The best historical fiction books about the Elizabethans

Who am I?

I was born within sight of Pembroke Castle, birthplace of Henry Tudor, who later became King Henry VII and began the Tudor Dynasty, so I’ve always had an interest in his story. I found several biographies, but no novels which brought the truth of his story to life. The idea for the Tudor Trilogy occurred to me when I realised Henry Tudor could be born in book one, ‘come of age’ in book two, and rule England as king in book three. Since then, I’ve continued to follow the Tudor ‘thread’ all the way from Owen Tudor’s first meeting with Catherine of Valois, and culminating with the Elizabethan Series.


I wrote...

Drake - Tudor Corsair

By Tony Riches,

Book cover of Drake - Tudor Corsair

What is my book about?

1564: Devon sailor Francis Drake sets out on a journey of adventure. Drake learns of routes used to transport Spanish silver and gold, and risks his life in an audacious plan to steal a fortune. Queen Elizabeth is intrigued by Drake and secretly encourages his piracy. Her unlikely champion becomes a national hero, sailing around the world in the Golden Hind and attacking the Spanish fleet. King Philip of Spain has enough of Drake’s plunder and orders an armada to threaten the future of England.

The Elizabethan Series continues the stories of the Tudors in a continuous thread from Owen Tudor to the final days of Queen Elizabeth I.

The books I picked & why

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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. 


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.


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.


The Most Dangerous Enemy (The Elizabeth of England Chronicles)

By G. Lawrence, The Book Cover Machine (illustrator),

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.


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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