Hilary Mantel, the winner of the Booker Prize and the author of the acclaimed “Wolf Hall” trilogy of historical novels, has died. Her books made Tudor politics exciting and kept people turning the pages. She turned 70. The publisher HarperCollins said Friday that Mantel died “quickly and peacefully” surrounded by close family and friends.
With “Wolf Hall” and its two sequels about King Henry VIII’s right-hand man, Thomas Cromwell, in the 1600s, Mantel is said to have given historical fiction a new lease on life. “One of the best English novelists of this century,” the publisher said of Mantel.
“Many people love her work, and it’s considered a modern classic. A statement said, “She will be missed very much.”
Mantel won the Booker Prize for “Wolf Hall” in 2009 and “Bring Up the Bodies,” the sequel to “Wolf Hall,” in 2012. Both were turned into plays and shown on TV.
“The Mirror and the Light,” the last book in the series, came out in 2020. Nicholas Pearson, who had been Mantel’s editor for a long time, called her death “devastating.”
“Just last month, I sat with her in Devon on a sunny afternoon while she talked excitedly about her new book,” he said. “It hurts too much that we won’t get to hear her words anymore. We have a collection of work that will be read for many years.”
Before “Wolf Hall,” Mantel wrote novels about the French Revolution (“A Place of Greater Safety”) and the life of a psychic medium (“Beyond Black”) that were well-reviewed but didn’t sell many copies. She also wrote a book called “Giving Up the Ghost” about her years of bad health, including endometriosis that was never found and made her unable to have children.
She once said that being sick for so long ruined her dream of becoming a lawyer but turned her into a writer. The book that Mantel wrote about Cromwell made her a literary star. She made the mysterious Tudor political fixer into a complex literary hero who can be both smart and rough.
Cromwell was a self-made man who went from poverty to power. He was a crucial figure in the Reformation and helped King Henry VIII get rid of Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. Later, he helped Henry get rid of Anne Boleyn so that he could marry Jane Seymour, the third of Henry’s six wives.
The fact that the Vatican wouldn’t get rid of Henry’s first marriage made him reject the pope’s authority and put himself in charge of the Church of England.
England went from being a Roman Catholic country to a Protestant country during this time. It also went from being a mediaeval kingdom to an emerging modern state. This period has been the subject of many books, movies, and TV shows, such as “A Man for All Seasons” and “The Tudors.
But Mantel made the well-known story interesting and scary. She told The Associated Press in 2009, “I like the idea that a historical novel should be written with an eye toward the future.” “Don’t forget that the people you’re following didn’t know how their own stories would end. So, they moved forward day by day, pushed and jostled by events, doing the best they could but, essentially, walking in the dark.
In 2014, Queen Elizabeth II made Mantel a dame, which is like a knight for women. Mantel’s husband, Gerald McEwen, is the only person who will remember her.