Hidden Belgium: Hilary Mantel’s Antwerp

Hidden Belgium: Hilary Mantel’s Antwerp

‘I wouldn’t be surprised if Thomas Cromwell had visited the Vleeshuis,’ said British novelist Hilary Mantel, who died last September.

She was shown around the Vleeshuis – originally a butchers’ hall in the heart of Antwerp – while working on her historical novel The Mirror and the Light. The third big fat novel in her prize-winning trilogy, it was based on the life of Thomas Cromwell.

Cromwell was a regular visitor to Antwerp in the early 16th century when he worked as a representative for English wool merchants. He almost certainly saw the Vleeshuis which was a relatively new building constructed in 1501-04.

‘In Italy you learned cunning, but in Antwerp, flexibility. And besides, the shopping! Just step out of your door and you can get a diamond or a broom, you can get knives, candlesticks and keys, ironwork to suit the expert eye,’ Mantel wrote of the 16th century city.

The author revisited Antwerp in the summer of 2017 to deliver one of her five BBC Reith Lectures in this stunning mediaeval building.

Derek Blyth’s hidden secret of the day: Derek Blyth is the author of the bestselling “The 500 Hidden Secrets of Belgium”. He picks out one of his favourite hidden secrets for The Brussels Times every day.

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