Top ten Tudor novels

20 April 2012

I am so excited about the upcoming release of Bring Up The Bodies, the sequel to Wolf Hall. I’ve pre-ordered my copy and as soon as it hits my Kindle at midnight on release day, I’m taking an extended break from EVERYTHING until I’ve finished reading it.

I wasn’t into Harry Potter while the books were being released (my fan girling came much later), but I remember vaguely envying all the hardcore Potter fans of my acquaintance as they queued up at midnight to get their books on release day then went home to spend the rest of the night reading them. I once accidentally ended up in Borders on Tottenham Court Road at midnight on the release night of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix and thought it most excellent to see all these people wandering about the place all dressed up. Mind you, I’d just been to see the band Paradise Lost and was all gothed up so I’m not sure who looked most peculiar…

Anyway, because I simply CANNOT WAIT for Bring Up The Bodies, here is my top ten list of the GREATEST TUDOR NOVELS OF ALL TIME. In my opinion.

1. Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel, 2009. The greatest Tudor novel ever, in my opinion – an intoxicating bundle of pathos, humour and drama and the only book to ever make me both cry and also laugh out loud. The run up to Thomas More’s execution (spoiler!) left me absolutely breathless.

2. Legacy, Susan Kay, 1987. The best novel about Elizabeth I – a dark, twisting psychological book that really brings the dread Queen to vivid life. Whatever happened to Susan Kay anyway? Does she know how much we all love her? I was almost put off writing completely when I saw someone on a televised book review show slag off her novel about the Phantom of the Opera by saying, very very sniffily that ‘you can tell it was written on a word processor’. I hope they didn’t put her off.

3. Mary Queen Of Scotland And The Isles, Margaret George, 1992. A superb if somewhat imaginative novel about Mary Stuart that sweeps along from her childhood to that grisly ending in Fotheringhay Castle. I’ve read this one several times despite not really being much of a fan of Mary, Queen of Scots.

4. The Autobiography Of Henry VIII, Margaret George, 1986. I know, TWO books by the same writer but I couldn’t decide which one was best so ended up including both. I love this book – flawed and huge though it is. I really dislike Henry VIII and it would take a LOT for me to have much sympathy for him but this makes a good attempt at making him at least a little bit likeable. Maybe?

5. The Boleyn Inheritance, Philippa Gregory, 2006. I felt like being a bit controversial and not including any of Philippa Gregory’s books but then decided that was a bit childish as I actually really did enjoy this one – which tells the hoary tale from the perspective of Anne of Cleves, Catherine ‘Kitty’ Howard and Jane Boleyn. I was going to say that this was a ‘threeway’ between these three ladies but then realised that sort of thing is already adequately catered for in the novels of Brandy Purdy.

6. Green Darkness, Anya Seton, 1972. Not a novel about a Tudor royal person but I wanted to include it anyway as it is such a superb book. This is one of the original and best time slip novels of all time and has at its heart the touching love story of the unfortunate but ravishingly lovely Celia de Bohun, who is a bit of a Tess Durbeyfield character and the hot monk, Stephen. A real classic. I’ve often wondered why no film version of this was ever made.

7. Brief Gaudy Hour, Margaret Campbell Barnes, 1971. There’s so many novels about Anne Boleyn and most of them are pretty rubbish. This is one of the few that is actually pretty good and not least because it gives a nicely sympathetic but not sickly sweet account of her life.

8. Young Bess (Good Queen Bess 1), Margaret Irwin, 1944. I love Margaret Irwin’s novels and this, the first part of her series about the young Elizabeth Tudor is just incredibly good. The film, which starred the young Jean Simmons is also exceptional.

9. Immortal Queen, Elizabeth Byrd, 1959. I re-read this book SO MANY times as a child before leaving my beloved and battered copy in a Heathrow hotel room during a school trip. I really should buy another one! This is fabulous stuff though – a dark, brooding study of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.

10. Pour the Dark Wine (Coronet Books), Dinah Lampitt, 1990. This is an unusual one as it focusses on the Seymour family for a change and follows their schemings and machinations to deposit the not at all unwilling Jane into Henry VIII’s bedchamber. It’s definitely worth a read.

I feel like I ought to include Jean Plaidy and Norah Lofts in this list but I dislike the former (I read every single one of her historical novels as a little girl so you can’t say I didn’t give her a fair try) and I don’t think the latter’s Tudor novels are her best work.

What are your favourites? I’ve donned a special Tudor Rose emblazoned hard hat in readiness for the comments so bring it on, I’m ready for anything.