The Mantel Referent Sub-Clause?
Rather than the traditional use of ‘he’ or the protagonist’s name in male-viewpoint fiction, the trilogy has favoured what will doubtless become known as the Mantel Referent Sub-Clause: ‘He, Cromwell.’ This is clearly an attempt to show that, as the writer has explained, she is ‘behind him, like a camera’, rather than omnisciently narrating his thoughts. And there is a lovely flourish in this book, when the inner voice smugly promotes itself to ‘He, Lord Cromwell’. However, when, at a meal of veal, ‘He, himself, Cromwell, takes up the carving knife’, we may wonder if the trope isn’t affecting the cut of Mantel’s style.
I'd characterise this as a reflexive pronoun that is used simultaneously with the proper noun it refers to, but that's just quibbling with the joke.
Mantel's usage is cunning and clever, not a trope that affects her style. We are occasionally jolted into realising that 'he' means Cromwell, not the person speaking. That happens a lot when Cromwell is around the king or other counsellors.
Mantel is reminding us that Cromwell is there and not there, honest and not honest. He is the master of realpolitik. You never know exactly how he manages to maintain his position.
'A cushion, Majesty?' Lord Audley suggests.
Henry closes his eyes. 'Thank you, no. Today there is only one matter -'
'A more capacious chair perhaps?'
The king's voice shakes, '-one salient matter... Thank you, Lord Audley, I am comfortable.'
He catches the Lord Chancellor's eye, and presses a palm across his own mouth. But Richard Riche is not so easily suppressed. At the sight of Edward Seymour:' You here, sir? I did not think you were sworn?'
'Well, it appears-' Edward says.
'It appears I want his opinion,' the king says.
We get caught assuming that the pronoun 'he' is reflexive to the king, as it would be in the vast majority of uses like this. But then we remember it means Cromwell, it always means Cromwell. He does not talk, he goes unseen, but he is there, controlling events.
So when Mantel does use it reflexively we are being told something, something about his duplicity, his dual presence, his astonishing capacity for having many selves.
Mantel is also an expert user of fragments, which tells us something about the culture she is writing about.
The Mirror and the Light (US link) is, like the first two instalments, one of the best works of fiction published in my lifetime. I am reading it slowly to get the most enjoyment from it. Mantel is as good as Hitchcock at building tension. Her pronouns are a big part of that, and it is a measure of her skill as a writer that she gets so much effect from the choices she makes with such a small and simple piece of grammar.