When we think about spies, we often think of modern examples like the ones we see in movies. However, spies and their spymasters have been working hard to protect their countries and their rulers for centuries. For Queen Elizabeth I, the only man she could trust to be her spymaster was Sir Francis Walsingham. But is it fair to call Walsingham as only Elizabeth’s “spymaster”? That is the question that John Cooper tries to answer in his book “The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England”. Who was Sir Francis Walsingham and what did he do to help his queen and his country?
First and foremost, Walsingham was a Protestant. This is very important to understand because, in this time, your religion determined where you stood on certain political and international issues. Walsingham would flee to universities in other countries while Mary I was queen, he would help Huguenots in France during the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, and helped Elizabeth navigate through her marriage prospects. In the religious quagmire that was Europe at this time, it was Walsingham and Elizabeth who stood by their Protestant faith and would help the Reformation on.
As Secretary of State, it was Walsingham who helped set up the national defenses against the invading Spanish Armada and helped crack the code of the Babington plot that tried to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne of England. Walsingham would also help solve the “Irish issue” and help make colonization in America possible. Walsingham and Queen Elizabeth I would often butt heads on issues, but in the end, they would come to a compromise that would benefit the entire country. Through all of this were men that Walsingham could trust, and some he thought he could but they turned out to be double agents for other countries. Walsingham had to navigate it all to protect his beloved queen and country.
John Cooper navigates the complex web of Walsingham’s life and his spy system to seek the truth about the man who became a legendary spymaster. There was a lot of information, but Cooper was able to organize the book in such a way that it was not overwhelming. This book had many twists and turns, as any good book about espionage would, however, the one thing that I wish Cooper would have included was a list of names and what they were known for. For me, it would have made the web a little less complex.
Overall, I found this book very enjoyable. Before this book, I did not know a lot about Walsingham or what he did for Elizabethan England. Walsingham was not just a spymaster, he was so much more and Protestant Elizabethan England would have been lost without him and his actions. If you want to learn more about Sir Francis Walsingham, the complex Europe world with Protestants versus Catholics, or espionage in Elizabethan England, this is the book for you.