Alison Palmer’s top 5 Tudor books on World Book Day

March 04 2021 | Castle History

As we celebrate World Book Day, Hever Castle’s Conservation & Engagement Assistant, Alison Palmer, talks about her top five Tudor books.

Growing up just down the road from Hever Castle – in Edenbridge – probably made my interest in Anne Boleyn, and by extension the whole Tudor era, a sure thing. So, naturally the shelves in Hever’s Archive Office are all, rather heavily, Anne Boleyn/Henry VIII based.

Choosing my five favourite Tudor books for World Book Day was a little bit of a challenge because there are, literally, hundreds of books out there, many covering the same areas of history as many others before; but I had to make the choice and the following books all left their mark on me somehow and I hope that others will enjoy them as I did:

1. Anne Boleyn by Eric W. Ives 

This seminal work on Anne Boleyn is probably one of the most accurate and exhaustive works on her life that is available. Although it is an older work, first published in 1986, it is still the best reference book that anyone could hope for and I was very lucky to find a 1st edition hardback, so I’m probably a little biased!

2. The Lady in the Tower by Alison Weir 

Theories abound concerning the reasons for Anne’s fall and Alison Weir’s offering takes the reader on an exhaustive journey through the last 4 months of Anne’s life. For an avid reader of Anne Boleyn biographies Alison Weir doesn’t really offer any new information but she does offer a different view on certain aspects of the events that led up to the execution of an anointed English Queen. Although other historians have cast doubts on Weir’s assumptions I still found this book to be well written and thought provoking.

3. The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Antonia Fraser 

If somebody asks me to give a recommendation for their first book on the Tudors, this invariably is the book that is always at the top of the list. Fraser writes sensitively on the six women, highlighting their many strengths/weaknesses though never prioritizing one wife over the others. There may be other, newer books on the 6 wives but this will always be my favourite as it was the first book on all six that I read.

4. My Heart is my Own by John Guy 

I first visited Scotland around 20 years ago and after a visit to Linlithgow, where Mary was born, I developed an interest in learning more about Elizabeth’s rival and this book is probably one of the fairest representations of her character available. Almost 500 years after her execution Mary, Queen of Scots remains one of the most enigmatic, if divisive, figures in British history. Mary is presented as a sympathetic and generous woman, who, for a short while at least, showed an acute political acumen, despite being hindered by the misogyny of her times and a distinct lack of support from those that should have helped her. I found it refreshing to read a book on Mary that does not fixate on her flaws and mistakes, but shows her as the intelligent, refined woman that she was.

5. The Matthew Shardlake Mysteries by CJ Sansom 

I love a good murder mystery and this series, which follows the trials and tribulations of a hunchbacked lawyer-turned-detective navigating both the law courts and, occasionally the Royal Tudor court, ticks all the right boxes. I love how the author brings Tudor London and his characters, both real and fictional, to life. The fact that the setting does not revolve around the upper classes is a bonus, though I must admit Henry VIII and most of the nobility do not come off very well at all, which I felt to be a huge bonus! All six books are brilliant in some way, but I think Dark Fire is my absolute favourite from this series.