Friday 16 December 2016

Review: The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I

The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Elizabeth I reigned for a total of 45 years in England, and the stability she gave as head of state gave us the Golden Age of wealth and greater self-assurance as a nation. The final Tudor monarch saw a cultural advances too, this being the time of Shakespeare and military confidence on the high seas. However, the Europeans saw her very differently; as daughter of Anne Boylen, Henry VIII's second wife, she was considered a bastard and Protestant heretic by catholic Europe. Following her denouncement by the Pope various European rulers prepared plans to dispose her, replacing her with Mary. The event that most people are aware of is the almost invasion by The Spanish Armada, but throughout her reign she was protected by a team of loyal subjects.

These men were a motley bunch of ambassadors, codebreakers, and confidence-men and spies who used all sort of covert and overt methods to counter the catholic threat. Infiltrators were sent to the continent to ingratiate themselves with the church, uncovering conspiracies both real and imagined, identified and followed gentlemen who were plotting the overthrow of their Queen. The network tracked priests entering the country under cover, intercepted and deciphered almost all correspondence between suspects in England and their contacts in France, Spain and Italy and neutered the threat that hung over the crown.

Drawing on documents from archive and collections, Alford shines a light into this dark and shadowy time of history. The narrative details tense searches across the countryside looking for specific people who were perceived to be a threat to the crown. Traitors who were convicted, sometimes only on hearsay and confessions uttered under torture on the rack, were condemned in horrific ways to die. It is an interesting account of those involved in keeping their monarch safe from all the assassination attempts and plots, but at times was fairly complicated as he details all the people involved in these plots. Worth reading though for those that like their Tudor history.

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