My Favourite History Books

As I Like It

My Top 8
Documentaries

Documentaries are one of the most vital vehicles by which we travel to the past. To me, a great documentary is an educational film that not only tells about a specific period in the times past, but also reveals the mechanics of life (and in the case of Royal History - kingship), that reverberated throughout the ages and we now can see their direct results. Therefore a good history documentary needs to illuminate the present by putting the spotlight on the past. Now, as any history geek, I have a great number of documentaries that I love and rewatch regularly.
Here are the Top 8. I shall also be adding links to books, podcasts and other material associated with the documentaries below.

'The Royal House of Windsor'

The first documentary series on this list are about the current reigning house - The Windsors. There are many docu-series about this family, yet none come close to this one. It's basically as pleasant as watching 'The Crown', except it's all based on facts and solid research, with some recently-come-to-light, never-before-seen evidence.

Where can You watch it? It is currently available on Netflix and the Channel 4 application. 

Is it free? Netflix would require a subscription, but I believe Channel 4 app is  free and accessible in the UK. N.B. Channel 4 has a lot of other good documentaries about the Royal History as well, e.g. 'Three Kings at War' & 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' (the David Starkey version).

How many episodes? There are six episodes, each covering a different issue and making us look at our favourite Royal family from a slightly different angle each episode.

How long each episode? 46 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moment? The brief comparison between The Duke of Windsor (back when he was the Prince of Wales) and Diana, Princess of Wales, in Episode 5.

Year of Release? 2017

Windsor Documentary Royal History
 
 
 

'The Romanovs'

'The Romanovs' Episode 1. English Audio

(covering Tsar Michael & Tsar Alexei)

'The Romanovs' Episode 1. Russian Audio

'The House of Rurik' Episode 1. Russian Audio. English Subtitles Available

The Ghost of the Romanovs - narrated by
Helen Rappaport

'The Race to Save the Romanovs' - podcasts covering the end of the dynasty - Helen Rappaport gives her account

This is one of the best documentaries you shall ever see. In my opinion, it is literally the best one. 

This 8-part docu-series tells the story of the Russian Royal House of Romanov [Románov], from the ascension of Michael Romanov to the vacant throne in 1613 to the bloody downfall of Nicholas II in 1918.

The research done by the historians is incredibly thorough. The narrative doesn't shy away from elaborating on every aspect in order to present the full picture. The graphics in this series are absolutely stunning. This show deserves all the juicy superlatives one can think of.

N.B. I've recently found out (through my own research) that Nicholas II, i.e. the last Romanov tsar, was the direct descendant of our Henry VII, and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh is the direct descendant of Catherine The Great, (and Henry VII, of course, but that's not as surprising).

N.B. 2. I've added several links below. You shall find a History Hit podcast episode, where Simon Sebag Montefiore talks to Dan Snow about this dynasty, and one for Chalk Valley History Festival; also here's an article by him for History Extra on the Romanovs. You shall also find links to two great podcast episodes (History Extra & History Hit) where Helen Rappaport gives her account on the murder of the Imperial family and their aborted salvation by their cousins, the Windsors. Here is also an article written for History Extra by her on this topic. Also thoroughly recommend watching this History Hit's video, narrated by Helen, about the aftermath of the Yekaterinburg massacre and the pilgrimages made to the Ipatiev House location made throughout the twentieth century, right up to the hundred-year anniversary in 2018.

Where can You watch it? YouTube. On the left you shall see the links. The first video is the English Dubbing option, the second is the Russian one. Third video is the prequel, released late last year on the Royal Family that ruled Russia before the Romanovs - the House of Rurik (currently available only in Russian audio with English subtitles), also incredibly fascinating series, done by the same channel as its predecessor. Each link takes you to the first episode of each cycle. Here are the links to the follow-up episodes of 'The Romanovs' series with English audio: Episode 2 (Fyodor III, Tsarevna Sophia & Ivan V), Episode 3 (Peter the Great & Catherine I), Episode 4 (Peter II, Empress Anna, Ivan VI & Empress Elizabeth), Episode 5 (Peter III & Catherine The Great), Episode 6 (Paul I & Alexander I), Episode 7 (Nicholas I & Alexander II), Episode 8 (Alexander III & the ill-fated Nicholas II). 

Is it free? Yes. You just have to sit through a number of advertisements. 

How many episodes? There are eight episodes, each covering around two monarchs.

How long each episode? 51 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moment? I was most surprised that Russia had their own 'Queen Anne' - Empress Anna. The crown landed on her head due to the lack of any other suitable candidates, she was pulled from relative obscurity governing Courland (a province in modern Latvia, which is where I'm from). Both monarchs can be seen as 'stepping stone queens', both ruled for around a decade - Queen Anne ruled 1702-1714, whilst Empress Anne - 1730-1740; both left no issue to inherit the throne, and both relied heavily on their favourites when it came to govern the realm; both died in their late 40's. Thankfully, the similarities end there.

Year of Release? 2013 - the 400 year anniversary of Romanovs' ascension to the Russian throne.

More on the Imperial Romanov dynasty can be found soon on my 'Catherine The Great' feature page (currently in development).

Simon Sebag Montefiore gives his account on the dynasty for History Extra & Chalk Valley History Festival

 

'Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty'
with Dan Jones

This series tells of the Plantagenets - the dynasty that ruled England before the Tudors.

The story of the Plantagenets is often called the 'real life Game of Thrones', as it 1. takes place at the same time as the fictional story of Game of Thrones would have taken; 2. the main conflict of Starks and Lannisters in the first few seasons is loosely based on the War of the Roses in England in the 15th century, whose principal participants were the houses of York and Lancaster; 3. Some of British history's greatest moments happened exactly during the reign of the Plantagenets, which (among other historic events) had inspired the Game of Thrones author George R. R. Martin. 

The host and writer of this series is one of the leading experts on British Medieval History - none other than Dan Jones, who also wrote a book on The Plantagenets - that's handy - check the link below. Also, here's a podcast hosted by History Extra in collaboration with Historical Royal Palaces at the Tower of London, where Dan talks about the importance of the Plantagenet dynasty and how they sowed the seeds of what made England - England. And here's a History Hit podcast where Dan discussed history that's inspired Game of Thrones. He and Dan Snow the host discuss among other things, the historical accuracy that the shows set in medieval times can have and whether a 'neat Hollywood conclusion' is always in everyone's interest. Seriously recommend giving these a listen.

Where can You watch it? YouTube. 

Is it free? Yes. Hi, commercials! 

How many episodes? There are four episodes, each covering one major conflict of one Plantagenet monarch.

How long each episode? 44 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moment? The fact that most of the actors in the reenactment segments are actually Romanian. 

Year of Release? 2014

Episode 1 'Betrayal' - Henry II

Episode 2 'Hatred' - Henry III

Episode 3 'Revenge' - Edward II

Episode 4 'Tyranny' - Richard II

 

The Sequel:

'Britain's Bloody Crown' with Dan Jones

Episode 1 'The Mad King' - Henry VI & Richard, Duke of York

Episode 2 'The Kingmaker Must Die' - Edward IV & Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick

This series is basically a sequel to 'Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty', as it was written and narrated by the same Dan Jones, covering the events a bit later in history. "Dynasty' started with the first Plantagenet king - Henry II, and 'Crown' ends with the last one - Richard III. 

'Crown' tells the story of the Wars of the Roses, and unlike with 'Dynasty', some of the episodes have overlapping storylines.

Where can You watch it? YouTube. 

Is it free? Yes. Hi, commercials! 

How many episodes? There are four episodes, each covering one major turning point of the Wars of the Roses.

How long each episode? 45 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moments? 1. The actor playing Edward IV in the re-enactment scenes is Tom Durant Pritchard, who can boast being in several Royal History shows, including 'The Crown' (2016 - ), where he played Billy Wallace, Princess Margaret's faux fiancé, and 'The Windsors' (2016 - ) where he took over the role of Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. 2. 'Crown' features a lot of the same actors as its predecessor. Isabella of France is also Elizabeth Woodville, Henry II and Anthony Woodville look the same, and Eleanor of Aquitaine's likeness mirrors that of Margaret Beaufort. 

My least favourite moment? The character of Margaret of Anjou seems to be wearing 21st century make-up, which is somewhat distracting.

Year of Release? 2016

N.B. I've added below link to a fascinating History Extra podcast, where  Dan Jones is interviewed on his Wars of the Roses book by Suzannah Lipscomb, herself a Tudor expert. My favourite aspect of Dan Jones' storytelling is his insistence on looking at history forwards, not backwards. Also below you can find a link to Dan Jones' book on the subject covered in the documentary, as well as its DVD.

Episode 3 'The Princes Must Die' - Richard III

Episode 4 'A Mother's Love' - Margaret Beaufort

'A Very British Romance'
with Lucy Worsley

 

This is a documentary that doesn't have much to do with Royal History, however, it has everything to do with understanding romantic relationships. I can definitely say with confidence that this is one of the most important documentaries I've ever seen. Here's why...

In our 21st century we have accumulated a number of conventions when it comes to finding our other halves. Even if we dismiss these, we, and everyone else around us, are still aware that these conventions are there to be accepted, to be negotiated or to be rejected. In our modern world, we take them for granted, These conventions had to be invented by individuals, or developed by circumstance. 

Where can You watch it? Daily Motion. 

Is it free? Yes. 

How many episodes? There are three episodes.

How long each episode? 56 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moments? ok the same, and Eleanor of Aquitaine's likeness mirrors that of Margaret Beaufort. 

Year of Release? 2015

 

'If Walls Could Talk'
with Lucy Worsley

Episode 1 - Living Room

Episode 2 - Bathroom

Episode 3 - Bedroom

Episode 4 - Kitchen

This series is practically a considered a sequel to 'Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty', as it was written and narrated by the same Dan Jones, covering the events a bit later in history. "Dynasty' started with the first Plantagenet king - Henry II, and 'Crown' ends with the last one - Richard III. 

'Crown' tells the story of the Wars of the Roses, and unlike with 'Dynasty', some of the episodes have overlapping storylines.

Where can You watch it? YouTube. 

Is it free? Yes. Hi, commercials! 

How many episodes? There are four episodes, each covering the evolution of one room in a British house.

How long each episode? 58 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moments? odville look the same, and Eleanor of Aquitaine's likeness mirrors that of Margaret Beaufort. 

My least favourite moment? The character of Margaret of Anjou seems to be wearing 21st century make-up, which is somewhat distracting.

Year of Release? 2011

N.B. I've added below link to a fascinating History Extra podcast, where  Dan Jones is interviewed on popular history. Also below you can find a link to Dan Jones's book on the subject covered in the documentary, as well as its DVD.

'Hidden Killers'

with Suzannah Lipscomb

 

This series is basically a sequel to 'Britain's Bloodiest Dynasty', as it was written and narrated by the same Dan Jones, covering the events a bit later in history. "Dynasty' started with the first Plantagenet king - Henry II, and 'Crown' ends with the last one - Richard III. 

'Crown' tells the story of the Wars of the Roses, and unlike with 'Dynasty', some of the episodes have overlapping storylines.

Where can You watch it? YouTube. 

Is it free? Yes. Hi, commercials! 

How many episodes? There are four episodes, each covering one major turning point of the Wars of the Roses.

How long each episode? 45 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moments? 1. The actor playing Edward IV in the re-enactment scenes is Tom Durant Pritchard, who can boast being in several Royal History shows, including 'The Crown' (2016 - ), where he played Billy Wallace, Princess Margaret's faux fiancé, and 'The Windsors' (2016 - ) where he took over the role of Prince Harry, the Duke of Sussex. 2. 'Crown' features a lot of the same actors as its predecessor. Isabella of France is also Elizabeth Woodville, Henry II and Anthony Woodville look the same, and Eleanor of Aquitaine's likeness mirrors that of Margaret Beaufort. 

My least favourite moment? The character of Margaret of Anjou seems to be wearing 21st century make-up, which is somewhat distracting.

Years of Release? 2013 - 2016

N.B. I've added below link to a fascinating History Extra podcast, where  Dan Jones is interviewed on popular history. Also below you can find a link to Dan Jones's book on the subject covered in the documentary, as well as its DVD.

Episode 1 - Hidden Killers in the Tudor Home

Episode 2 - Hidden Killers in the Victorian Home

Episode 3 - More Hidden Killers in the Victorian Home

Episode 4 - Hidden Killers in the Edwardian Home

Episode 5 - Hidden Killers in the Post-War Home

'Secrets of Great British Castles'

with Dan Jones

 

The first documentary series on this list are about the current reigning house - The Windsors. There are many docu-series about this family, yet none come close to this one. It's basically as pleasant as watching 'The Crown', except it's all based on facts and solid research, with some recently-come-to-light, never-before-seen evidence.

Where can You watch it? It is currently available on Netflix and the Channel 4 application. 

Is it free? Netflix would require a subscription, but I believe Channel 4 app is  free and accessible in the UK. N.B. Channel 4 has a lot of other good documentaries about the Royal History as well, e.g. 'Three Kings at War' & 'The Six Wives of Henry VIII' (the David Starkey version).

How many episodes? There are six episodes, each covering a different issue and making us look at our favourite Royal family from a slightly different angle each episode.

How long each episode? 43 minutes

My favourite/ most surprising moment? The brief comparison between The Duke of Windsor (back when he was the Prince of Wales) and Diana, Princess of Wales, in Episode 5.

Year of Release? 2015-2016

Great British Castles Dan Jones

'She-Wolves'

with Helen Castor

Episode 1 - Matilda & Eleanor of Aquitaine

Episode 2 - Isabella of France & Margaret of Anjou

Episode 3 - Jane Grey, Mary I & Elizabeth I

Next we have 'Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII' by Alison Weir, the volume dedicated to the years after Henry's death and the chaos that ensued. In this story, Henry's demise is only the inciting incident that kicks off the narrative and Elizabeth's accession is the 'Happy Ending' of it. Henry VIII and his second daughter, Elizabeth I are the most famous Tudor monarchs, yet eleven years between their reigns have played a vital part of English history, and they represent the sequence of events that, if one looks at it from a certain view, made England - England.

 

N.B. The Introduction of the book is called 'The Lion's Cubs', which is brilliant and in my opinion really covers the theme of the book - the protector and the sovereign is dead. His cubs are not yet beasts themselves, they have not come into their own yet. Predators are lurking about. What do you do? Go...

Usually the stories that are always told in popular culture - are that of Henry, the despot and the story of his daughter, the Virgin Queen. Jane Grey is usually left behind, apart from one film, 'Lady Jane' (1986) and Mary I features as a supporting villain in the majority of these stories, the exception being 'The Tudors' (2007-2011) but yet again, she was sidelined. (With 'Starz' making 'The Spanish Princess', which focuses on Catherine of Aragon's early years in England, we may see a show telling Mary's story from her point of view someday.)

This book tells you about the interim years, and just how much real life drama was a-happening. The sexual assault on the teenage Elizabeth, the kidnapping of Edward VI (by the same person, curiously enough), the religious persecution of Mary (yes, it worked both ways), her attempt at fleeing England, Edward's prolonged suffering and eventual death, Jane Grey's rise in station, her imprisonment, Mary taking the crown... After Henry's Church, that kept things a bit too Catholic for some Protestants (read more on this in 1536 book, listed above) - Edward's rule started (what I call) a Tudor pendulum - he turned the country much more Protestant than it was under his father. His sister Mary turned everything around - into the Catholic direction. Their sister saw the improbability of choosing one of the two different religions, so she opted for the middle way.

Actually, if you look at it, the pendulum started much earlier and it wasn't just about religion - Henry VII was frugal and secretive, his son was spendthrift and lavish. Henry VIII was much-married - his three royal children could only boast one failed marriage among the three of them. His illegitimate son did get to be married, but the marriage was unconsummated.

N.B. It would be great to see a book and/or a film about Henry's relationship with his illegitimate son - Henry FitzRoy.

Which historical documentaries do you favour?

nat@natalieisahistorybuff.com

All photographs taken by Natalie Lomako Photography, unless otherwise stated

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