The books below are set during the later part of the Tudor period, encompassing the reigns of Lady Jane Grey, Mary I and Elizabeth I. For books set during the earlier Tudor period (Henry VII and Henry VIII etc) please see The Tudors: Part 1.
The Grey Sisters
Lady Jane Grey was Queen of England for only nine days in 1553 before being deposed and eventually beheaded. Innocent Traitor was the first novel I read about Jane and it’s a heartbreaking story.
Another novel about Lady Jane Grey, but this time the stories of her two younger sisters, Mary and Katherine, are included too. I preferred Innocent Traitor but I did like the fact that this book allows us to see things from the perspective of all three sisters.
This enjoyable, well written novel by Elizabeth Fremantle begins with Lady Jane’s execution and then focuses on the lives of Katherine and Mary Grey. It’s probably my favourite book on the Grey sisters so far.
I’ve already included this book in my Wars of the Roses list, but wanted to mention it here as well. While part of the novel concentrates on the mystery of Richard III and the Princes in the Tower, at least half of the story is narrated by Katherine Grey.
This novel is set during Lady Jane Grey’s imprisonment in the Tower of London as she and her husband Guildford await their trial. The story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Tilney, her companion in the Tower. An interesting read, but the modern language and sensibilities were too jarring for me.
Maureen Peters writes short, concise novels about the lives of historical figures. This one looks at the life of Lady Jane Grey. I think it would be a good introduction to Jane’s story, but disappointing if you’re looking for something with more depth.
Elizabeth I and the Elizabethan period (1558-1603)
A very long book at almost 700 pages, this is a portrait of the older Elizabeth, set during the final years of her reign. Half of the novel is narrated by Elizabeth herself and the other half by her cousin, Lettice Knollys, whose son, the Earl of Essex, becomes the focus of a rebellion against the Queen.
In contrast to the book above, this is a very short novel, taking us through Elizabeth’s entire adult life in 200 pages. The style and approach are simplistic and anyone who already has a good knowledge of the period will find little new here, but it’s still quite an entertaining read.
Another fictional account of Elizabeth’s reign, this time with a focus on her marriage negotiations and her relationship with Robert Dudley.
This beautifully written novel is set in Oxford during the Elizabethan period. It combines fictional characters – Faithful Crocker, a penniless young student, and the family of Canon Leigh of Christ Church – with real ones, such as Sir Philip Sidney and Sir Walter Raleigh. It’s sentimental, but I loved it.
Set in Elizabethan England, Fremantle’s third novel tells the story of Penelope Devereux, sister of the Earl of Essex and the possible inspiration for Philip Sidney’s Astrophil and Stella. There was too much focus on Penelope’s various romantic relationships to make this a favourite Fremantle novel for me, but it’s still an interesting read, shedding some light on a woman whose life is not often written about.
A reissue of a novel from 1977 which focuses on the early part of Elizabeth I’s life. It’s too short to be very satisfying, but should be an interesting introduction to Elizabeth for readers new to the period.
This novel follows on from Elizabeth the Witch’s Daughter, taking us through all the major events of Elizabeth’s reign. Her story is intertwined with the story of the fictional Allgrave family, giving us another perspective on Elizabethan life.
Not the Elizabethan court romance you might expect, but an exciting adventure novel in which one of the Queen’s ladies joins an expedition to the New World. The mystery of the lost colony of Roanoke forms an important part of the story.
This is a fun read based on the idea that Elizabeth I had secretly given birth to a daughter, Nell de Lacey, who later comes to court as the Queen’s lady-in-waiting. I’m not convinced, but it makes an entertaining story!
Another novel by Maureen Peters, this one concentrates on the life of Bess of Hardwick, a friend of Elizabeth I and one of the richest and most notable women of the Elizabethan period. The title refers to Bess’s attempts to place her granddaughter, Arbella, on the throne of England.
I’ve found that Karen Harper’s books compare well with Philippa Gregory’s and will probably appeal to the same readers. This one tells the story of Elizabeth I through the eyes of her governess, Kat Ashley.
The second volume of Philippa Carr’s long series, The Daughters of England. This is another swashbuckling historical adventure novel set partly at sea, complete with Spanish pirates, the Inquisition and the Armada!
No real-life historical figures in this one. It’s a story about the relationship between two very different women who live in Elizabethan England and whose lives are tied together by a series of secrets and lies.
Multiple time period
This is a time-slip novel set partly in the 1500s and partly in the modern day. The historical section explores the possible life of Mary Seymour, daughter of Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour. Mary disappeared from historical records in 1550 but Cornick imagines that she was sent to live with cousins at Wolf Hall where rumours of witchcraft soon began to circulate. Meanwhile, a fictional character, Alison Bannister, another resident of Wolf Hall, travels forward in time to 21st century England – but can’t find a way to get back.
An atmospheric and eerie time-slip novel split between the modern day and the 1500s. The two time periods are linked by Holmwood House, a recently restored Elizabethan building in York.