The best historical fiction books about the Elizabethans

The Books I Picked & Why

A Column of Fire

By Ken Follett

Book cover of A Column of Fire

Why this book?

Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth changed the way I think about cathedrals, and the latest book in the series is an excellent example of how to build on a successful series, yet create a book which stands alone. A Column of Fire moves on to the complex world of the Elizabethan court. Queen Elizabeth’s secret agents lurk everywhere, and the conflict between Catholics and Protestants leads to continued plotting against the Queen. 


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Forsaking All Other

By Catherine Meyrick

Book cover of Forsaking All Other

Why this book?

This well-researched story of duty, honour, and love is an exploration of Elizabethan marriage and religious and intolerance highlights how women were a way of advancing the land, wealth, and influence the status of their families. I liked the accomplished storytelling and the use of historical details of the clothing, food, and domestic routine of a Tudor household to bring the period to life.


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Hamnet

By Maggie O'Farrell

Book cover of Hamnet

Why this book?

Winner of the Women's Prize for Fiction 2020, Maggie O'Farrell has created a masterclass in using an Elizabethan setting to explore love, loss, and grief. One of the consequences of the global pandemic is we can identify more easily with the often daunting sense of helplessness of the characters in this novel as they come to terms with the cruel reality of plague. Set in Stratford-upon-Avon, in 1596, the narrative reminds us how Elizabethan families faced much the same issues as we do today.


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The Most Dangerous Enemy (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles)

By G. Lawrence, The Book Cover Machine

Book cover of The Most Dangerous Enemy (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles)

Why this book?

The third book of The Elizabeth of England Chronicles has Elizabeth finally becoming Queen of England and trying to unite a divided country. A Protestant queen surrounded by Catholic kings, all she has to do is marry well and secure the succession. Gemma Lawrence has a talent for developing convincing characters and evoking a compelling sense of time and place.


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A Woman of Noble Wit

By Rosemary Griggs

Book cover of A Woman of Noble Wit

Why this book?

Katherine was Sir Walter Raleigh’s mother, and this is her story. The slender thread of history flows through the book, and I particularly like the way Rosemary Griggs draws from fascinating details of Elizabethan life, weaving them with vivid descriptions of the Devon countryside to create an evocative narrative. Although I’ve had a lifelong fascination with Walter Raleigh, I never imagined I’d be present at his birth, and there is enough history here to help me appreciate something of his background and upbringing.


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