Historic fiction can be quite personal to the person. Some prefer history based in medieval, or others more modern time with the world wars. For me, it is the War of the Roses and Tudor dynasty that has me intrigued, and I wanted to talk about my favourite books to read about historic figures of that time.
But not only is the period appealing to the reader, but also the author. A good thing to remember is that all historic fiction is fictional based of some sort. The setting is correct, the characters are real people, but the dialogue and some actions are decided by the author like a character in a fictional story. The writer was not present, so it is good to remember not to take a historic book directly as what exactly occurred. But the events that happen in the person’s life are accurate, and it is also interesting to read someone take on the ins and outs.
For me, Alison Weir has a majestic way that she brings these historic figures to life on the page. She dives into the possible thoughts that they had had and makes them come alive. I have learnt even whilst reading her books that I may disagree on some choices, but no matter what, I always feel connected to the version of events she is telling.
I have composed a list of four top books I feel are beautifully done. They are from the same period that I am interested in, and whilst other authors out there have done amazing work, I would recommend diving into Weir if you haven’t already.
Innocent Traitor — Telling of Lady Jane Grey
Innocent Traitor was the first book by Alison Weir that I picked up. I was doing historic fiction in my degree class and I had decided I wanted to do it on Lady Jane Grey. I knew a bit about her that she was Queen for nine days during the period time of Henry VIII’s children, Edward and Mary.
Weir dives into the concept of the battle between religion during this time. With Edward having passed away so young, it was feared by protestants that Mary would come and bring Catholics back into power. So a power was devised to have Lady Jane Grey brought onto the throne as she had rights on her mother’s side with being descendant from Henry VIII’s sister.
The book is perfect for the little pocket of history that many do forget. It brings to life the story of Lady Jane Grey and shows how innocent she was through all this. At only the age of seventeen, she was used by her uncles and the Earls to try and push Mary aside. If you do know the history, then you are aware that she was executed when Mary claims the throne. But it shows a side that Jane was innocent and even Mary saw that and debated high and low whether to execute her or not.
It is a tragic tale, but shows the ins and outs of someone on the side line being used as a pawn for powerful men to keep their seat of power.
Catherine of Aragon
The Queens of Henry VIII are well known, they have almost become famous in their own right, but it is normally the stories that are linked to the fat King that is talked about. Weir created her series about the six Tudor Queens in order to give a better inside to what could have happened during the time with the King, but mainly to give the women the limelight to show their life from start to end.
When it came to Catherine of Aragon, my main knowledge was that she was the first wife of Henry VIII and was cast aside for him to wed Anne Boleyn. But it was the childhood that had me intrigued with this story. It really showed how strong and powerful Catherine was in her own right. She was a Princess, a Spanish child descendant of Isabella I and Ferdinand II. She was brought up having a Queen for a mother and seeing a woman rule a country. Therefore, when she left for England for her betrothal to Henry’s bother Arthur, she was certain she would be a Queen in her own right.
But it’s the tale that comes after that intrigued me, that as history shows us, Arthur dies before he becomes King, and she is then said to be betrothed to his younger brother as the Prince was too sick for them to consummate the marriage. But something that is often left out is how poorly treated Catherine was during this time. It shows a different side to history and that even though a betrothal was announced, it was not certain that it would go as it had been discussed.
It gives another side to Catherine and shows her as the true Queen in her own eyes and has you weeping for what you know happened.
Anna of Cleaves
The next is another one of Henry VIII’s wives, but also another that I feel history lacks to acknowledge. Little known is about Anna of Cleaves, apart from the fact that she is from Dusseldorf and that she was known as unpleasing to the eye to be divorced within the year of her marriage to the King.
What Weir has been able to create is an entirely new take. Some historians were not thrilled with Weir’s choices as she does decide to stir from the fathomed idea that Henry did not find Anna appealing, but more to the point that she had already had a child by another man. Instead, Henry wanted a divorce as he saw that she had given birth when he went to their marriage bed and that was the reason he wanted to remove her as Queen. Similar to Catherine of Aragon, Anna of Cleaves came from a rich, powerful background, so removing her how he did with Anne Boleyn would not go down politically. Instead, you have the fight Anna had with trying to keep her marriage alive and the journeys she had to take after she had been put aside but was still seen as a royal member of the King’s court and was not allowed to journey home.
Weir uses the idea that Anna’s beauty was different to what the King liked, so rather than degrading the woman as history has done, it instead showed her as a beauty amongst her own people, but different to what English women were known for. It brings to life this woman’s story, and even though it is a work of fiction, it is interesting to see how Weir used the facts to give this possible version of events
Elizabeth of York
The last book I feel is a must read is on Elizabeth of York, the Queen to Henry VII and mother to Henry VIII. Once again, Elizabeth is known in history, but perhaps is overshadowed majority of her childhood. The fist born of Elizabeth Woodville and Edward IV, she was a key member of the family, even after her two brothers were born.
With the rebellion and the War of the Roses, much of Elizabeth’s life was revolved around war. The future Queen of England was found in the centre of her uncle Richard III once he took the thrown after her father passed away, and the debate about the two princes in the tower.
The book focuses on the power dynamic Elizabeth had to face with her uncle, and then later when she was crowned Queen and became wife to Henry VII. Weir dives into the events that affected Elizabeth and the repercussions about the men around her. It proves how strong minded she was and should not be overlooked as a true Queen of England.
Whilst it cannot be said that Weir’s telling was how it went down, she stays true to the facts and starts to question what power did Elizabeth have before and after her marriage, even though she had a rightful claim to the thrown herself.
These are only a handful of Weir’s books I would recommend. Of course, there are other historic fiction authors out there, many that have perhaps been seen as a more popular choice with adaptations. But Weir’s writing style and how she depicts historic events to mix with her own fictional intake has you gripped on each page. Whilst I argue with some other authors that do dive from the facts, Weir is a beautifully clever manipulator with the past to have every historical fact interwoven to make you really question if what she has written was the true fact of what happened all those years ago.