My 5 Favourite…Tudor historical mystery series


C.J Sansom’s Matthew Shardlake (6 book series so far)


Sansom came to prominence as the creator of Matthew Shardlake, the hunchbacked lawyer who is the main character in this series of six historical mysteries set in the reign of Henry VIII. Terrific stories with a convincing historical setting, in my mind these established the standard for mysteries set in the Tudor period.

S. J. Parris’s Giordano Bruno (5 book series so far)


Parris’s protagonist is fugitive Italian monk, Giordano Bruno – philosopher and heretical scientist – who flees to London to escape the Inquisition. Set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Bruno is persuaded to undertake his first undercover mission for the Queen’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham. Further missions follow in later books with Bruno racking up enemies – and a few romantic conquests – as he goes. This is another great series with an engaging main character and great stories woven into actual historical events.

Rory Clements’s John Shakespeare (7 book series so far)


Clements’s series is also set in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. In the first book, John Shakespeare (older brother of the struggling playwright, William) finds himself enmeshed in a tale of murder and a conspiracy to assassinate Sir Francis Drake.   Later books see the same enthralling story lines mixed with great period settings. This is another great series for fans of the genre.

Phil Rickman’s John Dee (2 book series)


Rickman (probably better known for his Merrily Watkins series) makes the real life character, Dr John Dee, astrologer to Queen Elizabeth I, the focal point for his two historical mysteries. Dee reluctantly embarks on his first mission for the Queen’s chief minister, Sir William Cecil, which is to bring back King Arthur’s bones from Glastonbury Abbey. His companion on the mission is Robert Dudley, possibly the Queen’s secret lover, and soon they are both plunged into violence, magic and a conspiracy. Dee returns in a second book to investigate the death of Dudley’s wife. These are two enjoyable historical mysteries again incorporating real figures and actual events.

James Forrester’s William Harley (3 book series)


James Forrester is a pen-name of historian Dr Ian Mortimer, better known for his Time Traveller’s Guide series. This is a terrific trilogy that I was lucky enough to come across and I devoured each one. Set during Queen Elizabeth I’s reign when any Catholic could be accused of plotting against the throne,Herald William Harley, otherwise known as Clarenceux King of Arms, is persuaded to hide a manuscript for a friend.   This decision will draw him into a web of conspiracy that will have dire consequences unfolding over the three books in the series. If the ending of the third book leaves you unmoved, then you‘re a stronger person than I am.

Have you enjoyed any of these series?  Can you recommend other historical mysteries set in the Tudor period?


10 thoughts on “My 5 Favourite…Tudor historical mystery series

  1. I love the Sansom books – the best historical fiction series of them all, as far as I’m concerned. Thanks for the reminder about the James Forrester books – I read and enjoyed the first one but then they fell off my radar, and I hadn’t realised there are now three of them. Must look out for book 2!

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    1. I thought the James Forrester books were terrific, quite dark but then they were brutal times. I’ve just read an ARC of his first historical fiction novel written under his own name – Ian Mortimer – The Outcasts of Time. Quite unusual and I’m still pondering what to make of it…definitely not your typical historical fiction.


    1. I would pick C. J. Sansom and start with the first book in the series, Dissolution. I know many people have enjoyed it even if they don’t read a lot of historical fiction because it’s a great mystery story as well. Shardlake is basically a Tudor “detective”. If you get hooked, the good news is you’ve got plenty of reading ahead of you! I think the period lends itself to novels of this kind because it was a time of plots and conspiracies, great material for a mystery story.

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