Lately I’ve been contending with the Tudors again. I do this periodically. I’ve always been fascinated by Elizabeth I, of course, but in the last ten years I’ve become more interested in earlier Tudor and Tudor-adjacent figures: Henry VIII, Catherine of Aragorn, Thomas Cromwell, and Cardinal Wolsey. I recently read an intriguing review of The Mirror and the Light, Hilary Mantel’s trilogy imagining (and to a large degree, re-inventing) Thomas Cromwell’s life. This led me to listen to the unabridged audio versions of Wolf Hall, Bring Up the Bodies, and The Mirror and the Light, all of which I heartily recommend. They’re not light, easy reads, so for a palate cleanser, I’m now listening to The White Queen by Philippa Gregory. It’s fun and she’s a skillful writer whose work I enjoy.

Anyway, I mentioned all this to say, I’m quite enjoying a lesser-known, nonfiction book about the seamy underside of the Tudor world called The Sorcerer’s Tale by Alec Ryrie. He’s a professor in the Department of Theology and Religion at Durham University, UK, specializing in the history of the Reformation. This book is a scholarly but eminently readable account of the Tudor world’s dark underbelly: cheaters, conjurers, bawdies, pimps, quacks, and every variety of magician. Some were “multipliers” who claimed to turn one coin into many; some were pseudo-respectable “astrologers,” since astrology was perfectly legal to practice, but they offered services like the forging of magical rings and the conjuring of Orpheus.

The Sorcerer’s Tale is filled with historical details I’m finding irresistible. (I’m about halfway through the book.) In a passage about the ubiquity of crime in Tudor London, he offers this description:

A less complex crime, and one which appeared in the courts as well as in the bookshops, was ‘hooking’ or ‘angling’: using a fishing rod or something like it to ‘fish’ blindly through open first-floor windows at night, to see what could be snagged. Bed sheets and blankets were the most likely prey.


There’s something I never could have dreamed up for one of my novels!

What are you reading? Let me know in the comments.

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