I sometimes get asked what the best books are on the Tudors, or what my favourites are. I’ve decided to list my top 5 here with a short review, trying to mix different topics and styles, though my focus is primarily on the political history and the figures involved in the period rather than the social or military history that I know some people prefer. My favourite books also seem to be largely related to women, as I am fascinated by the ideas of gender and power in the Tudor period.
TITLE – The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn
AUTHOR – Eric Ives
FIRST PUBLISHED – 1986
REVIEW – Eric Ives’s offering about Anne Boleyn is one of the first books I read about Anne Boleyn when I was working on my undergraduate History dissertation. It gripped me from the very start as his arguments are clear and concise, and written in a way that is easy to just get sucked into. He talks about aspects of her life that were overlooked before this point like portraiture, her childhood, and her relationship with her daughter. Ives does Anne justice by not just focusing on the obvious angles.
TITLE – Tudor: The Family Story
AUTHOR – Leanda de Lisle
FIRST PUBLISHED – 2013
REVIEW – I was excited when this book first came out, as it was the most comprehensive history of the Tudor dynasty up to this point. I wasn’t disappointed as it provided detailed biographies of the key figures including those prior to Henry VII taking the throne like his father, grandparents, and assorted other relatives. The book was excellently researched with an extensive bibliography – I’m tempted to call it a Tudor Bible! A must-read for any Tudor historians to keep on their bookshelf.
TITLE – Six Wives: The Queens of Henry VIII
AUTHOR – David Starkey
FIRST PUBLISHED – 2003
REVIEW – I felt over-awed when I first got my hands on this book. It was so thick and contained so much information that I didn’t really know where to begin! It is broken down into easily digestible chunks and is engagingly written. There is an imbalance in the amount of information on each wife, with the sections on Katherine of Aragon and Anne Boleyn being by far the longest, though is likely to do with the amount of evidence available. The best book on the six wives in my opinion.
TITLE – Death and the Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley, and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart
AUTHOR – Chris Skidmore
FIRST PUBLISHED – 2011
REVIEW – This is one of those great historical mysteries that will probably never be solved; Amy Robsart found dead at the bottom of a flight of stairs and her husband free to marry the Queen. It’s thoroughly engaging to read and well-written, though it does seem to focus more on Elizabeth and Dudley’s relationship than the mystery surrounding Amy Robsart’s death. It could have delved into this more fully, but it is an interesting look into the relationship between gender and power.
TITLE – A Journey Through Tudor England (also known as A Visitor’s Companion to Tudor England)
AUTHOR – Suzannah Lipscomb
FIRST PUBLISHED – 2013
REVIEW – I am fascinated by the locations and palaces associated with figures of the Tudor period. This book introduced me to places I didn’t know had any connection with the Tudors, especially not such high-profile figures. Lipscomb writes in an engaging style, giving not only history, but also a handy visitor’s guide. It’s a new kind of guidebook, and one which I love, taking with me whenever I visit London to make sure I don’t miss anywhere that I might want to visit!