James I/VI, Charles I and the English Civil War

James I of England and VI of Scotland

James I was England’s first Stuart king – and also the sixth king of that name in Scotland. Here are some books set during his reign:

The Poison Bed by E.C. Fremantle

Elizabeth Fremantle has published this book under the slightly different name of E.C. Fremantle as this is more of a historical thriller than the straight historical novels she has previously written. The story is narrated by Frances Howard and her husband Robert Carr, a favourite of King James I. Frances and Robert are in the Tower of London accused of the murder of Thomas Overbury – but what is the truth of the matter?

The King’s Witch by Tracy Borman

This is the first in a new trilogy following the story of Frances Gorges, a young noblewoman with a gift for healing through the use of plants and herbs. With James I determined to eradicate witchcraft from his kingdom, Frances’s talents put her in danger – but despite the title, witches are not the main focus of this novel. The second half of the book concentrates on The Gunpowder Plot of 1605, which was interesting to read about.

The King’s Favourite by Marjorie Bowen

This is a different take on the Thomas Overbury Scandal covered in The Poison Bed above. It’s a much older novel, published in 1938, but very readable, like most of Bowen’s books.

The English Civil War

The English Civil Wars (1642-1651) were a series of conflicts between the Royalists and the Parliamentarians. The wars resulted in the execution of King Charles I followed by a Parliamentarian victory. Oliver Cromwell then ruled as Lord Protector until the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. This period was known as the Interregnum.

If you’d rather read about the period following the restoration of Charles II, you can find some suggestions here.

The Civil War

The Rider of the White Horse

The Rider of the White Horse by Rosemary Sutcliff

The story of Sir Thomas Fairfax, commander of the Parliamentarian army, and his wife, Anne, who follows him on campaign. As well as taking us through some key moments of the Civil War, this is also a beautifully written portrayal of the relationship between Thomas and Anne.

The Crimson Ribbon

The Crimson Ribbon by Katherine Clements

This is the story of Ruth Flowers, a servant in Oliver Cromwell’s household, who is forced to flee to London where she befriends Lizzie Poole (a character based on a real historical figure). Lizzie’s religious and political beliefs draw both girls into the conflict between Cromwell and Charles I and puts both of their lives in danger.

The Silvered Heart

The Silvered Heart by Katherine Clements

Clements’ second novel is also set during the Civil War and Interregnum and has an unusual heroine – Lady Katherine Ferrers, a highwaywoman known in legend as “The Wicked Lady”.

Shadow on the Highway

Shadow on the Highway by Deborah Swift

This is another novel based on the Wicked Lady legend, this time narrated by Abigail Chaplin, Lady Katherine’s (fictional) maid. This book is aimed at young adults, but can be enjoyed by readers of all ages and covers some interesting topics, such as the Protestant movement known as the Diggers, and what it was like to be deaf in the seventeenth century.

The Kings General

The King’s General by Daphne du Maurier

Du Maurier is one of my favourite authors so it’s no surprise that I enjoyed this book! It’s set in Cornwall and is narrated by Honor Harris, whose family are Royalists. The novel follows Honor’s relationship with Richard Grenvile, the King’s General in the West – a relationship that is tested by the war, betrayal and rebellion going on around them.

The Magick of Master Lilly by Tobsha Learner

This novel introduces us to William Lilly, a 17th century astrologer/magician. It is set just before and during the Civil War, which Lilly and his associates try to avert after he foresees disaster and destruction in the country’s future. I wasn’t keen on the pseudo-historical language Learner uses, but this book was something new and different as I’d never read about Lilly before.

Rupert by the Grace of God

Rupert, by the Grace of God by Dora Greenwell McChesney

A novel about a fictional character, Will Fortescue, who becomes involved in a plot to overthrow Charles I and place Prince Rupert on the throne instead. Published in 1899, black magic, conspiracies and secret rituals feature heavily in this historical adventure. Entertaining in parts, but I can’t really recommend it.

The Moon in the Water

The Moon in the Water by Pamela Belle

Pamela Belle’s wonderful Heron series tells the story of Thomazine Heron and her family. This first volume is set at the beginning of the Civil War, as tensions between King and Parliament intensify. The novel revolves around the romance between Thomazine and her cousin, Francis, but there’s also a strong historical background with descriptions of the various battles and sieges that occur in the early stages of the war.

The Chains of Fate

The Chains of Fate by Pamela Belle

The story of Thomazine and Francis continues in Chains of Fate, set in a country torn apart by war. I loved this book almost as much as the first and would highly recommend both!

The White Witch

The White Witch by Elizabeth Goudge

A beautifully written novel about a small Oxfordshire village and the ways in which the lives of its inhabitants are affected by civil war. Froniga, a half-gypsy healer and herbalist, is the witch of the title, but we also meet a wide range of other characters – Royalists and Parliamentarians, Puritans and Catholics, gypsies and noblemen.

Cornet Strong of Iretons Horse

Cornet Strong of Ireton’s Horse by Dora Greenwell McChesney

Another Civil War novel from McChesney, this one follows the relationship between Captain Nathan Standish and Cornet Reuben Strong, two soldiers in the Parliamentarian army. Like Rupert, by the Grace of God, this is quite enjoyable at times, but the very old-fashioned style and language will limit its appeal to modern readers.

Wintercombe by Pamela Belle

The first book in Pamela Belle’s other Civil War series, this one tells the story of Silence St. Barbe, wife of a Roundhead officer, whose beautiful Somerset home is garrisoned by Royalist soldiers. Silence’s romance with the Cavalier Captain, Nick Hellier, is at the heart of the novel, but only one aspect of this wonderful book.

Herald of Joy by Pamela Belle

The sequel to Wintercombe picks up the story of Silence and Nick six years later. I loved this book as much as the first one!

Mary of Carisbrooke

Mary of Carisbrooke by Margaret Campbell Barnes

This novel describes the imprisonment of King Charles I at Carisbrooke Castle on the Isle of Wight. One of the islanders, Mary Floyd, becomes involved in a series of schemes to help the King escape. I found this a pleasant, if slightly boring, book.

Circle of Pearls by Rosalind Laker

Circle of Pearls follows the changing fortunes of the fictional Pallister family, a Royalist household who find themselves on the losing side in the Civil War. With appearances by a young Sir Christopher Wren, vivid descriptions of the plague and Great Fire of London, and several turbulent romances, there’s plenty to enjoy here, but as far as Civil War novels based around English country houses go, try Pamela Belle’s Heron and St Barbe series first.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

Narrated by a fictional sister of Matthew Hopkins, the ‘Witchfinder General’, this is the story of the witch hunts which took place in England during the 1640s and the man responsible for them. A bit slow in places and the characters needed more depth, but this is still an interesting read with lots of fascinating facts about witchcraft and the Civil War as a backdrop.

The Royalist

The Royalist by S.J. Deas

The first in a series, this historical mystery introduces us to captured Royalist soldier, William Falkland, who is sent by Oliver Cromwell into the heart of the New Model Army to investigate some mysterious deaths. I loved the setting – an army camp in winter – and am looking forward to reading more Falkland novels.

The Child from the Sea

The Child from the Sea by Elizabeth Goudge

A fictional account of the life of Lucy Walter, mistress (and some say secret wife) of Charles II. We follow Lucy from her childhood at Roch Castle in Wales through the beginnings of her relationship with Charles and the struggles she faced in exile in Europe. A slow-paced but beautifully written novel with a very moving ending.

The Glovemaker

The Glovemaker by Stacia Brown

This novel follows the trial of Rachel Lockyer, a glovemaker’s assistant who has been accused of killing her illegitimate child. I found this book a bit disappointing due to some historical inaccuracies and a lack of atmosphere and emotional involvement. There aren’t a lot of novels set during the Interregnum, though, so that aspect of the book was interesting – and I learned a lot about the political movement known as the Levellers.



Rebellion by Peter Ackroyd

This third volume in Peter Ackroyd’s History of England series covers the Stuart period from the accession of James I (James VI of Scotland) in 1603 to the arrival of William and Mary in 1688. The main focus of this book is the Civil War – in fact, although the US title of the book is Rebellion, the UK title is simply Civil War.

2 thoughts on “James I/VI, Charles I and the English Civil War

    • Helen says:

      You’re welcome, Deborah. This page, and the other historical reading lists on my blog, are very much a work in progress and you’ve reminded me that I need to update them with my recent reads!

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