“The best moments in reading are when you come across something...Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” ― Alan Bennett, The History Boys
“The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.” ― Alan Bennett, The History Boys
While most of my contemporaries would not perhaps freely admit to this, I’m quite happy to declare to the world that Pride & Prejudice, (the BBC version and no other) is without a shadow of a doubt my all time favourite series. So beloved in fact, that many a night is spent watching re-runs and shouting at random intervals pre-empted lines at the television screen. When not engrossed in ‘bonnet drama’ though I can oft be found with my head in a historical book, for it will comes as no surprise…we love antiques and we love history. In fact, one could be forgiven for suspecting us of having a minor addiction. But the reasons go beyond this…
At the tender age of 15, when of course there was nothing that I did not know and everything that my parents didn’t, I made the clever decision to study Geography (aka coastal soil erosion), rather than history. My mother’s words still reverberate around my head… ‘You’ll regret it for the rest of your life Jessica!’
Painful as it is to admit I have regretted it, and never one to enjoy the experience of being proven wrong, I set a challenge over ten years ago, to rectify the situation. I attended art history courses in London, I learnt on the job and, inevitably, was led to a plethora of historical novels.
In this time, I have made my way through a considerable volume which absurdly never diminishes the size of the pile at my bedside, and while I believe it is impossible to condense the best into a shortlist of ten or even fifty, there are some standouts from my reading of 2019. So it is with this in mind that as bit of fun, I thought why not share with you my top eleven (I couldn’t condense it into ten) historical reads of 2019 in no particular order… because everyone needs a good book to read don’t they..?
- Napoleon – Alan Forest: This fascinating read tells the life of a man whose rise to power had a profound effect on Europe and the world. As a dealer in French Empire furniture it is difficult not to marvel at the extraordinary influence that his time in power had on furniture and design.
- Karleen Koen’s trilogy – ‘Through a Glass Darkly’, ‘Now Face to Face’ and ‘Dark Angels’ are fascinating for their intrigues of 18th century England and France. Set in England and France, when George I, and James III both claimed the right to wear the crown they’re a delicious insight into the machinations of 18th century English royals. Be warned though, they’re not that easy to track down. A fun read!
- The Locksmiths Daughter – Kane Brooks: Seemingly innocuous if one looks no further than the title and front cover, but this book is alive with historically based fictional interpretations of Elizabeth I’s spymaster Walsinghams plots, spy-craft and torture. The book delves into the horrendous practices by Walsingham’s notorious torture master, also a Member of Parliament, Richard Topcliffe.
- The Grand Sophy, Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer: Nothing less than a brilliant, rollicking read. It takes a bit for a book or movie to make me laugh out loud but Georgette Hayer succeeded in spades. I was in hysterics at numerous points in these beautifully light, witty books. A great read for both men and women, these are but two of a vast array of magnificent titles by Georgette Heyer, an author whose books I gobbled down in quick succession. Superbly written and delightfully witty, these books are a remarkable insight into the often-outrageous Regency times.
- Three Sisters, Three Queens – Phillipa Gregory: One of my favourite authors it is not surprising that I have three of her books listed here, The Three Queens gives a fascinating account of the relationships that existed between the Queen of Scotland, Margaret Tudor and Katherine of Aragon and the extraordinarily tough lives of these three women.
- The Kings Curse – Phillipa Gregory: It is hard to specify which of Gregory’s books outrank one another for they are all so fantastic, however I think the standouts for me were her ‘King’s Curse’ which followed the brutal life of Margaret Pole, Henry VIII’s cousin and her rise and fall in favour.
- Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel – This book gives insight into the rapid rise to fame of Thomas Cromwell in Henry VIII’s court and delivers an alternative view to the man more-oft portrayed as master manipulator. Historian and Professor Diarmaid Macculloch’s ‘Hero or Villain‘ provides a very interesting discourse on this subject on the BBC. Her other book ‘Bringing up the Bodies’,
- The Lives of the Artists – Georgio Vassari: Many will have read this book, recommended to me by my lecturer in Art History as one of the essential must reads for anyone with a love and interest in the artists of the Italian Renaissance.
- Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett. Everyone has heard if it, if you’ve not read it, set in 12th century England looks at Kingsbridge Priory in the context of the historical events that were going on at the time.
- The Boleyn Inheritance and The other Boleyn Girl – Phillipa Gregory: This book was a fascinating insight into the machinations that went on behind the closed doors of the Howard and Boleyn families. Used mercilessly by their families to gain favour in the royal court of Henry VIII, the book suggests Mary and Anne Boleyn had little choice in the destiny that befell them and shows a human side to the oft-vilified Anne Boleyn.
- European Furniture of the 19th Century – Christopher Payne: For those like myself with a deep love for European antiques, this is a fascinating insight into furniture of this period, I could not put it down and a wonderful reference guide.