The Mirror & the Light: Main Characters

In preparation for The Mirror and the Light publishing next month, let us help you shine a light on the main characters of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy.

The Living

‘Thomas Cromwell?’ people say. ‘That is an ingenious man. Do you know he has the whole of the New Testament by heart?’ He is the very man if an argument about God breaks out; he is the very man for telling your tenants twelve good reasons why their rents are fair. He is the man to cut through some legal entangle- ment that’s ensnared you for three generations, or talk your sniffling little daughter into the marriage she swears she will never make. With animals, women and timid litigants, his manner is gentle and easy; but he makes your creditors weep. He can converse with you about the Caesars or get you Venetian glassware at a very reasonable rate. Nobody can out-talk him, if he wants to talk.

Thomas Cromwell, later Lord Cromwell, whose titles include Secretary to the King, Master of the Rolls, Chancellor of the Exchequer, Chancellor of Cambridge University, Master of King’s Jewel House and Vicegerent in Spirituals, serving as the king’s deputy in church matters

Rafe Sadler, his chief clerk, raised like a son

Gregory Cromwell, his son and sole surviving child

Richard Cromwell, his nephew, referred to as ‘cousin’ by the King for their shared Welsh blood

Thomas Wriothesley, known as Call-Me-Risley, now Clerk of the Signet: possibly a spy for Stephen Gardiner?

You could watch Henry every day for a decade and not see the same thing. Choose your prince: he admires Henry more and more. Sometimes he seems hapless, sometimes feckless, sometimes a child, sometimes master of his trade. Sometimes he seems an artist, in the way his eye ranges over his work; sometimes his hand moves and he doesn’t seem to see it move. If he had been called to a lower station in life, he could have been a travelling player, and leader of his troupe.

Henry VIII, and his courtiers, including his illegitimate son the Duke of Richmond, Francis Bryan and Nicholas Carew, of old and good families

Elizabeth, daughter of Anne Boleyn and the King Mary, daughter of Katherine of Aragon and the King The two highest peers in the land:

Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, ferocious uncle of the executed Queen Anne, and enemy of Cromwell. Other family members include Mary Boleyn, former mistress to the King; Lady Rochford, gossip and now widow of the executed George Boleyn; Mary Shelton, a Boleyn cousin and another of the King’s mistresses; and Thomas Boleyn, Anne’s father, previously insistent on the title ‘Monseigneur’


Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, slight-witted widower of the King’s deceased sister, and rival to the Duke of Norfolk

Stephen Gardiner, former secretary to Cardinal Wolsey, now Bishop of Winchester, and sworn enemy of Thomas Cromwell

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury, friend to Thomas Cromwell

Jane Seymour, and her established, respectable English family, of good breeding stock, including her wise brother Edward Seymour and her widowed sister Bess Seymour

Eustache Chapuys, Ambassador to Spain, officially an enemy of Cromwell, but also his neighbour

Assorted noble families, servants, priests, merchants and ambassadors

The Living

Cardinal Wolsey, Papal Legate and Lord Chancellor before his arrest and death in 1530

Thomas More, Lord Chancellor and Speaker of the House of Commons before his execution in 1535

Katherine of Aragon, married to Arthur, heir to the English throne, but widowed after only a few months. She then spent twenty years married to Arthur’s Brother Henry VIII, and gave him a daughter, Mary, before he cast her from court and began annulment proceedings

Anne Boleyn, and her ambitious upstart brother George, executed for treason alongside Anne in 1536

The King’s courtiers, including Henry Norris, Francis Weston and William Brereton, executed with Anne for treason

Lizzie, Anne & Grace, Cromwell’s deceased wife and daugh- ters, lost to sweating sickness a few years previously

The Mirror and the Light is out now.

Other Articles

The Mirror & the Light: Cultural Impact

The Power of Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies In 2009, Hilary Mantel was an author already acclaimed for her fiction and memoir-writing, having been awarded, among other prizes, the MIND Book of the Year and the Cheltenham Prize, as well as being shortlisted for the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction. But the arrival of Wolf Hall would transform Mantel into a household name. Read More

The Mirror & the Light: The Trilogy’s Relevance Today

Nothing makes a book more readable than discovering that a world a million miles away – or five hundred years ago – shares the same concerns as our own. Read More

The Mirror & the Light: Main Themes pt.3

Opposition, Contradiction and Division in Cromwell’s Orbit The two Cromwell novels are teeming with dualities and divisions. Read More