The best Elizabethan era books

2 authors have picked their favorite books about the Elizabethan era and why they recommend each book.

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Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book

By Hilary Spurling,

Book cover of Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking

In among the diaries and photographs, medal collections, old-fashioned games and mother of pearl counters that Hilary Spurling helped her husband clear from a great-aunt’s London house in the 1970s, she found the seventeenth-century, leather-bound manuscript cookbook of Lady Elinor Fettiplace. Lady Elinor lived with her husband in Appleton manor a few miles south-west of Oxford from 1589 until her death in 1647. The book is one of very few manuscript cookbooks to have survived from this time and from the marginal annotations noting timings and quantities, as well as extra ingredients, it is clear that Lady Elinor used it as a working cookbook. Spurling decided to do the same and followed Lady Elinor ‘round the calendar’ making her ‘Oringe Marmalad’ in January, pickling ‘cowcumbers’ in July, and preparing mutton and rosewater mince pies in December. Through Spurling’s cooking adventures we are transported into the familiar yet strange, rose-water flavoured…

Who am I?

I first became interested in food when I was researching my PhD on the use of the body as an instrument of rule in British India. The British in India developed a language of food to demonstrate their power and status. I discovered that food is a rich subject for the historian as it carries a multitude of stories. I have since written five more books exploring these complex stories, always interested in connecting the broad sweep of historical processes to the more intimate level of everyday life and the connections between the food world of the past with the food world of the present.

I wrote...

The Hungry Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

By Lizzie Collingham,

Book cover of The Hungry Empire: How Britain's Quest for Food Shaped the Modern World

What is my book about?

The glamorous daughter of an African chief shares a pineapple with a slave trader… Surveyors in British Columbia eat tinned Australian rabbit… Diamond prospectors in Guyana prepare an iguana curry…

In twenty meals The Hungry Empire tells the story of how the British created a global network of commerce and trade in foodstuffs that moved people and plants from one continent to another, reshaping landscapes and culinary tastes. The Empire allowed Britain to harness the globe’s edible resources from cod fish and salt beef to spices, tea, and sugar. Lizzie Collingham takes us on a wide-ranging culinary journey, revealing how virtually every meal we eat still contains a taste of empire.

Forsaking All Other

By Catherine Meyrick,

Book cover of Forsaking All Other

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.

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.

Shakespeare the Man

By A.L. Rowse,

Book cover of Shakespeare the Man

Shakespeare the Man is not the best book out there on William Shakespeare. There are many others that are better researched and less opinionated. However, Rowse gave me the best impression of what Shakespeare has meant to centuries of dramatists and researchers. It was recommended to me by the late Dr. John M. Bell of NYU, who was the most knowledgeable man on Shakespeare I've ever known. I see why he recommended this. It's a short but thorough read, and very enjoyable. Just don't treat Rowse's every word as gospel. His book is about Shakespeare, the man and myth.

Who am I?

I prefer to write historical fiction because so many fascinating stories have already happened in the past, and these tales are filled with real-life characters with rich backstories and personalities. I try to find the best historical figures and scenarios I can through exhaustive research and then stitch them together into thrillers that mesh seamlessly with the history I researched. My books are written to educate and entertain, and nothing makes me prouder than when readers follow the breadcrumb trails I leave behind for further research. I hope you enjoy the hunt!

I wrote...

License to Quill: A Novel of Shakespeare & Marlowe

By Jacopo della Quercia,

Book cover of License to Quill: A Novel of Shakespeare & Marlowe

What is my book about?

This is William Shakespeare as we've never seen him before - a secret service agent armed with high-tech gadgets taking on Guy Fawkes and an army of witches. A freerunning Christopher Marlowe scales the bell towers of Venice and Rome, and Leonardo da Vinci's scythed chariot sweeps through the streets of London. License to Quill is a work of deep historical research and, even better, of prodigious and inventive literary imagination. I'll never read Macbeth the same way again. 

Ross King, New York Times bestselling author of Brunelleschi's Dome and Michelangelo and the Pope's Ceiling.

A Dead Man in Deptford

By Anthony Burgess,

Book cover of A Dead Man in Deptford

A Dead Man in Deptford was the last published novel of Anthony Burgess’s lifetime and can be seen as a companion piece to his earlier fictional biography of William Shakespeare, Nothing Like the Sun. A Dead Man in Deptford follows Christopher Marlowe’s life, and Will of Warwickshire lurks very very much in the background of this novel. This somehow adds to the poignancy, as even within his own story, the reader is always aware that Marlowe’s era will be dominated by the name of William Shakespeare. 

Who am I?

When I first saw Shakespearean text, I could not get how anyone related to things written so many centuries ago. It took me several years before my soul awakened to these words that now felt fresh, like they could have been whispered to me that very day by a best friend who understood all the pain and all the laughter of my life. Very little is known about the man himself leaving writers a lot of room to create their own version of Shakespeare. I know my Shakespeare is just that: my magical, enigmatic, wise Shakespeare. It’s exciting to see how others give him life in their own stories.

I wrote...

Airy Nothing

By Clarissa Pattern,

Book cover of Airy Nothing

What is my book about?

John has always seen things others could not see. He runs away to fabled London to find his fortune, but all he finds are grimy streets, rife with hangings and disease. Black Jack is a fast-talking pickpocket ready to show John a new life in the big city. When John first sees Shakespeare's wondrous Globe theatre, he becomes convinced that this is where he truly belongs. But can Black Jack resist the urge to make some easy coin off of his new, naïve friend? And can John step up to the stage before the beast of the city swallows them both? Airy Nothing is a magical period tale of two boys finding friendship, love, and acceptance in seething Elizabethan London.

A Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse

By William Shakespeare, Emma Chichester Clark (illustrator),

Book cover of A Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse

This book is a beautifully illustrated work of art. I absolutely adore the well-chosen excerpts from some of the Bard's most famous plays, including his fantasy ones (The Tempest and Midsummer Night’s Dream). This book contains some of the most beautiful passages in the English language. If you love the language of Shakespeare, you will swoon over this book. I do every single time.

Who am I?

I grew up loving the works of Shakespeare and the Romantic poets. Now I write romantic fantasy with a lyrical, fairy-tale vibe. The Seasons Cycle is a spin-off series from my main Lake Traveler saga. My poetry includes Poems of Myth & Magick, and Songs of Love & Longing. I compose songs and background music for key scenes in my stories. My music has been described as GoT meets LoTR with a lyrical twist and a musical theatre vibe. You can check out my songs and instrumental pieces on my youtube channel and my music website.

I wrote...

Songs of Love & Longing: Poem & Songs from the Seasons Cycle

By Cassia Hall,

Book cover of Songs of Love & Longing: Poem & Songs from the Seasons Cycle

What is my book about?

Songs of Love & Longing is a collection of fantasy-themed poems and songs inspired by fantasy art, beautiful music, and stories and characters from the author’s imagination. In this new collection are poems and songs of love and longing, in strangely familiar language and a cadence meant to resonate with the magic already within you.

QR codes have been embedded within the text to allow you to listen to some of the songs as you read the lyrics, giving an immersive experience and adding to your enjoyment.

William Shakespeare

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Shakespeare’s tragedies resonate in most cultures because they address the human condition. That is why Romeo and Juliet have spawned West Side Story, many films, and Russian ballets. I personally organised the Joe and Zara workshop with a mixed group of teenagers working on a modern take on the story. The young people in this ten-minute video from the workshop are impressive. 

Othello too is tragic. Othello describes how Desdemona would come again ‘greedy –to hear tales of adventure sorrow and suffering. ‘She loved me for the dangers I had passed and I loved her that she did pity them.’ I relate to that.

Who am I?

I married Indian born Atam Vetta when mixed relationships were rare and viewed with hostility not just in the UK. In 1966, they were illegal in South Africa and in most Southern States of the USA (until Loving v Virginia). In India they are not illegal but many upper-caste Indians do not approve of marriage outside of caste. In the UK attitudes have revolutionised. Mixed relationships are no longer rare and it is predicted that by 2075 the majority of the population will be of mixed ancestry. There are mixed relationships in all three of my novels. My aim was to explore what we have in common whilst being honest about the challenges. The ultimate prize is an enhanced understanding and the creativity that comes with crossing cultures.

I wrote...

Sculpting the Elephant

By Sylvia Vetta,

Book cover of Sculpting the Elephant

What is my book about?

I felt the urge to write a novel that could appeal to the children of marriages which, like mine and Atam’s cross boundaries. Sculpting the Elephant is about an Oxford artist called Harry and an Indian historian called Ramma. No one chooses to fall in love with someone from a different country, a different colour, religion, or caste but when it happens how do you cope with the consequences?

I hate stereotypes. The aim of my books and my lived experience is to get people to see each other as individuals – crossing invisible barriers. My Indian-born husband Atam Vetta’s PhD was in quantitative genetics. I learned from him that each of us is unique. Sadly the world is not organised to cope with that scientific truth.

Elizabethan Privateering

By Kenneth R. Andrews,

Book cover of Elizabethan Privateering: English Privateering During the Spanish War, 1585 1603

This study is a model of how to use meticulous archival research – here in the records of the High Court of Admiralty – to make a powerful argument with far-reaching implications: that many of Elizabethan England’s principal merchants and highest-ranking members of the court, including the queen, invested in and profited from extra-legal activities, and that England’s capitalist system was based on theft from European rivals. Andrews’ achievement is to explain clearly the ways the court operated and what its records – depositions and testimonies, complaints and interrogations, and summaries of activities – can tell us. Using information about who was licensed as a privateer and when, how plunder was distributed, and the international disputes caused by the depredations of privateers and pirates, Andrews book exemplifies how economic and naval history can be brought into productive dialogue.

Who am I?

I’m a writer-researcher based at the University of East Anglia. My work is driven by a love of travel and the sea, and an interest in how people move between cultures and ideas across time. I’ve written widely on early modern travel writing and maritime culture, plays about cultural encounter including first contact, and the intersections between ideas about gender, race, colonial and/or imperial identities, and power. At heart, I’m a cultural historian interested in how people and writing can say one thing but mean another.

I wrote...

The Culture of Piracy, 1580-1630: English Literature and Seaborne Crime

By Claire Jowitt,

Book cover of The Culture of Piracy, 1580-1630: English Literature and Seaborne Crime

What is my book about?

Listening to what she terms 'unruly pirate voices' in early modern English literature, this study offers a compelling analysis of the cultural meanings of 'piracy'. By examining the often-marginal figure of the pirate (and the sometimes hard-to-distinguish authorized sea-raider – termed ‘privateer’ from the seventeenth century – who plundered with license), Jowitt shows how flexibly these figures served to comment on English nationalism, international relations, and contemporary politics.

Jowitt discusses depictions of pirates in public drama, broadsheets and ballads, prose romance, travel writing, and poetry from the fifty-year period stretching across the reigns of three English monarchs: Elizabeth I, James I, and Charles I. Despite its transgressive nature, early modern piracy also comes to be one of the key mechanisms which served to connect peoples and regions.

The Elizabethan Image

By Roy Strong,

Book cover of The Elizabethan Image: An Introduction to English Portraiture, 1558-1603

Strong is the undisputed doyen of Elizabethan painting. As Assistant Keeper (1959-67) and Director (1967-73) of the National Portrait Gallery and then Director of the Victoria and Albert Museum (1973-87), he devoted the better part of thirty years to groundbreaking exhibitions and publications on the Tudor court. His writings, more than anyone else’s, are what led me to Tudor art. This book distills the essence of Strong’s many seminal works from a long and distinguished career, but adds glorious new colour photography and generous nods to the art historians who have come after him. Strong wears his learning lightly, making this an ideal gateway text for anyone seeking a way into the world of Elizabethan painting and portraiture.

Who am I?

I have been fascinated by the Tudors since childhood – in spite of, or perhaps because of, the fact that I grew up in the American Midwest, where Tudor artefacts were few and far between. A family holiday to England, when I was fourteen, sparked the beginning of a life-long love affair, which I have been lucky enough to turn into a career focused on all things Tudor. After receiving my PhD from Yale University, I took up a post-doctoral fellowship in England, at Warwick University, with which I have been affiliated ever since. I am currently an Honorary Reader at Warwick and working on a new book, on Hans Holbein.

I wrote...

Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist

By Elizabeth Goldring,

Book cover of Nicholas Hilliard: Life of an Artist

What is my book about?

Nicholas Hilliard (c.1547-1619) was the first English-born artist to acquire a reputation for excellence both at home and abroad: court painter to Elizabeth I, he counted the Medici, the Valois, the Habsburgs, and the Bourbons among his Continental admirers. Although Hilliard worked in a wide range of media, his fame derives from his miniatures: exceptionally detailed portraits executed in watercolour on vellum, many no larger than a modern watch-face. In this illustrated biography, I have tried to reveal both the man and the artist, tracing Hilliard’s personal struggles and rise to fame, his quest to become the social equal of his sitters, his role as teacher to the next generation of English painters, and his influence on writers like John Donne. 

This Is Shakespeare

By Emma Smith,

Book cover of This Is Shakespeare

A book of immense humanity and authenticity, which reminds us of how the great themes of great literature and art can offer solace and guidance in moments of fragility. By helping us go back to Shakespeare with less insecurity or baggage, the book opens up new perspectives on how others have grappled with these questions about how to be human. And it reminds us that we are allowed to question, challenge, and have fun.

Who am I?

I’m a recovering ambassador, now running an Oxford college. After almost 25 years in diplomacy, including working in no 10 for three prime ministers, I realised that education is upstream diplomacy. If we are to find a way through the challenges ahead – from climate change to pandemics and economic crisis to artificial intelligence – we must act, urgently, to upgrade why, what, and how we learn. I set out to ask hundreds of the most inspirational people on the planet what they wished they had known, and what they would share with the next generation if this was their last day. 

I wrote...

Ten Survival Skills for a World in Flux

By Tom Fletcher,

Book cover of Ten Survival Skills for a World in Flux

What is my book about?

A handbook on what we need to survive and thrive in a time of fragility and change. Head, hand, and heart: essential knowledge, skills, and values. How do we not just navigate this unstable moment, but take the practical steps to become great ancestors?

A Traveller in Time

By Alison Uttley, Phyllis Bray,

Book cover of A Traveller in Time

This is a quiet book, one that slips over you gently and pulls you in… to the past. There is a lovely moment, early on, a ghostly moment, when the heroine, Penelope, opens a bedroom door, and stops short. In the room are four ladies, playing a game with ivory counters. They wear stiff brocade and ‘their pointed bodices were embroidered with tiny flowers.’ It’s a book to give you shivers – but soft ones. The book is strangely complex and rather melancholic and incredibly credible. It makes you aware of what a brief time one has on this earth, and how we too will become simple memories.  

Penelope is a solitary child and a bit of a dreamer. She is sent to recuperate at Thackers, an old house in Derbyshire. Here, gently and without warning, she glides into Elizabethan times. She witnesses a family trying to free Mary,…

Who am I?

The house I grew up in was haunted. I believe that we shared the space with other people who’d lived there before us. I longed to communicate with them and to see them – but I never did. The closest I ever got to those spirits, was hearing a marble roll across the floorboards of my bedroom; I was alone in the room, the room was carpeted, but the sound was unmistakable. Perhaps it was the little boy whose lead soldiers we’d unearthed in the garden? I never knew. I never found a way of slipping through the shadows to join him, though I desperately wanted to.

I wrote...

Stone Underpants

By Rebecca Lisle, Richard Watson (illustrator),

Book cover of Stone Underpants

What is my book about?

Pod has a problem. His bottom is bare and there's a cold wind blowing! Dad suggests he makes some stone underpants but they're no good. Pod can't run, kick or bend with stone underpants holding him back. Pod tries different materials to warm his bottom, each with their own drawbacks. Will he ever make pants that are comfy and warm?

A hilarious look at the valiant efforts of a stone age boy to keep his bottom warm.

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