As you have probably already noticed from my social media, I am unashamedly someone who enjoys reading about royal history. Drama, romance, tragedy, life at court – all combined into one book for a reader to enjoy. My home is filled with shelves upon shelves of history books, and below I am sharing the select few that have either remained my favorites or ones that I have continually read over and over.
I’ve been immersing myself in royal history books since I was about age 7, when I was introduced to the book series The Royal Diaries. The series was a collection of historical fiction novels, written in the form of a diary as if the royal princesses were writing the entries themselves. The first book I read in that series was on Elizabeth I, which is where I first learned about Henry VIII and Elizabeth’s doomed royal mother, Anne Boleyn. From there, I went down the rabbit hole of wanting to read anything and everything regarding royal history. Whenever the subject of royal history would come up in any of my classes, I would definitely become that over eager child who raises her hand to share all kinds of facts pretty much no other kid had any idea about. It would bring me so much joy.
My love for royal history books continues to this day, nearly 22 years later. The only difference is, you won’t find me reading historical fiction anymore. As I got older, the desire for facts and information became more and more prominent, with no interest in reading fictionalized stories about the people I wanted to learn more about. There’s nothing wrong with historical fiction, however it’s just not a category of book that I prefer.
If you wandered into our living room, you’d find one wall full of bookshelves and they are stacked from one end to the other with 90% of them being royal history books. There are more books on Anne Boleyn than any other historical figure among those books, with Marie Antoinette being a close second (I feel like I have this thing for doomed queens). But I also have soft spots for figures like Anne Neville, the sometimes forgotten wife of Richard III, and Matilda of Flanders, the first recorded queen of England as wife of William the Conqueror.
Below are just some of the royal history books that I love recommending to friends, family, and fellow royal history lovers.
This book is easily one of my favorites. While I am still learning a lot more about Queen Victoria, this book put so much into perspective for someone whom at the time did not know the background story on how this uneducated 18-year old became one of England’s greatest queens. Prior to Victoria, there was another English princess set to become monarch once her grandfather and father passed on. When the succession became in jeopardy when Charlotte unexpectedly died (I won’t give away how she died), the king’s remaining sons scrambled to find wives and produce heirs to the throne. Only one son succeeded in this goal, and thus Victoria was born.
This book is not your typical Marie Antoinette biography. Most people think of Marie Antoinette as a frivolous, materialistic, and superficial queen who was finally served with karma when the guillotine cut off her head in October 1793. This book doesn’t touch upon life at Versailles at all, though. In fact, this book focuses on Marie Antoinette’s last few months on earth, going into explicit detail of the conditions of her prison cell, her treatment, her show trial, and her subsequent execution. We all know Marie Antoinette as the queen who loved to live unapologetically grand and lavishly, but when the French Revolution made its way to Versailles and turned the royal family’s lives upside down, she appeared more human than one might have expected. I found myself having sympathy for Marie Antoinette while reading this book that I noticed my heart raced as I read the chapter focusing on her brutal death.
This is a very long, very detailed book on Henry VIII’s famous second wife – Queen Anne Boleyn. This woman was responsible for the king changing political and religious views of his entire kingdom so he could divorce his first wife and marry her. A key figure in the start of the English Reformation, Anne Boleyn knew how to work her magic on Henry VIII. Here was a woman who was educated, beautiful, intelligent, and not afraid to speak her mind which was pretty uncommon for most noblewomen back in that day. As the mother of legendary Queen Elizabeth I, Anne Boleyn promised Henry VIII the son he so longed for only to be met with tragic miscarriages of potential future kings. These events would lead the king to begin to conjure up a bogus investigation of treason and adultery against the woman he lusted after for over 10 years, with death being Anne’s only way out. This biography digs deep into the life of the woman who would change the course of an entire nation.
This book specifically dives into Anne Boleyn’s final month, from the events that led up to her arrest and her dark days in the Tower of London prior to her execution on false charges of adultery and treason. It’s disheartening to see how all those who loved her quickly and dramatically turned on her, in part to save themselves from the wrath of a king who seemed to crave bloodshed amongst other things due to his nature and paranoia. It’s hard to read the chapter about her execution without a tissue, since this woman saw death as the only way to finally achieve some happiness.
One of the most intriguing mysteries during the famous Wars of the Roses is what happened to the young princes held in the Tower of London during Richard III’s controversial reign. Two young brothers, both legitimate heirs to the throne in line before Richard III, went missing when their uncle usurped the throne. They were last seen as prisoners within the Tower of London, but then they were never seen or heard from again. Common belief is that Richard III ordered their deaths so there was no question that he was the rightful king, but as evidence shows, it may not have been Richard III who gave the order. I have my theory on who it was – I wonder if you agree with me.
I think I have read this book about 10 times. It’s honestly the only book I like about Grace Kelly, as it really devotes itself to her life and career prior to becoming Princess of Monaco.
It’s no secret how much I admire Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge. There’s always been something about her that I really liked, even before her engagement to Prince William. This biography is really the only biography I enjoy reading about Kate, especially since it goes into detail with behind-the-scenes info of everything leading up to the engagement announcement as well as what went on for their first royal tour after their wedding.
We all know the rhyme that’s attributed to Henry VIII’s wives – divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. Anne Boleyn was the first wife to be beheaded on Henry VIII’s orders, but her teenaged first cousin Catherine Howard was the second. Just like what happened with her cousin, Catherine Howard intrigued Henry VIII so much that he found a way to divorce his wife to marry her. Sadly, less than two years later, history repeated itself with Henry VIII ordering the execution of his wife on charges of adultery and treason. History calls Catherine Howard an adulteress, and while that may be so, the poor girl was only 18-years old when an axe took off her head. This book talks more in-depth about the life of the girl who shared the same fate as her cousin, and how poor Catherine was doomed from the moment Henry VIII first set eyes on her.
No this book isn’t about Queen Elizabeth I, but about another Queen Elizabeth before her known as Elizabeth Woodville. If any of you have read the book or seen the tv series The White Queen, this is the true story of the woman who captured the heart of her king and caused one of the biggest scandals and uproars until Anne Boleyn more than 50 years later. She was Lancastrian, he was York. But passionate love made them forget all about those enemy lines and they came together in what they hoped would squander one of England’s most brutal wars in history. This is one of my favorite royal love stories. Despite all obstacles and all tragedies that hit them over their two-decade marriage (she was the mother of the Princes in the Tower), they were so passionately in love with one another, and how much they loved each other was really inspiring. But since she was a commoner, a divorcee, and not a York supporter, Elizabeth was hated from the start by King Edward IV’s advisors and brothers, and they never stopped scheming to defame and destroy her. Yet, she stood her ground and firmly remained by her husband’s side come hell or high water.
These are just 9 of the hundreds of royal history books we have in our house, but these are the books I highly recommend to those who want to read more about certain royal historical figures or time periods. I’ll do another blog post on royal history books in a month or two, with other time periods being highlighted.
What are some of your favorite royal history books?