Booker Prize winner whose Wolf Hall captivated a generation – Obituary

Writer Hilary Mantel at Buckingham Palace after receiving a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II.

Dame Hilary Mantel, one of Britain’s most acclaimed writers, immersed a generation of readers in the turbulent and unforgiving world of Henry VIII’s court.

Her Wolf Hall Trilogy, which spanned Thomas Cromwell’s life in captivating detail, made her an international star and won her two Booker Prizes.

But she was also an authority on the royal family and how the political events of the distant past are reflected so clearly in the events of today.

The Man Booker Prize
Dame Hilary Mantel with her acclaimed book Wolf Hall (Ian West/PA)

Dame Hilary was born in Derbyshire in 1952 and educated at a convent in Cheshire.

She studied at the London School of Economics and the University of Sheffield before becoming a social worker in a geriatric hospital.

Although these experiences were brief, they later inspired her novels Every Day Is Mother’s Day and Vacant Possession.

In 1977, she moved to Botswana with her husband, then a geologist, and in 1982, they settled in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

Her first novel, Every Day Is Mother’s Day, was published in 1985 and she returned to the UK the following year.

In 1987 she became the film critic for Spectator magazine, and even in her later career she continued to criticize for a wide range of publications.

By this point she had begun to regularly win literary prizes and her fourth novel, Fludd, won the Cheltenham Festival Prize, the Southern Arts Literature Prize and the Winifred Holtby Prize.

Her fifth novel, A Place Of Greater Safety, won the Sunday Express Book of the Year Award.

Beyond Black, published in 2005, was shortlisted for the Prix Orange.

In 2009 she published Wolf Hall, the first book in her acclaimed trilogy about Cromwell’s rapid rise to power during the time of Henry VIII.

The work won the 2009 Booker Prize, along with its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, to rave reviews.

The third and final book in the trilogy, The Mirror And The Light, was released in 2020.

The first two series were adapted into a BBC Two show starring Sir Mark Rylance as Cromwell and Damian Lewis as Henry VIII.

It was a critical success and attracted an average audience of over four million viewers, with Sir Mark winning a TV Bafta for his performance.

The trilogy was also adapted for the stage, starring Ben Miles as Cromwell.

Throughout her life, Dame Hilary suffered from a severe form of endometriosis which took many years to be diagnosed.

She required surgical menopause in her late twenties, leaving her unable to have children, and she continued to need treatment throughout her life.

The female body would remain a central theme in her books, and she later became a patron and supporter of the SHE Trust Endometriosis.

Mantel has been outspoken on a number of topics including Brexit, saying in 2021 she hoped to obtain Irish citizenship, leave the country and become “a European” again.

In an interview with Italian newspaper La Repubblica, she described the UK as “an artificial and precarious construct”.

She also criticized the Catholic Church in 2012, saying it was no longer “an institution for respectable people”.

In an interview with the Telegraph, she added: “When I was a child I wondered why priests and nuns weren’t nicer people. I thought they were some of the worst people I know.

This prompted some to suggest that there was an anti-Catholic thread running through the Wolf Hall trilogy.

Mantel has also been outspoken in his wish for the UK to become a republic, describing “the howling phenomenon of monarchy” as “irrational”.

She was appointed CBE in 2006 and Dame in 2014.

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