Historical Musings #4: Time Periods

Historical Musings I find history fascinating and am happy to read books set in any historical period, but there are some I seem to be drawn to more than others. While it’s good to discover new eras and new subjects, it can also be very rewarding to read several novels set during the same period, each one adding to your knowledge and helping to build up a bigger picture. It’s interesting to see how different authors approach the same topics, interpret the same historical sources and portray the same historical figures.

At the moment my favourite historical period, without a doubt, is the Wars of the Roses. My interest in this period is relatively recent. It began five years ago when I read The White Queen by Philippa Gregory and since then I’ve been reading everything I can find on the subject, from the better known books such as The Sunne in Splendour and The Daughter of Time to the more obscure ones such as The Adventures of Alianore Audley. A list of the Wars of the Roses books I’ve reviewed on this blog is available here and I still have lots of others waiting to be read!

Other time periods I love reading about are:

* Renaissance Italy
* The 19th Century
* Plantagenet England (the period before the Wars of the Roses)
* The First and Second World Wars
* The French Revolution
* The English Civil War and Restoration
* The Tudor and Elizabethan periods

I’m starting to develop an interest in Anglo-Saxon England as well, but I think I’ll need to read a few more books set in this era before I can decide whether it is a ‘favourite’. I also enjoy reading historical fiction set in Scotland and in India, China and Russia, to name just a few other countries, but not necessarily during any particular period which is why I haven’t listed them above. And then, of course, there are authors like Edward Rutherfurd who write novels that span centuries and other authors – Susanna Kearsley and Kate Morton, for example, whose books are often set in dual or multiple time periods.

As I mentioned in my Historical Musings post a couple of months ago, the historical periods I struggle with tend to be the Ancient ones – Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece, Ancient Egypt. I’m hoping it’s just a case of finding the right books to spark my enthusiasm for these subjects.

What about you? Which periods of history do you like – or not like – to read about? Can you recommend any good books set in your favourite period?

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21 thoughts on “Historical Musings #4: Time Periods

  1. jessicabookworm says:

    Recently my historical reading has also been centred on the Tudor, Elizabethan and War of the Roses time period. However I lap up TV shows and documentaries about the Vikings, Saxons, Ancient Rome, Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt. I would really like to include more of these time periods in my reading. Like you I perhaps need to find the right books/authors. Any suggestions from people would be most welcome.

    • Helen says:

      There are so many tempting books set in the Tudor, Elizabethan and Wars of the Roses periods it can be difficult to move away from them and find books set in other periods. I’m starting to enjoy reading about the Saxons and Vikings, but I’m still waiting to fall in love with the Ancient Greeks, Romans and Egyptians!

  2. Pam Thomas says:

    I’m currently reading ‘Hild’ by Nicola Griffith – a fascinating and detailed novel about the early life of the girl who later became St. Hilda, Abbess of Whitby. Beautifully written, but it may be a little slow for some. Anglo-Saxon England is a fascinating and little-known period, with lots of good stories. I loved ‘The King of Athelney’, by Alfred Duggan, which is about Alfred the Great: ‘The Bone Thief’ and its follow-up ‘The Traitor’s Pit’ by V M Whitworth, set in the time of Edward the Elder, Alfred’s son: and the great trilogy by Valerie Anand, especially ‘Gildenford’.

    • Helen says:

      I have read Hild and loved it – I agree that it’s beautifully written. In some aspects it reminded me of Dorothy Dunnett’s King Hereafter. Gildenford has been recommended to me by a few different people now, so I’m definitely going to read it soon.

  3. Sarah Gruwell says:

    It’s fascinating how we’re all drawn to certain time periods and specific interests. I, personally, have a harder time with the Wars of the Roses. I usually get lost in the deluge of names and battles. There are some great books that take place in the time period I enjoyed, namely Susan Higginbotham’s. But, overall, I’m not usually playing in 1400s England. Personally, i love earlier medieval England (Plantagenet England), WWII, and American Revolution and Civil War. But I love to play in most historical eras.

    A great Ancient History novel that might help with your struggle in reading Ancient History fiction is Stephanie Thornton’s , Children of the Gods. She brings characters, locales, and the history of the Ancient World to life like few others. Any book by her is good, actually.

    Thanks for the great post. I love contemplating what works in a historical setting and what doesn’t while reading fiction from the era. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I found the Wars of the Roses very confusing and complicated at first, but as I’ve read more and more books set in that period things have become much clearer. I haven’t tried Susan Higginbotham’s books yet, but she is on my very long list of authors I want to try!

      Thanks for recommending Stephanie Thornton. I’ve seen her books mentioned on other blogs but have never tried one.

  4. Lisa says:

    How interesting, I’ve never thought about which periods I prefer. I’ve read more I think by author than period, so in the Regency/Napoleonic War (especially with Georgette Heyer & Patrick O’Brien), and the Renaissance (with Dorothy Dunnett). I think I’d like to read more set in ancient Rome and Egypt. I did read the Falco series of mysteries, set in Vespasian’s Rome – and around the empire.

    • Helen says:

      I love Georgette Heyer’s Regency novels but I’m not sure whether it’s the period or just Heyer in general that I like – maybe both! I’ve been making a list of Ancient Rome books that I want to try and the Falco series is near the top.

  5. Elle says:

    I would 100% second Pam’s recommendation of Hild; it’s written in gorgeous, sensual prose, and even the slowness didn’t bother me because it’s the first in a projected series of three. I’ve never read an author who gets under the skin of Anglo-Saxon England the way Griffith does. For Wars of the Roses, it’s nonfiction, but Thomas Penn’s book Winter King, about Henry VII, is incredibly informative and accessible, and gives a lot of information about the actual reign of a king who’s mostly known for how he acquired power, not for what he did once he had it.

    • Helen says:

      I read Hild a few years ago and was very impressed; the prose certainly is gorgeous and the slow pace didn’t bother me either. I’m looking forward to reading the second book whenever it’s available. I have read Winter King as well and learned a lot from it. Henry VII is so often portrayed in a negative light, so it was good to read a more balanced account of his life and reign.

  6. Helen C says:

    I sometimes think that the Wars of the Roses and the Tudors have been done to death, and it takes an exceptional author such as Hilary Mantel to make me want to read anything more about that period.
    I admit to a weakness for the Regency period and can devour any number of very sub-Heyer romances (Mary Balogh, Stephanie Laurens, etc) but always feel slightly guilty afterwards, a bit like eating too much cheap chocolate.
    Finally, the 12th century – Stephen & Matilda and particularly Henry II. This has a lot to do with Diana Norman/Ariana Franklin who set several of her novels in this period, but I’ve always had a bit of a thing about Eleanor of Aquitaine – I have three biographies of her on my shelves.

    • Helen says:

      I agree that there are far too many books set in the Tudor period, but I still can’t resist reading some of them! I’m not bored with the Wars of the Roses just yet, though. And yes, the 12th century is fascinating; I love reading about the Anarchy and Henry II/Eleanor of Aquitaine too.

  7. MarinaSofia says:

    I used to read an awful lot of historical fiction, but for some reason have stopped in recent years (or else read only recent history, like WW1 and WW2). For Ancient Rome I also recommend Lindsey Davis’ Falco series – not just historically accurate crime fiction, but funny with it. For Ancient Greece I cannot think of any, although my older son has love the Percy Jackson series written by Rick Riordan – a bit of a creative and free reinterpretation of classical myths, and probably not that great for anyone over the age of 12, but still… it kept him reading. There is one non-fiction book about Ancient Greece which I really enjoyed. It reads almost like a novel: ‘Courtesans and Fishcakes: The Consuming Passions of Classical Athens’ by James Davidson.

    • Helen says:

      A lot of people have recommended the Falco series to me, so I think I’ll definitely have to give it a try. I don’t read very much non-fiction but I love the sound of the James Davidson book!

  8. Charlie says:

    Like you, I struggle with the ancients. It’s weird because I actually love learning about those times, it’s just fiction doesn’t quite work for me. I love reading about the Tudors, Chinese history (the royals mostly, rather than more modern history) and recently come to like early twentieth century – I wasn’t interested in it for a long time. I’d have to opt for Nancy Bilyeau’s books for the Tudor period, which I believe you’ve read.

    • Helen says:

      Yes, I loved the Nancy Bilyeau books. I was sorry to read the last in the Joanna Stafford trilogy earlier this year and now I’m looking forward to seeing what she writes next.

  9. Dorothy @ The Nature of Things says:

    I share your interest in 15th and early 16th English history and have read several books about that period over the last couple of years. I’m currently rereading The Daughter of Time which I first read many years ago. I’m enjoying it even more the second time around.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks for commenting, Dorothy. I enjoyed The Daughter of Time too, though I’ve only read it once. I would like to reread it eventually, as I’m sure I would get even more out of it now that I’ve read a lot of other books on Richard and the Princes in the Tower and have a deeper understanding of the subject.

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