The books listed below are all set in the Tudor period during the reigns of Henry VII, Henry VIII and Edward VI. The Tudors: Part 2 features books on the Grey sisters, Mary I and Elizabeth I. There will be some overlap, but there were just too many Tudor novels to fit on one page! Please feel free to comment with your own suggestions and recommendations.
This Booker Prize winning novel by Hilary Mantel is the first in a planned trilogy telling the story of Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s chief minister. In Wolf Hall, we see how Cromwell helps to bring about Henry’s divorce from Katherine of Aragon and his subsequent marriage to Anne Boleyn.
This excellent sequel to Wolf Hall continues Thomas Cromwell’s story and describes the events leading to the downfall of Anne Boleyn. You could probably enjoy this book even without reading Wolf Hall first, but I would still recommend reading them in order!
The first in Philippa Carr’s twenty-volume Daughters of England series is the story of Damask Farland and her relationship with Bruno, a ‘miracle child’ who was found in the Christmas crib at St Bruno’s Abbey. This is a fun read but also gives us a good idea of what it was like to live through a time of great political and religious change.
I enjoyed this novel set in the aftermath of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. We follow Agnes Peppin, a young novice at Shaftesbury Abbey who is forced to go out into the wider world and build a new life for herself after the abbey is dissolved.
Margaret Tudor is an important historical figure, being the sister of Henry VIII and grandmother to Mary, Queen of Scots, yet her story is often ignored. Here D.L. Bogdan gives Margaret the attention she deserves. A light but enjoyable read!
Katherine of Aragon
The first in a series of novels about the six wives of Henry VIII, this is a wonderfully thorough and comprehensive account of the life of Katherine of Aragon. Written from Katherine’s perspective, the novel takes us from the moment of her first arrival in England right through to her death. A great start to the series!
I enjoyed this book because instead of concentrating on Anne Boleyn’s marriage to Henry VIII, the focus here is on her earlier relationship with Henry Percy, son of the Earl of Northumberland. We learn as much about Percy as we do about Anne – and there’s lots of fascinating information on the Border Reivers too!
The second in Alison Weir’s series of novels following the lives of Henry VIII’s wives moves on to Anne Boleyn. This is a very detailed account of Anne’s life and while I thought some parts of the novel dragged, I really enjoyed learning about Anne’s earlier years and her time spent at various European courts.
An alternate history novel in which we’re asked to believe that Anne Boleyn gave Henry VIII a son and heir – who grows up to become King Henry IX. From the historical perspective, this is a very intriguing and thought-provoking book…but unfortunately it failed to sweep me away to another time and place. If you do enjoy this one, there are two more in the trilogy – The Boleyn Deceit and The Boleyn Reckoning.
This novel follows the early life of Henry VIII’s third wife, Jane Seymour – but it also introduces us to Katherine Filliol, the woman who marries Jane’s brother, Edward. This is a very domestic story, with most of the novel being set at the Seymour home, Wolf Hall, rather than at court.
The third instalment in the Six Tudor Queens series moves on to the story of Jane Seymour. If you’ve read the previous two books in the series, there is some repetition but also a lot of focus on Jane’s early life at Wulfhall (the alternate spelling for Wolf Hall) and on her brief reign as queen. I liked the portrayal of Jane and found Henry also a more sympathetic character in this book.
Originally published in 1933, this is a fictional account of Katherine Howard’s time as queen and her alleged love affair with Thomas Culpeper.
Henry VIII’s sixth wife, Katherine Parr, is the subject of Elizabeth Fremantle’s first novel. The story is told from the perspective of both Katherine herself and her maid, Dot Fownten.
Another fictional account of Katherine Parr’s life, this time narrated entirely by Katherine herself. I enjoyed this, but preferred the Elizabeth Fremantle book above.
Another novel about Katherine – or Kateryn, as she is referred to here. This book is a bit different from the others as it is narrated by a fictional character, Juliana St John, who has an interesting story of her own to tell.
Tudor mysteries and thrillers
This is the first in a series of Tudor thrillers featuring Joanna Stafford, a novice nun from Dartford Priory. The story is set during the Dissolution of the Monasteries and revolves around the search for a legendary crown. Joanna is a wonderful character and I found this a very compelling novel.
Joanna Stafford, who has now rejoined the secular world, becomes drawn into a plot to restore the Catholic religion to England. Another excellent novel!
The final novel in the Joanna Stafford trilogy follows our favourite ex-nun as she travels to Whitehall Palace where King Henry VIII commissions her to weave a special tapestry. On arriving at court, Joanna discovers that her life is still in danger – but who is trying to harm her and why? This is a great conclusion to the trilogy – I would highly recommend reading all three.
Susanna Horenbout, a Flemish artist, teams up with courtier John Parker to unravel a plot against the king. This is a light but entertaining and action-packed novel. Susanna and John are both historical figures who really existed but I hadn’t come across either of them before reading this book.
Varina Westcott, a young woman with her own candle making business, investigates two historical mysteries in this novel. The first is the mystery of the Princes in the Tower, who may or may not have been murdered by Richard III; the second involves the mysterious circumstances surrounding the death of Prince Arthur, Henry VIII’s brother. An enjoyable story, though not entirely convincing!
Set in 16th century Canterbury, this is the third in a series of Tudor mysteries featuring a very unusual detective – Giordano Bruno, a former monk who has escaped the Inquisition in Italy. In this book, Bruno agrees to help clear the name of his friend, Sophia, who has been accused of murdering her husband. I haven’t read any of the other books in this series.
The first in Sansom’s series of novels following the investigations of the hunchbacked lawyer Matthew Shardlake. This is an excellent murder mystery set in a lonely monastery in winter.
In the second Shardlake novel, our hero and his new assistant, Jack Barak, search for the ancient secrets of Greek Fire while also trying to prove the innocence of a young woman accused of murder.
The third book in the series sees Shardlake and Barak heading for York where Henry VIII is due to arrive on a royal progress. As well as carrying out his official duties as a lawyer, Shardlake has been tasked with tending to the welfare of an important political prisoner.
This wonderful fourth Shardlake novel involves a string of murders inspired by passages from the Book of Revelation. Set in 1543, with Katherine Parr about to become the sixth wife of Henry VIII, this is my favourite of the series so far.
The fifth Shardlake novel is not the strongest, in my opinion, but the Tudor setting is as vividly described as ever, culminating in a memorable and dramatic depiction of the sinking of the Mary Rose.
This is the fourth book in a series of mysteries featuring Bianca Goddard, an alchemist’s daughter, but it works as a standalone if you haven’t read the previous books (which I hadn’t). Set in 1544, the mystery revolves around the theft of a new chemical substance created by Bianca’s father which has dangerous and powerful properties.
A good place to start if you know nothing about the Tudors. As the title suggests, this is a very short book and only intended to be an introduction to the period.
A longer, more in-depth book on the Tudors than the one above. The focus here is on religious reform and change during the Tudor period. This is the second volume in Ackroyd’s History of England series, but if you haven’t read the first that won’t be a problem.
This excellent biography of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, provides a thorough account of his reign, including details of the plots, conspiracies and rebellions directed against him. An enjoyable, well-researched read which provides a good introduction to the life of Henry VII.
Another biography of Henry VII. First published in 1914, this one does feel a bit dated but still readable and interesting.
A short but entertaining little book packed with Christmas traditions, recipes, poems and carols from the Tudor period. A perfect Christmas present for any history lovers in your life.
A short, concise and factual account of the life of Sir Francis Bryan, a Tudor courtier who was a companion of Henry VIII and nicknamed ‘The Vicar of Hell’. I found it a little bit dry and impersonal, but it provided an interesting overview of Bryan’s life and career.
For more Tudor fiction and non-fiction please see The Tudors: Part 2.