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12 Must-Read Titles in Renaissance Historical Fiction

By Ashly Moore Sheldon • January 19, 2023

The Renaissance, marking the transition from medieval times to the Modern era, covered about 1400 to 1700. It was a time of great social change, scientific advancements, and flourishing culture. It was the time of William Shakespeare, Niccolò Machiavelli, Dante Alighieri, and Miguel de Cervantes. It's no wonder that so many historical fiction authors choose this fruitful era as the backdrop for their work. Here are twelve excellent historical novels set during the Renaissance.

The Weight of Ink by Rachel Kadish

This novel weaves together the tales of two remarkable women: In 1660s London, Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam, becomes (improbably for a woman) the scribe for a blind rabbi. In the early twenty-first century, ailing Jewish historian Helen Watt uncovers something astonishing in her research.

The Tournament by Matthew Reilly

It's 1546, the height of the Ottoman Empire, and the Sultan invites every king in Europe to come participate in a chess tournament. The English champion is accompanied by esteemed scholar Roger Ascham and the young future queen, Elizabeth Tudor, but they soon realize they are embroiled in a treacherous game.

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

England in the 1520s is poised on the edge of a precipice. Despite powerful opposition, Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage and marry Anne Boleyn. Enter Thomas Cromwell, a wholly original man: a charmer and a bully, idealist and opportunist, a consummate politician, hardened by loss.

The Game of Kings by Dorothy Dunnett

It's 1547 and Scotland is clinging to independence after a humiliating English invasion. Paradoxically, the country's freedom may depend on a man accused of treason. The first book in The Lymond Chronicles combines the political intrigue of Game of Thrones with the sweeping romanticism of Outlander.

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

Iran in 1576 is a place of wealth and dazzling beauty. But when the Shah dies without having named an heir, the court is thrown into tumult. Based loosely on the life of Princess Pari Khan Khanoom, this is a riveting story of political intrigue and a moving portrait of a daughter fighting to fulfill her destiny.

Prince of Foxes by Samuel Shellabarger

Set in Renaissance Italy, this novel, written in 1947, presents the story of the fictional character Andrea Orsini, a peasant boy who rises to perform delicate political, military, and romantic missions for Cesare Borgia. The Borgias were a Spanish noble family who came to power in the 15th and 16th centuries.

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell

This mesmerizing novel draws from scant facts known about William Shakespeare's life to paint a richly imagined landscape. Late 16th century England: A violent, domineering father, an eccentric, spirited wife, the loss of a child. It is a lyrical tribute to the living, breathing spirit of creativity.

The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone

Creator of the David, painter of the ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, architect of the dome of St. Peter's. Michelangelo lives once more in these tempestuous, powerful pages. This biographical novel offers a compelling portrait of one of the greatest artists the world has ever known.

The Ming Storytellers by Laura Rahme

15th century China: At the dawn of the Ming Dynasty, three women's paths will cross. And of their journey, a tale will be born. This epic sweeps across the palaces of Nanjing and Beijing into the mountainous villages of Yunnan. From the bustling bazaars of Southern India to the lush shores of Zanzibar.

The Other Boleyn Girl by Philippa Gregory

When Mary Boleyn comes to court at fourteen, she catches the eye of the handsome and charming King Henry VIII. However, as his interest wanes and she begins to glean how much she is a pawn in her family's ambitious plans, she realizes that she must defy them and take fate into her own hands.

Aztec by Gary Jennings 

This extraordinary novel is written as a series of letters from a Bishop in New Spain (The Americas) to King Carlos of Spain. The content of the letters is an oral history of the Aztec Empire within the context of the life story of Mixtli-Dark Cloud, an elderly Aztec man being held captive by the Spanish during the 16th century.

An Instance of the Fingerpost by Iain Pears

It is 1663, and England is wracked with intrigue and civil strife. When an Oxford don is murdered, four witnesses share their conflicting takes and each fingers a different culprit. The narrators—a Venetian medical student, a young man trying to prove his late father's innocence, a cryptographer, and an archivist.

Learn more about the expansive world of the Renaissance Era via these thrilling and powerful stories. And be sure to let us know if we've missed any of your favorites.

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