"In Bed" with Alison Weir

Posted by Goodreads on October 3, 2011
Tudor expert Alison Weir knows that history is suffused with indiscretions. The British royal courts described in her best-selling books often revolve around salacious gossip about who is sleeping with whom. This theme is evident in both her nonfiction works such as The Six Wives of Henry VIII and historical novels such as Captive Queen, about Eleanor of Aquitaine. Her newest book is Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, an in-depth biography of Henry VIII's other woman, who was also rumored to have seduced his nemesis, Francis I of France. The London-born writer shares five juicy books about some of history's most renowned mistresses.

The Goldsmith's Wife by Jean Plaidy
"This was the first book I ever read about a royal mistress, and it captivated me. I find some of Plaidy's later books formulaic, but this early example tells engagingly the story of 'Jane' (Elizabeth) Shore, the 'merry mistress' of Edward IV, which is set in late 15th-century England. It's not so much a bawdy tale as a riveting historical drama. It was this book that awakened me to the rich history of this period and to expand my historical research to cover the Wars of the Roses."

Lady of the Sun: The Life and Times of Alice Perrers by F. George Kay
"Dated now, this biography was nevertheless a fine piece of historical detective work and a brave attempt to reconstruct the life of the notorious, rapacious Alice Perrers, mistress of Edward III in the 14th century. It made a tremendous impression on me, as it demonstrated how a historian could take an obscure subject and piece together fragments of information into a credible history. It's something I've since done professionally many times, but Lady of the Sun was a powerful early inspiration. I still have an early manuscript of a novel I based upon it."

Katherine by Anya Seton
"Now a classic novel, this was another early inspiration that still enchants me to this day. Anya Seton did with fiction what F. George Kay did with biography—fleshed out a few facts into an epic tale of illicit love and endurance, set against the vivid tapestry of medieval England. The book is a triumph—every sentence is a delight. Researched over four years, it remains a benchmark for historical novels and one of my all-time favorites."

Painted Ladies: Women at the Court of Charles II by Catherine MacLeod
"There have been numerous books on the many mistresses of Charles II, England's 'merry monarch,' but this lavishly produced catalog of portraits features a whole selection of Restoration tarts and beauties and is packed with fascinating biographies, glorious images, and anecdotes such as this: 'Pray be civil, good people,' cried pretty, witty Nell Gwyn to the angry mob surrounding her coach, thinking she was the unpopular Catholic Duchess of Portsmouth; 'I am the Protestant whore!' How they cheered."

Bird of Paradise: The Colourful Career of the First Mrs. Robinson by Sarah Gristwood
"Mary Robinson began her career as an actress but soon became the mistress of the future Prince Regent and was never to live it down. Their brief liaison overshadowed her talents as a writer, poet, and early feminist, and it blighted her life. This compelling and beautifully written biography explores the tragedy of a woman who was so much more than just a royal mistress."

Vote for your own favorites on Listopia: Best Books About Mistresses

Comments Showing 1-28 of 28 (28 new)

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message 1: by bup (new)

bup My wife has read every book you've written - I bet she'll love books you recommend, too.

message 2: by Pam (new)

Pam Mezaraups Thank you for some excellent suggestions. I just bought Mary Boleyn and I am always excited to read your books ,either history or historical fiction. Eleanor of Acquitaine was a particular favorite. Thanks for the great reading experience.

message 3: by Allyson (new)

Allyson Love the Six Wives of Henry VIII, cant wait to read about Mary Boleyn! So she must have been very young when she was with Francis I then? Hmmmmmmm.

message 4: by Sandy (new)

Sandy I have listened to your books on CD during my commute and I think you have done a marvelous job of bringing all of these women's lives to life. Thank you for bringing so much insight and pleasure to my otherwise stressful commute!

message 5: by Martha (new)

Martha I first read Katherine by Anya Seton over 30 years ago. It remains in my top 10 all time favorite books. I reread it every few years and it never grows old. Other than The Goldsmith's Wife, I am not familiar with the books you've recommended. I look forward to reading them as well as your new biography of Mary Boleyn. I love that you've chosen to write about the Boleyn sister who is usually glossed over in other historical novels and biographies.

message 6: by Janice (new)

Janice Stein Alison wrote: "Thanks for your very kind posts! Re: the intro above, I just want to point out that Mary Boleyn's brief affair with Francis I probably happened seven or eight years before her affair with Henry VII..."

Hi Alison

Are you famiiar with Norah Lofts books. She's an excellent writer who is so often overlooked.


message 7: by Janice (new)

Janice Stein I read alot of Norah Lofts many years ago and now I am reading her books again. I just got finished with The Townhouse trilogy--At the end I could almost start at the beginning and enjoy it all over again. I am also looking forward to reading your books.


message 8: by Janice (new)

Janice Stein I do have those books and are on my TBR pile. She was such a great storyteller!

message 9: by Jenn (new)

Jenn You are the reason I'm obsessed with British History. Thank you for your books. They have set the tone of my entire reading catalog. Probably 85% of what I read is about mistresses or courtesans in some way. And while I venture into other countries and time periods, I always come back to England and it's totally screwball people.

message 10: by Orsolya (new)

Orsolya Alison, you are one of my favorite authors and always my "go-to" history book. Thanks for your reading suggestions!

message 11: by Jenny (new)

Jenny Powell Enjoy your work very much, and thank you for the recommendations.

message 12: by Karen (new)

Karen Harper Alison: It's an honor to 'talk' to you. I love your work and have cited you in my 'thank you' Authors Notes in various of my Tudor era novels, including your The Life of Elizabeth I, which I used for some of my research for The Queen's Governess (about Kat Ashley.) It seems I've had your books on my shelves for years. You make everything so readable. Ironically, I wrote a novel based on Mary Boleyn's life which was first published in 1983 and which was re-released again by Random House a few years ago as The Last Boleyn. I have Mistress of Kings on order from B & N and can't wait to read it. I used a lot of Baron Astor's research (who owned Hever in the 1980s)for my Mary Boleyn book and tried to stay very on track with history--though novels are novels. Best Wishes and thanks for your excellent books. Karen Harper, www.KarenHarperAuthor.com.

message 13: by Orsolya (new)

Orsolya I love it when authors I follow also like/respect the other authors I like. What a love fest!

message 14: by Maria (new)

Maria I loved Mary Boleyn. I count on you making history intriguing for younger readers. You certainly kept me captivated to the last page... Thank you

message 15: by Anouschka (new)

Anouschka @Karen: I have read your 'the Last Boleyn' and absolutely loved it. I have been intrigued by Mary since the whole Tudor hype started, and always wondered why there weren't that many books about her. Your book was really insightful and a pleasure to read!

message 16: by Karen (new)

Karen Harper Thanks, Anouschka: I fell in love with Mary from the first (and was thrilled that, at that time, her story had not been told. I wrote an article on her for British History Illustrated magazine, around 1982, then realized I wanted to bring her more to life in a novel.

message 17: by Brittany B. (last edited Oct 24, 2012 06:52PM) (new)

Brittany B. I swear I'm Alison Weir's biggest fan. I'm reading at least two of her books at any given time. My all-time favorite historical fiction novel is The Lady Elizabeth. I hope for more historical fiction about the Tudors and other interesting families, like the Woodvilles (perhaps the story of Edward IV's eldest daughter Elizabeth of York), from Ms. Weir.

As for this list, it is excellent! Ms Weir has convinced me to finally read Katherine by Anya Seton , which I've had in TBR for too long.

But here is my issue: I have become a little jaded and even depressed reading these historicals about great men and monarchs; they are all terribly unfaithful, no matter how much they "love." (Edward IV is one of the only monarchs to marry for love. He defied everyone and everything for love, marrying the beautiful, widowed commoner Catherine Woodville. Yet he is infamous for his many mistresses. Henry II swore great love for Eleanor of Aquitaine, yet his mistress is just as famous as she is. Obviously, Henry VIII was never faithful. Then there's my favorite love story: Elizabeth and Robert Dudley. He supposedly killed his own wife, for love of the queen. Then he broke the queen's heart by marrying her little cousin in secret. He was faithful to none of them.)

I totally understand that marriage was different in their time, but none of the men in the historical books I've read remains faithful to his great love. Even lesser men, like Robert Dudley were terribly unfaithful when they could have had the heart of a Queen, and the power and prestige that goes with it. (The Dudleys truly were traitors by blood)

So I am stuck with a question: ... Isn't there one man in history (pre-20th century) who fell in love and remained loyal and faithful to his loved one?
I would cherish a true love story. I know women aren't angels either. I just want one example of enduring love that is not thwarted by lust for others.

message 18: by new_user (new)

new_user Brittany, I was thinking the same, but then I read something like Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives, where one political couple not only loved each other intensely -some letters are excerpted- but spied together, LOL. Really inspiring. :)

message 19: by Brittany B. (new)

Brittany B. new_user wrote: "Brittany, I was thinking the same, but then I read something like Daughters of Britannia: The Lives and Times of Diplomatic Wives, where one political couple not only loved each other intensely -so..."

Thanks NU, I'll check it out! I'm going to need Prozac if I keep reading these books. :)

message 20: by Karen (new)

Karen Harper Thanks to M. and A. for the nice comments on my Mary Boleyn book. If you've read Philippa Gregory's THE OTHER BOLEYN GIRL, you see we take a different look at her and other characters. THE LAST BOLEYN is one of my favorite books I researched and wrote. My #2 fave is THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS about Kat Ashley, Bess Tudor's "foster mother." "Anne Boleyn gave me life but Kat Ashley gave me love."

message 21: by Martha (new)

Martha Katherine by Anya Seton ranks as my all-time favorite novel, yet most of my "book" friends have never read it. You've given me other novels to investigate along with yours. Thank you. So many books, so little time...sigh.

message 22: by Karen (new)

Karen Harper I love Anya Seton's KATHERINE, though I haven't read it for years. That's the problem with being an author with deadlines. I pile up books I want to read (or re-read) and binge read between research and writing my own books. I also loved books by Jan Cox Speas from that era of KATHERINE. MY LORD MONLEIGH was excellent. Another favorite historical fiction writer of mine from the 1960s was Jan Westcott: THE HEPBURN,THE QUEEN'S GRACE.

message 23: by Janice (new)

Janice Stein Has anyone read Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel? If so how did you like?


message 24: by Karen (new)

Karen Harper I enjoyed the book. I'm so glad to see someone appreciating/understanding Cromwell rather than just hating and villifying him. I need to go back and read Wolf Hall.

My THE QUEEN'S GOVERNESS treats Cromwell much the same way and Mantel did and I hadn't read her work until after I finished mine, so that encouraged me. I know Cromwell is a villain for helping Henry get rid of Anne Boleyn, but Henry's really the bad guy. Cromwell was an organizational genius who ran England for several years.

message 25: by Linda (new)

Linda Thank you for my nest "historical" TBR list. All sound great - will be hard to choose the first read! Who, am I kidding, hard to choose second, third, etc.

message 26: by Karen (new)

Karen Harper I have used Alison Weir's nonfiction books as research for years. She always brings things alive. I have most of hers, including her MARY BOLEYN, on my shelf. Wish I would have had her book on Mary when I wrote my novel on THE LAST BOLEYN in 1993!

Karen Harper

message 27: by Susan (new)

Susan Great recommendations from an author who has given me so much reading pleasure over the years - many thanks.

message 28: by Juliet (new)

Juliet Smith Brittany B. wrote: "I swear I'm Alison Weir's biggest fan. I'm reading at least two of her books at any given time. My all-time favorite historical fiction novel is The Lady Elizabeth. I hope for more h..."
For all the flack William the Conqueror got, he was very much faithful to his wife Matilda. Probably, because he didn't want to sire any bastards who would go through the negative experiences he did since he technically came from the "wrong side of the sheets", but it still is worth mentioning.

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