but a friend returned it. We know very little about their relationship until a few weeks before the announcement that Henry was going to marry her, but he must have spent time with her, at least in April 1536. He sent Jane and her family home where she was to wait until called for. Henry would inform Jane Seymour to prepare for the wedding after Anne’s fall, and she came to the house of Sir Nicholas Carew, who had trained her how to behave during Henry’s courtship.
In Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies Jane Seymour was shown as mousy, crying, shy, but I believe she was far from this. I believe she was demure and obedient, but clever and discerning, knew how to work Henry while his will prevailed. She was kind and brave, everything Henry needed in a wife after the storm that was Anne. Anne was passionate, Jane gave him peace and stability. She was concerned about his children, Anne was antagonistic. However, Anne was far from the bossy, cruel shrew of Wolf Hall.
Anne traditionally is also meant to have found Jane Seymour on the knee of Henry, blaming this and Henry’s fall on the loss of her son. There is no evidence that the court believed that Henry was dead or argued over the succession. It’s believed that Henry was out for two hours, no doubt Cromwell made plans for a possibility that he died, but he was attended by doctors, and came too with little harm. Norfolk is also blamed for alarming the Queen but he said he gave the news gently and the story is doubtful. The information about the events of that day are somewhat debated, but it is doubtful that the courtiers were screaming that Henry was dead, they may have panicked but not be certain about the truth.
Although Anne Boleyn would certainly be with Henry on this occasion, it is possible that Henry may have gone to Wolf Hall on a private visit, while out hunting, he did this from time to time, he enjoyed the peace of the homes of friends, he withdrew from the court at times when he felt bored or stressed, this may have been such a time. The tradition must have an origin, novels choose to combine FACT and fiction, it is easier.
Have to say, glad the BBC missed certain aspects from the trial in books out and concentrated on the interrogations, which were handled well. The handling of Anne’s trial and execution was powerful and moving. It was excellent.
I know what you mean! I was worried about George’s execution scene because Mantel has him crying in the book but that scene was missed entirely – phew!
Thank you for this thought-provoking article. It contains several excellent points and ‘m sure that I’ll often reread it in the weeks to come.
I personally enjoyed both Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies as works of fiction. Stylistically, I found much to admire in them.
Both novels portray Cromwell as an unreliable narrator. Mantel writes Cromwell as a corrupt man who is unaware of his own corruption. This skewed vision distorts his perception of others as well.
Character and situations are seen through his eyes and therefore readers should not consider the novels to be historically accurate. We are not invited to believe in his interpretation of events and people.
In fact, several scenes show the disconnect between his perception and reality. By the last third of Bring Up The Bodies, he has dehumanized Anne to the point that he sees her as symbol rather than a person.
Of course, I read the works as fiction, not as sources of historical facts. I can understand how they would be frustrating to someone with a background in this particular period of history.