Matthew Shardlake Books in Order, a historical mystery series by C.J. Sansom

Nicknamed the “Tudor Morse”, Shardlake is a historical mystery series written by Scottish author C.J. Sansom. It follows Matthew Shardlake, a hunchbacked lawyer in sixteenth-century London who has lost his faith since the Reformation. He works on commission initially from Thomas Cromwell to solve crimes and tries to avoid getting caught up in political intrigue.

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Reading the Shardlake series

As of right now, there are seven Shardlake novels. The first six books are set during the reign of Henry VIII in the 16th century, while the seventh novel is set two years after the death of King Henry VIII.

Dissolution (2003)
Dark Fire (2004)
Sovereign (2006)
Revelation (2008)
Heartstone (2010)
Lamentation (2014)
Tombland (2018)

Sansom was working on a new Shardlake novel, Ratcliff, when he died on 27 April, 2024. “His worsening health made progress painfully slow: his meticulous historical research and his writing were always so important to him,” said his longtime editor and publisher, Maria Rejt. The writer had been diagnosed in 2012 with multiple myeloma, a rare and incurable cancer of the bone marrow.

More about the Matthew Shardlake series

Who is Matthew Shardlake?

The main protagonist of C.J. Samson’s series, Matthew Shardlake is the only surviving child of his parents. As he explained in Dissolution, the first book in the series, his disability came upon me when he was three, and by the age of five, he was a true hunchback.

His father farmed sheep and arable land near Lichfield, and his mother died when he was ten. He was sent to London to study at the Inns of Court at the age of sixteen and discovered a talent for disputation in court. In the late 1950s, he is introduced to Thomas Cromwell, a fellow lawyer who was rising through the ranks of Cardinal Wolsey’s administration. Then Cromwell started to seek Matthew’s assistance with legal matters and Shardlake soon became known as one of ‘Cromwell’s men.’

Does the Shardlake series need to be read in order?

Even though the Shardlake novels work well as standalone as each book is a self-contained mystery, following the chronological order (the same as the publication order) would offer a more enjoyable reading experience.

This way, you will have a better appreciation for Shardlake’s ups & downs in the series and can also follow the changes and growth affecting the recurring characters.

The Origins of Shardlake

Born in Edinburgh in 1952, Christopher John Sansom attended the University of Birmingham, where he earned a BA and a PhD in history. He held multiple jobs before deciding to leave academia and retrain as a solicitor. He worked in Sussex for the underprivileged.

Sansom always wanted to write, but as he said in The Guardian, he “never had the physical energy to do it. A novel is a lot of work; a first novel most of all. It was a case of doing bits and bobs, going to writers’ groups. But I was waiting for the day – which I thought might not come until I retired – to write a book.”

His situation changed in 2000 when he came into possession of a small inheritance following the death of his father. Samson decided to take a year off and started working on his first novel.

For Dissolution, he combined his love for murder mystery writers such as PD James and Ruth Rendell with his fascination for the Tudors. He thought “the dissolution of the monasteries would make a great setting for a murder mystery.”

Making his lead a lawyer was the next logical step for Sansom. As he explained to journalist Sarah Crown “First, the law was my profession: I find legal practice endlessly interesting. Second, it existed then and now, so it provides a point of contact for readers. And third, it’s democratic: it offers a way into any number of mysteries, and puts Shardlake in the way of an endless variety of characters.”

His novel, Dissolution was published in 2003. An immediate bestseller, it launched his writing career.

Shardlake Adaptation

The sixth first novels of Shardlake have all been adapted into a serial drama for BBC Radio Four while Sovereign has been adapted into a play for the York Theatre Royal in 2023.

Sansom sold the rights to the first novel for a movie adaptation in 2003, and Kenneth Branagh was associated with the project. When it became a question to make a television series in 2007 with the BBC, Branagh was still attached. In the end, he chose to play Wallander while BBC decided to focus on their production of Wolf Hall. 

We’re in 2024, and Shardlake is finally gracing our screens with Arthur Hughes as the lead of this adaptation for Disney+. The cast is completed by Sean Bean as Thomas Cromwell, Irfan Shamji, David Pearse, Miles Barrow, Mike Noble, and Kimberley Nixon. 

The first season consists of four episodes and is adapted by Stephen Butchard, the man behind The Last Kingdom series.

Beyond Shardlake, Matthew Sansom also wrote Winter in Madrid, a spy novel set in the aftermath of the Spanish Civil War in 1940, and Dominion, an alternate history book set in the early 1950s. You can also explore the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell with the Wolf Hall trilogy and continue to lead some historical investigations with the Brother Cadfael books by Ellis Peters or Susanna Gregory’s Matthew Bartholomew series.