Tuesday, December 11, 2012

HT Recommends: Biographical Fiction

Patty writes:

I would appreciate it very much if you could please recommend some readings for me.  I’m particularly interested in reading about women in history such as Queen Elizabeth, Catherine the Medici, etc...  I have read from the beginning of creation to around the early 1900 and I don’t particularly care for classic American Wild West stories.

Biographical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and I particularly love biographical fiction written about women, so I have plenty of recommendations for you.

There are several authors who specialize in this genre. Margaret George has written several lengthy biographical novels about female historical figures, and her books
cover a wide variety of historical eras, from ancient history to the Tudor era.


Helen of Troy (2007): The characters from the Homeric era are brought to life in this novel centering on Helen of Troy. Following her life from her youth through the Trojan war, this epic is dramatic, romantic, and suspenseful.

The Memoirs of Cleopatra (1998): Cleopatra is one of the most legendary women in history, and George's saga tells the tale of her epic reign and her tumultuous relationships in exquisite detail.

Mary, Called Magdalene (2002): George reimagines the life of Mary Magdalene, illuminating the life of a woman during the first century. She stays faithful to the Biblical record of Mary Magdalene's relationship with Jesus, and the rich historical detail brings the time period to life.

Mary, Queen of Scotland and the Isles (1997): George tells the story of Queen Elizabeth's legendary rival--a queen by birth betrayed by her own family. Mary's tale is extraordinary, her exploits are legendary, and there's plenty of rebellion, romance, and action.

Elizabeth I (2011): Queen Elizabeth I is a rich subject for biographical fiction--she had a long, eventful life, and there's plenty of source material to draw from. George gives Elizabeth the epic treatment she deserves, chronicling her rise to power and her storied reign.

Susan Holloway Scott is one of my personal favorites. Her novels often feature royal mistresses, so you're guaranteed romance and intrigue. Her novel Duchess: A Novel of Sarah Churchill (2006) is a favorite of mine. Set during the reign of William and Mary, Duchess traces the rise, fall, and rise (again) of a daring social climber who would stop at nothing to get close to royalty. I also enjoyed Scott's novels about the mistresses of Charles II, particularly Royal Harlot: A Novel of the Countess Castlemaine and King Charles II (2007), which stars the glamorous Barbara Villiers Palmer.

Rosalind Miles is best known for two historical trilogies, one about Guinevere and one about Tristan and Isolde. Both are excellent and highly recommended, but if you're looking for biographical fiction, her novel I, Elizabeth (2003) is worth a look.

Jean Plaidy followed the English royals from the era of William the Conqueror through Queen Victoria. Though many of the novels feature male protagonists, there are a number that tell the stories of the English queens. Her trilogy about Catherine de Medici (Madame Serpent, The Italian Woman, and Queen Jezebel) is back in print.

Finally, C.W. Gortner has made a name for himself with his richly-detailed, beautifully-researched sagas about royal women. His specialty is the Spanish royals, but he has also written a novel about Catherine de Medici (The Confessions of Catherine de Medici) and several novels set during the Tudor era. I especially enjoyed 2012's The Queen's Vow, which tells the story of Isabella of Castile.

Do you have other recommendations for Patty? Please post them in the comments!


  1. There is also the wonderful book Legacy by Susan Kay about Elizabeth I. I would also highly recommend some of the biographical fiction by Elizabeth Chadwick such as To Defy A King, A Time of Singing, and Lady of the English which focus on women.

  2. Chadwick's Lady of the English was one of my favorite reads this year. The King's Concubine by Anne O'brien, The Lady Of The Rivers by Philippa Gregory, Queen Hereafter by Susan Fraser King, Captive Queen and The Lady In The Tower by Alison Weir, and To Be Queen by Christy Englsih are all books that I've read this year that I would highly recommend. Thank you for listing the ones you did. I haven't read anything by those authors and Jean Plaidy stood out to me as my favorite time period lies between William the Conqueror and the Plantagenets.