The Booker prize-winning author of the Wolf Hall trilogy, Dame Hilary Mantel, has died aged 70, her publisher HarperCollins has confirmed.
Mantel was regarded as one of the greatest English-language novelists of this century, winning the Booker Prize twice, for Wolf Hall and its sequel, Bring Up the Bodies, which also won the 2012 Costa book of the year.
The conclusion to her groundbreaking Wolf Hall trilogy, The Mirror & the Light, was published in 2020 to huge critical acclaim, became an instant Sunday Times bestseller and was longlisted for the Booker prize.
HarperCollins confirmed she had died on Thursday “suddenly yet peacefully”, surrounded by close family and friends.
When asked by the Financial Times earlier this month whether she believed in an afterlife, Mantel said she did, but that she could not imagine how it might work. “However, the universe is not limited by what I can imagine,” she said.
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.”
“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,” he added. “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.”
To date the Wolf Hall trilogy has sold more than five million copies worldwide and has been translated into 41 languages. Earlier this month HarperCollins published The Wolf Hall Picture Book, a photography book by Mantel and co-authors Ben Miles and George Miles.
The author experienced chronic illness throughout her adult life, having a severe form of endometriosis, surgery for which left 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. But I’d rather cope with the world than cope with pain, and the uncertainty that goes with it”, she told the Times in 2012.
Mantel was born in Glossop, Derbyshire on 6 July 1952. She studied law at the London School of Economics and Sheffield University, and went on to become a social work assistant in a geriatric hospital. Mantel married the geologist Gerald McEwan in 1972. The couple divorced in 1981 but remarried in 1982. In 1974, she began writing a novel about the French Revolution, which was published in 1992 as A Place of Greater Safety. In 1977, Mantel and her husband moved to Botswana, living there for five years. Later, they spent four years in Saudi Arabia, returning to Britain in the mid-1980s.
In total, Mantel published 17 acclaimed books including the novels Every Day Is Mother’s Day, Vacant Possession, Beyond Black and her memoir Giving Up the Ghost.
In 1990 she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature; in 2006 she was awarded a CBE and in 2014 a DBE.
Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies were adapted for a Royal Shakespeare Company stage production in 2013, a process in which the author was very involved. In 2021 The Mirror & the Light was staged in London’s Gielgud Theatre, adapted by Mantel herself, alongside the actor Ben Miles, who also starred.
Many have tweeted tributes to Mantel following her death. Writer and broadcaster Damian Barr said her death is “such a loss”.
“With every book she redefined what words can do,” he tweeted, adding: “She’s the only person I ever interviewed that speaks in whole, flawless paragraphs. I can’t believe we won’t have another book from her.”
Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon said: “It is impossible to overstate the significance of the literary legacy Hilary Mantel leaves behind. Her brilliant Wolf Hall trilogy was the crowning achievement in an outstanding body of work. Rest in peace.”
Mantel’s long-term editor Nicholas Pearson said the news of her death was “devastating”.
“Hilary had a unique outlook on the world – she picked it apart and revealed how it works in both her contemporary and historical novels – every book an unforgettable weave of luminous sentences, unforgettable characters and remarkable insight. She seemed to know everything,” he said. “For a long time she was critically admired, but the Wolf Hall trilogy found her the vast readership she long deserved.”
As well as supremely talented, Mantel was also “a joy to work with”, Pearson said. “Only last month I sat with her on a sunny afternoon in Devon, while she talked excitedly about the new novel she had embarked on. That we won’t have the pleasure of any more of her words is unbearable. What we do have is a body of work that will be read for generations. We must be grateful for that.”