Thursday, July 23, 2015

Tudor fiction without the famous

Let's face it: books about Henry VIII, his six queens, and other relatives (like Lady Jane Grey and Mary Queen of Scots) draw a lot of attention.  On the Goodreads list for best books about Tudor England, you have to scroll down well past #100 before you'll find much of anything else.

After posting a review of Jane Borodale's The Knot on Tuesday, I got to thinking about other historical novels I've read that are set in Tudor England (1485-1603) but which feature lesser-known personalities or fictional characters, and which take place away from the royal court.

While novels featuring royalty are a longtime interest, I also enjoy reading about daily life at the time and the impact of major historical events on average citizens.  Below are examples of "Tudor fiction without the famous" that I've reviewed, as well as others I've come across.

Valerie Anand's The House of Allerbrook, a standalone sequel to The House of Lanyon, is a family saga set mostly on Exmoor in Somerset in the 16th century.

Jenny Barden's two historical novels, Mistress of the Sea and The Lost Duchess, set partly in England and partly in the New World, are romantic adventure novels that evoke maritime exploration during the Elizabethan Golden Age.

The Miracle at St. Bruno's, first in the Daughters of England series by Philippa Carr, takes place in 1530s London. Philippa Carr was a pseudonym used by Eleanor Hibbert, who also wrote as Victoria Holt and Jean Plaidy.

The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory is a dark novel of jealousy and the supernatural set in County Durham in the 1530s.

Time's Echo, a time-slip novel by Pamela Hartshorne, contains marvelous details of Elizabethan-era York.  I understand her subsequent novels The Memory of Midnight and The Edge of Dark fall into the same category.

Mary M. Luke's out of print novel The Nonsuch Lure is a time-slip focusing on the Coddington family, who were forced to relocate after Henry VIII decided to build Nonsuch Palace on their lands in Surrey.

Jeri Westerson's Roses in the Tempest imagines a chaste romance between a woman who becomes a nun and her childhood friend, a Tudor-era courtier, at the time of the Dissolution of the Monasteries. There are some court scenes, but it mostly takes place in a village in Staffordshire.

And some other titles worth a mention:

Nancy Bilyeau's Joanna Stafford series (The Crown, The Chalice, The Tapestry) features a Dominican nun's determination to survive the political and religious changes transforming her world.  The last volume finds Joanna in the midst of the Tudor court.

Sarah Kennedy, author of The Altarpiece and City of Ladies (and the upcoming The King's Sisters), has guest-posted here about nuns and mothers as well as mystery plays in Henry VIII's England.

Gallows Wedding by Rhona Martin, the first winner of the Historical Novel Prize in Memory of Georgette Heyer, is a novel of witchcraft and doomed love set in Henry VIII's time.

Green Darkness by Anya Seton, which I'd read ages ago, is a classic novel of reincarnation set in the England of Edward VI (son of Henry VIII) and 20th-century England.

What else can you recommend along these same lines?  That is, Tudor times, non-famous characters.

Note: I've based the title of this post off the HNS conference session entitled "Historical Fiction Without the Famous" (see Mary Tod's blog A Writer of History for more), although from what I understand, that session focused on novels with fictional characters.

24 comments:

  1. Thank you for the list. I'm going to read Roses in the Tempest soon. I have read The City of Ladies and I have purchased The Crown series. Another book that I recommend on the list is The Defiant Bride by Leslie Hatchel.

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    1. Thank you - that's a novel I hadn't heard of before.

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  2. I think I responded to the wrong post. But yes, again, I agree, I've had about enough of the Tudor court for now(and deep down, I'm more of a Plantagenet girl). I will certainly check out some of these books, many thanks for sharing!

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    1. I'd like to read more novels set in the pre-Wars of the Roses period, royal or not. The later Plantagenet years, in other words. When it comes to novels of the Tudor court, it's getting progressively harder to come up with something new.

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  3. Dorothy Dunnett's splendid Crawford of Lymond series is Tudor-era. For a Plantagenet read, I liked Bruce Holsinger's "A Burnable Book," starring John Gower and Geoffrey Chaucer, along with most of the English court.

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    1. Thanks, Kris! I almost listed Dunnett but figured most of her Lymond series took place in Scotland and Europe rather than England... although that may be overly pedantic, and I haven't read all of them, just the first one, so I could be wrong. A Burnable Book is one I've been meaning to get to, also.

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  4. The Man on a Donkey, by H.F.M. Prescott, set around the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536. Although Henry VIII does appear, the focus isn't on him.

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    1. Thanks, Alan, that's a classic I haven't read yet.

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  5. Hi, Sarah,
    In the mystery genre there are several that focus on lesser known historical figures or fictional characters. In my own "Face Down" series, I deliberately avoided letting my protagonist go anywhere near Queen Elizabeth. I'm now writing a spinoff series. In Murder in the Queen's Wardrobe there are a few scenes at court, but for the most part the series characters will keep their distance. I find the rest of Tudor England far more interesting. The books I wrote as Kate Emerson were set at the Tudor court but the focus in each was on one of Henry's alleged mistresses or (in the last) his alleged illegitimate daughter.

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    1. Hi Kathy, thanks for the reminder about your Face Down series, which I enjoyed. I'll keep an eye out for the books in your new series, also - I'm another who finds the rest of Tudor England more interesting.

      Royal Inheritance is one I should have mentioned here. I reviewed it back in 2013 and loved the new perspective it showed on Tudor life and times, and its depiction of a lesser-known Tudor woman.

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    2. Thanks, Sarah. And I meant to mention that the Lymond series, Seton's Green Darkness and Luke's The Nonsuch Lure are on my keeper shelves. Definite influences on my own writing.

      Kathy Lynn Emerson

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    3. That's interesting to hear, especially about Nonsuch Lure - it's been out of print for decades, and it seemed to be an obscure little gem. I'm always surprised when others have heard of it and am glad you also found it a keeper.

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  6. Thank you. There are definitely books here that I will read.

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    1. Pleased that you found the list useful!

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  7. It's not quite what you're asking, but what about a novel in which Shakespeare is a character before he became famous? The Tutor, by Andrea Chapin, posits that in 1590, while he was struggling to write Venus and Adonis, he sought the aid of Katharine de L'Isle, a minor noblewoman as literate as he. Katharine's the protagonist, but the obsessive relationship between them is the best part of the novel; the rest concerns Elizabeth I's persecution of Catholics.

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    1. It sounds like one I'd enjoy reading. The idea of a younger Shakespeare will no doubt be what draws many readers to the novel, but I like that Katharine's the focus (something different).

      A young Shakespeare also makes an appearance in Victoria Lamb's The Queen's Secret, which takes black singer/court entertainer Lucy Morgan as its protagonist.

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  8. I just finished writing my first novel, an Elizabethan spy thriller, and one of my first design decisions was no famous people. There are some real people in the book, but all street level intelligence operatives. I felt that if I wrote about famous people, it would distract from tension in the book.
    There are some very good book recommendations in the previous comments, I look forward to reading the books that are new to me.

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    1. That's a good point, that including famous people in a novel, even as secondary characters, can divert attention from the plot. I've seen this happen in a couple of the novels I've read.

      Congrats on completing your first novel!

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  9. You have a great list here. The Anya Seton, Valerie Anand and Philippa Carr novels I read ages ago. I love the historical details in Pamela Hartshorne's novels. The other titles I haven't read, but will be checking them out.

    I didn't think it would be so difficult to come up with a list of titles, but most books I've read set in the Tudor era deal with a famous personality or the Tudor court. However, I did manage to think of some. C.C.Humphrey's Shakespeare's Rebel and his French Executioner series are set in this period. These books do have famous people in them, but the story revolves more around the fictional characters. Edward Marsden's Nicholas Bracewell mystery series is set in Elizabethan times and involves a theatre troupe. A novel I read recently, Armada by John Stack, has a Catholic captain in Drake's navy as the main character.
    Another novel I read ages ago is Rogues and Players by Pauline Bentley. This is also set in Elizabethan times and involves the theatre, though the female protagonist, Gabriellen Angel, also comes into contact with spies and criminals.

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    1. I agree, it doesn't seem like it would be that difficult to come up with more Tudor novels with non-famous characters. But even with the ones mentioned above, many were written years ago and are out of print.

      Thanks for adding to the ongoing list. I had come across Armada but haven't read it and wasn't sure if it would fit. I've added Pauline Bentley's Rogues and Players to my TBR list. I was just looking around and see she also writes as Kate Tremayne.

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    2. I am convinced that reading Jean Plaidy got me an A in my History A Level. How lovely to be reminded of her, and Anya Seton - absolutely adored her books. Excellent interesting post.

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    3. Thanks very much. I grew up reading Jean Plaidy too and got much of my earliest knowledge on British history from her.

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  10. I enjoy it so much when you give out lists, Sarah! Thank you. I read the Nonsuch Lure years ago and it started me on a quest for timeslip novels which led me on to Green Darknessand, my favourite, Lady of hay by Barbara Erskine.

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    1. I love time-slips and wish they were more popular. When I was younger, I used to go to a used bookstore that had a whole shelf labeled Time Travel that had books of the type you mentioned - lengthy novels with significant historical detail. Maybe I'll work on a list with some of my old favorites!

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