Who is telling the story is as important as the story itself.
Bring Up the Bodies could easily be called The World According to Thomas. I would much rather read Thomas Cromwell's interpretation of the Tudor world, its subtle complexities of relationships and not so subtle power schemes, than another histrionic rendering of Henry done Anne wrong. And Henry most certainly did do Anne wrong. But, enough.
Thomas Cromwell set out to make or mar. He was successful in both.
England's Reformation and the morality play of Henry and Anne is recounted through Thomas Cromwell's ever watchful eyes, and told with the humorous and razor sharp intelligent voice Hilary Mantel channeled for Henry VIII's most loyal and adept subject.
Tudor England is equal parts ideological revolution, bawdy soap opera, and den of wolves. Henry is the alpha wolf, while the majority of his court are biding time, sharpening their claws, and waiting for the sight of vulnerable bared flesh to sate their blood lust.
Henry VIII tore his country apart, spat in Rome's eye, and in the process became both Church and State. He discarded his Queen and made his daughter Mary a bastard, ruthlessly murdered scholars, advisers, friends, on a whim and with impunity, all for a woman he eventually tired of, and had killed.
Thomas Cromwell served his lord and master well. He made Henry rich. He granted Henry's every wish. If Henry wanted a new wife, he got him a divorce, or a beheading. If Henry wanted a new law, He, Cromwell, made it so.
He, Cromwell, was the man that made England. Thomas Cromwell pushed England kicking and screaming out of the Middle Ages into the golden light of what would become the Renaissance under Elizabeth.
Through Mantel's brilliant and gripping prose, Cromwell emerges as a self-made Renaissance man, second to none in power and ability. This was his downfall. We'll have to wait to learn the specifics of his fate, in Mantel's third, and last Book of Thomas, The Mirror and the Light.
p. 8 "In this part of England our forefathers the giants left their earthworks, their barrows and standing stones. we still have, every Englishman and woman, some drops of giant blood in our veins."
p. 29 "The king is wearing an expression he has seen before, though on beast, rather than man. He looks stunned, like a veal calf knocked on the head by a butcher."
p. 33 "Where the word of a king is, there is power, and who may say to him, what doest thou?"
p. 34 "Full bellies breed gentle manners. The pinch of famine makes monsters."
p. 41 "But look, never mind all this. Queens come and go. So recent history has shown us. Let us think about how to pay for England, her king's great charges, the cost of charity and the cost of justice, the cost of keeping her enemies beyond her shores."
p. 43 "In a generation everything can change."
p. 63 "All our labors, our sophistry, all our learning both acquired or pretended; the stratagems of state, the lawyers' decrees, the churchmen's curses, and the grave resolutions of judges, sacred and secular; all and each can be defeated by a woman's body, can they not?
p. 67 "He thinks of what Gardiner said: you should write a book yourself, that would be something to see. If he did, it would be The Book Called Henry: how to read him, how to serve him, how pest to preserve him."
p. 91 "God is beyond translation."
p. 136 "Death is your prince, you are not his patron; when you think he is engaged elsewhere, he will batter down your door, walk in and wipe his boots on you."
p. 179 "Who can understand the lives of women?"
p. 209 "You can be merry with the king, you can share a joke with him. But as Thomas More used to say, it's like sporting with a tamed lion. You tousle its mane and pull its ears, but all the time you're thinking, those claws, those claws, those claws."
p. 239 "The queen is plotting something, I know not what, something devious, something dark, perhaps so dark she herself does not know what it is, and as yet is only dreaming of it: but I must be quick, I must dream it for her, I shall dream it into being."
p. 281 "The things you think are disasters in your life are not the disasters really. almost anything can be turned around: out of every ditch, a path, if you can only see it."
p. 299 "He, Cromwell, takes hold of her -- since no one else will do it -- and sets her back on her feet. She weighs nothing, and as he lifts her, her wail breaks off as if her breath had been stopped. Silent, she steadies herself against his shoulder, leans into him: intent, complicit, ready for the next thing they will do together, which is kill her."
p. 330 "Life pays you out."
p. 331 "He once thought he might die of grief: for his wife, his daughters, his sisters, his father and master the cardinal. But the pulse, obdurate, keeps its rhythm."
p. 334 "Henry killed his father's councillors. He killed the Duke of Buckingham. He destroyed the cardinal and harried him to his death, and struck the head off one of Europe's great scholars. Now he plans to kill his wife and her family and Norris who has been his closest friend. What makes you think it will be different with you, that you are not equal of any of these men?"
p. 353 "He changes his mind, day to day. he would like to rework the past. He would like never to have seen Anne. He would like to have seen her, but to have seen through her. Mostly he wishes her dead."
p. 387 "...the king, like the minotaur, breathes unseen in a labyrinth of rooms."
p. 397 "The man is behind Anne, she is misdirected, she does not sense him. There is a groan, one single sound from the whole crowd. Then a silence, and into that silence, a sharp sigh or sound like a whistle through a keyhole: the body exsanguinates, and its flat little presence becomes a puddle of gore."
p. 400 "A gentleman asked me, if this is what Cromwell does to the cardinal's lesser enemies, what will he do by and by to the king himself?"
p. 405 "...this is what death does to you, it takes and takes, so that all that is left of your memories is a faint tracing of spilled ash."
p. 406 "His next task is somehow to reconcile the king and the Lady Mary, to save Henry from killing his own daughter; and before that, to stop Mary's friends from killing him. He has helped them to their new world, the world without Anne Boleyn, and now they will think they can do without Cromwell too."
p. 407 "...they will sift through what remains and remark, here is an old deed, and old draft, an old letter from Thomas Cromwell's time: they will turn the page over, and write on me."
British Council Literature
The New York Review of Books
The Washington Times
The New Yorker
p. 67 crenellate
p. 93 tonsured
p. 121 oppobrious
p. 135 exigency
p. 144 stertorous
p. 172 suborn
p. 193 emollience
p. 218 condign
p. 235 sotto
p. 322 equipoise