Alison Weir (born 1951) is a British author and public historian. She primarily writes about the history of English royal women and families, in the form of biographies that explore their historical setting. She has also written numerous works of historical fiction.
|Education||City of London School for Girls|
|Alma mater||University of North London|
|Subject||Primarily English royalty|
Her first work, Britain's Royal Families (published in 1989), was a genealogical overview of the British royal family. She subsequently wrote biographies of Eleanor of Aquitaine, Isabella of France, Katherine Swynford, Elizabeth of York, and the Princes in the Tower. Other focuses have included Henry VIII and his family and England's Medieval Queens. Weir has published historical overviews of the Wars of the Roses and royal weddings, as well as historical fiction novels on English queens, including each wife of Henry VIII.
Weir was born in 1951 and brought up in Westminster, London. She has been married to Rankin Weir since 1972, and now lives in Surrey. She described her mother as "a genuinely good person with heaps of integrity, strength of character, humour and wisdom, and has overcome life’s trials with commendable fortitude."
Weir recalls how, at the age of fourteen, she read Lozania Prole's Henry's Golden Queen, a "really trashy" novel about the life of Katherine of Aragon. She then became interested in the field of history.
She was educated at City of London School for Girls and North Western Polytechnic, becoming a history teacher. She opted to abandon teaching as a career after a disillusion with "trendy teaching methods", so she worked as a civil servant, and later as a housewife and mother. Between 1991 and 1997, she ran a school for children with learning difficulties.
It has made me more confident in some ways. It has benefited me financially, of course, and enabled me to enrich the lives of others, but most important of all, it has made me feel fulfilled in a creative sense.
—Alison Weir on her writing career
In the 1970s, Weir spent four years researching and writing a biography of the six wives of Henry VIII. Her work was deemed too long by publishers, and was consequently rejected. A revised version would be published in 1991 as her second book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. In 1981, she wrote a book on Jane Seymour, which was again rejected by publishers, this time because it was too short. Weir finally became a published author in 1989 with Britain's Royal Families, a compilation of genealogical information about the British Royal Family. She had revised the work eight times over a twenty-two-year period, and decided that it might be "of interest to others". After organising it into chronological order, The Bodley Head agreed to publish it.
Weir would not start writing full-time until the late 1990s. While running the school for children with learning difficulties, she published the non-fiction works The Princes in the Tower (1992), Lancaster and York: The Wars of the Roses (1995), and Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII (1996). Now writing books full-time, she produced Elizabeth the Queen (1998) (published in America as The Life of Elizabeth I), Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (1999), Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2001), Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley (2003), and Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (2005). Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess followed in 2007, and The Lady in The Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn in 2009. Traitors of the Tower came out in 2010. The following year, she completed The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings and Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings, the first full non-fiction biography of Mary Boleyn, sister of Anne Boleyn. In 2013 she published Elizabeth of York – A Tudor Queen and Her World, a biography on Elizabeth of York, mother of Henry VIII. Weir has written two books on England's Medieval Queens: Queens of Conquest published in 2017 and Queens of the Crusades, published 5 November 2020 by Random House.
Many of Weir's works deal with the Tudor period, which she considers "the most dramatic period in our history, with vivid, strong personalities... The Tudor period is the first one for which we have a rich visual record, with the growth of portraiture, and detailed sources on the private lives of kings and queens. This was an age that witnessed a growth in diplomacy and the spread of the printed word."
Weir wrote historical novels while a teenager, and her novel in the genre of historical fiction, Innocent Traitor, based on the life of Lady Jane Grey, was published in 2006. When researching Eleanor of Aquitaine, Weir realised that it would "be very liberating to write a novel in which I could write what I wanted while keeping to the facts". She decided to make Jane Grey her focus because she "didn't have a very long life and there wasn't a great deal of material". She found the transition to fiction easy, explaining, "Every book is a learning curve, and you have to keep an open mind. I am sometimes asked to cut back on the historical facts in my novels, and there have been disagreements over whether they obstruct the narrative, but I do hold out for the history whenever I can."
Her second novel is The Lady Elizabeth, which deals with the life of Queen Elizabeth I before her ascent to the throne. It was published in 2008 in the United Kingdom and United States. Her next novel, The Captive Queen, was released in the summer of 2010. Its subject, Eleanor of Aquitaine, had been the subject of a non-fiction biography by Weir in 1999.
Traitors of the Tower is a novella written by Weir and published on World Book Day 2010. Working with Quick Reads and Skillswise, Weir has recorded the first chapter as a taster and introduction to get people back into the habit of reading. Weir published The Marriage Game, a historical novel featuring Elizabeth I and Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester, in June 2014.
In May 2016 her novel Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen was published, the first of a six-book series on the theme of Six Tudor Queens, each covering one of Henry VIII's six wives. The final novel in the series, Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife was published in May 2021.
Weir's writings have been described as being in the genre of popular history, an area that sometimes attracts criticism from academia; according to one source, popular history "seeks to inform and entertain a large general audience... Dramatic storytelling often prevails over analysis, style over substance, simplicity over complexity, and grand generalization over careful qualification." Weir argues that "history is not the sole preserve of academics, although I have the utmost respect for those historians who undertake new research and contribute something new to our knowledge. History belongs to us all, and it can be accessed by us all. And if writing it in a way that is accessible and entertaining, as well as conscientiously researched, can be described as popular, then, yes, I am a popular historian, and am proud and happy to be one." Kathryn Hughes, writing in The Guardian, said of Weir's popular historian label, "To describe her as a popular historian would be to state a literal truth – her chunky explorations of Britain's early modern past sell in the kind of multiples that others can only dream of."
Reviews of Weir's works have been mixed. The Independent said of The Lady in the Tower that "it is testament to Weir's artfulness and elegance as a writer that The Lady in the Tower remains fresh and suspenseful, even though the reader knows what's coming." On the other hand, Diarmaid MacCulloch, in a review of Henry VIII: King and Court, called it "a great pudding of a book, which will do no harm to those who choose to read it. Detail is here in plenty, but Tudor England is more than royal wardrobe lists, palaces and sexual intrigue." The Globe and Mail, reviewing the novel, The Captive Queen, said that she had "skillfully imagined royal lives" in previous works, "but her style here is marred by less than subtle characterizations and some seriously cheesy writing", while The Washington Post said of the same book, "12th-century France could be the dark side of the moon for all we learn about it by the end of this book."
Weir lives in Surrey with her husband and two sons. She has called "Mrs Ellen", a fictional character from her novel about Jane Grey, most like her own personality, commenting that, "As I was writing the book, my maternal side was projected into this character."
Weir is a supporter of the renovation of Northampton Castle, explaining that the estate is a "historic site of prime importance; it would be tragic if it were to be lost forever. I applaud the work of the Friends of Northampton Castle in lobbying for its excavation and for the regeneration of the area that would surely follow."
- Britain's Royal Families: The Complete Genealogy (1989)
- The Six Wives of Henry VIII (1991)
- The Princes in the Tower (1992)
- Lancaster and York – The Wars of the Roses (1995)
- Children of England: The Heirs of King Henry VIII (1996, later reissued as The Children of Henry VIII)
- Elizabeth the Queen (1998) (published in America as The Life of Elizabeth I)
- Eleanor of Aquitaine: By the Wrath of God, Queen of England (1999)
- Henry VIII: The King and His Court (2001)
- Mary, Queen of Scots and the Murder of Lord Darnley (2003)
- Isabella: She-Wolf of France, Queen of England (2005)
- Katherine Swynford: The Story of John of Gaunt and his Scandalous Duchess (2007)
- The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn (2009)
- Traitors of the Tower (2010)
- The Ring and the Crown: A History of Royal Weddings (2011)
- Mary Boleyn: The Mistress of Kings (2011)
- Elizabeth of York – A Tudor Queen and Her World (2013)
- The Lost Tudor Princess: A Life of Margaret Douglas, Countess of Lennox (2015)
- Queens of the Conquest (2017)
- A Tudor Christmas (2018)
- Queens of the Crusades (2020)
- Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey (2007)
- The Lady Elizabeth (2008)
- The Captive Queen (2010)
- Dangerous Inheritance: A Novel of Tudor Rivals and the Secret of the Tower (2012)
- The Marriage Game: A Novel of Elizabeth I (2014)
- Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen (2016)
- Anne Boleyn: A King's Obsession (2017)
- Jane Seymour: The Haunted Queen (2018)
- Anna of Kleve: Queen of Secrets (2019)
- Katheryn Howard: The Tainted Queen (2020)
- Katherine Parr: The Sixth Wife (2021)
- "Alison Weir". Contemporary Authors Online, Literature Resource Center. Gale. 2010. Retrieved 11 June 2012.
- GRO Register of Marriages: DEC 1972 5d 1846 PANCRAS Rankin Weir=Alison Matthews
- "Author Biography". Alison Weir: UK historian and author. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
- GRO Register of Births: SEP 1951 5c 1617 LAMBETH, mmn=Marston
- "Chat with Alison". Alison Weir: UK historian and author. Retrieved 19 July 2019.
- Buckley, Emma (2012). "The 14/4 Interview With Alison Weir". Glow Magazine. Archived from the original on 10 December 2013. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Conan, Neal (12 October 2011). "'Great And Infamous' Mary: The Other 'Boleyn' Girl". National Public Radio. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Weir, Alison (2017). Queens of Conquest. Ballantine Books, New York. ISBN 978-1784701864. OCLC 1028818196.
- Weir, Alison (5 November 2020). Queens of the Crusades Eleanor of Aquitaine and Her Successors. Random House. ISBN 9781473523326. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- "Our exclusive interview with Alison Weir". On the Tudor Trail. 28 August 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Williams, Wilda (15 January 2007). "Q&A: Alison Weir". Library Journal. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Alison Weir on historical fiction and Eleanor of Aquitaine". CBC.ca. 9 August 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Skillswise taster of Traitors of the Tower including a reading by the author". bbc.co.uk. 2010. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- "Leicester Book Festival to showcase". Leicester Mercury. 5 June 2014. Archived from the original on 3 April 2015. Retrieved 28 June 2014.
- Weir, Alison (2016). Katherine of Aragon, The True Queen. Headline Publishing, London. ISBN 978-1472227515. OCLC 1062309827.
- "Alison Weir – Books by author". AlisonWeir.org.uk. Retrieved 29 April 2019.
- Weir, Alison (2021). Katharine Parr, The Sixth Wife. Headline Publishing, London. ISBN 978-1472227829. OCLC 1184683279.
- Wagner, Vit (30 July 2010). "Alison Weir: The true story of a fiction writer". The Star. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Writing Resources". Hamilton College. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Hughes, Kathryn (3 September 2005). "French mistress". The Guardian. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- Hilton, Lisa (11 October 2009). "The Lady in the Tower: The Fall of Anne Boleyn, by Alison Weir". The Independent. Archived from the original on 12 October 2009. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- MacCulloch, Diarmaid (20 July 2001). "Defenders of the faith". The Guardian. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- Johnson, Sarah (13 August 2010). "A queen for all seasons". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- See, Carolyn (16 July 2010). "Alison Weir's "Captive Queen," a novel about Eleanor of Aquitaine". The Washington Post. Retrieved 26 May 2013.
- "About Alison Weir". Random House. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "One Minute With: Alison Weir". The Independent. 9 April 2010. Archived from the original on 15 April 2010. Retrieved 28 May 2012.
- "Author and Historian Alison Weir supports Northampton Castle". NorthamptonCastle.com. 4 March 2012. Retrieved 31 May 2012.
- Gerard DeGroot (31 October 2020). "Book review: Queens of the Crusades by Alison Weir". The Times of London. Retrieved 5 November 2020.
- Weir, Alison (2020). Katheryn Howard, The Tainted Queen. Headline Publishing, London. ISBN 978-1472227775. OCLC 1101774665.