Sunday, November 18, 2018

Question from Ashley - Favorite Tudor authors and books

Hello fellow Tudor fans! Its been a long, long time since I stopped by but I wanted to take a brief moment and thank all of the regular/longtime contributors. I love coming back to read questions and answers, even if I don't have anything to add to the conversation lately. I have fallen out of the Tudor loop (I wandered off into American history for my M.A., if you're curious) but I was hoping to circle back around to my first historical love. Given how popular the era is with scholars and amateur historians/journalists, would anyone care to share their favorite authors and/or non-fiction books? For instance, Im currently re-reading David Starkey's Six Wives and I have Eric Ives biography of Anne Boleyn en route to me (my copy was unfortunately destroyed). I also have some Alison Weir books, but is she still kept at arms length from the serious scholars? I also have a book or two from Elizabeth Norton, but she also seems to be controversial in the scholarly world - she has the degree/training but some people really don't like her. Like I said, I'm just finding my footing again in Early Modern England and I don't want to waste my time, as it were, on authors who aren't taken seriously or who don't add anything to the historiography. I love the whole period, but I'm currently interested in the following ladies for an independent project: Anne Boleyn, Catherine Howard, Jane Grey, and Mary Queen of Scots. So, I would greatly appreciate any standout works or historian who specialize on them. Thank you so much!


Anonymous said...

Check out Diarmaid MacCulloch's bio of Thomas Cromwell: it's exceptional. The attention he pays to original sources has given him new insights into Cromwell's life and actions. It is long - 350k words - but worth every minute.


PhD Historian said...

I hope everyone will forgive me if I take advantage of the nature of this question to say a word or two about the difference between historians (a term that I believe should be used very narrowly) and what I call "writers of popular history." First, if Lara, as owner-operate of this site, will allow me, I would like to suggest that you read my webpage "What is a Historian?" ( (feel free to scroll down to subheading 'Defining Historian'). That page offers a detailed description of what to look for in order to ensure that you are reading proper scholarly history.

To answer your question about Alison Weir, yes, she is still kept very much "at arms length" by the majority of scholarly historians. As you will see through comparison of her credentials and published works to the criteria described in the webpage referenced above, Weir should best be described as a "writer of popular history" and of historical fiction. She is *not* a scholarly historian. Indeed, a number of scholarly historians have repeatedly accused her of grossly inappropriate methods (e.g.: plagiarism).

Elizabeth Norton's formal degree training is in archaeology and anthropology, *not* history, and her primary publisher (Amberley) is a popular trade press rather than a peer-reviewed press. Like Weir, I would classify Norton as a "writer of popular history."

Specific author recommendations to follow.

PhD Historian said...

On Anne Boleyn, the works by Eric Ives and Retha Warnicke are still the best. You might also have a look at G.W. Bernard's study from Yale University Press, "Anne Boleyn: Fatal Attractions."

On Catherine Howard, I recommend the late David Loades's "Catherine Howard: The Adulterous Wife of Henry VIII." Though published by a non-academic "popular trade" press (Amberley), Loades was nonetheless one of *THE* authorities on Tudor history in general and the Henrician period in particular.

Jane Grey is my own area of research and writing. Thorough annotated bibliographies of both primary and secondary works related to her are available on my website, My PhD thesis on Jane is available through ProQuest (most university libraries have access to that subscription service), and I have two books in print that relate to her. A third is in development. Leanda de Lisle's "The Sisters Who Would Be Queen" is quite good and reliable, as is Eric Ives's "Lady Jane Grey: A Tudor Mystery." I recommend avoiding the works of Hester Chapman, Alison Plowden, and Mary Luke. Neither can I recommend Nicola Tallis's "Crown of Blood."

For Mary Stuart, Queen of Scotland, I recommend the works of Retha Warnicke, Jayne Elizabeth Lewis, Kristen Post Walton, and John Alexander Guy. Again, avoid Plowden, Weir, and anything written more than about 20 years ago.

I can be contacted through my website for more detailed discussion, should you wish.

Unknown said...

Don't know if this is still relevant months later, but here are a few more suggestions!

I would explore articles in The Historical Journal, English Historical Review, and Journal of Ecclesiastical History. Some useful pieces would be:

Greg Walker - Rethinking the Fall of Anne Boleyn
Thomas Freeman - Research, Rumour and Propaganda: Anne Boleyn in Foxe's ‘Book of Martyrs’
Eric Ives – Anne Boleyn and the Early Reformation in England: The Contemporary Evidence
Maria Dowling - Anne Boleyn and Reform

Also see the back and forth articles by Ives, Warnicke, and Bernard in these journals in the 1980s/1990s. Oldies, but still worthy reads and the foundation of modern scholarship on Anne.

I'm normally not the biggest fan of popular biographies, but Amy Licence's Anne Boleyn book is actually well written and researched, despite the "Adultery, Heresy, Desire" part of the title, and I like that she challenges some of the dominant narratives around the Anne/Henry courtship and Anne's downfall without trying to be provocative or over-the-top like some other authors are.

G.W. Bernad's Fatal Attractions is worth a read, but be cautious as he sometimes tries to be provocative for the sake of being provocative. Also, most other historians disagree with his conclusions.

As for Catherine Howard, Gareth Russell's Young, Damned, and Fair is definitely worth a read and is the most comprehensive on her life. It's another popular biography, but of the Amy Licence school that attempts to do proper research. I don't necessarily agree with all of his assertions, but he provides a unique perspective and also pushes scholarship on Howard forward from the standard narratives we've had on her for decades.

The David Loades biography has more to do with Henry, his marriages as a whole, and the politics of the time than it does with Catherine Howard. Also, Loades has a tendency to weave his opinions into the "facts" in his Tudor work. It's in his use of adjectives, or the way he projects attitudes and motivations onto historical figures without the acknowledgement it's conjecture.

Another option is Lacey Baldwin Smith's Catherine Howard, which is similar to David Loades in that it's more about Catherine's world than her per se, but I do think it's important to read at least one of the old-school biopgraphies and not just all of the newer revistionist ones.

For Jane Grey, in addition to the Ives biography, I would recommend these two articles from the journal Historical Research:

Paulina Kewes - The 1553 Succession Crisis Reconsidered
Eric Ives - Tudor dynastic problems revisited

Neither are about Jane Grey as a person per se, but they do provide context about her circumstances.

Not enough familiar with Mary Queen of Scots for recs, but if you ever want to read about Elizabeth I, I would suggest Anne Somerset's biography along with Susan Doran's Elizabeth I and her Circle as well as Monarchy and Matrimony: The Courtships of Elizabeth I.

Avoid/mistrust Peter Ackroyd, Carolly Erickson, and Alison Weir.

Anonymous said...

I would avoid the Amy License book on Anne Boleyn.

She does not properly attribute some of her sources, making it seem like she was the one who came up with the original research, when that was not the case. In other words, she has plagiarized ideas as her own.

The book also has inaccuracies.