Elizabethan History: Books about Elizabeth I and her Relatives

By , April 27, 2010 10:17 am
Elizabeth I, aged about 12 years

Elizabeth I, aged about 12 years

This page is for book reviews of non-fiction histories about Elizabethan England,books about Elizabeth herself and her royal relatives.

See also these pages, for general book reviews about the Elizabethan period, and for book reviews about social history and exploration in Elizabethan England.

The royal cast in Tudor times was usually larger-than-life, with every aspect of life, death, love, betrayal, greedy and loyalty involved.

Here are some of the books I’d recommend about Elizabeth, her siblings and cousins.

The Sisters Who Would be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey

by Leanda de Lisle

Lady Jane Grey, an engraving by Van de Passe

Lady Jane Grey, an engraving by Van de Passe

The three sisters, Lady Jane Grey, the eldest, and Catherine and Mary, the younger two, are fascinating.

Designated by King Henry VIII as his heirs should his own children not have heirs of their own, the three girls were the granddaughters of Henry’s younger sister, Mary Tudor, by her second husband, Charles Brandon.

This book is about the three, none of whom lived happily ever after, and all of whom died young. Jane was executed by her cousin, Mary I, and Mary and Catherine both married without Elizabeth I’s permission, and suffered for it.

This is a good, detailed, and very interesting book about the Grey sisters. I don’t wholly agree with her slant on them – I think she’s too harsh about Jane and Elizabeth I, and a bit too generous to Mary and Catherine. Be that as it may, it’s still a wonderful account.

The book’s available from Amazon UK, The Sisters Who Would be Queen: The Tragedy of Mary, Katherine and Lady Jane Grey and also from the US Amazon site Sisters Who Would Be Queen

Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII 1547-1558

by Alison Weir

Edward VI, at about 9 years old

Edward VI, at about 9 years old

This book, entitled (misleadingly, I reckon) “Henry VIII’s Children” in the American version, is about the childhood and upbringing of the four children related to King Henry VIII who sat on the throne after his death – Edward VI, Henry’s son, Lady Jane Grey, Henry’s great-niece, Mary I, Henry’s elder daughter, and Elizabeth I, his younger daughter.

All four were highly intelligent, and very well-educated – in Latin, French, and other languages, as well as in English, history and so forth.

They all had deeply traumatic and troubled childhoods; Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, had been cast off by Henry VIII and she then died, Elizabeth’s mother, Anne Boleyn, was executed by her father, and Edward’s mother, Jane Seymour, died shortly after giving birth to him.

Lady Jane Grey had both parents, but they were unpleasant towards her and deeply and manipulatively ambitious for her to become Queen.

This is all set out in interesting detail, and this book is both very well-written and well sourced and detailed.

The book is available from Amazon UK, Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII 1547-1558 and from Amazon USA The Children of Henry VIII

Elizabeth, The Queen

by Alison Weir

Alison Weir is a great writer about Tudor history, and as well as the above book, I’d also recommend her full-length biography of Elizabeth I. It’s a good read – well-researched and well-written. She’s sympathetic to Elizabeth, but not blindly so.

Elizabeth, The Queen from Amazon UK and also The Life of Elizabeth I – the Amazon USA version


by David Starkey

David Starkey is certainly one of the best-known of Tudor historians. Elizabeth is one of his recent books, and it covers her whole life, from birth to death. It’s readable, and very interesting, and you can’t go wrong with his discussions and insight.

Starkey can, however, be alarmingly self-satisfied, perhaps a hazard of the media-star-and-professor job description!

Elizabeth – Amazon UK
Elizabeth: The Struggle for the Throne – Amazon USA

Elizabeth and Leicester

by Sarah Gristwood

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester

Elizabeth I was the famous, and self-styled, Virgin Queen. Although she certainly never married, she had a series of long standing relationships with favourites – although the exact truth of the relationships is, of course, impossible to be sure of.

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester, was a fascinating figure. His family was one which ended up in trouble frequently – his father was executed (and Dudley himself imprisoned in the Tower of London) after the Lady Jane Grey affair.

When Elizabeth came to the throne, Dudley became Master of the Horse, and later Earl of Leicester, a Privy Councillor, and he was in command of the army during the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Their relationship, whatever form it took, was clearly a troubled one – Dudley’s first wife, Amy, died in mysterious and scandalous circumstances, “falling down the stairs”. As it was widely rumoured that he’d had Amy killed so that he could marry Elizabeth, any future marriage was clearly ruled out.

This book isn’t at the serious, academic end of Tudor history, but it is fun, interesting, and not too populist.

Elizabeth and Leicester – Amazon UK

Elizabeth and Leicester: The Truth about the Virgin Queen and the Man She Loved – Amazon USA .

My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots

by John Guy

Mary Queen of Scots when she was 17 years old, in 1560

Mary Queen of Scots when she was 17 years old, in 1560

Another female relative of Elizabeth I, another sticky end. Mary Queen of Scots was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s older sister, Margaret Tudor.

Mary inherited the throne as a baby, and then pushed off to France to marry the Dauphain, heir to the French throne. When he died, she came back to Scotland, and married a first cousin, Henry Lord Darnley.

When he was killed, she married the man generally thought to have murdered Darnley – James, Earl of Bothwell.

Her life was full of intrigue and difficulties with her nobles. She was Catholic, they were mostly protestant.

Mary fled to England, and spend 19 years as a prisoner of Elizabeth I’s, until involved in one plot against Elizabeth too many. She was executed in 1567.

John Guy is one of the leading professors of English Tudor history, and this lengthy and detailed biography shows that. It’s immensely academic, but also easy to read and very interesting.

Guy has pulled together a lot of the newer research on both Mary and Elizabeth’s relationship with her, and this must be close to the definitive book about the Queen of Scots.

My Heart is My Own: The Life of Mary Queen of Scots – Amazon UK

Queen of Scots: The True Life of Mary Stuart – Amazon USA

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