Hilary Mantel, acclaimed British author of Wolf Hall saga, dies at age 70

Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author who turned Tudor power politics into fiction in the critically acclaimed book Wolf Hall trilogy of historical novels, has passed away, her publisher said Friday. She was 70.

Mantel passed away “sudden but peacefully” on Thursday, surrounded by close family and friends, according to publisher HarperCollins.

Mantel is credited with reinvigorating historical fiction with Wolf Hall and two sequels about 16th-century English power broker Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to King Henry VIII.

2009 Booker Prize winner for fiction Hilary Mantel with their book 'Wolf Hall' poses for photographers after the announcement in central London on 6 October 2009.
Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author of the critically acclaimed Wolf Hall saga of historical novels, has passed away (AP Photo / Alastair Grant)

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

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

Mantel won the prestigious Booker Prize twice, for Wolf Hall in 2009 and the sequel Raise the bodies in 2012. Both were adapted for stage and television.

The last part of the trilogy, The mirror and the lightappeared in 2020.

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

Hilary Mantel, winner of the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, poses with a copy of her book 'Bring up the Bodies' shortly after the awards ceremony in central London, on October 16, 2012.
Mantel is credited with breathing new life into historical fiction with Wolf Hall and two sequels about 16th-century English power broker Thomas Cromwell (AP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis)

“Last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon, talking excitedly about the new novel she had begun,” he said.

‘It is unbearable that we will no longer enjoy her words. What we do have is an oeuvre that will be read for generations.’

Before Wolf HallMantel was the acclaimed but modest-selling author of novels on subjects ranging from the French Revolution (A place with more safety) to the life of a psychic medium (Beyond black).

She also wrote a memoir, Giving up the ghostwho recorded years of ill health, including undiagnosed endometriosis that left her infertile.

She once said that the years of illness messed up her dream of becoming a lawyer, but turned her into a writer.

From left to right, authors, Malaysian Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Will Self, holding his book, above, Alison Moore and Jeet Thayil, from India, Man Booker Prize nominee, holding copies of their books during a photo interview at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, on October 15, 2012
From left to right, authors, Malaysian Tan Twan Eng, Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Will Self, holding his book, above, Alison Moore and Jeet Thayil, from India, Man Booker Prize nominee, holding copies of their books during a photo interview at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, on October 15, 2012 (AP Photo / Lefteris Pitarakis)

Mantel’s literary agent, Bill Hamilton, said the author dealt “stoically” with chronic health problems.

“We will miss her immeasurably, but as a shining light for writers and readers she leaves an extraordinary legacy,” he said.

Born in Derbyshire in central England in 1952, Mantel attended monastic school before studying at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She worked as a social worker in a geriatric hospital, an experience she used for her first two novels, Everyday is Mother’s Daypublished in 1985, and Empty propertywhich followed the following year.

In the 1970s and 1980s, she lived in Botswana and Saudi Arabia with her husband, Gerald McEwen, a geologist.

Mantel had been a published novelist for nearly 25 years when her first book on Cromwell turned her into a literary superstar. She turned the shadowy Tudor political fixer into a compelling, complex literary hero, by turns thoughtful and brutal.

Author and winner of the 2012 Costa Book of the Year Award Hilary Mantel poses for photographers at the Costa Book Awards ceremony in London on January 29, 2013.
Author and winner of the 2012 Costa Book of the Year Award Hilary Mantel poses for photographers at the Costa Book Awards ceremony in London on January 29, 2013. (AP Photo/Alastair Grant)

Cromwell, a self-made man who rose from poverty to power, was a Reformation architect who helped King Henry VIII realize his wish to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn – and later, to get 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 pope’s authority and install himself as head of the Church of England.

During the dramatic period England changed from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant country, from a medieval kingdom to an emerging modern state, and it has inspired countless books, films and television series, from A man for all seasons until The Tudors.

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

“I’m very excited about the idea that a historical novel should be written forward,” she told The Associated Press in 2009.

“Remember, the people you follow didn’t know the end of their own story. So they went forward day after day, pushed and pushed by circumstances, trying their best, but essentially walking in the dark.”

Mantel also had a keen eye on the contemporary British royal family. A 2013 lecture in which she described the former Kate Middleton, Prince William’s wife, as a “mannequin, with no personality of its own” drew the ire of the British tabloid press.

Mantel said she wasn’t talking about the Duchess herself, but rather described an image of Kate being constructed by the press and public opinion. Yet the author was criticized by, among others, then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Right-wing commentators also disagreed with a short story titled The Murder of Margaret Thatcher, which proposed an attack on the conservative leader. It was published in 2014, the same year that Queen Elizabeth II made Mantle a lady, the female equivalent of a knight.

Mantel remained politically outspoken. An opponent of Brexit, she said in 2021 that she hoped to gain Irish citizenship and become “a European again”.

Mantel is survived by her husband.

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