Acceptable in the 1580s: novels set in the late 16thC

The late sixteenth century isn’t exactly an unheard of time: Shakespeare, Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, the Spanish Armada, Walter Raleigh, playhouses, tobacco…there was a fair amount going on. And they wrote plenty of literature too, about, well, all of those things, plus devils and murder and magic, which admittedly either did happen or some people believed did happen at the time. Novels set in the period also tend to be full of these things, plus people drinking a lot of beer and speaking random Latin.

This isn’t to be disparaging. I love books set around 1570-1600. Here are some recommendations in varied styles and genres, so I can convince others of my favourite time period.

  • A Dead Man in Deptford by Anthony Burgess – Burgess’ novel may well be the book I recommend the most. His last novel, it is in my opinion his best: the story of Christopher Marlowe, infamous playwright and possible spy, also infamous lover of tobacco and boys. Rather than get bogged down with infamy, though, Burgess plays around with words, historical accuracy, and what is acceptable to say in public in 1590. Read if you like blasphemy and cat puns.
  • The Sword of Albion by Mark Chadbourn – A three part series called Swords of Albion, this is the combination of historical fiction, spy thriller, and fantasy series involving the Unseelie Court. Will Swyfte is the most famous spy in Elizabethan England and he knows it. The supporting characters really make this series and the magical plotlines are tightly woven with historical events. Plus Marlowe is a character in the first two, and if you hadn’t guessed from my first recommendation, that’s a major selling point for me.
  • Hue & Cry by Shirley McKay – For those who prefer a gripping plot, this mystery is the right choice. Set in Scotland, it tells a story of scandal and murder in the town and university, plus an appearance from the young James VI and a troublesome horse. The characters and rich historical draw you in as much as the plot, making this a great way to immerse yourself in the sixteenth century and then forget that you can’t start offering people weird herbs and seeds to cure illnesses once you’ve left the novel.