Books on Elizabethan Exploration, Foreign Policy and Social History

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

Elizabeth I, aged about 12 years

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.

Sir Walter Raleigh, Elizabethan adventurer, explorer, and courtier

Sir Walter Raleigh, Elizabethan adventurer, explorer, and courtier

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

Social history

Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London

by Liza Picard

St. James Palace in London, built in Tudor times to replace a monastic building

St. James Palace in London, built in Tudor times to replace a monastic building

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.

Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London – Amazon UK

Elizabeth’s London: Everyday Life in Elizabethan London – Amazon USA

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.

It’s a detailed, academic and very impressive tome (over 800 pages) written by a historian who held posts at both Oxford and Cambridge.

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

An Elizabethan silver shilling

An Elizabethan silver shilling

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.

It progresses, logically enough, through local economic and social networks, to a look at prices, macro-economics, inflation, taxes, credit, and market-places.

Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain, 1470-1750 (The Penguin Economic History of Britain) Amazon UK Earthly Necessities: Economic Lives in Early Modern Britain – USA Amazon

Early Modern England: A Social History, 1550-1760

by J.A. Sharpe

Elizabeth I in about 1575

Elizabeth I in about 1575

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.

It’s not a lightweight – but it fascinating, and scholarly. Highly recommended.

Early Modern England: A Social History, 1550-1760 – UK Amazon

Early Modern England: A Social History, 1550-1760 – Amazon USA

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.

Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Design – Amazon UK

Elizabeth in the Garden: A Story of Love, Rivalry and Spectacular Design – Amazon USA

Burghley House, the grand Elizabethan country house built by Elizabeth's advisor, William Cecil
Burghley House, the grand Elizabethan country house built by Elizabeth’s advisor, William Cecil

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.

Elizabethan Architecture: Its Rise and Fall, 1540-1640 – Amazon UK

Elizabethan Architecture – Amazon USA

4 Responses to “Books on Elizabethan Exploration, Foreign Policy and Social History”

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  2. jo oliver says:

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