Top 5 Tudor Non-Fiction Books


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.

'The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn' by Eric Ives, first published in 2004.

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.

'Tudor the Family Story' by Leanda de Lisle (2013)

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.

Continue reading “Top 5 Tudor Non-Fiction Books”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory


  1. Queen Elizabeth and Robert Dudley were childhood playmates and also have in common the experience of being accused of treason and locked in the tower. How does Dudley use this shared history to influence Elizabeth? Is he successful?

'The Virgin's Lover' by Philippa Gregory (2004).
‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory (2004).

I think Dudley was quite manipulative in a way. He used what he knew was Elizabeth’s weakness to get close to her, and make her almost dependent on him. He tried to ingratiate with her when she was vulnerable and alone. I think there were so few people who had things in common with Elizabeth that she was automatically drawn to someone who shared one of the most important experiences of her life and that shaped her into the monarch she was. I think there was also an element that no one really treated Elizabeth as a normal person apart from Dudley – everyone else saw her either as a bastard or a queen. I think he is successful at first, but that, as Elizabeth settles more into her role, she realizes how dangerous it could be and changes her approach to him, at least in public.

  1. What is your opinion of Amy? She says about Dudley, “In his heart I know that he is still the young man that I fell in love with who wanted nothing more than some good pasture land to breed beautiful horses” (105). Has Amy completely misjudged her husband, particularly how ambitious a man he is?

I think that Dudley knew that he could never have that life, even if he wanted it, and I think that when he and Amy married he wasn’t so attached to Elizabeth. His father was on his way up, but not yet at the height of his power. He must have known that his future was at court. I think that Amy was blinded by her love for him, and assumed that he and she wanted the same kind of life. It was inevitable with who his father was that Dudley was destined for a life at court rather than in the country, and I don’t think that he really wanted any other kind of life. I don’t think Amy really understood Dudley, or his love for the court, because she had never been there, and I think it was difficult to understand the allure without having experienced it yourself. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Virgin’s Lover’ by Philippa Gregory”

Who’s Who of Tudor History


Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte
Katherine of Aragon by Lucas Hornebolte

Aragon, Katherine of = First Queen to Henry VIII, marriage annulled 1533, died 1536.

Ashley, Kat = Governess and close friend to Elizabeth I from her childhood. Died 1565.

Aske, Robert = One of the leaders of the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Executed 1537.

Beaufort, Margaret = Mother to Henry VII. Outlived her son and saw the accession of her grandson, Henry VIII.

Blount, Bessie = Henry VIII’s mistress, and the only one to give him an acknowledged illegitimate child – Henry Fitzroy.

Boleyn, Anne = Second Queen to Henry VIII, executed 1536 for adultery and incest.

Boleyn, George = Brother to Henry VIII’s second Queen. Accused of adultery and incest with his sister. Executed 1536.

Boleyn, Mary = Sister of Henry VIII’s second Queen. Mistress of Henry VIII. Died 1543.

Brandon, Charles  Duke of Suffolk and best friend to Henry VIII. Married Henry VIII’s sister, Mary. Died 1546. Continue reading “Who’s Who of Tudor History”

Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir


Alison Weir 'The Marriage Game' (2014)
Alison Weir ‘The Marriage Game’ (2014)

Alison Weir, The Marriage Game (London: Hutchinson, 2014) 432 pages, Hardback, ISBN 978-0-0919-26250

Genre/s: = Historical / Drama / Romance

Setting: = London, Kenilworth and Hatfield (England)

Characters: = Elizabeth I of England / Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester / Mary, Queen of Scots / Lettice Dudley, Countess of Leicester / Katherine Knollys / Kat Astley / William Cecil, Baron Burghley / Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex / Christopher Hatton / Sir Francis Drake / Sir Walter Raleigh / Francis Walsingham Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir”

Analysis of Elizabeth I’s Speech at Tilbury before the Spanish Armada 1588


For this post analysing the speech made by Elizabeth I at Tilbury in Essex before the Spanish Armada in 1588, I have used a copy taken from the British Library website (http://www.bl.uk/learning/timeline/item102878.html), which is also written below.

“My loving people,

We have been persuaded by some that are careful of our safety, to take heed how we commit our selves to armed multitudes, for fear of treachery; but I assure you I do not desire to live to distrust my faithful and loving people. Let tyrants fear. I have always so behaved myself that, under God, I have placed my chiefest strength and safeguard in the loyal hearts and good-will of my subjects; and therefore I am come amongst you, as you see, at this time, not for my recreation and disport, but being resolved, in the midst and heat of the battle, to live and die amongst you all; to lay down for my God, and for my kingdom, and my people, my honour and my blood, even in the dust.

I know I have the body but of a weak and feeble woman; but I have the heart and stomach of a king, and of a king of England too, and think foul scorn that Parma or Spain, or any prince of Europe, should dare to invade the borders of my realm: to which rather than any dishonour shall grow by me, I myself will take up arms, I myself will be your general, judge, and rewarder of every one of your virtues in the field.

I know already, for your forwardness you have deserved rewards and crowns; and We do assure you in the word of a prince, they shall be duly paid you. In the mean time, my lieutenant general shall be in my stead, than whom never prince commanded a more noble or worthy subject; not doubting but by your obedience to my general, by your concord in the camp, and your valour in the field, we shall shortly have a famous victory over those enemies of my God, of my kingdom, and of my people.”

Continue reading “Analysis of Elizabeth I’s Speech at Tilbury before the Spanish Armada 1588”

Discussion Questions – ‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy


  1. Discuss the marriage of Robert Dudley and Amy Robsart. They married very young; both were only seventeen. Was their marriage doomed from the start? What, if anything, coujld they have done to save their marriage? Though our modern-day concept of domestic abuse did not exist in Tudor times, do you think Robert Dudley, as depicted in this novel, was an abusive husband? If you were a marriage counsellor and this couple were seated on your couch, what would you tell them?

'A Court Affair' by Emily Purdy (2012)
‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy (2012)

I think that Robert and Amy’s marriage was doomed from the start because Robert’s love wasn’t love at all, but lust, whereas Amy’s was real. They were too young to really understand what they wanted and what it would mean in the long term. Amy was bound to get hurt as Robert’s ambition took control over his feelings. I think what would have been needed to save the marriage was a lack of ambition or an acceptance that marriages were generally not love matches, though the second was less likely. I think Robert Dudley was abusive towards Amy Robsart in an emotional way, not really physically. He pushed her aside and made it quite clear that he preferred someone else. I’d say that they needed to communicate more and come clear about their feelings and wants and needs, Amy in particular. I would also tell them that marriage should be for life and that even if you discover that you aren’t as well connected as you should be that there is always a way around it and that they shouldn’t give up too easily, as Robert does in this novel.

Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘A Court Affair’ by Emily Purdy”

The Death of Amy Robsart: the Arguments


A romanticised image of the death of Amy Robsart as imagined by Victorian artist William Frederick Yeames.
A romanticised image of the death of Amy Robsart as imagined by Victorian artist William Frederick Yeames.

Amy Robsart was the first wife of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester. She was found with a broken neck in 1560. Controversy has raged ever since over the cause of her death.

Background to the Death
* Found dead at the foot of a flight of stairs at Cumnor Place, where she’d been staying.
* Dudley immediately ordered an inquest.
* Amy’s maid, Mrs Picto, said that it would be “chance” rather than “villainy”.
* The jury concluded that it was an accident.
* The coroner’s verdict claimed she had two head injuries, and was pronounced publicly on 1 August 1561.
* Amy was buried at St Mary’s, Oxford, supposedly costing Dudley £2,000.
* Dudley wore mourning for six months and retired to Kew for the first month. The court also wore mourning.
* Dudley knew there would be gossip, particularly about his relationship with Elizabeth.
* There were rumours of poison. Continue reading “The Death of Amy Robsart: the Arguments”

Historical Truth: Does It Exist?


It has been debated for many years whether or not there is such a thing as historical truth. Reading Chris Skidmore’s Death and the Virgin about the death of Amy Robsart got me thinking about this, so I conducted some research, and here is my opinion on the matter of historical truth.

Death And The Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart (2011)
Death And The Virgin: Elizabeth, Dudley and the Mysterious Fate of Amy Robsart (2011)

“For the historian, the truth is neither impossible nor improbable; it can only be, quite simply, whatever remains.” (Chris Skidmore, Death and the Virgin)[i]

The full truth doesn’t exist because evidence is missing and there is often a distinct lack of testimony, particularly in the earlier periods. We can’t be sure of exactly what happened in, for example, the death of Amy Robsart or the fall of Anne Boleyn, without talking directly to the people involved. Historians have to base what we see as truth on whatever sources survive. I think it is impossible to get to the ‘historical truth’ because of the lack of sources. No matter what you believe you can never be 100% sure. The only things sure are dates. For example, the Battle of Hastings took place in 1066 and Elizabeth I died in 1603. Everything that really matters – the thoughts, feelings and motives – are subjective. Skidmore’s perception of historical truth isn’t truth per ce, but is actually a compromise based on what is left. Continue reading “Historical Truth: Does It Exist?”

Spotlight: Amy Robsart


Name: Amy Robsart.

Title/s: Lady.

Birth / Death: 7 June 1532 – 8 September 1560.

Spouse: Robert Dudley, later Earl of Leicester 1532 – 1588.

Children: None.

Parents: John Robsart and Elizabeth Scott (dates unknown).

Siblings: None

Noble Connections: Wife of the future Earl of Leicester; daughter-in-law of John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland; sister-in-law of two Earls of Warwick (John and Ambrose) Continue reading “Spotlight: Amy Robsart”