The best non-fiction books about the untold, or little-known lives of women throughout history

Who am I?

I often feel as if I live with one foot in the present, and one in the past. It’s always been the little-known stories that fascinate me the most, especially women’s history. Their lives can be harder to research, but more rewarding for that. As a writer and historian, it has been wonderful to discover the histories of intriguing but ‘overlooked’ women, and to share their tales. I hope you enjoy reading the books I have selected as much as I did!

I wrote...

A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History

By Joanne Major, Sarah Murden,

Book cover of A Right Royal Scandal: Two Marriages That Changed History

What is my book about?

Have you ever heard the story of Sinnetta Lambourne, the Romany girl who was the wife of Queen Elizabeth II’s great-grandfather? Her husband, the Reverend Charles (Charley) Cavendish-Bentinck was a man ahead of his times in his outlook. He followed his heart, against the wishes of his family and titled relatives. A generation earlier, Charley’s parents had been at the centre of a Regency-era scandal. His mother, married to the ‘richest commoner’ in the country, was the Duke of Wellington’s niece. Just weeks after the Battle of Waterloo, she eloped with her lover…

Discover the untold story of the British royal family’s recent history.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Five: The Untold Lives of the Women Killed by Jack the Ripper

Why did I love this book?

The five women who were Jack the Ripper’s canonical victims have always been just that, his victims. Rubenhold gives them back their identities, in their own right, as mothers, daughters, sisters, and wives and challenges the ‘traditional’ view. For three of them, there is no evidence that they were prostitutes, but all five were women battling personal demons who were down on their luck. They were Mary Ann Nichols, Annie Chapman, Elizabeth Stride, Catherine Eddowes, and Mary Jane Kelly. The Five is not the story of their deaths, but their lives.

By Hallie Rubenhold,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked The Five as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'An angry and important work of historical detection, calling time on the misogyny that has fed the Ripper myth. Powerful and shaming' GUARDIAN

Polly, Annie, Elizabeth, Catherine and Mary-Jane are famous for the same thing, though they never met. They came from Fleet Street, Knightsbridge, Wolverhampton, Sweden and Wales. They wrote ballads, ran coffee houses, lived on country estates, they breathed ink-dust from printing presses and escaped people-traffickers.

What they had in common was the year of their murders: 1888.

Their murderer was never identified, but…

Heroines of the Medieval World

By Sharon Bennett Connolly,

Book cover of Heroines of the Medieval World

Why did I love this book?

There is a wealth of information contained within the pages of this book. As the author points out, the lives of medieval women were constrained, but that doesn’t mean that they didn’t have influence. There are remarkable women profiled inside its pages, such as Nicholaa de la Haye, castellan (governor) of Lincoln’s castle, whose courage was equal to any man’s. The heroines are mostly noblewomen, or royalty, as the scant records of the period relating to women largely ignore those classed as peasants. This book brings together their stories and sets them at the heart of their era’s history.

By Sharon Bennett Connolly,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Heroines of the Medieval World as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

These are the stories of women, famous, infamous and unknown, who shaped the course of medieval history. The lives and actions of medieval women were restricted by the men who ruled the homes, countries and world they lived in. It was men who fought wars, made laws and dictated religious doctrine. It was men who were taught to read, trained to rule and expected to fight. Today, it is easy to think that all women from this era were downtrodden and obedient housewives, whose sole purpose was to give birth to children (preferably boys) and serve their husbands. Heroines of…

Book cover of Wellington's Dearest Georgy: The Life and Loves of Lady Georgiana Lennox

Why did I love this book?

A romantic attachment between Lady Georgina ‘Georgy’ Lennox, later Baroness de Ros, and the Duke of Wellington matured into a long-lasting friendship. Georgy was present at the Duchess of Richmond’s famous ball, held before the Battle of Waterloo. Through Georgy’s eyes, we gain a different perspective on events—and people—that we thought we knew all about. This is a fascinating look at the life of a little-known woman who was a first-hand witness to some of the most important events of her era.

By Alice Marie Crossland,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Wellington's Dearest Georgy as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Using largely unpublished sources, this book tells the story of Lady Georgiana Lennox and the unique friendship she cherished with the Duke of Wellington. She first met the Duke on his return from India when he was serving under Georgy's father as Chief Secretary. The Lennox family moved to Brussels in 1813 and Georgy's mother the Duchess of Richmond threw the now legendary ball the night before the Battle of Waterloo. Georgy was a young, beautiful and immensely popular young lady at the time with many suitors. She and the Duke enjoyed a flirtatious early friendship, which blossomed into a…

Book cover of Under Fire: The Blitz diaries of a volunteer ambulance driver

Why did I love this book?

June Spencer was a debutante. In 1938, she was presented to the King and Queen at Buckingham Palace. A year later, her life changed with the outbreak of war. Always independent, June became an ambulance driver, and later a WREN. At the same time, she continued to go to nightclubs and spend time with well-connected friends, and fall in love. She detailed everything in private diaries which Clifford was given access to by June’s daughter. June was an extraordinary ‘ordinary’ woman, another who lived through ‘history being made.’ This is a wonderful account of her life and times.

By Naomi Clifford,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Under Fire as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The true story of June Spencer, debutante and volunteer ambulance driver in Chelsea during the Blitz, told through her remarkable diaries.
June Spencer is set to follow the time-worn path of a debutante, but when war comes to London she volunteers to drive an ambulance through the bomb-strewn streets of Chelsea.
June’s first-hand accounts to paint a vivid picture of the contrasts of London wartime life–her accounts range from driving through the streets while under bombardment, to the aftermath of the destruction of the Café de Paris, to grand balls and parties in Lindsey House on the banks of the…

Book cover of The Mother of the Brontës: When Maria Met Patrick

Why did I love this book?

So much has been written about the Brontë sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne but, what of their mother, Maria? In this fascinating book, Maria (and her husband, Patrick) are brought to the forefront of the Brontë story. We learn about Maria’s early life in Cornwall, her move to Yorkshire, her ambition as a writer, and the influence she had on her incredible daughters. We begin to understand Maria’s daughters better by getting to know Maria herself.

By Sharon Wright,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Mother of the Brontës as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

At long last, the untold story of the mysterious Mrs Bronte.

They were from different lands, different classes, different worlds almost.

The chances of Cornish gentlewoman Maria Branwell even meeting the poor Irish curate Patrick Bronte in Regency England, let alone falling passionately in love, were remote.

Yet Maria and Patrick did meet, making a life together as devoted lovers and doting parents in the heartland of the industrial revolution. An unlikely romance and novel wedding were soon followed by the birth of six children. They included Charlotte, Emily and Anne Bronte, the most gifted literary siblings the world has…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the Middle Ages, the working class, and the Battle of Waterloo?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Middle Ages, the working class, and the Battle of Waterloo.

The Middle Ages Explore 383 books about the Middle Ages
The Working Class Explore 84 books about the working class
The Battle Of Waterloo Explore 6 books about the Battle of Waterloo