Hilary Mantel death: British author of Wolf Hall trilogy dies aged 70

Writer died ‘suddenly yet peacefully’ on 22 September

Hilary Mantel is made a dame in 2015

Dame Hilary Mantel has been hailed as “one of the greatest novelists of our time” after it was announced she has died following a stroke aged 70.

The British author was best known for the Wolf Hall trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell, which brought international acclaim and won two Booker Prizes.

She died “suddenly yet peacefully, surrounded by close family and friends” on Thursday (22 September), her publisher HarperCollins said.

“Hilary Mantel was one of the greatest English novelists of this century and her beloved works are considered modern classics. She will be greatly missed.”

Nicola Sturgeon and Caitlin Moran are among the public figures who have led tributes to Mantel.

Her Wolf Hall trilogy has been translated into 41 languages and sold more than five million copies worldwide.

The books in the trilogy are fictional accounts of the life of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power in Henry VIII’s court. The first book, Wolf Hall, and its sequel Bring Up the Bodies, won the Booker Prize in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

Mantel was the first woman and fourth person to receive the award twice, following in the footsteps of JM Coetzee, Peter Carey and JG Farrell. The third instalment of the trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, was released in 2020 and was longlisted for the Booker Prize that year.

Mantel published a new photography book, The Wolf Hall Picture Book, just this month. It was created with actor Ben Miles and his photographer brother, George.

In an interview earlier this month, Mantel was asked whether she believes in an afterlife, to which she replied: “Yes. I can’t imagine how it might work. However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine.”

Born in Derbyshire, Mantel studied at the London School of Economics before living and working in Botswana and Saudi Arabia. It was while living in Saudi Arabia that she published her first novel, Every Day is Mother’s Day, in 1985. She later said that leaving Jeddah felt like “the happiest day of [her] life”.

Mantel went on to write a further 12 novels, including Eight Months on Ghazzah Street (1988), which drew on her life in Saudi Arabia and explored the clashing of cultures.

Subsequent novels that drew critical acclaim were 1992’s A Place of Greater Safety, 1996’s An Experiment in Love, and 2005’s Beyond Black.

Hilary Mantel pictured in March 2020

She was awarded a CBE in the 2006 Birthday Honours and made a dame in 2014.

Mantel was known for her views on the royal family and once made headlines for suggesting the monarchy could be facing “the endgame”, and may not “outlast William”.

In a lecture she gave in 2013, titled “Royal Bodies”, Mantel caused controversy when she described the then-Duchess of Cambridge as a “plastic princess”. These comments were met with backlash, including from then-prime minister David Cameron.

Mantel defended her comments, explaining that she was talking about “the way we maltreat royal persons, making them one superhuman, and yet less than human”.

Mantel made headlines again when, in a 2014 interview published in The Guardian, she admitted she had fantasised about the murder of Margaret Thatcher in 1983, and fictionalised the event in a short story called “The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher: 6 August 1983”.

Allies of Thatcher called for a police investigation, to which Mantel responded: “Bringing in the police for an investigation was beyond anything I could have planned or hoped for, because it immediately exposes them to ridicule.”

Bill Hamilton, who was Mantel’s agent throughout her career, said it had been “the greatest privilege” to work with the writer: “Her wit, stylistic daring, creative ambition and phenomenal historical insight mark her out as one of the greatest novelists of our time,” he said.

“Emails from Hilary were sprinkled with bon mots and jokes as she observed the world with relish and pounced on the lazy or absurd and nailed cruelty and prejudice.

“There was always a slight aura of otherworldliness about her, as she saw and felt things us ordinary mortals missed, but when she perceived the need for confrontation she would fearlessly go into battle.”

Ben Miles, who played Cromwell in the Royal Shakespeare Company production of Wolf Hall, echoed his words, saying Mantel was “one of the greatest writers of our time,” adding: “She was an extraordinary woman. A good friend and a close colleague.”

Mantel suffered chronic illness throughout her adult life, with a severe form of endometriosis leaving her unable to have children.

“Sometimes people try to persuade me that it’s made me a better writer in some way, or that it has meant that I could keep the world at bay,” she told The Times in 2012. “But I’d rather cope with the world than cope with pain, and the uncertainty that goes with it.”

Mantel married geologist Gerald McEwen in 1973. They divorced in 1981 but remarried in 1982. She is survived by him.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Register for free to continue reading

Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism

By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists

Already have an account? sign in

By clicking ‘Register’ you confirm that your data has been entered correctly and you have read and agree to our Terms of use, Cookie policy and Privacy notice.

This site is protected by reCAPTCHA and the Google Privacy policy and Terms of service apply.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

Comments

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in