On April 16, The White Princess — a miniseries about the beginnings of the Tudor dynasty based on Philippa Gregory‘s novel of the same name — debuts on Starz. If you can’t get enough of Gregory’s captivating books, check out some of her favorite historical fiction — and nonfiction– reads, which range from Southern epics to tragic World War II tales. Publishers’ descriptions included below.
Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of 20 years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.
Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: He is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?
In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel recreates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
Gregory says: “I absolutely adored Wolf Hall… It’s always wonderful to see historical fiction done superbly well.”
Queen of This Realm by Jean Plaidy
In this “memoir” by Elizabeth I, legendary historical novelist Jean Plaidy reveals the Virgin Queen as she truly was: the bewildered, motherless child of an all-powerful father; a captive in the Tower of London; a shrewd politician; a lover of the arts; and eventually, an icon of an era. It is the story of her improbable rise to power and the great triumphs of her reign — the end of religious bloodshed, the settling of the New World, the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Brilliantly clever, a scholar with a ready wit, she was also vain, bold, and unpredictable, a queen who commanded — and won — absolute loyalty from those around her.
But in these pages, in her own voice, Elizabeth also recounts the emotional turmoil of her life: the loneliness of power; the heartbreak of her lifelong love affair with Robert Dudley, whom she could never marry; and the terrible guilt of ordering the execution of her cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. In this unforgettable novel, Elizabeth emerges as one of the most fascinating and controversial women in history, and as England’s greatest monarch.
Gregory says: “Jean Plaidy’s books sometimes cover exactly the same period and characters as mine do, but they have a totally different view of women and their rights and power, and the sort of people they are.”
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Berlin, 1942: When Bruno returns home from school one day, he discovers that his belongings are being packed in crates. His father has received a promotion and the family must move to a new house far, far away, where there is no one to play with and nothing to do. A tall fence stretches as far as the eye can see and cuts him off from the strange people in the distance.
But Bruno longs to be an explorer and decides that there must be more to this desolate new place than meets the eye. While exploring his new environment, he meets another boy whose life and circumstances are very different from his own, and their meeting results in a friendship that has devastating consequences.
Gregory says: “This poignant, moving story of the child of a Nazi death camp commander answers the important question — can one fictionalize the Holocaust? This book answers yes, for great tragedy can lie in the detail.”
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Widely considered The Great American Novel, and often remembered for its epic film version, Gone with the Wind explores the depth of human passions with an intensity as bold as its setting in the red hills of Georgia. A superb piece of storytelling, it vividly depicts the drama of the Civil War and Reconstruction.
This is the tale of Scarlett O’Hara, the spoiled, manipulative daughter of a wealthy plantation owner, who arrives at young womanhood just in time to see the Civil War forever change her way of life. A sweeping story of tangled passion and courage, in the pages of Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell brings to life the unforgettable characters that have captured readers for over 70 years.
Gregory says: “This is an irresistible whirlwind of a book with far more history of the defeat of the South in the American Civil War than the film credits.”
Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer
Devil’s Cub is one of Georgette Heyer’s most famous and memorable novels, featuring a dashing and wild young nobleman and the gently bred young lady in whom he finally meets his match.
Like father, like son
Dominic Alistair, Marquis of Vidal and fiery son of the notorious Duke of Avon, has established a rakish reputation that rivals his father’s, living a life of excess and indulgence. Banished to the Continent after wounding his opponent in a duel, Vidal schemes to abduct the silly aristocrat bent on seducing him into marriage and make her his mistress instead. In his rush, however, he seems to have taken the wrong woman?
A young lady of remarkable fortitude
Determined to save her sister from ruin, virtuous Mary Challoner intercepts the Marquis’s advances and throws herself into his path, hoping Vidal will release her upon realizing his error. But as the two become irrevocably entangled, Mary’s reputation and future lie in the hands of a devilish rake, who finds her more fascinating every day.
Gregory says: “Amazingly, this is the first historical novel I ever read, and I fell in love with the hero and the spirited heroine at the age of about 11.”
Dragonwyck by Anya Seton
“There was, on the Hudson, a way of life such as this, and there was a house not unlike Dragonwyck.”
In the spring of 1844 the Wells family receives a letter from a distant relative, the wealthy landowner Nicholas Van Ryn. He has invited one of their daughters for an extended visit at his Hudson Valley estate Dragonwyck. Eighteen year-old Miranda, bored with her local suitors and commonplace life on the farm, leaps at the chance for escape. She immediately falls under the spell of the master and his mansion, mesmerized by the Gothic towers, flowering gardens, and luxurious lifestyle — unaware of the dark, terrible secrets that await. Anya Seton masterfully tells the heart-stopping story of a remarkable woman, her remarkable passions, and the mystery that resides in the magnificent hallways of Dragonwyck.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The tempestuous, bloody, and splendid reign of Henry VIII of England (1509-1547) is one of the most fascinating in all history, not least for his marriage to six extraordinary women. In this accessible work of brilliant scholarship, Alison Weir draws on early biographies, letters, memoirs, account books, and diplomatic reports to bring these women to life. Catherine of Aragon emerges as a staunch though misguided woman of principle; Anne Boleyn, an ambitious adventuress with a penchant for vengeance; Jane Seymour, a strong-minded matriarch in the making; Anne of Cleves, a good-natured and innocent woman naively unaware of the court intrigues that determined her fate; Catherine Howard, an empty-headed wanton; and Catherine Parr, a warm-blooded bluestocking who survived King Henry to marry a fourth time.
Gregory says: “One of my favorite authors is Alison Weir. She is wonderful because she does not get intimidated by, or ignore, women of power in history.”
Have you read any of Gregory’s recommendations? Let us know in the comments!
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