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Hilary Mantel, award-winning author of ‘Wolf Hall’ trilogy, dies at 70

Her novels turned Tudor political fixer Thomas Cromwell into a compelling literary character.
Hilary Mantel, author of the "Wolf Hall" trilogy, has died at 70.
Hilary Mantel, author of the "Wolf Hall" trilogy, has died at 70. [ ELS ZWEERINK | Els Zweerink ]
Published Sep. 23|Updated Sep. 23

LONDON — Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author who turned Tudor power politics into page-turning fiction in the acclaimed “Wolf Hall” trilogy of historical novels, has died. She was 70.

Mantel died “suddenly yet peacefully” surrounded by close family and friends, publisher HarperCollins said Friday.

Mantel is credited with reenergizing historical fiction with “Wolf Hall” and two sequels about the 16th century English powerbroker Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to King Henry VIII.

The publisher said Mantel was “one of the greatest English novelists of this century.”

“Her beloved works are considered modern classics. She will be greatly missed,” it said in a statement.

Mantel won the Booker Prize twice, for “Wolf Hall” in 2009 and its sequel “Bring Up the Bodies” in 2012. Both were adapted for the stage and television.

The final instalment, “The Mirror and the Light,” was published in 2020.

Related: Read a review of "The Mirror and the Light."

Nicholas Pearson, Mantel’s longtime editor, said her death was “devastating.”

“Only last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon, while she talked excitedly about the new novel she had embarked on,” he said. “That we won’t have the pleasure of any more of her words is unbearable. What we do have is a body of work that will be read for generations.”

Before “Wolf Hall,” Mantel was the critically acclaimed but modestly selling author of novels on subjects ranging from the French Revolution (“A Place of Greater Safety”) to the life of a psychic medium (“Beyond Black”).

She also wrote a memoir, “Giving Up the Ghost,” that chronicled years of ill-health, including undiagnosed endometriosis that left her infertile.

She once said the years of illness wrecked her dream of becoming a lawyer but made her a writer.

Mantel’s book about Cromwell turned her into a literary superstar. She turned the shadowy Tudor political fixer into a compelling, complex literary hero, by turns thoughtful and thuggish.

A self-made man who rose from poverty to power, Cromwell was an architect of the Reformation who helped King Henry VIII realize his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn — and later, to be rid of Boleyn so he could marry Jane Seymour, the third of what would be Henry’s six wives.

The Vatican’s refusal to annul Henry’s first marriage led the monarch to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The dramatic period saw England transformed from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant nation, from medieval kingdom to emerging modern state, and it has inspired countless books, films and television series, from “A Man for All Seasons” to “The Tudors.”

But Mantel managed to make the well-known story exciting and suspenseful.

“I’m very keen on the idea that a historical novel should be written pointing forward,” she told The Associated Press in 2009. “Remember that the people you are following didn’t know the end of their own story. So they were going forward day by day, pushed and jostled by circumstances, doing the best they could, but walking in the dark, essentially.”

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Queen Elizabeth II made Mantel a dame, the female equivalent of a knight, in 2014.

Mantel is survived by her husband, Gerald McEwen.

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