‘Wolf Hall’ author Hilary Mantel dies suddenly aged 70

LONDON (AP) – 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, her publisher said Friday. She was 70.

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

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

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

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

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

The final part of the trilogy, “The Mirror and the Light”, was released in 2020.

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

“Only last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon as she talked excitedly about the new novel she had started,” he said. “That we don’t get the pleasure of more of her words is unbearable. What we have is a 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 life as a psychic medium (“Beyond Black”).

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

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

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

“We will miss her immensely, 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 a convent school and then studied at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University. She worked as a social worker in a geriatric hospital, an experience she drew on for her first two novels, “Everyday is Mother’s Day,” published in 1985, and “Vacant Possession,” which followed the next 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 about Cromwell made her a literary superstar. She transformed the shadowy Tudor political fixer into a compelling, complex literary hero, by turns brooding and troubled.

A self-made man who rose from poverty to power, Cromwell was an architect of the Reformation, helping King Henry VIII realize his desire 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 authority of the Pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

The dramatic period saw England transform from a Roman Catholic to a Protestant nation, from the medieval kingdom to the new 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 familiar story exciting and suspenseful.

“I’m very keen on the idea that a historical novel should be written forward,” she told The Associated Press in 2009. “Remember that the people you’re following didn’t know the end of their own story. So they went forward today for day, pressed and pushed by circumstances, and did the best they could, but essentially walked in the dark.”

Mantel also turned a sharp eye to Britain’s modern royalty. A 2013 lecture in which she described the former Kate Middleton, wife of Prince William, as a “shop window mannequin, without her own personality”, drew the ire of the British tabloid press.

Mantel said she was not talking about the duchess herself, but rather was describing a view of Kate constructed by the press and public opinion. The author nevertheless received criticism from, among others, then Prime Minister David Cameron.

Right-wing commentators also took issue with a short story entitled “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher”, which depicted an attack on the Conservative leader. It was published in 2014, the same year Queen Elizabeth II made the Mantel a Dame, 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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