Ken Follett's Column of Fire - The Reading List that Inspired the Novel

Whilst researching for A Column of Fire, Ken Follett used over 200 books. We asked Ken to pick ten books that influenced his third Kingsbridge novel, A Column of Fire.

Whether you do your research before you put pen to paper, or after the first draft, research makes a big difference. Ken Follett used over 200 books in his research for his novel A Column of Fire. We asked Ken to talk us through ten of the books that influenced his third Kingsbridge novel.

'I used 228 books in my research for A Column of Fire.  From the rigid framework of names and dates, battles and assassinations and massacres to details of underwear, cutlery, coins, toilets, hairdressing, shops and booze – they were vital for getting the details right. Readers enjoy interesting background detail, but it has to be accurate, and I couldn't manage that without history books.'
- Ken Follett

A Column of Fire is set in the sixteenth century, during the reign of Elizabeth I of England. When Elizabeth Tudor becomes queen, all of Europe turns against England. There were many assassination plots against the Queen.  The shrewd, determined young monarch immediately sets up the country's first secret service to give her early warning of assassination plots, rebellions and invasion plans.

The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603

by J. B. Black

Book cover for The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603

The Reign of Elizabeth, 1558-1603 covers all aspects of her reign – from England's relationship with France to the execution of Mary Stuart, the Catholic challenges to the establishment and Catholic and Puritan challenges to the establishment, and the economic, social, literary, artistic, scientific and cultural features of the age.

Mr Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth - 3 Volumes

Sir Francis Walsingham was Queen Elizabeth I's master spy and political manipulator. For twenty years he stood at the centre of the royal administration during the critical period when Mary Stuart plotted and failed when Philip II planned and launched his Spanish Armada. Walsingham was a stout champion of the Protestant faith, a generous patron of the arts, and one of the most energetic promoters of the expansion of England overseas. This first complete study of his life throws light into many different corners of Elizabethan history.

The Brood of False Lorraine: The history of the Ducs de Guise (1496-1588)

by H. Noel Williams

Book cover for The Brood of False Lorraine: The history of the Ducs de Guise (1496-1588)

The power behind several thrones - and if they were not behind the throne, they were breathing heavily in the wings, threatening to unseat its occupant - the Dukes and Cardinals de Guise was a hugely influential family in sixteenth and early seventeenth-century France. The story of this family gives an intimate insight into the reigns of François I, Henri II and Henri's sons including François II (husband of Mary Queen of Scots). Along the way are detailed accounts of the St Bartholomew's Day massacre, of the horrors of the French Wars of Religion, of assassinations, murder and revenge, of plots with England, Spain and Rome. 

Mary Queen of Scots

by Antonia Fraser

Book cover for Mary Queen of Scots

Mary Queen of Scots passed her childhood in France and married the Dauphin to become Queen of France at the age of sixteen. Widowed less than two years later, she returned to Scotland as Queen after an absence of thirteen years. Her life then entered its best-known phase: the early struggles with John Knox, and the unruly Scottish nobility; the fatal marriage to Darnley and his mysterious death; her marriage to Bothwell, the chief suspect, that led directly to her long English captivity at the hands of Queen Elizabeth; the poignant and extraordinary story of her long imprisonment that ended with the labyrinthine Babington plot to free her, and her execution at the age of forty-four. 

The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England

by Ian Mortimer

Book cover for The Time Traveller's Guide to Elizabethan England

We think of Queen Elizabeth I's reign (1558-1603) as a golden age. But what was it actually like to live in Elizabethan England? If you could travel to the past and walk the streets of London in the 1590s, where would you stay? What would you eat? What would you wear? Would you really have a sense of it being a glorious age? And if so, how would that glory sit alongside the vagrants, diseases, violence, sexism and famine of the time? In this book Ian Mortimer reveals a country in which life expectancy is in the early thirties, people still starve to death and Catholics are persecuted for their faith. Yet it produces some of the finest writing in the English language, some of the most magnificent architecture, and sees Elizabeth's subjects settle in America and circumnavigate the globe.

The Taming of the Shrew

by William Shakespeare

Book cover for The Taming of the Shrew

The beautiful but sharp-tongued 'shrew' Katherina has sworn never to accept the demands of any would-be husband. Her younger sister Bianca, meanwhile, is forbidden to be married until Katherina finds a suitable match - much to the dismay of Bianca's suitors, Hortensio and Gremio. But when Katherina is pursued by the wily Petruchio, it seems that she has finally met her match. And as he meets her own caustic words with feigned, capricious cruelty, Katherina quickly comes to understand the absurdity of her shrewish behaviour, in one of the greatest of all comic conquests.

Horse and Man in Early Modern England

by Peter Edwards

Book cover for Horse and Man in Early Modern England

Horses were used for many purposes in Shakespeare's England: for travel, either on horseback or in carriages, for haulage and for pleasure, and for work in the fields. The upper classes were closely involved with horses, for jousting, hunting and racing. Horses were also essential to any army, both as cavalry and to draw supplies and artillery. Horse ownership was, however, much more widespread than might be imagined. Horse and Man in Early Modern England shows how, in pre-industrial England, horses were bred and trained, what they ate, how much they were worth, how long they lived, and what their owners thought of them. They were an essential part of the life of the time and are strikingly depicted in literature and art, as well in many other records.

Firearms: A Global History to 1700

by Kenneth Chase

Book cover for Firearms: A Global History to 1700

A history of firearms across the world from the 1100s up to the 1700s - from their invention in China to the time when European firearms had become clearly superior. It asks why it was the Europeans who perfected firearms when it was the Chinese who had invented them and answers this question by looking at how firearms were used throughout the world. Early firearms were restricted to infantry and siege warfare, limiting their use outside of Europe and Japan.

Festins de la Renaissance: Cuisine et trésors de la table

by Élisabeth Latrémolière, Florent Quellier

Book cover for Festins de la Renaissance: Cuisine et trésors de la table

The feast is at the heart of the civilization of the Renaissance. Food plays a part in the political spectacle and testifies to the richness of the material culture of the 16th century through ceremonial dishes, the art of setting up a table and serving dishes. It is also the privileged ground of the pictorial revolution which introduces daily life into the image. Gathered for the first time on the occasion of the exhibition presented at the royal castle of Blois, cookbooks, paintings, goldsmiths, enamels, table and galley tableware, furniture - which are all major and often unpublished works - illustrate both the contents of the meals, the architecture of the kitchens, the manners of the table and the spectacle of the banquets.

Elizabeth's Spy Master

by Robert Hutchinson

Book cover for Elizabeth's Spy Master

Francis Walsingham was the first 'spymaster' in the modern sense. His methods anticipated those of MI5 and MI6 and even those of the KGB. He maintained a network of spies across Europe, including double-agents at the highest level in Rome and Spain - the sworn enemies of Queen Elizabeth and her Protestant regime. His entrapment of Mary Queen of Scots is a classic intelligence operation that resulted in her execution. As Robert Hutchinson reveals, his cypher expert's ability to intercept other peoples' secret messages and his brilliant forged letters made him a fearsome champion of the young Elizabeth. Yet even this Machiavellian schemer eventually fell foul of Elizabeth as her confidence grew (and judgement faded). The rise and fall of Sir Francis Walsingham is a Tudor epic, vividly narrated by a historian with unique access to the surviving documentary evidence.