Queen Elizabeth II is the longest-reigning British monarch in history, having commemorated 65 years on the British throne with her Sapphire Jubilee in February. In honor of the queen’s 91st birthday on April 21, we’ve rounded up a stellar selection of historical novels about the British monarchy to satisfy Anglophiles as well as history fans. Check out this treasure trove of classics and blockbusters complete with publishers’ descriptions below.
The Last Kingdom by Bernard Cornwell
This is the exciting — yet little known — story of the making of England in the 9th and 10th centuries, the years in which King Alfred the Great, his son and grandson defeated the Danish Vikings who had invaded and occupied three of England’s four kingdoms.
The story is seen through the eyes of Uhtred, a dispossessed nobleman, who is captured as a child by the Danes and then raised by them so that, by the time the Northmen begin their assault on Wessex (Alfred’s kingdom and the last territory in English hands) Uhtred almost thinks of himself as a Dane. He certainly has no love for Alfred, whom he considers a pious weakling and no match for Viking savagery, yet when Alfred unexpectedly defeats the Danes and the Danes themselves turn on Uhtred, he is finally forced to choose sides. By now he is a young man, in love, trained to fight and ready to take his place in the dreaded shield wall. Above all, though, he wishes to recover his father’s land, the enchanting fort of Bebbanburg by the wild northern sea.
This thrilling adventure — based on existing records of Bernard Cornwell’s ancestors — depicts a time when law and order were ripped violently apart by a pagan assault on Christian England, an assault that came very close to destroying England.
The Forever Queen by Helen Hollick
Saxon England, 1002. Not only is Æthelred a failure as King, but his young bride, Emma of Normandy, soon discovers he is even worse as a husband. When the Danish Vikings, led by Swein Forkbeard and his son, Cnut, cause a maelstrom of chaos, Emma, as Queen, must take control if the Kingdom-and her crown-are to be salvaged. Smarter than history remembers, and stronger than the foreign invaders who threaten England’s shores, Emma risks everything on a gamble that could either fulfill her ambitions and dreams or destroy her completely.
Emma, the Queen of Saxon England, comes to life through the exquisite writing of Helen Hollick, who shows in this epic tale how one of the most compelling and vivid heroines in English history stood tall through a turbulent 50-year reign of proud determination, tragic despair, and triumph over treachery.
The Conquerer by Georgette Heyer
The stirring history of William the Conqueror, Duke of Normandy, who invaded England and became the King. His victory, concluded at the Battle of Hastings in 1066, is known as the Norman Conquest.
Known for her exhaustive research and ability to bring past eras to life, bestselling author Georgette Heyer tells the story of William the Conqueror, who became King of England in 1066, and his queen Matilda, the high-born noblewoman who at first scornfully spurned him. William was an illegitimate child of a nobleman, who won his dukedom through force of will, and went on to bring European feudalism to England, along with a program of building and fortification that included the building of the Tower of London.
The historical novel includes Heyer’s brilliant period language and her perfect grasp of the details of the day — clothing, armor, weapons, and food — making for a fascinating and blood-stirring read.
The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick
New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Chadwick brings Eleanor of Aquitaine to life with breathtaking historical detail in the first volume of this stunning new trilogy.
Eleanor of Aquitaine, the legendary 12th century queen of France and later of England, is one of the most powerful and irrepressible women in medieval history, and her story of romance, scandal and political intrigue has fascinated readers for centuries.
Young Eleanor (or Alienor as she was known) has everything to look forward to as the heiress to the wealthy Aquitaine. But when her beloved father William X suddenly dies, childhood is over. Sent to Paris and forced to marry Prince Louis VII of France, she barely adjusts before another death catapults them to King and Queen. At the age of just 13, Eleanor must leave everything behind and learn to navigate the complex and vivacious French court. Faced with great scandals, trials, fraught relationships, and forbidden love at every turn, Eleanor finally sees what her future could hold if she could just seize the moment.
The first in this highly anticipated trilogy, The Summer Queen follows Eleanor through the Second Crusade to the end of her marriage to Louis VII. The author’s meticulous research (including delving into the Akashic records) portrays the Middle Ages and Eleanor with depth and vivid imagery unparalleled in historical fiction that will keep readers riveted and wanting more.
Katherine by Anya Seton
Katherine is an epic novel of the love affair that changed history — that of Katherine Swynford and John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, the ancestors of most of the British royal family.
Set in the vibrant 14th century of Chaucer and the Black Death, the story features knights fighting in battle, serfs struggling in poverty, and the magnificent Plantagenets — Edward III, the Black Prince, and Richard II — who ruled despotically over a court rotten with intrigue. Within this era of danger and romance, John of Gaunt, the king’s son, falls passionately in love with the already married Katherine. Their affair persists through decades of war, adultery, murder, loneliness, and redemption. Anya Seton’s vivid rendering of the lives of the Duke and Duchess of Lancaster makes Katherine an unmistakable classic.
The First Princess of Wales by Karen Harper
The daughter of a disgraced earl, she matched wits with a prince.
It is the 14th century, the height of the Medieval Age, and at the court of King Edward III of England, chivalry is loudly praised while treachery runs rampant. When the lovely and high-spirited Joan of Kent is sent to this politically charged court, she is woefully unprepared for the underhanded maneuverings of her peers.
Determined to increase the breadth of his rule, the king will use any means necessary to gain control of France — including manipulating his own son, Edward, Prince of Wales. Joan plots to become involved with the prince to scandalize the royal family, for she has learned they engineered her father’s downfall and death. But what begins as a calculated strategy soon — to Joan’s surprise — grows into love. When Joan learns that Edward returns her feelings, she is soon fighting her own, for how can she love the man that ruined her family? And, if she does, what will be the cost?
Filled with scandal, court intrigue, and prominent figures of the Medieval Age, The First Princess of Wales has at its center a wonderful love story, which is all the more remarkable because it is true. Karen Harper’s compelling, fast-paced novel tells the riveting tale of an innocent girl who marries a prince and gives birth to a king.
A Triple Knot by Emma Campion
Joan of Kent, renowned beauty and cousin to King Edward III, is destined for a politically strategic marriage. As the king begins a long dynastic struggle to claim the crown of France, plunging England into the Hundred Years’ War, he negotiates her betrothal to a potential ally and heir of a powerful lordship.
But Joan, haunted by nightmares of her father’s execution at the hands of her treacherous royal kin, fears the king’s selection and is not resigned to her fate. She secretly pledges herself to one of the king’s own knights, one who has become a trusted friend and protector. Now she must defend her vow as the king — furious at Joan’s defiance — prepares to marry her off to another man.
In A Triple Knot, Emma Campion brings Joan, the “Fair Maid of Kent” to glorious life, deftly weaving details of King Edward III’s extravagant court into a rich and emotionally resonant tale of intrigue, love, and betrayal.
Wars of the Roses: Bloodline by Conn Iggulden
Richard Duke of York is dead, his ambitions in ruins, his head spiked on the walls of the city.
King Henry VI is still held prisoner. His Lancastrian Queen rides south with an army of victorious northerners, accompanied by painted warriors from the Scottish Highlands. With the death of York, Margaret and her army seem unstoppable.
Yet in killing the father, Margaret has unleashed the sons.
Edward of March, now Duke of York, proclaims himself England’s rightful king. Factions form and tear apart as snow falls. Through blood and treason, through broken men and vengeful women, brother shall confront brother, king shall face king.
Two men can always claim a crown.
Only one can keep it.
The White Queen by Philippa Gregory
Elizabeth Woodville is a woman of extraordinary beauty and ambition. Her mother is Jacquetta, also known as the mystical lady of the rivers, and she is even more determined to bring power and wealth to the family line. While riding in the woods one day, Elizabeth captures the attentions of the newly crowned King Edward IV and, despite her common upbringing, marries him in secret.
When she is raised up to be his queen, the English court is outraged, but Elizabeth rises to the demands of her exalted position and fights for her family’s dominance. Yet despite her best efforts, and even with the help of her mother’s powers, her two sons become pawns in a famous unsolved mystery that has confounded historians for centuries: the lost princes in the Tower of London.
In this dazzling account of the deadly Wars of the Roses, brother turns on brother to win the ultimate prize: The throne of England.
The Sunne In Splendour by Sharon Kay Penman
In this triumphant combination of scholarship and storytelling, Sharon Kay Penman redeems Richard III — vilified as the bitter, twisted, scheming hunchback who murdered his nephews, the princes in the Tower — from his maligned place in history.
Born into the treacherous courts of 15th-century England, in the midst of what history has called The War of the Roses, Richard was raised in the shadow of his charismatic brother, King Edward IV. Loyal to his friends and passionately in love with the one woman who was denied him, Richard emerges as a gifted man far more sinned against than sinning.
With revisions throughout and a new author’s preface discussing the astonishing discovery of Richard’s remains five centuries after his death, Sharon Kay Penman’s brilliant classic is more powerful and glorious than ever.
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 re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.
The Secret Diary of Anne Boleyn by Robin Maxwell
In this “energetic” (Kirkus Reviews) re-creation of Anne Boleyn’s tragic life — and death — Robin Maxwell offers a pitch-perfect version of a bawdy and exuberant time filled with lust, betrayal, love, and murder.
When the young Queen Elizabeth I is entrusted with Anne Boleyn’s secret diary, she discovers a great deal about the much-maligned mother she never knew. And on learning the truth about her lascivious and despotic father, Henry VIII, she vows never to relinquish control to any man. But this avowal doesn’t prevent Elizabeth from pursuing a torrid love affair with her horsemaster, Robin Dudley — described with near-shocking candor — as too are Anne’s graphic trysts with a very persistent and lustful Henry. Blending a historian’s attention to accuracy with a novelist’s artful rendering, Maxwell weaves compelling descriptions of court life and devastating portraits of actual people into her naughty, page-turning tale. The result is a masterpiece of historical fiction — so prophetic of our time that one would think it were ripped from today’s headlines.
Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
I am now a condemned traitor… I am to die when I have hardly begun to live.
Historical expertise marries page-turning fiction in Alison Weir’s enthralling debut novel, breathing new life into one of the most significant and tumultuous periods of the English monarchy. It is the story of Lady Jane Grey–“the Nine Days’ Queen” — a 15-year-old girl who unwittingly finds herself at the center of the religious and civil unrest that nearly toppled the fabled House of Tudor during the 16th century.
The child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she is merely a pawn in a dynastic game with the highest stakes, Jane Grey was born during the harrowingly turbulent period between Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the demise of Jane’s infamous great-uncle, King Henry VIII. With the premature passing of Jane’ s adolescent cousin, and Henry’s successor, King Edward VI, comes a struggle for supremacy fueled by political machinations and lethal religious fervor.
Unabashedly honest and exceptionally intelligent, Jane possesses a sound strength of character beyond her years that equips her to weather the vicious storm. And though she has no ambitions to rule, preferring to immerse herself in books and religious studies, she is forced to accept the crown, and by so doing sets off a firestorm of intrigue, betrayal, and tragedy.
Alison Weir uses her unmatched skills as a historian to enliven the many dynamic characters of this majestic drama. Along with Lady Jane Grey, Weir vividly renders her devious parents; her much-loved nanny; the benevolent Queen Katherine Parr; Jane’s ambitious cousins; the Catholic “Bloody” Mary, who will stop at nothing to seize the throne; and the protestant and future queen Elizabeth. Readers venture inside royal drawing rooms and bedchambers to witness the power-grabbing that swirls around Lady Jane Grey from the day of her birth to her unbearably poignant death. Innocent Traitor paints a complete and compelling portrait of this captivating young woman, a faithful servant of God whose short reign and brief life would make her a legend.
Mary, Bloody Mary by Carolyn Meyer
The story of Mary Tudor’s childhood is a classic fairy tale: A princess who is to inherit the throne of England is separated from her mother; abused by an evil stepmother who has enchanted her father; stripped of her title; and forced to care for her baby stepsister, who inherits Mary’s rights to the throne. Believe it or not, it’s all true.
Told in the voice of the young Mary, this novel explores the history and intrigue of the dramatic rule of Henry VIII, his outrageous affair with and marriage to the bewitching Anne Boleyn, and the consequences of that relationship for his firstborn daughter. Carolyn Meyer has written a compassionate historical novel about love and loss, jealousy and fear — and a girl’s struggle with forces far beyond her control.
Sisters of Treason by Elizabeth Fremantle
From the author People called “a must-read for Philippa Gregory fans,” a “terrifically entertaining” (The Sunday Times, London) novel about two sisters who must survive life in the Tudor court after the execution of their sister Lady Jane Grey who was queen for just nine days.
Early in Mary Tudor’s turbulent reign, Lady Catherine and Lady Mary Grey are reeling after the brutal death of their elder 17-year-old sister, and the succession is by no means stable. In Sisters of Treason, Elizabeth Fremantle brings these young women and their perilous times to vivid life.
Neither sister is well suited to a dangerous career at court. Flirtatious Lady Catherine, thought to be the true heir, cannot control her compulsion to love and be loved. Her sister, clever Lady Mary, has a crooked spine and a tiny stature in an age when physical perfection equates to goodness — and both girls have inherited the Tudor blood that is more curse than blessing. For either girl to marry without royal permission would be a potentially fatal political act. It is the royal portrait painter, Levina Teerlinc, who helps the girls survive these troubled times. She becomes their mentor and confidante, but when the Queen’s sister, the hot-headed Elizabeth Tudor, inherits the crown, life at court becomes increasingly treacherous for the surviving Grey sisters. Ultimately each young woman must decide how far she will go to defy her Queen, risk her life, and find the safety and love she longs for.
Elizabeth I by Margaret George
England’s greatest monarch has baffled and intrigued the world for centuries. But what was the Virgin Queen really like? Lettice Knollys — Elizabeth’s flame-haired, look-alike cousin — thinks she knows all too well. Elizabeth’s rival for the love of Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, and mother to the Earl of Essex, the mercurial nobleman who challenged Elizabeth’s throne, Lettice has been intertwined with Elizabeth since childhood.
This is a story of two women of fierce intellect and desire, one trying to protect her country, and throne, the other trying to regain power and position for her family. Their rivalry, and its ensuing drama, soon involves everyone close to Elizabeth, from the famed courtiers who enriched the crown to the legendary poets and playwrights who paid homage to it with their works.
Filled with intimate portraits of the personalities who made the Elizabethan age great — Shakespeare, Marlowe, Dudley, Raleigh, Drake — Elizabeth I provides an unforgettable glimpse of a woman who considered herself married to her people. A queen who ruled as much from the heart as from the head.
The Captive Queen of Scots by Jean Plaidy
The concluding novel in Jean Plaidy’s Tudor/Stuart series, where two powerful cousins finally end their battle for England’s crown.
Scotland has been torn apart by civil war and the young and passionate Catholic Mary Queen of Scots is in the hands of her enemies. Under duress, Mary abdicates in favour of her son, James VI, and fleeing to England she boldly seeks refuge from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth I. But Elizabeth has never trusted the ambitious Mary, and consequently has her imprisoned.
So begins a treacherous battle between two of history’s most powerful and ruthless women. Without once meeting her cousin, Mary is held captive for 19 years, whilst Elizabeth rules in the shadow of countless Catholic plots against her life…
Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
“I do not like the name Alexandrina. From now on I wish to be known only by my second name, Victoria.” Melbourne nodded. “Victoria.”
Early one morning, less than a month after her 18th birthday, Alexandrina Victoria is roused from bed with the news that her uncle William IV has died and she is now Queen of England. The men who run the country have doubts about whether this sheltered young woman, who stands less than five feet tall, can rule the greatest nation in the world. Surely she must rely on her mother and her venal advisor, Sir John Conroy, or her uncle, the Duke of Cumberland, who are all too eager to relieve her of the burdens of power.
The young queen is no puppet, however. She has very definite ideas about the kind of queen she wants to be, and the first thing is to choose her name.
Everyone keeps saying she is destined to marry her first cousin, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, but Victoria found him dull and priggish when they met three years ago. She is quite happy being queen with the help of her prime minister, Lord Melbourne, who may be old enough to be her father but is the first person to take her seriously.
Drawing on Victoria’s diaries, which she first started reading when she was a student at Cambridge University, as well as her own brilliant gifts for history and drama, Daisy Goodwin, author of the bestselling novels The American Heiress and The Fortune Hunter as well as creator and writer of the new PBS/Masterpiece drama Victoria, brings the young queen richly to life in this magnificent novel.
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