Friday Five: Tudor England - Beyond Henry VIII and Elizabeth I

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Friday Five: Tudor England - Beyond Henry VIII and Elizabeth I

Melissa N.'s Picks for Other Historical Personalities from a Fascinating Age

I might be slightly obsessed with Tudor-era England. It seems at once like another world and yet many of the issues of the time are disturbingly familiar today. Add in outsized, soap opera-like personalities and I find it endlessly fascinating.

With the popularity of Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, it appears I am not the only one! However, there are only so many biographies and histories on Henry VIII, Elizabeth I, and William Shakespeare that anyone can read. Below are five books focusing on other people from the Tudor era, some more famous than others.

Christopher Marlowe: Poet and Spy by Park Honan
Christopher Marlowe: Poet & Spy is an interesting and readable scholarly biography on one of Shakespeare’s most famous contemporaries. While Honan has no choice but to speculate about some aspects of Marlowe’s life based on his plays and poems, this book is a fairly comprehensive look at the evidence that does exist on his life and activities as well as analysis of his works and what those might have meant in regards to his views and life.

Want a different take on Marlowe? Read The Reckoning: The Murder of Christopher Marlowe by Charles Nicholl.

Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley by Alison Weir
Weir writes primarily about the Tudor period, both in fiction and nonfiction. Well researched and written, if not entirely impartial and scholarly, in Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley, Weir takes another look at the murder that brought down a queen and the evidence surrounding the couple, comes to some new conclusions, and challenges the historical view of Mary, a fascinating figure and cousin to Elizabeth I.

Looking for more? Try The Life of Mary, Queen of Scots: An Accidental Tragedy by Roderick Graham.

Arbella: England’s Lost Queen by Sarah Gristwood
Today, a fairly unknown figure of the Tudor and Jacobean eras, Arbella was in line for the crown as a cousin of James I and niece of Mary, Queen of Scots. She ended her life as a prisoner in the Tower of London. Like many females close to the line of succession, Arbella’s marriage prospects were completely controlled by the reigning monarch as both potential for alliance and overthrow. Gristwood uses Arbella’s own words whenever possible to tell her story with a treasure trove of letters Arbella wrote to her friends, family, and sometimes enemies.

Want to read about another lesser known figure? Bess of Hardwick: Empire Builder by Mary Lovell is about Arbella’s grandmother.

The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England by John Cooper
Walsingham is a fascinating and pervasive personality in Elizabethan England. Though Cecil was truly Elizabeth’s right hand, Walsingham ran a large intelligence network and grew it into a force that pervaded European courts. Unfortunately, like many important people from this time, there is not a lot of remaining documentation about him personally and even a great deal of official paperwork has been lost over the years. This means that scholars have to make educated guesses and interpretations which Cooper does with regularity in this work.

Want another writer’s view? Check out Her Majesty’s Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage by Stephen Budiansky.

Thomas Cromwell: The Untold Story of Henry VIII’s Most Faithful Servant by Tracy Borman
A scholarly look at the personal and professional life of Cromwell beyond the love-him-or-hate-him overview that is often painted of him. Cromwell was born a poor commoner and worked his way to being one of the wealthiest men in Britain. He had a role in every major event in the reign of Henry VIII through the disastrous marriage to Anne of Cleves. Cromwell’s rise to fortune and his influence on the king gained him many enemies and his loyalty was exclusively to Henry leaving him open to the machinations of the court and an easy scapegoat for Henry.

Also try Thomas Cromwell: The Rise and Fall of Henry VIII’s Most Notorious Minister by Robert Hutchison.