Hilary Mantel is an impressive writer and she proves this again in The Mirror and the Light, the last book in her series on Thomas Cromwell. It was such a strange experience to move from a very negative and antagonistic view of Thomas Cromwell before I started this series to that of being sympathetic to him and mourning his inevitable death under Henry VIII. That Mantle was able to evoke such emotions and inspire sympathy for such a man is truly a sign of a good writer!
In this last book of the series that began with Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, we find Cromwell at he peak of his power and influence. After his efforts to find a way for Henry VIII to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn and then devising a path to annul the marriage to Anne and execute her for infidelity, Cromwell arranges for Henry to marry Lady Jane Seymour. Although the marriage seems to be a pleasant one, it is short lived as Jane soon dies in childbirth. Soon the political machinations on who the king should marry begin again, and Cromwell is in the thick of it trying to stop the Duke of Norfolk among others from getting the upper hand. Meanwhile he begins negotiating for the hand of Anne of Cleves, an alliance that would give Henry a more powerful position visa vis the Emperor and the Pope.
What is unclear during this time is whether Cromwell simply lets down his guard because he believes his relationship with the King makes him invulnerable or whether he has simply become less able to read the complex desires of the King. In either case he clearly misjudges the animosity that he has created among the noble class, with his meteoric rise to power, wealth and influence and he is soon fighting for his life.
For those who love history these books are a wonderful exploration on the limits of power and the ways in which we lie to ourselves about the evil we do. Mantle’s Cromwell is both enigmatic and vulnerable. He desires power, but he dislikes its use. He seems bold and fearless in his actions and yet he regrets the things he does. Mantles’ Cromwell is much more complicated and nuanced than the Cromwell I learned about in history class and I think when we can see historical figures in a larger context and with more nuance we are more likely to see ourselves in the mirror.
Brenda’s Rating: ***** (5 Out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to Sharon, Marian and Keith.
Book Study worthy? Yes!
Read in ebook format.