Historical Musings #48: The Welsh Edition

Welcome to my monthly post on all things historical fiction!

This month Paula of The Book Jotter is hosting her first ever Wales Readathon* (also known as Dewithon 19). I have started to read How Green Was My Valley by Richard Llewellyn but I’m not sure if I’ll have time to finish it and write a review before the end of March so, as I do still want to participate in some way, I thought it would be interesting to devote this month’s Historical Musings post to Welsh historical fiction.

I’m listing below some of the historical novels set in Wales that I’ve already read and written about on my blog (some are by Welsh authors and some are not), but I’d love to hear your recommendations too.

Starting with the book set in the earliest time period, Daughter of the Last King by Tracey Warr takes us back to 11th century Wales and introduces us to Nest ferch Rhys, daughter of the last king of Deheubarth. I have the sequel, The Drowned Court, on my shelf to read soon.

Then there’s Sharon Penman’s Welsh Princes Trilogy, which begins with Here Be Dragons, the story of Llewelyn ab Iorweth (known as Llewelyn the Great) and his wife Joanna, an illegitimate daughter of England’s King John. The second book in the trilogy, Falls the Shadow, is set several years later and tells the parallel stories of Simon de Montfort’s rebellion against Henry III and, in Wales, the rivalries between Llewelyn’s sons and grandsons. I still need to read the final book, The Reckoning.

A Morbid Taste for Bones by Ellis Peters, the first in her Cadfael mystery series, involves a journey to a Welsh village to bring back a saint’s relics to Shrewsbury Abbey.

Sleeper’s Castle by Barbara Erskine is a time slip novel set in Hay-on-Wye, close to the border between England and Wales. The historical thread of the story involves a young woman who becomes caught up in Owain Glyndŵr’s rebellion against the rule of Henry IV of England.

In First of the Tudors, Joanna Hickson looks at the Welsh origins of the Tudor dynasty, with a focus on Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke, uncle of the future Henry VII.

The Child From the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge is a beautifully written novel about Lucy Walter, a mistress of King Charles II and the mother of his eldest son, the Duke of Monmouth. Lucy grows up at Roch Castle, on the Pembrokeshire coast, and her Welsh childhood is described in vivid detail.

My Beautiful Imperial by Rhiannon Lewis begins in 19th century Wales with a young boy dreaming of a life at sea before developing into a fascinating novel about the Chilean civil war.

Moving forward into the 20th century, I remember enjoying Blow on a Dead Man’s Embers by Mari Strachan (renamed simply Dead Man’s Embers since I read it a few years ago). The book is set in the 1920s and follows the story of a woman whose husband returns home to Wales after the First World War suffering from shell shock.

I found all of the books mentioned above interesting in different ways and would recommend any of them. But now it’s your turn…

Have you read any of these books? Can you think of any other good historical fiction novels set in Wales?

* It’s also Reading Ireland Month – you can see my earlier post on Irish historical fiction here.

24 thoughts on “Historical Musings #48: The Welsh Edition

    • Helen says:

      I’ve still only read the first book but have the second one lined up to read soon. They are definitely much less challenging than The Name of the Rose!

  1. Judy Krueger says:

    My mother introduced me to Elizabeth Goudge and The Child From the Sea was one of her favorites, as well as mine. A blogger friend of mine lives in Wales and is quite active in promoting Welsh authors, old and new and has read tons of Booker Prize winners. You can find her here: https://bookertalk.com/
    Sharon Kay Penman is definitely Welsh and I plan to read her soon.

    • Helen says:

      The Child From the Sea was the first Elizabeth Goudge book I read so it holds a special place in my heart, although I’ve since read others that I enjoyed more. Thanks for the link. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      And thank you for hosting this, Paula. I wasn’t sure if I’d have time to join in this month, but I’m glad I’ve found a way to participate after all. 🙂

  2. Calmgrove says:

    At the moment all I can think of is one title, and that’s really alternate history: Owen Sheers’ Resistance which straddles the English/Welsh border and imagines Britain being invaded by the Nazis.

  3. Rachel B. says:

    Ellis Peters was the pen name of the historian Edith Pargeter. Under her own name, she publishd a number of Welsh historical novels, including The Heaven Tree Trilogy, and the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet. All very much worth your time. She wrote a few others as well, but you asked about Welsh settings.

    • Helen says:

      Thanks, Rachel. I do already have a copy of the first Heaven Tree book and was hoping to collect the other two before I start reading. If I enjoy those, which I’m sure I will, I’ll read the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet as well.

  4. Melita Kennedy says:

    I’ve read Penman’s Welsh Princes trilogy. I first read Here Be Dragons while on a study abroad year in Bangor! I know I started the Plantagenet series, so When Christ and His Saints Slept, but I don’t think I’ve read Time and Chance. I like her writing a lot but taking on big-fat-books has become increasingly difficult (little kids). I read her first mystery, but didn’t like it enough to continue.

    A mid-1800s set historical romance series that spends some time in Wales early on is Celeste de Blasis’s Wild Swan. The book starts out in England and Wales, then moves to Maryland. The whole series is sadly out-of-print and has never been released digitally.

    Edith Pargeter (Ellis Peters) has her quartet of Welsh Princes. They were quite good and cover the same period as Penman’s. The ending of these stories is so sad though that I have trouble rereading either of them.

    For mid-20th century, there’s Susan Cooper’s The Grey King. I’ve read some mysteries set in Wales–Alison G. Taylor, and Reginald Hill (Dalziel and Pascoe) did Joe Sixsmith.

    • Helen says:

      I haven’t read Penman’s Plantagenet series yet (I want to finish the Welsh Princes first) but I would like to read all of her books eventually. So far my favourite is The Sunne in Splendour. As for the mysteries, I’ve read the first two and thought the second one was much better than the first. I’m looking forward to reading Edith Pargeter’s Welsh Princes series at some point too – and will be prepared for the sad ending!

      Thanks for the other suggestions. I’ll look out for the Celeste de Blasis series and hopefully it might come back into print one day.

  5. Yvonne says:

    I enjoyed Sharon Penman’s trilogy and also Edith Pargeter’s Brothers of Gwynedd Quartet about the four Welsh Princes, Llewelyn, Owen Goch, Rhodri and David.

    Elizabeth Chadwick has a few novels set in Wales. I think one of these is The Wild Hunt, one of her earlier novels.

    Alexander Cordell wrote a number of historical novels set in Wales which I’ve yet to read. Even though he wasn’t born there, he is considered a Welsh novelist.

    Shoes for Anthony by Emma Kennedy, a book I read recently, is set in a Welsh mining village during World War II.

    • Helen says:

      I think I’ll have to read the Brothers of Gwynedd quartet as soon as possible – although I was planning to read The Heaven Tree first, as I already have a copy of that one. I nearly included Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Champion in this post, but I couldn’t remember how much of it was actually set in Wales (I’m sure at least some of it was). The Wild Hunt is one that I haven’t read yet.

      I’ll have to investigate Alexander Cordell and Shoes for Anthony!

  6. jessicabookworm says:

    As you will probably remember, I absolutely loved First of the Tudors by Joanna Hickson, which reminds me I really need to read the second book The Tudor Crown soon! I’m afraid I can’t think of any other historical books set in Wales I have read. This closest I can think of is Lamp Black, Wolf Grey by Paula Brackston, which has a bit of time-slip element to it but I didn’t enjoy it as much as I hope I would. I am hoping to enjoy her newer novel The Little Shop of Found Things more.

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