Book Review: “Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue, and Treason” by Helene Harrison

63193745 (1)The struggle to be a king or queen in any country during Europe’s medieval or early modern era was only the beginning. They are either the next in line to the throne and inherit the crown, or they sometimes fight to the death to wear it. After the king or queen settles into ruling their respective countries, the real challenge emerges as they have to deal with rebellions and those who commit treason against their monarch. Take, for example, what happened during the reign of Elizabeth I. We consider her reign the “Golden Age” in English history. Still, she had to deal with numerous rebellions and conspiracies surrounding her viewpoints on religion and how she dealt with her cousin, Mary Queen of Scots. In her first book, “Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue, and Treason,” Helene Harrison takes an in-depth look at each rebellion and how they left a mark on Elizabeth I’s reign.

Thank you, Pen and Sword Books and Net Galley, for sending me a copy of this book. When I heard about this title online, I was intrigued since many of these rebellions have been covered in books about Mary Queen of Scots or biographies about Elizabeth I. Still, this is the first time I have seen a book about Elizabethan conspiracies.

Harrison begins by showing how early Tudor rebellions shaped the reigns of Elizabeth’s family and how the early uprisings affected her time as Queen of England. Beginning with her grandfather, King Henry VII, and the pretenders’ rebellions of Lambert Simnel and Perkins Warbeck, we see how important it was to take action against those who threatened to overthrow the Tudors before they even began their rule in earnest. Under Henry VIII, we see the Pilgrimage of Grace, protesting against Protestantism and for the return of Catholicism after the break from Rome. Elizabeth is considered one of the main actors behind the Wyatt Rebellion of 1554 under her sister Queen Mary I.

These previous events would help shape how Elizabeth I dealt with the five significant rebellions during her reign. These five rebellions were: the Northern Rising, Ridolfi Plot, Throckmorton Plot, Babington Plot, and the Essex Rebellion. Four of the five rebellions had something to do with Mary Queen of Scots and the battle between Protestantism versus Catholicism. In contrast, the Essex Rebellion, the final rebellion Elizabeth I dealt with, was more about a spoiled courtier not getting his way in life and blaming it on Elizabeth.

Harrison does not do a typical overview of each rebellion. Instead, she takes a deep dive into the timeline of each event, who was involved, and how they came crashing down. Each rebellion had a unique signature, from espionage and intrigue to acts of treason and secret codes. Every experience taught Elizabeth a different lesson about what it meant to be a ruler of England. I found this book informative and well-written. I learned new elements of each rebellion, which I thought I knew pretty well. For her first book, Helene Harrison does a great job sharing her points and showing how these rebellions shaped Elizabeth I’s reign. Suppose you want a book that explains the different power struggles Elizabeth I had to deal with during her reign. In that case, I recommend reading “Elizabethan Rebellions: Conspiracy, Intrigue, and Treason” by Helene Harrison.

Book Review; “The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England” by John Cooper

51FnxQ9BN5L._SX326_BO1,204,203,200_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.