Book Review: “Wolf Hall Companion” by Lauren Mackay

52659696 (1)One of the most popular Tudor historical fiction series in recent memory has revolved around the enigmatic Thomas Cromwell. Of course, I am talking about the famous Wolf Hall trilogy by Dame Hilary Mantel. As many dive into this monumental series, certain questions arise. How true is Mantel’s portrayal of Cromwell and the court of Henry VIII during some of the most tumultuous times of his reign? What was life like for those who lived in privilege during Henry VIII’s reign? How did Cromwell rise to the pinnacle of power and why did he fall spectacularly? In Dr. Lauren Mackay’s third book, she takes up the monumental task of explaining to readers what is fact and what is fiction in Mantel’s series. Her book is aptly titled “Wolf Hall Companion”. 

I would like to thank Batsford Books and Net Galley for allowing me the opportunity to read and review this book. I will admit that I have not yet read the Wolf Hall trilogy, but this book might have convinced me to take up the challenge and read the trilogy soon.

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”.

Book Review: “Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn” by Lauren Mackay

71viExOsCxLThe age of the Tudors has fascinated historians for centuries. As of recently, there has been a shift in how we view historical figures. Historians have been stripping away the more controversial elements that have been ingrained in how we view historical figures to look for the truth. Historical figures like Anne and Mary Boleyn have been placed under the microscope and have been given a closer look in recent years. But what about the men of Boleyn family, Thomas, and George? What were their lives really like? Did they truly desire power and titles so much that they were willing to do anything to get it? Those are the questions that Lauren Mackay decided to explore in her latest book, “Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn.”

Mackay explains her goal for writing this book about Thomas and George Boleyn:

This book attempts to dispel the traditional stereotypes, relying on the textual traces of both Boleyn men, which are dispersed in a wide variety of sources across English and European archives and libraries. I want to present a more complete account of these men- their political and personal trajectories, the evolution of their careers, and what mattered to them. Where judgment can be made it has been done so cautiously. In the absence of any extensive scholarly consideration, they have remained captive to a dated historiography which is a reflection of the frame within which the world continues to view them, and from which this book seeks to unburden them. While this is a biography of two generations of Boleyns, I should note that there is far more evidence on Thomas than George, whose career had barely taken off before he was executed, therefore a great deal of the book naturally follows Thomas’ lengthy career with George brought in as the evidence allows. (Mackay, 5).

In order to understand the Boleyns, Mackay begins her book with a brief history of the Boleyn family and how they were able to come into the service of the English monarchy. It is interesting to read how the Boleyns came from such humble beginnings and their loyalty to the Tudors and the Lancastrians during the Wars of the Roses. While brief, this part of this book is imperative to understand how loyal and hardworking the Boleyn men were, especially the father Thomas Boleyn.

Both Thomas and George were diplomats and were part of embassies and special envoys in order to establish good relationships with other countries through discussions and treaties. Mackay takes time to explain these political terms for those readers who do not understand how 16th-century politics work. As someone who wanted to know more about the political system of the 16th century, this helped me quite a bit. Thomas earned respect and many of his titles through his own merits, although there are some who believe that he gained some of his titles through his daughters’ affairs with King Henry VIII. We see the rise of the Boleyns as well as the inevitable fall of Anne and George that lead to their executions.

Lauren Mackay gives us a more realistic perspective of Thomas and George Boleyn. They were not men who would do anything for power. Thomas was a man loyal to the crown and his family while George was a young and naive man who was trying to follow in the footsteps of his father. Thomas and George had their names dragged through the mud by people who did not like them. Mackay’s book breathes new life to the legacy of the Boleyns. “Among the Wolves of Court: The Untold Story of Thomas and George Boleyn” by Lauren Mackay is a perfect introduction for anyone who is interested in the inner workings of the English court during the early years of Henry VIII’s reign and a fascinating look into the Boleyns and their legacy.