What is it that fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall (and its follow-up, Bring Up The Bodies) love so much about the book? Is it Mantel’s fluid use of language and eerie imagery that keeps them coming back for more? Or the horrific landscape of the Tudor-era court? It’s probably a combination of the two, and fair enough. Instead of putting an IOU for the forthcoming final book in the trilogy into their Christmas stocking, try giving your favorite Wolf Hall fan one of these 10 titles, guaranteed to keep your mind sharp, your spirits lights, your heart pure, your schemes (should you choose to scheme) tactically sound, and your spirit well-ensconced in the world that Mantel has created.
The Fifth Queen Trilogy, by Ford Madox Ford
Ford Madox Ford is the greatest, and while I love his books set during the Great War, this trilogy might be my favorite. It’s strange that a man could so perfectly re-create the strange circumstances of Katharine Howard’s life at Henry’s court, but do that he does. Also, because it is ever-so-loosely based on fact, you can read it while shaking your head and going, “Oh giiiiirl, this is NOT going to end well!” It won’t, but thanks to Ford, it will at least end beautifully.
Margaret George writes with insight and humor—and she does it for a very long time in this epic novel. Reading this comprehensive and completely engaging novel “written” by Henry’s private fool (an actual historical figure) is like eating an immense candy bar for any fan of the age. Everybody likes candy. Your argument is invalid.
Food & Feast In Tudor England, by Alison Sim
And speaking of immense candy bars, let’s shake things up with some nonfiction! This deeelicious peek into the things that graced the tables of royalty will have you mesmerized. Its discussion about how the classes ate and how the economy was controlled by its stomach is a fascinating look into the social structure of Tudor-era England.
Hark! A Vagrant!, by Kate Beaton
Kate Beaton is a genius, whose deft and brilliant comics find their subject matter in the pages of history books. With humor and style, she sends up some of history’s (and literature’s) greats. Because too much dry prose can make one scowl: Beaton for life.
A Place of Greater Safety, by Hilary Mantel
It’s Mantel, bitch. Like Britney, only about the French Revolution. Viva la historical fiction, viva Mantel’s almost painfully brilliant way with words, and viva les pamphleteers! No, seriously—let’s get rid of our gossip sites and bring back this grand (or should I say grande) tradition.
The Six Wives of Henry VIII, by Alison Weir
I cannot recommend Alison Weir with any more vigor. This is a great place to start. If Mantel elevates fiction to a religious experience, Weir elevates history to a fine art. And her footnotes are a treat, second only to those of science writer Mary Roach.
Utopia, by Sir Thomas More
You’ve read of his untimely end, now read the book that helps his memory live on….wrote the cheesiest author on the planet. Part treatise on the right way to live, and part cutthroat satire directed toward his one-time pupil Henry VIII, Utopia is compelling enough that its author was sainted. JK! But, I mean, the dude is technically a saint.
Hans Holbein the Younger: Painter at Court, by Jochen Sander
Funny story: while trying to find this collection of the Tudor Court’s premiere portrait artist, I kept typing “Hans Holstein.” I became increasingly miffed as the internet continued to spit back at me photos of cows, alongside men presumably named Hans. Ladies and gentlemen, the dude whose art informs our imaginative picture of the Wolf Hall era is Hans Holbein The Younger. Please put him on your coffee table for the enjoyment of all.
The Prince, by Niccolo Machiavelli
If Regina George of Mean Girls had written a book for Cady about how to be popular, it would have been pulled largely from this infamous tome. Receive the arts of princeliness according to Machiavelli for Christmas, and soon everyone you know will be crying, and you will somehow be wearing a crown, and also maybe a T-shirt that reads, “Hate the Player, Not the Game.”
The Nature of Alexander, by Mary Renault
Mary Renault is the OG Historical Biographer. I read this book for the first time when I was 10. That was too young—I read it again recently and was bowled over at how she’s able to present such an unblinkingly balanced portrayal of one of history’s most famous warriors. She loves the dude, but ain’t afraid to speak hard truths about him. This is a must-read, and any reader worth their salt should have it on their shelves for a rainy afternoon.
What historical eras do you love to read about?