Wolf Hall

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This article is about the novel. For the Seymour family seat in England, see Wulfhall. For the television series, see Wolf Hall (TV series).
Wolf Hall
Wolf Hall cover.jpg
Author Hilary Mantel
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Genre Historical fiction
Publisher Fourth Estate (UK)
Publication date
30 April 2009
Media type Print (hardback)
Pages 672
ISBN 0-00-723018-4
LC Class PR6063.A438 W65 2009
Followed by Bring Up the Bodies

Wolf Hall (2009) is a historical novel by English author Hilary Mantel, published by Fourth Estate, named after the Seymour family seat of Wolfhall or Wulfhall in Wiltshire. Set in the period from 1500 to 1535, Wolf Hall is a fictionalised biography documenting the rapid rise to power of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII through to the death of Sir/Saint Thomas More. The novel won both the Man Booker Prize and the National Book Critics Circle Award.[1][2] In 2012, The Observer named it as one of "The 10 best historical novels".[3]

The book is the first in a trilogy; the sequel Bring Up the Bodies was published in 2012.[4]

Historical background[edit]

Born to a working-class family of no position or name, Cromwell rose to become the right-hand man of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey, adviser to the King. He survived Wolsey's fall from grace to eventually take his place as the most powerful of Henry's ministers. In that role, he oversaw Henry's divorce from Catherine of Aragon and marriage to Anne Boleyn, the English church's break with Rome and the dissolution of the monasteries.

Historical and literary accounts have not been kind to Cromwell; in Robert Bolt's play A Man for All Seasons he is portrayed as the calculating, unprincipled opposite of Thomas More's honour and rectitude.

Mantel's novel offers an alternative to that characterisation, a more intimate portrait of Cromwell as a pragmatic and talented man attempting to serve king and country amid the political machinations of Henry's court and the religious upheavals of the Protestant reformation.


Mantel spent five years researching and writing the book; the trickiest part, she said in an interview was trying to match her version of events to the historical record.[5] To avoid contradicting history, she created a card catalogue, organised alphabetically by character, with each card containing notes indicating where a particular historical figure was on relevant dates. "You really need to know, where is the Duke of Suffolk at the moment? You can't have him in London if he's supposed to be somewhere else", she explained.


Wolf Hall includes a large cast of fictionalised historical persons. In addition to those already mentioned, prominent characters include:

The title[edit]

The title comes from the name of the Seymour family seat at Wolf Hall or Wulfhall in Wiltshire; the title's allusion to the old Latin saying Homo homini lupus ("Man is wolf to man") serves as a constant reminder of the dangerously opportunistic nature of the world through which Cromwell navigates.[6] None of the action occurs at Wolf Hall.

Critical reaction[edit]

Controversy and anti-Catholicism[edit]

However many authors and historians have criticised the narrative in Wolf Hall and the BBC adaptation, for “perversion” of historical fact, and misrepresenting the key historical figures.

According to historical expert Professor David Starkey there is “not a scrap of evidence” for the narrative, and describes the plot as “total fiction”.

Starkey, who describes himself as a “massive believer in fact” questions the popularity of the book and programme before defending Thomas More.

Simon Schama, historian and presenter of A History of Britain (TV series) also criticises the “storytelling” in Wolf Hall.

A fierce critic of Catholicism,[13] Hilary Mantel has previously courted controversy by singling out the Catholic Church for accusations of “cruelty” and “hypocrisy”, also saying “I think that nowadays the Catholic Church is not an institution for respectable people”.[14] Starkey goes on to suggest Mantel is “compounding the erroneous approach of seeing history in the light of subsequent events by her eagerness to set More against her hero, Cromwell, to make the latter appear a “'herald of the future'”.

Charges of anti-Catholicism in Mantel's novels have been expressed. Writing in the Irish Independent Mary Kenny says "it is undisputed that Wolf Hall's acclaimed author, Dame Hilary Mantel, is herself anti-Catholic. Or, what is often more ferocious, an anti-Catholic ex-Catholic." [15]

Catherine Pepinster, editor of the Catholic magazine The Tablet, described Mantel's attitude to Catholicism as harking back to a "no popery in England" era. "Wolf Hall is a respectable way of covering up old-fashioned anti-Catholic feeling." [16]

Writing also in The Tablet, Professor Eamon Duffy said More in Hilary Mantel’s character in the novel is “More as he was perceived by his enemies – a joyless puritan, a man whose social charm but cruel humour masked a steely religious bigotry”.

According to Duffy, More is presented as “a sneering misogynist who enjoys humiliating the women in his household. Above all, he is a religious fanatic, flogging himself in a fear-driven piety, obsessively writing vitriolic and obscene polemical books, implacably hunting down defenceless Protestants, imprisoning and torturing them in his own cellars.”

Professor Duffy goes on to say: "Thomas Cromwell, who helped to send St Thomas More to his death is in contrast portrayed as “a deeply human, enlightened and modern man who cuddles kittens”. [17]

Awards and nominations[edit]

  • Winner – 2009 Man Booker Prize. James Naughtie, the chairman of the Booker prize judges, said the decision to give Wolf Hall the award was "based on the sheer bigness of the book. The boldness of its narrative, its scene setting...The extraordinary way that Hilary Mantel has created what one of the judges has said was a contemporary novel, a modern novel, which happens to be set in the 16th century".[18]
  • Winner – 2009 National Book Critics Circle Award for fiction.
  • Winner – 2010 Walter Scott Prize for historical fiction.[19]
  • Winner – 2010 The Morning News Tournament of Books.[20]



In January 2013 the RSC announced that it would stage adaptations by Mike Poulton of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies in its Winter season.[21]

Tony Award-winning producers Jeffrey Ricmmhards and Jerry Frankel are aiming to bring the London productions of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies to Broadway's Winter Garden Theatre in spring 2015. The double-bill will be re-titled Wolf Hall, Parts 1 and 2 for American audiences.[22]


Main article: Wolf Hall (TV series)

In 2012 the BBC announced that it would be adapting Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies for BBC Two, to be broadcast in 2015.[23] On 8 March 2013, the BBC reported that Mark Rylance had been cast as Thomas Cromwell.[24]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Wolf Hall wins the 2009 Man Booker Prize for Fiction : Man Booker Prize news". Themanbookerprize.com. 6 October 2009. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  2. ^ "National Book Critics Circle: awards". Bookcritics.org. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  3. ^ Skidelsky, William (13 May 2012). "The 10 best historical novels". The Observer (Guardian Media Group). Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  4. ^ William Georgiades (4 May 2012). "Hilary Mantel's Heart of Stone". The Slate Book Review. Slate.com. Retrieved 6 May 2012. 
  5. ^ Alter, Alexandra (13 November 2009). "How to Write a Great Novel". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  6. ^ "Historical sketches of the Reformation : Lee, Frederick George, 1832–1902 : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". Archive.org. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  7. ^ Christopher Tayler (2 May 2009). "Henry's fighting dog". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  8. ^ Bassnett, Susan (9 February 2012). "Pseuds' Corner: What Makes a Book 'Unpickupable?'". Times Higher Education. Retrieved 24 March 2012. 
  9. ^ Olivia Laing (26 April 2009). "Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel". The Observer (London). Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  10. ^ Bennett, Vanora (25 April 2009). "Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel". The Times (London). Retrieved 6 September 2010. 
  11. ^ "Starkey on Wolf Hall: 'a deliberate perversion of fact'". January 26, 2015. 
  12. ^ "What historians think of historical novels". February 13, 2015. 
  13. ^ "Sir Thomas More: saint or sinner?". January 20, 2015. 
  14. ^ "Hilary Mantel: Catholic Church is not for respectable people". May 13, 2012. 
  15. ^ http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/more-the-gurrier-how-wolf-hall-reshapes-history-30984500.html
  16. ^ http://www.independent.ie/entertainment/television/more-the-gurrier-how-wolf-hall-reshapes-history-30984500.html
  17. ^ http://www.catholicireland.net/concern-anti-catholic-bias-bbcs-wolf-hall/
  18. ^ "Wolf Hall author takes home Booker prize". China.org.cn. 8 October 2009. Retrieved 11 June 2010. 
  19. ^ Flood, Alison (1 April 2010). "Booker rivals clash again on Walter Scott prize shortlist". The Guardian (London). 
  20. ^ "April 5, 2010 Championship". The Morning News. 
  21. ^ "David Tennant to play Richard II at the RSC". Daily Telegraph. 23 January 2013. Retrieved 23 January 2013. 
  22. ^ Hetrick, Adam & Shenton, Mark. "Broadway Producers Eye Winter Garden with Brit Import of Wolf Hall Double-Bill" Playbill.com, 10 September 2014.
  23. ^ "Wolf Hall adaptation planned for BBC Two". BBC News. 24 August 2012. Retrieved 28 March 2013. 
  24. ^ "Mark Rylance set for Hilary Mantel TV drama". BBC News. 8 March 2013. Retrieved 14 October 2013. 

External links[edit]

Preceded by
The White Tiger
Man Booker Prize recipient
Succeeded by
The Finkler Question