The best books about nobility

34 authors have picked their favorite books about nobility and why they recommend each book.

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A Distant Mirror

By Barbara Wertheim Tuchman,

Book cover of A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century

Same author, but a very different book. This one chronicles a dreadful time of troubles in Europe, an age when for various reasons everything fell apart. As we will relatively soon be entering our own time of troubles—an age of mere anarchy and passionate intensity in which the existing order is overturned—Tuchman’s account may constitute a forewarning that will help us to be forearmed for living in much more challenging circumstances.

Who am I?

William Ophuls served as a Foreign Service Officer in Washington, Abidjan, and Tokyo before receiving a PhD in political science from Yale University in 1973. His Ecology and the Politics of Scarcity published in 1977 laid bare the ecological, social, and political challenges confronting modern industrial civilization. It was honored by the Kammerer and Sprout awards. After teaching briefly at Northwestern University, he became an independent scholar and author. He has since published a number of works extending and deepening his original argument, most prominently Requiem for Modern Politics in 1997, Plato’s Revenge: Politics in the Age of Ecology in 2011, and Immoderate Greatness: Why Civilizations Fail in 2013.

I wrote...

Electrifying the Titanic: The Shipwreck of Industrial Civilisation

By William Ophuls,

Book cover of Electrifying the Titanic: The Shipwreck of Industrial Civilisation

What is my book about?

Innumerable warnings, growing increasingly dire as the years have rolled by, have failed to motivate peoples and nations to take the emerging ecological crisis as seriously as it warrants. What is worse, they have chosen exactly the wrong strategy for dealing with the crisis: instead of remodeling their societies and economies in accordance with ecological imperatives, they are trying to maintain business as usual by substituting solar electricity for fossil fuels. But refitting the Titanic with batteries, even if it were possible at this late date, will not avoid ecological shipwreck.

As a result, we stand on the precipice of radical change, change that threatens to end both the modern way of life and the long period of relative peace since the end of World War II. This work explores the limitations of the human mind that have prevented timely human action and reveals the bleak landscape of the future that our failure to act has now made all but inevitable. 

Blood and Roses

By Helen Castor,

Book cover of Blood and Roses: One Family's Struggle and Triumph During the Tumultuous Wars of the Roses

This book tells the story of the wars of the Roses through the lens of one family – the Pastons. This family left an extraordinary archive of letters, and it included many fascinating characters, especially women. The Paston women fought off sieges on their houses, wrote Valentine letters to their husbands, ran off with servants, and managed complicated household finances. As a family, the Pastons were social climbers, who tried to get on at court and to improve their position. Through them, we hear about high politics, but also about the domestic life and loves of the gentry in the fifteenth century. In this book, Helen Castor writes a kind of family biography, expansive, gripping, and detailed. It is both first-class research and a great story.

Who am I?

Marion Turner is a Professor of English Literature at Oxford University where she teaches medieval literature. Her critically-acclaimed biography of the poet Geoffrey Chaucer was picked as a Book of the Year by the Times, the Sunday Times, the New Statesman, and the TLS, and has been hailed as ‘an absolute triumph,’ and a ‘masterpiece.’ It won the British Academy Rose Mary Crawshay Prize and the English Association Beatrice White Prize, and was shortlisted for the Wolfson History Prize.

I wrote...

Chaucer: A European Life

By Marion Turner,

Book cover of Chaucer: A European Life

What is my book about?

An acclaimed biography that recreates the cosmopolitan world in which a wine merchant’s son became one of the most celebrated of all English writers. Uncovering important new information about Chaucer’s travels, private life, and the circulation of his writings, Marion Turner reconstructs in unprecedented detail the cosmopolitan world of Chaucer’s adventurous life, focusing on the places and spaces that fired his imagination. From the wharves of London to the frescoed chapels of Florence, the book recounts Chaucer’s experiences as a prisoner of war in France, as a father visiting his daughter’s nunnery, as a member of a chaotic Parliament, and as a diplomat in Milan.

The Serpent and the Pearl

By Kate Quinn,

Book cover of The Serpent and the Pearl

While this novel moves effortlessly between three narrators, I loved that one of them is plucked straight from the dusty pages of history. While Lucrezia Borgia typically gets plenty of press, her contemporary Giulia Farnese was the beautiful young woman who didn’t have a choice in becoming the mistress of Cardinal Borgia, who became Pope Alexander VI. Here we see her learning to wade through Italian politics at the height of Borgia treachery.

Who am I?

I’m a writer and high school history teacher who has been obsessed with women from history since I was twelve. Prior to A Most Clever Girl, I wrote And They Called It Camelot about First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy and American Princess about Alice Roosevelt. I've also written four novels about women from the ancient world, spotlighting Theodora of the Byzantine Empire, Egypt's Pharaoh Hatshepsut, the story of Genghis Khan’s wife and daughters, and a novel of Alexander the Great's women.

I wrote...

A Most Clever Girl: A Novel of an American Spy

By Stephanie Marie Thornton,

Book cover of A Most Clever Girl: A Novel of an American Spy

What is my book about?

A thrilling novel of love, loyalty, and espionage, based on the incredible true story of Elizabeth Bentley, a Cold War double agent spying for the Russians and the United States, from USA Today bestselling author Stephanie Marie Thornton.

Recruited by the American Communist Party to spy on fascists at the outbreak of World War II, a young Bentley—code name Clever Girl—finds she has an unexpected gift for espionage. But after falling desperately in love with her handler, Elizabeth makes another surprise discovery when she learns he is actually a Russian spy. Together, they will build the largest Soviet spy network in America and Elizabeth will become its uncrowned Red Spy Queen. However, once the war ends and the U.S. and U.S.S.R. become embroiled in the Cold War, it is Elizabeth who will dangerously clash with the NKVD, the brutal Soviet espionage agency. 

The Woman in White

By Wilkie Collins,

Book cover of The Woman in White

When you read this early English mystery novel by Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens’ best bud, you travel through time and space. You land in a strangely familiar London before venturing into rural England nearly 200 years ago. And you feel disconcertingly at home, ready to be bamboozled, fall in love, and fight for what’s right. Collins is credited with inventing the crime-mystery genre (I’m not convinced that’s true or important). The writing is mesmerizing, gorgeous. The characters are unforgettable: Walter Hartwright, the earnest, dogged hero; the beautiful, tragic Woman in White; the irresistibly monstrous Italian Count Fosco and his pet songbirds; the feckless, hypochondriac Mr. Fairlie. Collins keeps you guessing. If ever proof were needed, The Woman in White confirms crime-mystery as great literature.

Who am I?

I grew up in the ‘60s and ‘70s watching Alfred Hitchcock movies and reading Dashiell Hammett—I’m from San Francisco. Then opera got hold of me. So, I dropped out of my PhD program, left Dante’s Inferno behind, and moved to Paris to live a modern-day La Bohème. Because I’m half-Italian, I decided I had to divide my life between Paris and Italy. Mystery, murder, romance, longing, and betrayal were what fueled my passions and still do. To earn a living, I became a travel, food, and arts reporter. These interests and the locales of my life come together in my own crime and mystery novels.

I wrote...

Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

By David Downie,

Book cover of Red Riviera: A Daria Vinci Investigation

What is my book about?

Red Riviera is a gripping detective novel set on the Italian Riviera, featuring female sleuth Daria Vinci. 

Its jaws open wide, a firefighting seaplane skims the Gulf of Portofino on Italy’s jagged Ligurian coast, scooping up lone swimmer Joe Gary. The super-rich Italian-American has mob connections and a dirty political past. Is it an accident or murder? It is a wild ride from the tangled trails of the Cinque Terre to glamorous Portofino and roistering Genoa. It’s a Riviera made red by riotous bougainvillea and spilled blood. Half-American, Daria Vinci is an outsider, the rising star of Genoa’s secretive Special Operations Directorate DIGOS. To solve her case, Daria must face down a Fascist police chief, the CIA’s local mastermind, a former World War Two Spitfire fighter pilot, and a plucky hundred-year-old marquise whose memory is as long as it is vengeful.

Eleanor de Montfort

By Louise J. Wilkinson,

Book cover of Eleanor de Montfort: A Rebel Countess in Medieval England

Because everyone loves a good rebel. Eleanor de Montfort was little known before Wilkinson’s fine book. She was the daughter of King John, the sister of King Henry III, and the aunt of King Edward I. She was also the wife of one of England’s most notorious rebels, Simon de Montfort, whose leadership during the period of baronial reform and rebellion (1258-67) saw him rise to become the de facto ruler of England and host of the first representative parliament. Eleanor was no shrinking violet in all of this; she actively supported her husband’s cause through recruitment of allies, strategic hospitality, caring for royal prisoners, and suing for the properties and rights of her sons and husband, even after her husband’s gruesome death and desecration at the Battle of Evesham turned her into an outlaw on the run from English authorities.

Wilkinson’s book is a pleasure to read, as she…

Who am I?

I am King George III Professor in British History at the Ohio State University. While later medieval England is my specialty, I approach it through a study of the legal record. Medieval people were highly litigious – the average person ended up in court far more often than we do today, making legal records the best means to unearth information about the lives of normal people from the era.  Most of my research has been sparked by questions students have asked me in class, such as: did medieval women stay with their abusive husbands? Did medieval children have rights? What was it like to be a single woman in medieval England?

I wrote...

Divorce in Medieval England: From One to Two Persons in Law

By Sara M. Butler,

Book cover of Divorce in Medieval England: From One to Two Persons in Law

What is my book about?

Divorce is usually considered to be a modern invention. This book challenges that viewpoint, documenting the many and varied uses of divorce in the medieval period and highlighting the fact that couples regularly divorced on the grounds of spousal incompatibility.

Because the medieval church was determined to uphold the sacrament of marriage whenever possible, divorce in the medieval period was a much more complicated process than it is in the modern West. This book steps readers through the process, including: grounds for divorce, the fundamentals of the process, the risks involved, financial implications for wives who were legally disabled thanks to the rules of coverture (the fictive unity of person imposed on married couples by common law), the custody and support of children, and finally, the difficulty of staying divorced.

Lucrezia Borgia

By Sarah Bradford,

Book cover of Lucrezia Borgia: Life, Love, and Death in Renaissance Italy

My first three picks are scholarly studies. This book is more popular history in the sense that it lays out Lucrezia’s family and cultural contexts in detail for non-specialists. Bradford brings the period to life and shows the extent to which Lucrezia’s reputation was the inevitable product of the intrigues that surrounded her. She was nothing like the promiscuous, depraved, monstrous creature she is supposed to have been. The contrast that Bradford gives us between the bloodthirsty legend and the cultured and intelligent human being is so stunning that you will never take anything you read about an infamous woman at face value again.

Who am I?

After working on the writings of the 15th-century French writer Christine de Pizan for a while I turned to researching the queen of France whom Christine addresses in some of her works. As I read the primary sources, it quickly became clear to me that poor Isabeau of Bavaria’s terrible reputation had been produced by misogynistic and nationalistic nineteenth-century French historians who promulgated images of political women as promiscuous harridans. I was astounded. How could it be that we were still circulating simplistic old narratives of incompetence and debauchery without critically examining what people of the times had to say? I have been studying the afterlives of infamous noblewomen ever since.

I wrote...

The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria

By Tracy Adams,

Book cover of The Life and Afterlife of Isabeau of Bavaria

What is my book about?

The fascinating history of Isabeau of Bavaria is a tale of two queens. During her lifetime, Isabeau, the long-suffering wife of mad King Charles VI of France, was respected and revered. After her death, she was reviled as an incompetent regent, depraved adulteress, and betrayer of the throne. Asserting that there is no historical support for this posthumous reputation, Tracy Adams returns Isabeau to her rightful place in history.

The Routledge Companion to Women and Monarchy in the Ancient Mediterranean World

By Elizabeth Doyle Carey (editor), Sabine Müeller (editor),

Book cover of The Routledge Companion to Women and Monarchy in the Ancient Mediterranean World

This is a weighty tome at well over 500 pages but well worth the investment as this edited collection is bursting with case studies of royal women from ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia to the end of Imperial Rome. The editors have brought together a large group of experts to offer chapters on groups of women, issues in an ancient monarchy such as Egyptian brother-sister marriages, and the representation of royal women in ancient sources, historiography, and modern popular culture. Cleopatra and the ancient world was my original gateway into queens and queenship—there are plenty of interesting women to inspire anyone to learn more about the pivotal role they played in the development of monarchy in the ancient world.

Who am I?

Queens and queenship is a topic that has fascinated me since childhood when I first read about women like Cleopatra and Eleanor of Aquitaine. They ignited a passion to learn about the lives of royal women which led me from the ancient Mediterranean to medieval Europe, on into the early modern era, and has now gone truly global. I am particularly passionate to draw out the hidden histories of all the women who aren’t as well-known as their more famous counterparts and push for a fully global outlook in both queenship and royal studies in the works I write and the journal and two book series that I edit.

I wrote...

Queens and Queenship

By Elena Woodacre,

Book cover of Queens and Queenship

What is my book about?

This book looks at queenship in a global, timeless sense—examining the role of queens, empresses, and other royal women from the ancient and classical period through to nearly the present day on every continent. By taking a ‘long view’ of queenship, we can start to see connecting threads over time and place and comparisons of how the queen’s role differed in various cultural contexts. A wide variety of examples, including both more familiar figures and lesser-known but equally fascinating royal women, are given to explain key themes in queenship: family and dynasty, rulership, and image crafting.

Fundamentally, this book offers a fresh perspective on queenship which enables new insights into the queen’s role as the most eminent woman in the realm.

The Commoner

By John Burnham Schwartz,

Book cover of The Commoner

A historical novel based on the true story of a commoner who marries the Japanese Crown Prince. She is treated so cruelly that she eventually loses her voice. When her son intends to marry a commoner history repeats itself. The novel portrays Japan’s reverence for the Imperial Crown, which lies heavily on the head of those who wear it. Beautifully written, it is a surprising endeavor following on the heels of another of Schwartz’s novels – a murder mystery set in a small Connecticut town – Reservation Road.

Who am I?

I have always been fascinated by family histories, and am the self-selected historian in my family. I wrote my mother’s memoir, I Turned a Key and the Birds Began to Sing, put together a newsletter for aunts, uncles, and cousins near and far, and became a ghostwriter to help other people mine their personal and family stories. I’ve worked with company CEOs, survivors of the Holocaust; World War II U.S. veterans, and Hollywood celebrities. In the midst of writing books for other people I turned my sights on my husband who was born in Osaka, Japan and asked his permission to write his family’s story.  

I wrote...

All Sorrows Can Be Borne

By Loren Stephens,

Book cover of All Sorrows Can Be Borne

What is my book about?

Inspired by my husband’s family history, All Sorrows is a historical novel whose heroine, Noriko Ito, takes center stage. Surviving the bombing of Hiroshima, she dreams of becoming an actress. Her hopes are dashed and she ends up a waitress in a fancy tearoom in the Namba district of Osaka, where she meets and marries the mysterious and handsome manager. She gives birth to a little boy. During her pregnancy, her husband is diagnosed with tuberculosis. Unable to hold down a job, he forces Noriko to give up their only son to a couple living in the badlands of Montana. One sorrow after another piles up and Noriko regrets ever having agreed to this decision. 

Some eighteen years later – long after her husband dies – she is reunited with her son. Her son, Hiroshi, is my husband. In writing this book I uncovered family secrets that are woven into the novel. 

The Lost Queen, Volume 1

By Signe Pike,

Book cover of The Lost Queen, Volume 1

So many brilliant authors have explored the Arthurian legends that I had trouble believing that there could be more to say. Signe Pike, though, researched the earliest appearance of the legend of Merlin and traced it, surprisingly, to 6th-century Scotland where she set this tale. Merlin and his sister are given their early Celtic names, Lailoken and Languoreth and there is a Scottish/Celtic feel to the book that evokes that historical time and place. I was particularly moved by Pike’s exploration of the dilemma of the peace-weaving queen, forced to choose between loyalty to her birth family and loyalty to the family into which she married. Sadly, that was the bitter fate of many peace-weaving brides as rival tribes vied against each other for power and ultimate control.  

Who am I?

Ever since childhood I’ve been fascinated by the history of England, and fifteen years ago I made the decision to write a series of novels set before the Norman Conquest. Since then I’ve immersed myself in the history of that period and made numerous visits to the locations where I set my novels. I’ve been frustrated though by the enormous gaps in the historical records of that time, in particular the lack of information about the women. Because of that I am drawn to the work of authors who, like me, are attempting to resurrect and retell the lost stories of those remarkable women. 

I wrote...

The Steel Beneath the Silk

By Patricia Bracewell,

Book cover of The Steel Beneath the Silk

What is my book about?

In the year 1012 England’s Norman-born Queen Emma has been ten years wed to an aging, ruthless, haunted King Æthelred. The marriage is a bitterly unhappy one, between a queen who seeks to create her own sphere of influence within the court and a suspicious king who eyes her efforts with hostility and resentment. But royal discord shifts to grudging alliance when Cnut of Denmark, with the secret collusion of his English concubine Elgiva, invades England at the head of a massive Viking army. Amid the chaos of war, Emma must outwit a fierce enemy whose goal is conquest and outmaneuver the cunning Elgiva, who threatens all those whom Emma loves.

Courting Miss Lancaster

By Sarah M. Eden,

Book cover of Courting Miss Lancaster

Courting Miss Lancaster is a perfect first novel for those new to Sarah Eden. She is the queen of beautiful and inspirational wholesome romance novels. This story is original, fun, witty, and so heartwarming you will be an instant fan. Well-researched, it brings the Regency era—and courtship—to life.

Who am I?

Danielle Thorne has researched, traveled, read, and written sweet stories about historical gentlemen, pirates, ladies, and not-so-distressed damsels from her home south of Atlanta for over half her life. A graduate of BYU-Idaho with an English minor, she also writes clean and wholesome contemporary romance for Harlequin's tasteful Love Inspired line. She is the author of over twenty-five family-friendly books in a variety of genres.  

I wrote...

A Pirate at Pembroke

By Danielle Thorne,

Book cover of A Pirate at Pembroke

What is my book about?

When Sophie's sent to a matchmaking party, the pirate from Pembroke Hall arrives and distracts everyone from the summer festivities. Unguarded, her feelings about the mysterious Captain Murdock bloom into a trusted friendship Sophie fears may mean more than anyone suspects.

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