What is the true story behind the blockbuster Wolf Hall trilogy—and of Thomas Cromwell, its principal protagonist? This companion guide concisely illuminates both Cromwell’s life and Tudor history, covering the books’ key court and political characters. It looks at everyone from Cromwell to Anne Boleyn, Thomas Cranmer to Jane Seymour, Henry VIII to Thomas Howard, and Cardinal Wolsey to Richard Fox, as well as the most significant sites, including Hampton Court, Cromwell's home Austin Friars, and of course Wolf Hall. Along with the full history of these people and places, there’s insight into Hilary Mantel's individual interpretation. Family trees, plans of Tower of London, and beautiful woodcut portraits accompany the text, along with incisive features on various aspects of Tudor society, from the structure of government and royal hunting to the rules of courtly love and Tudor executions. This beautiful and insightful book enriches the reading of Mantel’s work.
Reviews of the Wolf Hall Companion
"This companion to the "Wolf Hall" trilogy, a publishing juggernaut, is a gem. Dr Mackay, whose previous published works include biographies of Eustace Chapuys and Thomas Boleyn, weaves in and out of Mantel's Tudor-inspired novels. Rather than a dry discussion, it is well written, lively, and thoughtful. I also loved the accompanying illustrations, vaguely in the style of modernised early modern woodcuts.
Mackay manages well the tricky task of balancing her critiques on the novels' much-vaunted accuracy with her respect for their beautiful prose. So convincing was Mantel's gorgeous writing that historians are now routinely confronted with the question, indeed the assumption, the novel's storyline that Thomas Cromwell sentimentally chose the men to frame as Anne Boleyn's lovers because they had participated in a mean-spirited masque mocking his mentor Cardinal Wolsey a few years earlier. (That, as is a novel's right, is a complete fiction; Henry Norris, identified as one of the Wolsey-mockers in the novel was, in reality, one of the few courtiers to go out of his way to show the Cardinal some kindness after he fell.) Going through a companion piece which constantly harps on with, "Well, actually, what happened was..." would be a depressing enough task for any reader and Mackay avoids it. Given that she completed her PhD on the Boleyn men, she is refreshingly magnanimous about the trilogy's depressingly one-note characterisation of the Boleyns, particularly Thomas's son, George, who emerges from the "Wolf Hall" novels as a demented, unlikeable, talentless idiot, somewhere between the monstrous and the moronic. (Anne, it has to be said, fares little better, but perhaps that's to be expected in a novel rehabilitating Cromwell, whose most nebulous action surely was how he behaved will destroying Anne in 1536.) Dr Mackay also highlights Mantel's achingly tangible portrayals of the places, everyday life, and etiquette in Thomas Cromwell's London - for me personally, Mantel's descriptions of palaces, suppers, and fireside chats have an immediacy, a realness, which takes the breath away. Dr Mackay has written a thoughtful, well-researched, respectful, moving, and intelligent companion to Hilary Mantel's beloved trilogy of novels; in the process, reminding us why "Wolf Hall" and its two sequels have become beloved by millions of readers across the world."
-Gareth Russell, Historian
"Lauren Mackay’s new book is impeccably researched, breaking down the detail into bite sized chunks that are incredibly readable. Difficult to put down!"
-Dr Elizabeth Norton
"This is the perfect companion to Mantel's trilogy. Mackay is clear from the outset that this is not a straightforward biography and I loved how the story was woven into the history- Dr Mackay is a masterful writer and brought the historical and fictional strands together really well. Highly recommended."
-From Amazon UK
"Mackay starts this delightful book by exploring Thomas Cromwell’s origins and what his family life was like. To uncover the truth about Cromwell’s life, Mackay relies heavily on the behemoth biography of Cromwell written by Diarmaid MacCulloch, which makes perfect sense. She also looks into the lives of those who either influenced Cromwell or were affected by Cromwell’s decisions. People like Anne Boleyn and the entire Boleyn family, Cardinal Wolsey, Katherine of Aragon, Thomas Cranmer, Anne of Cleves, and Stephen Gardner just to name a few. Mackay balances how Mantel portrays these figures in her novels with the facts that we know about them and the events from numerous sources.
Mackay also tackles the aspects of the Tudor court and life that adds another layer of details for readers. Things like important holidays, how Henry VIII’s court was structured, gentlemanly activities and sports, and the Renaissance and the Reformation. It breathes new life into the Tudor dynasty and the people who lived during this time.
Mackay’s challenge is how to write a book that is just as engaging for the readers as Mantel’s trilogy while still being educational and informative while incorporating her feelings about these novels. It is not an easy task, but Mackay can take on this task and write a gorgeous companion piece, with exquisite woodcut images to follow the story of Thomas Cromwell’s life, his rise to power, and his downfall.
I found this companion book a sheer delight. A combination of being well-researched, bite-size biographies, and gorgeous woodcut illustrations make this book an absolute treat for fans of Wolf Hall and the Tudor dynasty alike. The way Mackay describes Mantel’s writing style and how she created her characters may not be the way I envision them, but that is the great thing about historical fiction. It can challenge your views about a person while still being entertaining. I wish more historical fiction series had companion books like this one. If you are a fan of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy or if you just love learning about the Tudor dynasty from a different point of view, you need to check out Lauren Mackay’s latest masterpiece, Wolf Hall Companion."
-Adventures of a Tudor Nerd