The best books that illustrate life at the Tudor Court

The Books I Picked & Why

Songbird

By Karen Heenan

Book cover of Songbird

Why this book?

I was immediately drawn to the first book in Karen Heenan’s Tudor trilogy because of the perspective from which it was written. Despite studying the period for more than thirty years, I knew next to nothing about the lives of royal minstrels. I enjoyed stories that are set against the familiar backdrop of Henry VIII’s court and especially liked this one as it is both well-researched and written. I thoroughly recommend this series.


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Jane the Quene

By Janet Ambrosi Wertman

Book cover of Jane the Quene

Why this book?

This book provides a different angle on Jane Seymour. I’ve never particularly ‘liked’ fictional Janes because they are usually so one-dimensional but this author delves more deeply. Jane’s character is subtle. On the surface she seems meek but beneath the façade she is quite determined to get what she wants. Often, the modern ideal of strong women doesn’t sit well on historical figures but J. Wertman has understood that subterfuge was often the only way for a female, even a queen, to get her own way. Janet Wertman has written other engaging Tudor books but this is my favourite.


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Mary – Tudor Princess

By Tony Riches

Book cover of Mary – Tudor Princess

Why this book?

I was drawn to this book because Mary is so often overshadowed by her older brother, King Henry VIII. The research is faultless, and the story well told. I enjoyed how Tony Riches went against convention and entertained the idea that perhaps the marriage between Arthur Tudor and Catherine of Aragon was actually consummated. His characters are fully rounded keep within the social boundaries of the time. The setting was one that I recognized and peopled with familiar historical figures yet it was still full of pleasant surprises. Tony Riches has written several books set just before and after this period and I’ve read them all. I enjoy the underlying wit and humour with which he writes.


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Mistress Cromwell

By Carol McGrath

Book cover of Mistress Cromwell

Why this book?

Another lesser-known figure, Elizabeth is the wife of Thomas Cromwell. She has very little mention in the historical record but the author draws on what we do know of her husband, Thomas. Elizabeth Cromwell’s character is convincing and likable. I particularly enjoyed glimpsing another side of Thomas Cromwell, a more human side and I loved the descriptions of their imagined daily life together. The author doesn’t over describe but the sights, sounds, and smells of the city are touched on just enough to provide a sense of place. It was also refreshing to see a woman involved in business in her own right, the cloth trade is described with enough detail to engage the reader but never becomes tedious.


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Wolf Hall

By Hilary Mantel

Book cover of Wolf Hall

Why this book?

I’d already written a few Tudor books by the time this one was published, and the first reading really blew me away and made me rethink several of the characters we think we know so well. Mantel is a genius and when it comes to world-building, there are few who can come close to her. She doesn’t create monsters, her characters are nuanced, just as real people are and the Cromwell she shows us lingers in the mind long after the final page has turned. I like a book that makes me think. I’ve read all three in the series now and have also listened to them on audible. They do not grow old. I know there are plenty who will disagree with me but I respect the way Mantel breaks rules, and writes to her own agenda. The books are long but if you can’t make it through to the end, listen to the audiobook. 


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