This is a selection of book reviews about the history of Elizabethan England – about exploration and social history in Elizabeth’s time, all of which I have read and recommend for those wanting to know more about late Tudor history.
For book reviews about Elizabeth I and her relatives, see this page. For book reviews about the politics, reign of Elizabeth, general history, and the Elizabethan Church Settlement of 1558 see this page.
Exploration and Foreign Policy
Big Chief Elizabeth: How England’s Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World
by Giles Milton
An entertaining and enjoyable read. Not the most academic or scholarly of works – footnotes and source details aren’t as heavy in this as some of the other books on this page.
It’s a good, rip-roaring yarn about the early and astonishing activities of Elizabeth’s explorers in North America, and is fascinating.
It concentrates (not surprisingly, given the title) on the efforts early in the American Colonies’ history, such as Walter Raleigh’s efforts to found colonial settlements in Virginia, and meetings and negotiations with local native tribes.
This book is available, by clicking on the links, from Amazon UK Big Chief Elizabeth: How England’s Adventurers Gambled and Won the New World and also from Amazon in the USA, with a slightly different title: Big Chief Elizabeth: The Adventures and Fate of the First English Colonists in America
Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London
by Liza Picard
This is a wonderful book about London in Elizabeth’s time – it looks at what the city was like to live in, what buildings and streets were there, how they were laid out, and what people did during their day-to-day lives.
The book has sections on what people wore, what different social classes ate, and the structure of their every day existences. It’s a fascinating insight into the period.
Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England
by Keith Thomas
This is a fantastic and fascinating book, exploring the links between religion, superstition, witchcraft and magic, and looking at how beliefs changed during and after the Reformation.
It also looks at the rise of science, and the Enlightenment, at the end of the 17th century.
Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History) from Amazon UK Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History) from Amazon USA
Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain, 1470-1750 (The Penguin Economic History of Britain)
by Keith Wrightson
This is a great book, about both the economic structure of the country, and also about how it changed over time. The author is an impressive one, who clearly knows his stuff, and while being academic and scholarly, the book isn’t dry in tone.
The book starts with a look at households and the pattern of working and earning – who lived with whom, who earned what, and the inter-relationship between different household members.
Early Modern England: A Social History, 1550-1760
by J.A. Sharpe
This book obviously covers more than just the Elizabethan age, but it’s a great work of social history.
First published about 30 years ago, I think, it’s been comprehensively updated to take account of more modern research.
Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Design
by Trea Martin
A fascinating book about Elizabethan gardens. They weren’t just for growing plants – they had mazes, follies, walls, trenches, and were heaped with symbolism.
Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640
by Mark Girouard
Some of the grandest and most impressive country houses in England were built in Elizabeth’s reign, and they have a distinctive and beautiful architecture.
This is a fantastically detailed and impressive account of the new types of building, the new styles and designs, and the whole gamut of secular building during Elizabeth’s reign. The illustrations are great, too.