“This is what Henry does. He uses people up. He takes all they give him and more. When he is finished with them he is noisier and fatter and they are husks or corpses.”
Thomas Cromwell has given a lot to King Henry. The Mirror and the Light starts with the husk of Anne Boleyn being turned into a corpse so that the King is free to move on to sweet Jane Seymour. Cromwell has gotten rid of the wife he got for his King, and with the change of Queen the precarious structures of power and influence at the Tudor court shift.
Cromwell walks a complex path between his own heretical beliefs, his fondness for Catholic Princess Mary, the pragmatism of his dismantling of the monastic orders, his growing slate of enemies, the fickleness of the King’s regard. And as he rises higher, his humble origins weigh on him more.
Even without the foreknowledge of history, Cromwell’s fate is inevitable once the match he has arranged with Anna/Anne of Cleves overspends his capital with the King. He knows it himself. “We are playing chess in the dark. On a board made of jelly. With chessmen of butter.” But he plays on, because what else can he do?
Mantel skilfully plants the breadcrumbs that lead to Cromwell’s downfall. The slights and oversights that bring his enemies close to home, and the actions and inactions that can be refracted into the appearance of treason. And the mirror of memory is shone on the events of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies to show just how far back the trail begins.
This final chapter of the trilogy is a very satisfying end to a truly great work of historical fiction.