Historical Musings #12: Essential Tudor fiction

Historical Musings Whether you’ve been reading historical fiction for years or whether you’re new to the genre, you can’t have failed to have noticed the abundance of novels set in the Tudor period. From Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl to Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall, it seems there’s a Tudor novel to suit all literary tastes and preferences. Although I’m now much more interested in the Plantagenet era, particularly the Wars of the Roses, and, increasingly, in earlier periods such as the Norman Conquest and the early medieval period, I have still read a lot of Tudor fiction over the years and I’m sure I’ll continue to do so, however much I might sometimes feel that I’ve read enough. I’m currently halfway through CJ Sansom’s Shardlake series and I also have a review copy of Alison Weir’s new book, Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen, so they will probably be my next Tudor reads.

Wolf HallI have listed here and here most of the Tudor books I’ve reviewed on my blog so far, including those set in the Elizabethan period (I’m planning to update these lists at some point with books read prior to blogging). However, I can’t really say that I would recommend all of them. There are some excellent Tudor novels out there but also some which are quite disappointing and with so much choice available it can be easy to find yourself reading a lot of the mediocre books while perhaps missing out on some of the better ones.

I didn’t have much time to prepare this month’s post, so I’m keeping it short and simple and will finish by asking for your thoughts.

Which Tudor novels would you consider essential reads for someone who has never read any and is wondering where to start?

Are there any books you would recommend even to someone who is getting bored with the Tudors? Any which you think approach the Tudor period in an unusual way or breathe fresh life into the subject?

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21 thoughts on “Historical Musings #12: Essential Tudor fiction”

  1. After feeling Tudored up to the hilt and swearing off any more books about them, I ended up reading Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies – and loving them. I can’t wait for the next one. I ended up reading and enjoying Alison Weir’s The Lady in the Tower too. But I’m happy to be getting into Dorothy Dunnett’s books now, a nice change from the Tudors, although they are around.

    1. I loved Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies too and am looking forward to reading the next one, whenever that may be. I tend not to think of Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles as Tudor novels, because they are not really the main focus of the story, but of course they are there in the background.

  2. I’ve been on a Tudor hiatus for a while now but the first novels I read were those written by Jean Plaidy beginning with “Uneasy Lies the Head” and Margaret Irwin’s Elizabeth I Trilogy (“Young Bess”, “Elizabeth, Captive Princess” and “Elizabeth and the Prince of Spain”. I also enjoyed Philippa Gregory’s Tudor Court novels.

    1. I have read a fantasy novel by Margaret Irwin called These Mortals, but her historical novels do sound more appealing to me. Thanks for reminding me about her Elizabeth I trilogy.

  3. What a difficult question! As you say there is so much choice!I used to read mainly historical fiction but looking back at what I’ve read over the last few years I see I haven’t read much set in the Tudor period apart from C J Sansom’s and Hilary Mantel’s books (which I loved), so I’m interested to see what others recommend. I enjoyed Jean Plaidy’s novels years ago, but would I still like them? I don’t know.

    I have recently finished reading a review copy of Alison Weir’s new book, Six Tudor Queens: Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen – my review coming on my blog quite soon. I don’t think it’s quite in the same league as either Hilary Mantel or C J Sansom, but it is strong on historical fact.

    Two books I’ve loved recently (not in the Tudor period but in the Stuart period) are Margaret Skea’s Turn of the Tide and A House Divided.

    1. I love Hilary Mantel and CJ Sansom too. I wouldn’t expect Alison Weir’s book to be in the same league, based on the other books I’ve read by her, but I’m pleased to hear it’s strong on fact. The Stuart period intrigues me more than the Tudors now, as I’ve read so much less about it.

  4. I haven’t read a great deal of Tudor historical fiction – those I have read and enjoyed are The May Bride by Suzannah Dunn and The Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle. I am hoping to finally read Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel this year!

    1. I enjoyed Sisters of Treason too. You might like Elizabeth Fremantle’s earlier book, Queen’s Gambit, which is about Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr. I hope you enjoy Wolf Hall!

  5. Of course, I am waiting for the third in Hilary Mantel’s trilogy. Dorothy Dunnet’s Lymond series deals most indirectly with the Tudors, but I can’t recommend those books enough. Other books I’ve read for the time period don’t stand up to those as well, but then they are both masters of the genre.

    1. Dunnett’s Lymond Chronicles are my favourite books set in the period, though I don’t always think of them as ‘Tudor novels’ in the same way as Hilary Mantel’s. I agree that there aren’t many historical fiction authors as good as those two!

  6. So I agree on Lymond – there are Tudors about but the focus isn’t Tudor.
    BTW, not Tudor fiction but brilliant and great fun to read if you like Tudor fiction is Ruth Goodman’s “How To Be a Tudor: A Dawn to Dusk Guide to Tudor Life.”

  7. I will add my praises for Hilary Mantel’s books. I think she really raised the bar. I also have read The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George. Despite the title it is a novel and for anyone going into Tudor fiction for the first time, it is a great overview of Henry and all his antics. At 932 pages, it is a door stopper but reads smoothly; a page turner of a door stopper really! Includes a family tree.

    1. I have read Margaret’s George’s novel about Elizabeth I and have a copy of another of her books, Mary Queen of Scotland and the Isles. I’ll have to look out for the Henry VIII one too. Thanks!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Mary. I haven’t read anything by Norah Lofts yet, although I do have a copy of The Lute Player, her book about Richard I. I’ll have to look for the titles you’ve mentioned too.

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