The best historical fiction books on the perils of life at the English court, c. 1483-1547

Why am I passionate about this?

I'm a History professor at a Canadian university. My research focuses on long-dead English sailors. I’m interested in how they “navigated” the challenges of their lives ashore and afloat. I’ve written a number of books and articles. My first book, Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603, examines the lives of seafarers during a period of intense maritime activity. If you want to “meet” those in the maritime community, this is the book for you. Since its publication, I’ve followed many of those sailors from the Elizabethan period into the early seventeenth century. I’m writing a book on diet, disease and disorder in the East India Company.


I wrote...

Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603

By Cheryl Fury,

Book cover of Tides in the Affairs of Men: The Social History of Elizabethan Seamen, 1580-1603

What is my book about?

The age of maritime expansion and the Anglo-Spanish War have been analyzed by generations of historians, but nearly all studies have emphasized events and participants at the top. This book examines the lives and experiences of the men of the Elizabethan maritime community during a particularly volatile period of maritime history. The seafaring community had to contend with simultaneous pressures from many different directions. Shipowners and merchants, motivated by profit, hired seamen to sail voyages of ever-increasing distances, which taxed the health and capabilities of 16th-century crews and vessels. International tensions in the last two decades of Elizabeth's reign magnified the risks to all seamen, whether in civilian employment or on warships.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Daughter of Time

Cheryl Fury Why did I love this book?

A classic novel that explores whether Richard III was responsible for the murder of his nephews, the Princes in the Tower. Tey tries to show readers that the case against the vilified king isn’t as open and shut as we may assume. Although this novel is a bit dated (given that it was published over 70 years ago), it is still an interesting “who done it?” 

I found a copy of this book at my grandmother’s house (where I found much to nurture my love of British history) and read it when I was in my early teens. It was a revelation in terms of the detective work that is historical research. Even for those who aren’t hardcore history nerds, this book is a thought-provoking read and a cautionary tale about accepting historical legends at face value. 

By Josephine Tey,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Daughter of Time as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

_________________________
Josephine Tey's classic novel about Richard III, the hunchback king whose skeleton was famously discovered in a council car park, investigates his role in the death of his nephews, the princes in the Tower, and his own death at the Battle of Bosworth.

Richard III reigned for only two years, and for centuries he was villified as the hunch-backed wicked uncle, murderer of the princes in the Tower. Josephine Tey's novel The Daughter of Time is an investigation into the real facts behind the last Plantagenet king's reign, and an attempt to right what many believe to be the…


Book cover of The Sunne in Splendour

Cheryl Fury Why did I love this book?

Much like Tey’s book, the author raises questions about Richard Plantagenet and whether he was the much-maligned monster of Shakespearean imagining. I love SKP’s books as they draw you into the narrative and keep you entertained for hundreds of pages. 

I started reading every novel of Penman’s I could get my hands on when I was in my PhD. Reading had become a chore – something I did for my research. I had forgotten how to read for fun. My roommate in grad school had been a librarian and reminded me that books weren’t just something you “mine” for information. I am grateful she introduced me to Sharon Kay Penman’s works. 

Both Tey and Penman’s books were published decades before the discovery of Richard III’s body under a Leicester car park in 2012. A detailed autopsy did answer some of our questions about whether he had a misshapen body portrayed in his black legend. Even so, questions remain about Richard’s character. These books remain relevant because there is still reasonable doubt in the case against Richard as a murdering uncle. 

By Sharon Kay Penman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Sunne in Splendour as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

This special thirtieth anniversary edition of the bestselling The Sunne in Splendour, features an author's note from Sharon Penman.

Richard, last-born son of the Duke of York, was seven months short of his nineteenth birthday when he bloodied himself at the battles of Barnet and Tewkesbury, earning his legendary reputation as a battle commander in the Wars of the Roses, and ending the Lancastrian line of succession.

But Richard was far more than a warrior schooled in combat. He was also a devoted brother, an ardent suitor, a patron of the arts, an indulgent father, a generous friend. Above all,…


Book cover of Autobiography of Henry VIII

Cheryl Fury Why did I love this book?

Margaret George has written a number of historical fiction books. I have enjoyed them all but this is by far my favourite. I readily admit that I’m not a fan of Henry VIII, not just because of how he treated his wives and mistresses but also how he bent his kingdom to suit his own needs and vanities. However, George’s sympathetic telling humanizes the man that Charles Dickens called “a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England.”  

By Margaret George,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Autobiography of Henry VIII as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A paperback edition of the fictitious memoirs of King Henry VIII, published to coincide with publication of the author's new novel, MARY QUEEN OF SCOTS AND THE ISLES.


Book cover of The Other Boleyn Girl

Cheryl Fury Why did I love this book?

Much about Mary Boleyn’s life is unknown. She had a brief time in the spotlight when she was a mistress of Henry VIII but she has been eclipsed by her sister Anne who played the courtship game for much higher stakes: the crown of a queen consort. Anne is a controversial Tudor figure who inspires both love and scorn. Mary was relegated to her sister’s shadow in life and in history.  

Both the book and the movie have been criticized for Gregory’s lack of historical accuracy but they are works of historical fiction. And it’s hard to deny the sheer readability of the prolific author’s books. In the novel and in real life, the Boleyn sisters were thrown into the vicious vortex of court politics by their ambitious kin and were victimized by men and forces outside their control. 

By Philippa Gregory,

Why should I read it?

10 authors picked The Other Boleyn Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

*A stunning brand new unabridged recording*

The acclaimed international bestseller of the Tudor court, during the years of Henry VIII's pursuit of Anne Boleyn - and the revolutionary sequence of events that followed.

1521. Young Mary Boleyn arrives at court, maid in waiting and favourite to Queen Katherine of Aragon.

Yet Mary catches the eye of the capricious king and - propelled by the ambitions of the powerful Boleyn family - she betrays her queen, and takes her place as Henry VIII's new mistress.

But while Mary is in childbed, a rival comes to court - her sister Anne, a…


Book cover of Bring Up the Bodies

Cheryl Fury Why did I love this book?

Although Wolf Hall is the better-known and lauded novel, my preference is for the second book of Hilary Mantel’s trilogy. The author’s focus is Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s ruthlessly efficient first minister who came to prominence after Cardinal Wolsey fell from grace for his failure to solve the King’s “Great Matter.”  I admit I’ve never warmed to Cromwell, although he has been praised by illustrious Tudor historians such as GR Elton. Certainly, he was instrumental in freeing the King of his papal shackles and all that followed in the wake of England’s break from Rome. That being said, the Cromwell of the historical record hardly seems sympathetic. He was one of the wiliest serpents in the snake pit of the Tudor court. Mantel’s books attempt to show a more human side of Henry VIII’s right-hand man.

By Hilary Mantel,

Why should I read it?

6 authors picked Bring Up the Bodies as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Winner of the Man Booker Prize

The second book in Hilary Mantel's award-winning Wolf Hall trilogy, with a stunning new cover design to celebrate the publication of the much anticipated The Mirror and the Light

An astounding literary accomplishment, Bring Up the Bodies is the story of this most terrifying moment of history, by one of our greatest living novelists.

'Our most brilliant English writer' Guardian

Bring Up the Bodies unlocks the darkly glittering court of Henry VIII, where Thomas Cromwell is now chief minister. With Henry captivated by plain Jane Seymour and rumours of Anne Boleyn's faithlessness whispered by…


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Book cover of We Had Fun and Nobody Died: Adventures of a Milwaukee Music Promoter

Amy T. Waldman

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What is my book about?

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus atUW-Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

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By Amy T. Waldman, Peter Jest,

What is this book about?

The entertaining and inspiring story of a stubbornly independent promoter and club owner 

This irreverent biography provides a rare window into the music industry from a promoter’s perspective. From a young age, Peter Jest was determined to make a career in live music, and despite naysayers and obstacles, he did just that, bringing national acts to his college campus at UW–Milwaukee, booking thousands of concerts across Wisconsin and the Midwest, and opening Shank Hall, the beloved Milwaukee venue named after a club in the cult film This Is Spinal Tap.

This funny, nostalgia-inducing book details the lasting friendships Jest established…


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Interested in King Henry VIII, the Wars of the Roses, and Richard III of England?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about King Henry VIII, the Wars of the Roses, and Richard III of England.

King Henry VIII Explore 48 books about King Henry VIII
The Wars Of The Roses Explore 23 books about the Wars of the Roses
Richard III Of England Explore 17 books about Richard III of England