Introduction to British History
Most of the historical fiction suggested here is aimed at the 8- to 12-year-old age group so it has been listed under Level 2. Many of these books could be read aloud to children at the older end of Level 1.
Note: We have not read all these books. Many are by authors we know to be good; some are titles gathered from reliable homeschooling catalogs and book lists; others are simply books or titles we have come across that sound promising. Most books written before the 1970s are of higher quality than recent books and are unlikely to have inappropriate content so we have included a number of these. Unfortunately they are also often out of print, but many can be easily found used, or are available in libraries.
* Books marked with an asterisk are recommended reading
YEAR 1 – TERM 1
- Patrick: Patron Saint of Ireland by Tomie de Paola – simply told story, beautifully illustrated picture book. For younger children.
- St. Patrick and the Peddler by Margaret Hodges – beautiful picture book of St. Patrick.
- * And God Blessed the Irish by Chris Driscoll.
- The Wolf and the Shield: An Adventure with Saint Patrick (Friends with the Saints) by Sherry Weaver Smith
- Twelve Bright Trumpets by Margaret Leighton – twelve short stories set from withdrawal of Roman troops to the fall of Venice; read-aloud for Level 1.
There are many retellings of the Arthurian legends, but because of some the subject matter (romance and the adultery of Arthur’s wife Guinevere) they need to be treated with caution. Good for younger children are two picture books:
- Warrior Scarlet by Rosemary Sutcliff – the story of a bronze age boy with a disabled arm, and how he becomes a warrior. Moving and well-told.
- Beric the Briton by G.A.Henty – The Henty books tend to appeal particularly to boys. Although some of his books have an anti-Catholic bias, those set outside the Reformation period are unlikely to be problematic.
- * The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff – classic story set in Roman Britain. First of a trilogy, followed by The Silver Branch and The Lantern Bearers.
- The Capricorn Bracelet by Rosemary Sutcliff – a collection of six stories following the members of a single family through 300 years of Roman Britain. Good insight into life in the Roman army.
- Word to Caesar by Geoffrey Trease – good author
- * Between the Forest and the Hills by Ann Lawrence [Bethlehem Books] – fun and fantasy, set during the later years of Roman Britain
- Twelve Bright Trumpets by Margaret Leighton – twelve short stories set from withdrawal of Roman troops to the fall of Venice.
- The King Who Was and Will Be by Kevin Crossley-Holland – not a retelling of Arthurian legends, but a mine of information about them. Answers questions such as “was Arthur real”, describes aspects of medieval knighthood, tells who’s who in the Arthur stories, describes how the stories came into being, and is colorfully illustrated.
- King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table by Roger Lancelyn Green.
- King Arthur by Andrew Lang. Classic retelling.
YEAR 1 – TERM 2
- Stories of Beowulf Told to the Children by H. E. Marshall – Level 1
- The Orchard Book of Vikings by Robert Swindells – illustrated collection of stories taken from Norse mythology.
- * Augustine Came to Kent by Barbara Willard [Bethlehem Books] – the story of an Anglo-Saxon boy brought up in Rome, who travels to England with his father as part of St.Augustine’s mission to convert the Anglo-Saxons.
- The King’s Thane by Charles Brady – a retelling of Beowulf set in England at the time of St. Paulinus, first Archbishop of York
- Sea Stranger, Fire-Brother and Earth Father by Kevin Crossley-Holland – three stories about St. Cedd, missionary to the East Saxons, and Wulf, a Saxon boy he converts. Set in the 7th century. Originally published as three separate short books. Out of print.
Two good retellings of the Anglo-Saxon classic poem Beowulf are:
Books about King Alfred (all out of print except Henty):
- * Beorn the Proud by Madeleine Polland [Bethlehem Books] – a 12 year old Irish girl sees her village destroyed by Viking raiders and is taken captive by Beorn, a Viking boy. A strong Christian theme, as the girl is determined not to abandon her Christian faith and tries to teach the young Viking that humility can be better than pride. Top quality historical fiction for children.
- Black Fox of Lorne by Marguerite De Angeli – a story of twin Viking boys blown by a storm to Scotland instead of Britain
- Viking! by Kevin Crossley-Holland – Viking mythology
- Viking Dawn, The Road to Miklagard, Viking Sunset (trilogy) and other books by Henry Treece – stories based on surviving Viking sagas. Well-written but also some graphic descriptions of violence. For older (approx. 10+) and less sensitive children. Out of print.
- Tales of the Norsemen by Roger Lancelyn Green.
- The Thrall of Leif the Lucky: A Story of Viking Days by Ottilie A. Liljencrantz
YEAR 1 – TERM 3
Some out of print books set at the time of the Norman Conquest:
- Harold Was My King by Hilda Lewis
- Hounds of the King by Geoffrey Trease – story of King Harold in 1066
- The King’s Shadow by Elizabeth Alder – historical fiction about Norman Conquest based on Anglo-Saxon Chronicle.
- The Striped Ships by Eloise Jarvis MacGraw – set after the Norman Conquest. A Saxon girl helps to make the Bayeux Tapestry. A good book, but hard to find.
- Shield Ring by Rosemary Sutcliff
- * The Hidden Treasure of Glaston by Eleanor Jewett [Bethlehem Books] – a crippled boy is left at Glastonbury Abbey during the reign of Henry II.
- * If All The Swords in England by Barbara Willard [Bethlehem Books] – twin boys find themselves separated, one in the service of King Henry II and the other a clerk in the entourage of the future saint Thomas Becket
- A Proud Taste for Scarlet and Miniver by E.Konigsburg – story of Eleanor of Aquitaine told by her friends as they wait in heaven for the possible arrival of her husband, King Henry II. Rather humorous, but not necessarily theologically accurate, take on purgatory.
- The Lost Baron by Allen French [Bethlehem Books]- set in Cornwall in 1200
- Winning His Spurs by G.A. Henty – story of the 3rd Crusade with Richard the Lionheart
- Big John’s Secret by Eleanor M. Jewett [Bethlehem Books] – John joins the 5th Crusade
YEAR 2 – TERM 1
- The Minstrel in the Tower by Gloria Skurzinsky
- Saint George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges – picture book, beautifully illustrated and based on Spenser’s Faerie Queen.
- Saint George and the Dragon by Geraldine MacCaughrean – picture book
- The Runaway Serf by Geoffrey Trease – for younger children (out of print)
- Turn of the Century by Ellen Jackson – a beautifully illustrated book showing the lives of children from 1000 to 2000.
- A Medieval Feast by Aliki
- * Castle Diary: the Journal of Tobias Burgess, Page by C.Platt and M.Riddell – illustrated account of the life of a young page in a medieval castle. Fun!
- The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli
- Adam of the Road by Elizabeth Grey
- Children of the Red King by Madeleine Polland
- In Freedom’s Cause by G.A. Henty – story of William Wallace and Robert the Bruce and the Scottish fight against England
- St. George for England by G.A. Henty – early part of the 100 Years’ War between France and England
- The Gauntlet by Ronald Welch [Lepanto Press] – a modern boy shares his ancestors’ adventures in a 14th-century Welsh castle
- Bowman of Crecy by Ronald Welch – a band of outlaws from the Welsh borders take join Edward III’s army during the 100 Years’ War
YEAR 2 – TERM 2
- Dick Whittington and His Cat by Marcia Brown – an English folk tale of Richard Whittington, available in versions by other authors as well.
- A March on London by G.A. Henty – story of the Peasants’ Revolt of 1381
WAR OF THE ROSES
- The Lances of Lynwood by Charlotte Yonge – set in the time of the Black Prince
- The Canterbury Tales by Geraldine MacCaughrean – illustrated retelling of Chaucer (Puffin Classics).
- At Agincourt by G.A. Henty- story of a page in France who fights for Henry V at Agincourt.
Cynthia Harnett’s quartet of books set in England during the 15th century are classics of children’s historical fiction. The books do not need to be read in order. Confusingly they have different titles in the UK and the US.
- Ring Out Bow Bells [US title: The Sign of the Green Falcon] by Cynthia Harnett – set in London in the time of Henry V.
- The Writing on the Hearth [US title: The Cargo of the Madalena] by Cynthia Harnett – a young clerk is caught up in the political intrigues of the mid-15th century
- The Load of Unicorn [US title: Caxton’s Challenge] by Cynthia Harnett – the son of a family of scriveners (scribes or copyists) is apprenticed to William Caxton, pioneer of printing.
- * The Woolpack [US title: The Merchant’s Mark] by Cynthia Harnett – two children uncover a plot to ruin the boy’s father, a wool merchant. Very detailed and accurate picture of the late medieval wool trade. The story includes childhood betrothal.
Two out of print books set in this period:
YEAR 2 – TERM 3
- Henry, King to Be by Geoffrey Trease
- Red Hugh, Prince of Donegal by Robert Reilly [Bethlehem Books] – an Irish queen and her son struggle against Queen Elizabeth of England
- Stars of Fortune by Cynthia Harnett – four children (ancestors of George Washington) try to free Princess Elizabeth from imprisonment.
- Elizabeth I: The Royal Diaries by Kathryn Lasky – the Royal Diaries series is very patchy, with unfortunate content in some. I have not heard anything bad about this one, but pre-read.
- Edmund Campion by Harold Gardiner (Vision book) [Ignatius Press] – story of an Elizabethan saint and martyr. Unfortunately not one of the better told Vision books.
- Crossbows and Crucifixes: A Novel of the Priest Hunters and the Brave Young Men Who Fought Them by Henry Garnett [Sophia Institute Press]
- St.Thomas More by Elizabeth Ince (Vision book) [Ignatius Press]
- Thomas More: A Man for All Seasons by M. V. Woodgate
- Shakespeare: His Work and His World by Michael Rosen – engaging introduction to Shakespeare: the man, his times and his work. Includes synopses of four of his plays. Beautifully illustrated.
- Bard of Avon by Diane Stanley
- * Cue for Treason by Geoffrey Trease – two runaway children fall in with a group of strolling players. An adventure story involving Shakespeare and a plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth.
- The Shakespeare Stealer by Gary Blackwood and sequel, Shakespeare’s Scribe – historical fiction.
- William Shakespeare (Poetry for Young People) edited by David Scott Kastan & Marina Kasta – excerpts with illustrations
- The Young Person’s Guide to Shakespeare by Anita Ganeri – lots of information on Shakespeare and how his plays are performed, includes a CD of speeches.
- Something Rich and Strange: A Treasury of Shakespeare’s Verse selected by Gina Pollinger – a large selection from Shakespeare’s plays and poetry, wonderful for an interested child to browse or for selecting copywork.
YEAR 3 – TERM 1
- When the Drums Beat by Geoffrey Trease – story for younger children set during English Civil War. Out of print.
- Children of the New Forest by Captain Maryatt – classic 19th century fiction about a family of children forced to fend for themselves during the English Civil War
- Hunt Royal by David Scott Daniell – story of the escape of the future King Charles II from his Roundhead pursuers during the English Civil War.
- Children of Winter by Berlie Doherty – three children spend a winter hidden in a barn alone in an attempt to escape the plague.
FIRE OF LONDON
- Martin Hyde by John Masefield – story of the Monmouth Rebellion against James II. Can be downloaded free from www.gutenberg.net.
- Trumpets in the West by Geoffrey Trease – set at the time of the overthrow of James II (1688). Musical theme, involving the composer Henry Purcell
Note: There was a strong anti-Catholic element in the overthrow of James II. To what extent this may be reflected in either of these books we are unsure.
- Pilgrim’s Progress by Geraldine MacCaughrean – retelling for children of classic Christian allegory by John Bunyan. Protestant, but one of the great works of religious literature.
YEAR 3 – TERM 2
- George vs. George: The American Revolution As Seen from Both Sides by Rosalyn Schanzer
- The Spy Catchers by Geoffrey Trease – set during the Napoleonic Wars when England was under threat of invasion. For younger children.
- The Great House by Cynthia Harnett – one of her less well known books, aimed at slightly younger children than her others. Story of two children in the 1690s, with an underlying architectural theme. Out of print.
- Bonnie Dundee by Rosemary Sutcliff – tells the story of one of the heroes of the Jacobite rebellion.
- Flame Coloured Taffeta by Rosemary Sutcliff – a young girl cares for an injured man. Is he smuggler? Or a Jacobite?
- Bonnie Prince Charlie – A Tale of Fontenoy and Culloden by G.A.Henty
- The Young Pretenders by Barbara Leonie Picard – a young girl and her brother, both secret supporters of Bonnie Prince Charlie, hide a man they imagine to be an escaping Jacobite.
- Can’t You Make Them Behave, King George? by Jean Fritz – George III and the American Revolution.
- King George: What Was His Problem?: Everything Your Schoolbooks Didn’t Tell You About the American Revolution by Steve Sheinkin – fun and informative
- The Red and the Redcoats by Constance Savery – a captured American soldier is imprisoned in a British family home
- With Moore at Corunna by G. A. Henty – war in the Spanish peninsula and sequel Under Wellington’s Command
YEAR 3 – TERM 3
- The December Rose by Leon Garfield – story of a boy chimney sweep.
- The Butty Boy by Jill Paton Walsh – a young girl accidentally runs away on a canal boat
- Thursday’s Child by Noel Streatfeild – three children run away from an orphanage
- Facing Death by G.A. Henty – story of life as a coal miner in the 1800s
- The Gate in the Wall by Ellen Howard – a young girl mill worker’s life changes when she gets a job on a canal boat
- The Blue Death by Judy Allen – true story of the 1854 London cholera outbreak and the doctor who discovered the cause of the disease.
BOOKS SET IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND
- Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce – classic story of a boy who discovers a time slip between the twentieth century and the Victorian age.
- Black Beauty by Anna Sewell – tear-jerking classic story of a horse
- The Warden’s Niece by Gillian Avery – a girl runs away from school to live with her uncle, an Oxford academic. She joins the boys next door for lessons with an eccentric tutor, and learns how to use a library to solve a mystery. Fun.
- The Greatest Gresham by Gillian Avery – a Bohemian family moves to Victorian suburbia.
- Merrie England: A Journey Through the Shire by Joseph Pearce [TAN Books].