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British author of ‘Wolf Hall’ saga Hilary Mantel dies at 70

Hilary Mantel posed with her book 'Wolf Hall,' after it won the 2009 Booker Prize for fiction that year.Alastair Grant/Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Hilary Mantel, the Booker Prize-winning author of the acclaimed “Wolf Hall” saga of historical novels, has died. She was 70.

Mantel died “suddenly yet peacefully” surrounded by close family and friends, publisher HarperCollins said Friday.

Mantel is credited with reenergizing historical fiction with “Wolf Hall” and two sequels about the 16th-century English powerbroker Thomas Cromwell, right-hand man to King Henry VIII.

The publisher said Mantel was “one of the greatest English novelists of this century."

“Her beloved works are considered modern classics. She will be greatly missed," it said in a statement.

Mantel won the Booker Prize twice, for “Wolf Hall” in 2009 and its sequel “Bring Up the Bodies” in 2012. Both were adapted for the stage and television.

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The final instalment, “The Mirror and the Light,” was published in 2020.

The success of “Wolf Hall” propelled Mantel from a critically acclaimed but modestly selling novelist into a literary superstar.

Nicholas Pearson, Mantel’s longtime editor, said her death was “devastating.”

“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,” he said. “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.”

Mantel turned Cromwell, a shadowy political fixer, into a compelling, complex literary hero. Cromwell was an architect of the Reformation who helped the king realize his desire to divorce Catherine of Aragon and marry Anne Boleyn. The Vatican’s refusal to annul Henry’s first marriage led the monarch to reject the authority of the pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

It's a period of history that has inspired many books, films and television series, from “A Man for All Seasons” to “The Tudors.” But Mantel managed to make the well-known story new and exciting.

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“I’m very keen on the idea that a historical novel should be written pointing forward,” she told The Associated Press in 2009. “Remember that the people you are following didn’t know the end of their own story. So they were going forward day by day, pushed and jostled by circumstances, doing the best they could, but walking in the dark, essentially.