20 books directly related to the Elizabethan era 📚

All 20 Elizabethan era books as recommended by authors and experts. Updated weekly.

Elinor Fettiplace's Receipt Book: Elizabethan Country House Cooking

By Hilary Spurling,

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

Why this book?

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 seventeenth-century food world of hearty possets, biscuit breads, preserves, plum cakes and fooles, baked rabbets, and marrow puddings.

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.

William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

By William Shakespeare,

Book cover of William Shakespeare: The Complete Works

Why this book?

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.

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

By Roy Strong,

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

Why this book?

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.

Shakespeare the Man

By A.L. Rowse,

Book cover of Shakespeare the Man

Why this book?

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.

A Dead Man in Deptford

By Anthony Burgess,

Book cover of A Dead Man in Deptford

Why this book?

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. 

This Is Shakespeare

By Emma Smith,

Book cover of This Is Shakespeare

Why this book?

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.

A Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse

By William Shakespeare, Emma Chichester Clark (illustrator),

Book cover of A Treasury of Shakespeare's Verse

Why this book?

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.

Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England: Ten Case Studies

By Matthew Steggle,

Book cover of Digital Humanities and the Lost Drama of Early Modern England: Ten Case Studies

Why this book?

Not all archival work entails Indian Jones-style quests for hidden treasures; Steggle’s book—written at a crucial point when digital databases such as Early English Books Online and Google Books were accessible but rarely utilised to their maximum capabilities—proved how much crucial knowledge is hiding in plain sight. Steggle used a variety of search strategies to solve cruxes and mysteries that have plagued theatre historians for centuries, recovering the subject matter of lost plays that scholars routinely ignored on account of their opaque titles and scant evidence.

The Secret Life of William Shakespeare: A Novel

By Jude Morgan,

Book cover of The Secret Life of William Shakespeare: A Novel

Why this book?

One of the best ways to learn about a character is to listen to what other characters say (or think) about him, in this case, Shakespeare. As with Hamnet, much of this book focuses on Anne Hathaway, and we learn about Shakespeare as a very young man making his way in the world—not only as a writer—but as a lover and husband. Once in the writing world, we see the ripple effects of his writing, as fellow playwrights Christopher Marlowe and Ben Jonson provide their perspectives. A great look into Shakespeare and Elizabethan England.

Elizabethan Privateering: English Privateering During the Spanish War, 1585 1603

By Kenneth R. Andrews,

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

Why this book?

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.

A Tip for the Hangman

By Allison Epstein,

Book cover of A Tip for the Hangman

Why this book?

This book, set during the Elizabethan period, tells the intrigue-filled story of Christopher (or Kit) Marlowe as he agrees to be a spy for the Queen of England in order to make the money he needs to become a playwright. I know what you’re thinking. This does involve a monarch, but it’s very much about what happens when a desperate man makes a deal with powerful people to achieve his dreams, and ends up in trouble. If you know what happened to the famous playwright who was Shakespeare’s peer before his death (or what likely happened to him), you know what I mean. This book is a thriller, but is at its heart a love story about a man in love with his art and his best friend, and his struggle to choose between them. 

Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

By Jonathan Bate,

Book cover of Soul of the Age: A Biography of the Mind of William Shakespeare

Why this book?

Critics argue that William Shakespeare did not write the works attributed to him because he lacked the knowledge of classical myth and history basic to his plots and imagery. Jonathan Bates proves that the curriculum of the grammar school in Stratford-on-Avon provided an education sufficient to explain Shakespeare’s plays and poems. Bate reviews books in English and Latin that Shakespeare would have read and that created his rhetorical brilliance. 

I treasure Bate’s biography because my own background originated in a rural, agricultural setting outside the social and economic circles that usually produce academic types. Bates disproves the fallacy that only the privileged and elite can survive and thrive in life and careers.

Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

By Stephen Greenblatt,

Book cover of Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare

Why this book?

A literary biography, Will in the World connects the plots of Shakespeare’s plays and the sentiments of his poems to the writer’s life and career. No one living knows more about Shakespeare than Stephen Greenblatt. His research is solid and impressive. In this book, Greenblatt verges a bit into speculative possibilities. Where, exactly, was Shakespeare living—what was he doing?—during “The Lost Years”? Was the “Shakeshafte” mentioned in a Lancashire document our man, perhaps tutoring as a schoolmaster in a Catholic home? 

Greenblatt carefully points out that he is discussing possibilities, not certainties. But a possibility mentioned too many times by a scholar of Greenblatt’s authority often becomes accepted as fact. Yet, I appreciate this book because it provides a huge amount of information about Shakespeare’s milieu, and it forces readers to examine critically every claim. In our current milieu, we need exercises in critical thinking and analysis.

A Traveller in Time

By Alison Uttley, Phyllis Bray,

Book cover of A Traveller in Time

Why this book?

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, Queen of Scots, from her prison in nearby Wingfield Manor. Penelope knows the tragic end that awaits the Scottish queen, but being herself like a ghost in the past, can do nothing to alter it. As in The House on the Strand, Penelope falls in love with a character long, long dead but in this novel, her beloved can at least see her, and they share their first kiss.

 “It was neither dream, nor sleep, this journey I had taken, but a voyage backward through the ether.” 

Robert Smythson and the Elizabethan Country House

By Mark Girouard,

Book cover of Robert Smythson and the Elizabethan Country House

Why this book?

Alas, now out of print, this book is part biography, part architectural history, and part social history. The mason-architect Robert Smythson comes to life, as do the houses he designed and the eccentric patrons who employed him. The book's (mainly black-and-white) illustrations inevitably look a bit dated now. But the text is, to my mind, hard to beat: utterly engrossing, particularly when dealing with Hardwick Hall, a house Girouard knows intimately, having lived there as a small child. I remember stumbling across this book many years ago, as a student, while looking for something else at the library. I ended up spending the better part of the day reading Robert Smythson from cover to cover: it was a revelation that a work of scholarship could be so beautifully written.


By Georgette Heyer,

Book cover of Beauvallet

Why this book?

The Golden Age of England is brought alive through the adventures of Sir Nicholas Beauvallet. When attacked by a Spanish ship which Nicholas then boards, he finds an unexpected treasure in the form of Dona Dominica, a noblewoman traveling back to Spain with her ailing father. Once Dominica accuses him of hastening her father’s demise, Nicolas promises to deliver her safely back to the shores of Spain – something only a madman (or a man in love) would dare. I’m absolutely a huge fan of Georgette Heyer, and this is the book that made me appreciate pirates.      

Queen of Ambition

By Fiona Buckley,

Book cover of Queen of Ambition

Why this book?

Who would expect a queen’s lady-in-waiting might be a spy? 

Ursula Blanchard is a genteel but penniless female trying to survive in the cut-throat world of Elizabethan court intrigue. She proves her intelligence and resourcefulness to Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster, who takes her under his protective wing—a two-edged sword, since it means Ursula is often called into dangerous undercover missions. The vivid, impeccably researched backdrop of Elizabethan England adds to the drama and provides fascinating color.   

In addition to her ability to unravel complicated plots, I appreciate how Ursula often faces ethical dilemmas. In this novel, she is forced to choose between saving a friendship and protecting the queen. She also proves certain male “experts” wrong when she cracks a series of coded messages.

Murder by Misrule: A Francis Bacon Mystery

By Anna Castle,

Book cover of Murder by Misrule: A Francis Bacon Mystery

Why this book?

In Elizabethan England, Christmas revelries were presided over by a Lord of Misrule. During this season of legitimized misconduct, the brilliant Sir Francis Bacon requires surreptitious help in solving the murder of a fellow barrister in hopes of regaining the queen’s favor, from which he’s been ousted. It falls to his protégé, Thomas Clarady, to probe through disguises and earn the trust of a range of women, from the educated to the bawdy, in order to find the answers in time to prevent catastrophe. I love the Tudor period with all its riches, and this first entry in the Francis Bacon Mystery Series feels emotionally and historically credible.

Kingship, Madness, and Masculinity on the Early Modern Stage: Mad World, Mad Kings

By Christina Gutierrez-Dennehy (editor),

Book cover of Kingship, Madness, and Masculinity on the Early Modern Stage: Mad World, Mad Kings

Why this book?

Today concerns over madness and disability are very much with us, especially if they connect with issues of power and masculinity. This was also true in the age of Shakespeare. Christina Gutierrez-Dennehy’s collection of essays on the topic of mad kings on the Renaissance stage is very readable and interesting, and tie in with contemporary issues. The book is divided into three sections: distracted kingship, fractured masculinity, and performed madness. The plays under discussion include Shakespeare’s King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, Richard III, Henry VI, and All’s Well That Ends Well. Gutierrez-Dennehy brilliantly and explicitly brings the topics raised in the collection into the twenty-first century