Historical research for a novel


I´m writing a novel with historical background (from the end of the Middle Ages to 2016). So I would like to ask you if you know any historical book that is truthfully based on the 16th or 17th century in the United Kingdom.

Thank you in advance.

What aspect of history are you looking for? Political, Economic, Social, Intellectual (inc. Science) etc. Very few books cover all of them, but the 17th century is pretty well served on each.

Although it extends beyond your time-frame in both directions, you can’t go wrong on the social side with Christopher Hibbert’s The English: A Social History 1066-1945

Or Sellar and Yeatman’s 1066 and All That. Though it comes to a . after WWI.

Actually, I was more interested in the social aspect, but both books may be pretty useful.

Thank you.

A good bet for the social aspect would be contemporary accounts. Samuel Pepys’ diaries would be my first stop for the 17th century; Jane Austen’s novels for the last quarter of the 18th and the first decade of the 19th.

Tobias Smollett is a good bet for the mid-18th–Humphrey Clinker, Peregrine Pickle.

George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell for the mid 19th, and Anthony Trollope for a decade or so later (and a much wider variety).

Novelists writing of their own times have sharp eyes, and notice things historians don’t see through the reversed telescope of research.

Do you have a specific geography in mind?

During the late Middle Ages and until the 1900 it will be in Wales and England. Then, the South and East of United States.

Then pretty much all the great British fiction of the Victorian/early Edwardian era, plus a wealth of Southern literature either written in that time-frame or about that time frame by people on the scene, from Tobacco Road to The Sound and the Fury.

Your richest source would be contemporary newspapers. It’s amazingly immersive, reading the day-to-day news and advertisements of the time and the place you’re writing about. Any good library in the region will have all you need, if not on paper then possibly digitized or on microfiche. And small local museums are a treasure.

The sights, smells, sounds of an era that make a modern historical novel come alive–see Hilary Mantel–are the very things the historians drain from their texts. Usually. There are exceptions, of course.

You can also buy a subscription to the British Newspaper Archive, which has digitised many historical newspapers going back to the 1700s in some cases. They do monthly packages for about £13.


I would like to recommend you the below mentioned books to study the history about 16th and 17th century history of United Kingdom:

  1. The Calais Garrison: War and Military Service in England, 1436-1558 (Warfare in History)
  2. Religion and the Decline of Magic: Studies in Popular Beliefs in Sixteenth and Seventeenth-Century England (Penguin History)
  3. Early Modern England 1485-1714: A Narrative History
  4. The Hundred Years War: The English in France 1337-1453
  5. Popular Politics and the English Reformation (Cambridge Studies in Early Modern British History)

Hope these suggestions will help you at least :slight_smile: