Book Review: “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors” by Timothy Venning

A1XRNNIWxkL.jpgThe study of history is all about asking questions about how and why events happened. We understand that history is very much a study of cause and effect; if a certain person causes something to happen, we study the effect of those actions. But what if the person changes what they do? What would happen to the course of history? These are considered the “what ifs” of history, which is something that history fans and students like to discuss with one another. These questions rarely are discussed in books, until now. Timothy Venning explores some of the “what ifs” of the Tudor Dynasty in his book, “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors”. 

I would like to thank Pen and Sword Books for sending me a copy of this book. This book was a rather interesting read and gave a different perspective to the Tudor dynasty as a whole.

 Instead of having an introduction to explain what he hopes to achieve with this book, Venning dives right into his discussion of some of the most famous “what if” questions about the Tudors. What if Prince Arthur lived to become King? What if Henry Fitzroy lived, could he have become King? What if Anne Boleyn survived? What if King Edward VI lived, who would he have married and what kind of King would he have been like? What if Lady Jane Grey stayed Queen of England, how would she have ruled England? What if Elizabeth I married Robert Dudley? What if the Spanish Armada succeeded in their plan to conquer England? Of course, Venning does include some of his own questions into the discussion as well to explore the entirety of the Tudor dynasty.

I honestly have mixed feelings about this book. I think Venning is very educated about the topics that he does discuss in this book. It is very much what I would call a “discussion starter” book. Venning gives his own opinions about these scenarios and gives readers something to think about. Some of the scenarios were relatively new ideas to me, which made me stop reading the book for a little bit to really think about what Venning is talking about and how history could have changed if one of the factors was changed.

Most of these topics are either political, martial, or military-related so we don’t really get to see how these events might have affected those who were not part of the royal family or the government. I wish Venning would have explored how these events would have impacted the country as a whole as well as how it might have impacted the culture of England. Venning does reference other events and figures in history in this book to make a point, which is fine, but I wish he didn’t compare the Tudors to modern figures that are seen as negative influences. It comes off as a bit distracting and I wish in these moments he would stick to talking about the Tudors.

Overall, I think this book was interesting. It really gives the reader a better understanding of how the Tudors survived during a very precarious time period in order to make England a better place for their people. Venning did present fascinating arguments for the reader to think about, but I wish he had written a bit better so that casual readers don’t get lost. If you want a book that makes you wonder about the “what ifs” of the Tudor dynasty, I would recommend you read, “An Alternative History of Britain: The Tudors” by Timothy Venning. 

 

 

 

Book Review: “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett

9780451477996_p0_v1_s550x406After the death of Henry VIII and Edward VI, there was an explosion of religious intolerance, not just in England, but in Europe as a whole. Many believe that it was Mary I “Bloody Mary” who really started this trend, however, the fires of hatred between Protestants and Catholics extended further into the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I of England. We often focus on the monarchs and their inner circles during this time and how the religious persecutions affected the decisions that they made. That tells only part of the story, but how did this religious fighting between Protestants and Catholics affect the normal person? What were their lives like? Ken Follett explores this topic in his third book in his historical fiction series, the  Kingsbridge Series, “A Column of Fire”.

Every historical fiction book needs a great opening to engage the reader and Ken Follett delivers with his prologue:

We hanged him in front of Kingsbridge Cathedral. It is the usual place for executions. After all, if you can’t kill a man in front of God’s face you probably shouldn’t kill him at all. The sheriff brought him up from the dungeon below the guildhall, hands tied behind his back. He walked upright, his pale face defiant, fearless. The crowd jeered at him and cursed him. He seemed not to see them. But he saw me. Our eyes met, and in that momentary exchange of looks, there was a lifetime. I was responsible for his death, and he knew it. I had been hunting him for decades. He was a bomber who would have killed half the rulers of our country, including most of the royal family, all in one act of bloodthirsty savagery- if I had not stopped him. I have spent my life tracking such would-be murderers, and a lot of them have been executed- not just hanged but drawn and quartered, the more terrible death reserved for the worst offenders. Yes, I have done this many times: watched a man die knowing that I, more than anyone else, had brought him to his just but dreadful punishment. I did it for my country, which is dear to me; for my sovereign, whom I serve; and for something else, a principle, the belief that a person has the right to make up his own mind about God. He was the last of many men I sent to hell, but he made me think of the first…”(Follett, prologue).

This story follows the lives of several different people and their families, but the main story focuses on a man named Ned Willard. After he can’t marry the girl he loves, Margery Fitzgerald,  and his family is crushed by bad investments, he decides to work for a young Elizabeth Tudor, who would later become Elizabeth I. His works will lead him all over England and Europe to help thwart plots to kill Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic ruler. One of his biggest opponents is the elusive Jean Langlais, a man who works in the shadows, yet he is closer than Ned thinks.

What Follett does so well is that he incorporates people from other countries into this story. Sylvie Palot from France, the young Protestant bookseller, who is not afraid to sell Bibles to those who wish to own a Bible. Pierre Aumande, the man who will do anything in order to gain power. Alison McKay, the fictitious best friend of Mary Queen of Scots, who would do anything for her queen. Ebrima Dabo, a slave who will do anything to be free. Barney Willard, Ned’s brother, who wants nothing in life, except to sail the high seas looking for adventure.

Follett’s cast of original characters adds a depth to an already tumultuous time in European history. Follett is able to blend the fictitious characters with real historical figures and actual events like the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, the death of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada.

This is my first book by Ken Follett and I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed it. There were so many twists and turns in this story that I was not expecting that I really could not stop reading this book. I found it rather engaging and exciting. I found it interesting that Follett decided to end the book during the reign of James I and that he called King Philip II of Spain by his other less common Spanish name Felipe. These are more stylistic choices instead of historical choices.

Overall as a historical fiction book about the religious persecution in the Elizabethan era, I found this book dynamic and thrilling. Although this is the third book in a series, I believe it can stand on its own.  After reading this book, I really want to go back and read the first two books of the series. If you want a great historical fiction book that you can easily get lost in, I enthusiastically recommend you read “A Column of Fire” by Ken Follett.

Biography: Sir Walter Raleigh

(Born around 1552- Died October 29, 1618)220px-Sir_Walter_Ralegh_by_'H'_monogrammist
Son of Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne
Married to Elizabeth Throckmorton.
Father of Damerei, Walter (also known as Wat), and Carew Raleigh.
Sir Walter Raleigh was a writer and an adventurer who helped establish a colony near Roanoke Island. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London a few times and was later executed for treason.

Sir Walter Raleigh was born around 1552, although some believe he was born in 1554, to Walter Raleigh and Catherine Champernowne in Devon. He was the youngest of five sons born to the couple. His half-brothers John Gilbert, Humphrey Gilbert, and Adrian Gilbert, and his full brother Carew Raleigh were also prominent during the reigns of Elizabeth I and James I. Catherine Champernowne was a niece of Kat Ashley, Elizabeth’s governess. The Raleigh family were very devout Protestants and they were persecuted during the reign of Mary I, especially Sir Walter Raleigh’s father who had to hide in the Tower of London to avoid execution. From a young age, Raleigh had a deep hatred for Roman Catholicism and was an extremely devout Protestant, even more than Elizabeth I herself.

In 1569, Raleigh went to France to help the Huguenots in the religious wars, at the age of seventeen. In 1572, he attended Oriel College, Oxford, but he left a year later without a degree. He would later attend the Middle Temple law college in 1575, but in his trial in 1603, he would deny that he studied law. It was during this time that Raleigh’s love for poetry is said to have started.

In 1578, Raleigh set out with his half-brother, Sir Humphrey Gilbert on a voyage to North America to find the Northwest Passage. They never reached their destination and the mission degenerated into a privateering foray against Spanish shipping. Raleigh’s actions were not well received by the Privy Council, the monarch’s advisors, and he was briefly imprisoned. Between 1579 and 1583, Raleigh took part in the suppression of the Desmond Rebellions. These rebellions were motivated to maintain the independence of feudal lords from their monarch, but also there was an element of religious antagonism between Catholic Geraldines and the Protestant English state. He was known for his ruthlessness at the siege of Smerwick and establishing English and Scottish Protestants in Munster. One of the people he met while in Munster was the English poet Edmund Spenser.

By 1582 he had become one of Elizabeth’s favourites, and he began to acquire monopolies, properties, and influential positions. In 1583 the queen secured him a lease of part of Durham House in the Strand, London, where he had a monopoly of wine licenses, in 1583, and of the export of broadcloth in 1585. In 1585, Raleigh was knighted and he became warden of the Cornish tin mines, lieutenant of Cornwall, and vice admiral of Devon and Cornwall and frequently sat as a member of Parliament.

In 1584, Queen Elizabeth granted Raleigh a royal charter authorising him to explore, colonise and rule any lands that were not under Christian rule, in return for one-fifth of all the gold and silver that might be mined there. This charter specified that Raleigh had seven years in which to establish a settlement, or else lose his right to do so. Instead, he sent others to found the Roanoke Colony, later known as the “Lost Colony”. In 1588, he did help

In 1591, Raleigh was secretly married to Elizabeth “Bess” Throckmorton. She was one of the Queen’s ladies-in-waiting, 11 years his junior, and was pregnant at the time. She gave birth to a son, believed to be named Damerei, but he died in October 1592 of plague. The following year, the unauthorised marriage was discovered and the Queen ordered Raleigh to be imprisoned and Bess dismissed from court. Both were imprisoned in the Tower of London in June 1592. He was released from prison in August 1592 to manage a recently returned expedition and attack on the Spanish coast. The fleet was recalled by the Queen, but not before it captured an incredibly rich prize off a merchant ship. He was sent back to the Tower, but by early 1593 had been released and become a member of Parliament. It was several years before Raleigh returned to favour, and he travelled extensively in this time. Walter and Elizabeth had two more sons, Walter (known as Wat) and Carew.

Raleigh himself never visited North America, although he led expeditions in 1595 and 1617 to the Orinoco River basin in South America in search of the golden city of El Dorado. In 1596, Raleigh took part in the Capture of Cadiz, where he was wounded. He also served as the rear admiral of the Islands Voyage to the Azores in 1597. On his return from the Azores, Raleigh faced the major threat of the 3rd Spanish Armada during the autumn of 1597.

Raleigh’s aggressive policies toward Spain did not recommend him to the pacific King James I His enemies worked to bring about his ruin, and in 1603 he and others were accused of plotting to dethrone the king and was consigned to the Tower. In 1616 he was released but not pardoned. With the king’s permission, he financed and led a second expedition to Venezuela , promising to open a gold mine without offending Spain. Raleigh’s son Walter died in the action. King James invoked the suspended sentence of 1603, and he remained imprisoned in the Tower until 1616. In 1617, Raleigh was pardoned by the King and granted permission to conduct a second expedition to Venezuela in search of El Dorado. During the expedition, a detachment of Raleigh’s men under the command of his long-time friend Lawrence Keymis attacked the Spanish outpost of Santo Tomé de Guayana on the Orinoco River, in violation of peace treaties with Spain, and against Raleigh’s orders. A condition of Raleigh’s pardon was avoidance of any hostility against Spanish colonies or shipping. On Raleigh’s return to England,Count Gondomar, the Spanish ambassador, demanded that Raleigh’s death sentence be reinstated by King James, who had little choice but to do so. On October 29, 1618, Sir Walter Raleigh was executed.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walter_Raleigh
http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/raleigh_walter.shtml
https://www.biography.com/people/walter-raleigh-9450901
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Walter-Raleigh-English-explorer

Biography: Sir Francis Walsingham

220px-Sir_Francis_Walsingham_by_John_De_Critz_the_Elder(Born around 1532- Died April 6, 1590)
Son of William Walsingham and Joyce Denny.
Married to Anne Barne and Ursula St. Barbe.
Father of Frances Devereux, Countess of Essex and Mary Walsingham.
Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s “Spy Master” and was one of her primary secretaries. It was Walsingham and his men who discovered the Babington Plot and were able to stop it and protect Elizabeth.

Sir Francis Walsingham was born around 1532 to William Walsingham and his wife Joyce, probably at Foots Cray, near Chislehurst, Kent. His father was a very wealthy lawyer who died in 1534 when Francis was around two years old. After William’s death, Joyce married the courtier Sir John Carey in 1538; Carey’s brother William was the husband of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s elder sister. In 1548 Walsingham enrolled at King’s College, the most Protestant and reformist college of the University of Cambridge, and then in 1552 he was admitted to Gray’s Inn in London to study law. When Mary I became queen after the death of Edward VI, many Protestants fled to the continent, including Walsingham, who continued his law studies at universities in Basel and Padua, where he was elected to the governing body by his fellow students in 1555.

When Mary I died and Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, Walsingham returned to England. In 1559, he was elected to Elizabeth’s first parliament. He would stay a member of parliament throughout the rest of his life. In January 1562, Walsingham married Anne Barne, daughter of Sir George Barne, Lord Mayor of London in 1552–3, and widow of wine merchant Alexander Carleill. She would died two years later leaving her son Christopher Carleill in Walsingham’s care. In 1566, Walsingham married Ursula St. Barbe, widow of Sir Richard Worsley, and became in possession of her estates of Appuldurcombe and Carisbrooke Priory on the Isle of Wight. In 1567, Ursula gave birth to the couple’s first daughter Frances.

Walsingham became active in soliciting support for the Huguenots in France and developed a friendly and close working relationship with Nicholas Throckmorton, his predecessor as MP and a former ambassador to France. By 1569, Walsingham was working with William Cecil to counteract plots against Elizabeth. He was instrumental in the collapse of the Ridolfi plot, which hoped to replace Elizabeth with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.He is credited with writing propaganda decrying a conspiratorial marriage between Mary and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk,and Roberto di Ridolfi, after whom the plot was named, was interrogated at Walsingham’s house.

In 1570, the Queen chose Walsingham to support the Huguenots in their negotiations with Charles IX of France. Later that year, he succeeded Sir Henry Norris as English ambassador in Paris.One of his duties was to continue negotiations for a marriage between Elizabeth and Charles IX’s younger brother Henry, Duke of Anjou, but this failed because of religion. A substitute match with the next youngest brother, Francis, Duke of Alençon, was proposed but Walsingham did not like him and Elizabeth was considerably older than the Duke. Walsingham believed that it would serve England better to seek a military alliance with France against Spanish interest and the defensive Treaty of Blois was concluded between France and England in 1572.

The Huguenots and other European Protestant interests supported the revolt in the Spanish Netherlands, which were provinces of Habsburg Spain. When Catholic opposition to this course in France resulted in the death of Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, Walsingham’s house in Paris became a temporary sanctuary for Protestant refugees, including Philip Sidney. Ursula, who was pregnant, escaped to England with their four-year-old daughter. She gave birth to a second girl, Mary, in January 1573 while Walsingham was still in France.He returned to England in April 1573, having established himself as a competent official whom the Queen and Cecil could trust.

In the December following his return, Walsingham was appointed to the Privy Council of England and was made joint principal secretary, or “Secretary of State” with Sir Thomas Smith. Smith retired in 1576, leaving Walsingham in effective control of the privy seal, though he was not formally invested as Lord Privy Seal. He was knighted on 1 December 1577 and was appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Garter from April 22, 1578 until succeeded by Sir Amias Paulet in June 1587. Walsingham’s younger daughter Mary died aged seven in July 1580; his elder daughter, Frances, married Sir Philip Sidney on September 21, 1583, despite the Queen’s initial objections to the match earlier in the year.

Walsingham assembled a far-flung network of spies and news gatherers in France, Scotland, the Low Countries, Spain, Italy, and even Turkey and North Africa. Using prison informants and double agents whose services he secured through bribery, threats, and subtle psychological gambits, he worked to penetrate English Catholic circles at home and abroad, particularly among Mary’s friends and agents in Scotland and France.

A spy in the French embassy in London—who has plausibly been identified as Giordano Bruno, a lapsed Dominican friar who would later achieve renown as a freethinking philosopher of the Italian Renaissance—alerted Walsingham to a correspondence with Mary that was being routed through the embassy. The plot was broken with the arrest of the chief go-between, Francis Throckmorton, in November 1583. In his possession were incriminating documents, including a map of invasion ports and a list of Catholic supporters in England. Under torture, Throckmorton revealed a plan for the invasion of England by Spanish and French troops in concert with a rising by Mary’s followers. The Spanish ambassador was expelled and diplomatic contacts with Spain severed.

The Act for the Surety of the Queen’s Person, passed by Parliament in March 1585, set up a legal process for trying any claimant to the throne implicated in plots against the Queen. The following month Mary, Queen of Scots, was placed in the strict custody of a friend of Walsingham. At Christmas, she was moved to a moated manor house at Chartley. In July 1586, Anthony Babington wrote to Mary about an impending plot to free her and kill Elizabeth.Mary’s reply was clearly encouraging and sanctioned Babington’s plans. Walsingham had Babington and his associates rounded up and fourteen of Babington’s men were executed in September 1586. In October, Mary was put on trial under the Act for the Surety of the Queen’s Person in front of 36 commissioners, including Walsingham.

Walsingham made arrangements for Mary’s execution; Elizabeth signed the warrant on 1 February 1587 and entrusted it to William Davison, who had been appointed as junior Secretary of State in late September 1586. Davison passed the warrant to Cecil and a privy council convened by Cecil without Elizabeth’s knowledge agreed to carry out the sentence as soon as was practical. Within a week, Mary was beheaded.On hearing of the execution, Elizabeth claimed not to have sanctioned the action and that she had not meant Davison to part with the warrant. Davison was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Davison was eventually released in October 1588, on the orders of Cecil and Walsingham.

Walsingham also helped prepare for the inevitable war with Spain. He helped to hide the preparations for Sir Francis Drake’s surprise raid on Cádiz Harbour in April 1587 by feeding a deliberately false report about Drake’s plans to the English ambassador in Paris, who Walsingham had correctly guessed was with the Spanish. Walsingham’s countless spies provided detailed reports of Spanish preparations for the sailing of the Armada against England in July 1588. It was Walsingham and his spy network that helped prepare England for the Armada attack.

Walsingham was a very sick man, starting in the early 1570’s and yet he served his country extremely well. There are many speculations on what Walsingham’s illness was, anywhere from testicular cancer to kidney stones, diabetes to an urinary infection. Francis Walsingham died on April 6, 1590. He was buried at the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was burned during the Great Fire of 1666 and now a plaque marking where his grave was remains.
Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Francis_Walsingham
https://www.britannica.com/biography/Francis-Walsingham
http://www.elizabethan-era.org.uk/sir-francis-walsingham.htm

Biography: William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley

240px-William_Cecil,_1st_Baron_Burghley_from_NPG_(2)(Born September 13, 1520- Died August 4, 1598)
Son of Sir Richard Cecil and Jane Heckington.
Married to Mary Cheke and Mildred Cooke.
Father of Thomas Cecil, 1st Earl of Exeter, Frances Cecil, Anne Cecil, Countess of Oxford, Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury, and Elizabeth Cecil-Wentworth.
William Cecil was one of Elizabeth I’s closest advisors who was by her side during some of the most difficult decisions during her reign.

William Cecil was born on September 13, 1520 in Bourne, Lincolnshire, to Sir Richard Cecil, the owner of Burghley Castle, and his wife Jane Heckington. William was the couple’s only son and he was put to school first at Grantham and then at Stamford. In May 1535, at the age of fourteen, he went up to St John’s College, Cambridge, where he was brought into contact with the top tutors of the time, Roger Ascham and John Cheke, and acquired an unusual knowledge of Greek. He also acquired the affections of Cheke’s sister, Mary, and was in 1541 removed by his father to Gray’s Inn, without, after six years’ residence at Cambridge, having taken a degree. Four months later, Cecil married Mary Cheke.

The only child of this marriage, Thomas, the future earl of Exeter, was born in May 1542, and in February 1543, Mary Cheke died. Cecil would marry again three years later, on December 21, 1546, to Mildred Cooke, who ranked among Lady Jane Grey and Elizabeth I as one of the most learned ladies in all of England. Mildred’s sister Anne was the wife of Sir Nicholas Bacon and the mother of Sir Francis Bacon.

In 1542, for defending royal policy, Cecil was rewarded by Henry VIII with a place in the Court of Common Pleas, which was a court of five members of the king’s council that heard the pleas of the people. A year later, in 1543, he first entered Parliament, but but his name does not show up on parliamentary records until 1547, when he was elected for the family borough of Stamford. Earlier in 1547, he had accompanied Protector Somerset( Edward Seymour) on his Pinkie campaign, being one of the two “judges of the Marshalsea,” i.e. in the courts-martial; the other judge was William Patten.

In 1548, Cecil became a private secretary for Edward Seymour, the Lord Protector, as well as work as a clerk at the court of requests, that was set up to hear poor men’s complaints. In 1549, Somerset experienced his first fall from power and Cecil was sent to the Tower of London for a brief time. Three months later, Cecil was able to ingratiate himself with John Dudley, earl of Warwick and he was released from prison. On September 5, 1550 Cecil was sworn in as one of King Edward’s two secretaries of state and in April 1551, Cecil became chancellor of the Order of the Garter.

During this time, Edward VI was extremely ill. To protect the Protestant government from the accession of a Catholic queen, Warwick forced King Edward’s lawyers to create an instrument setting aside the Third Succession Act on June 15, 1553, which barred both Elizabeth and Mary, from the throne, in favour of Lady Jane Grey. Cecil resisted for a while, but at Edward’s royal command he signed it. Cecil was not a huge fan of this idea and when Warwick marched against Mary Tudor, Cecil decided to switch sides and join Mary’s cause. Mary did not punish Cecil for his earlier support of Lady Jane Grey and Mary debated keeping him on as her Secretary of State. Cecil declined the offer because of his Protestant beliefs. Unlike other Protestants, Cecil stayed in England, but he did do some minor tasks for Mary and helped escort Cardinal Pole to England. He was elected to Parliament as knight of the shire for Lincolnshire probably in 1553 , 1555 and 1559 and for Northamptonshire in 1563. Cecil did oppose one of Mary’s policies in 1555 that was a bill that proposed to strip the Protestant exiles of their property.

Cecil was able to meet with Elizabeth starting in 1550 when he became Surveyor of her properties. During Mary’s reign, Cecil would visit Elizabeth in secret and he was one of the first to flock to Elizabeth in Hatfield in November 1558. The day after Mary’s death was the day of Elizabeth’s accession and Cecil was already working hard to establish good relationships with European leaders for Elizabeth. Elizabeth decided to make Cecil her Secretary of State, which was a wise choice. It is said that “No prince in Europe had such a counsellor as she [Elizabeth] had of him[Cecil].”( Somerset, 64).

His first major diplomatic achievement was to persuade a reluctant queen to intervene in Scotland and conclude the Treaty of Edinburgh (1560), which removed French forces from Scotland. His gift for compromise facilitated the church settlement in 1559; his financial sense, the recoinage in 1561. Elizabeth’s flirtation with Robert Dudley, however, weakened Cecil’s position. Despite threats of resignation and opposition to Robert Dudley, Cecil retained Elizabeth’s trust and was rewarded with the lucrative mastership of the Court of Wards in 1561.

Decision on the succession was necessary to settle policies. While Cecil wanted to thwart Dudley, he sympathized with Protestant efforts in Parliament to make Elizabeth marry. He resisted Mary Stuart’s claims to succeed but recommended the Habsburg suitor, the Archduke Charles. Dudley, capturing the initiative, backed an ill-fated expedition to France to aid the Huguenots, which ended in the Treaty of Troyes, became a councillor, and in 1564 became earl of Leicester. On the defensive, Cecil restored the balance by introducing Thomas Howard, 4th duke of Norfolk, into the council.Cecil was in favor of having Robert Dudley marry Mary Queen of Scots to unite England and Scotland, but the marriage did not happen as Mary married Lord Darnley in 1565.

Mary Stuart’s flight to England in 1568 embarrassed Cecil; although it opened diplomatic opportunities in Scotland, it led to Norfolk’s plan to marry the widowed queen of Scots. Norfolk opposed Cecil over Mary’s fate, over secret aid to the Huguenots, and over policy toward Spain. Resenting the threat of the Duke of Alba’s Spanish army in the Netherlands, Cecil nearly precipitated war in December 1568 by instigating the seizure of ships carrying bullion to Alba, who retaliated by closing Antwerp to English trade. Leicester joined Norfolk, and they prepared to oust Cecil; but they faltered before the Queen’s support for her secretary.

On February 25, 1571 Cecil was raised to the peerage as Baron Burghley of Burghley; the fact that he continued to act as secretary after his elevation illustrates the growing importance of that office, which under his son became a secretaryship of state.Meanwhile, the papal bull of 1570, deposing Elizabeth, confirmed Cecil in his defense of the Elizabethan church. The intrigue called the Ridolfi Plot, a planned Spanish invasion of England to put Mary Stuart on the throne, led to Norfolk’s execution in 1572. Cecil’s rebuff to Spain was underlined by the Treaty of Blois with France in 1572. Neither French influence in the Netherlands nor the St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre deterred Cecil from the French alliance; but he also soothed Spain, and the embargo on trade with Antwerp was lifted. In Scotland he settled the regency; but he failed to persuade the Scots to try to depose their queen, who remained a focus of Catholic intrigue in her English prison.

In the 1570s Leicester, supported by Francis Walsingham, who became a secretary in 1573, courted Puritan support; agitated for aid to William of Orange, Protestant leader of the rebels in the Netherlands; and favoured negotiations with France. Cecil restraining the French and trying to avoid open commitment to the rebels, pursued a policy that, in advocating nominal Spanish dominion over the Netherlands that was enjoying its traditional liberties, ignored Philip II’s obvious intentions. Cecil failed to reach a settlement in 1576 and finally joined Leicester in urging Elizabeth to act on behalf of Orange. Rather than fight openly, Elizabeth tried to utilize French influence in the Netherlands by marriage negotiations with the Duke of Anjou.

The assassination of William of Orange in 1584 and the knowledge of a planned French landing at Arundel led Cecil to take measures to protect the Queen’s life and to incline toward war against Spain. His hesitation over the costs of war and trying to explore peace options, created ill will with Leicester. But by 1585 Cecil supported Leicester’s expedition to the Netherlands and Sir Francis Drake’s voyage to the Caribbean. In 1586, on Walsingham’s revelation of the Babington plot Cecil pressed to ensure the trial of Mary Stuart and her execution in 1587. His initiative put him in disgrace with Elizabeth.

Under the growing threat of the Spanish Armada in 1587, Cecil discussed matters with Parma, courted Henry of Navarre and James VI of Scotland, and kept a sharp eye on the Irish and English Catholics. His diplomatic, military, naval, and financial preparations proved just adequate in 1588 to defeat the Armada. These were his strengths that made Cecil such a strong Secretary of State for Elizabeth I. William Cecil died at his home on August 4, 1598, leaving his son Robert to become Elizabeth’s principal advisor.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Cecil,_1st_Baron_Burghley
http://www.luminarium.org/encyclopedia/burghley.htm
https://www.britannica.com/biography/William-Cecil-1st-Baron-Burghley
Somerset, Anne. Elizabeth I. New York: St. Martins Press, 1992.

Biography: Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester

220px-Robert_Dudley_Leicester(Born June 24, 1532- Died September 4, 1588)
Son of John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and Jane Guildford
Married to Amy Robsart and Lettice Knollys. (He did have a mistress named Douglas Sheffield).
Father of Sir Robert Dudley and Robert Dudley, Lord Denbigh.
Robert Dudley was known as one of Elizabeth I’s favorites at court. He tried to convince Elizabeth for 20 years to marry him, but it failed.

Robert Dudley was born on June 24, 1532 to John Dudley, 1st Duke of Northumberland and his wife Jane Guildford. Robert was the fifth child out of thirteen. Robert was tutored by John Dee, Thomas Wilson, and Roger Ascham and was taught how to be a courtier in the courts of Henry VIII and Edward VI. Robert had a certain knack for foreign languages and writing. In 1549, he participated in ending the Kett’s Rebellion, and this is where it is alleged that he met his first wife Amy Robsart, the daughter and heiress of Sir John Robsart, a gentleman farmer from Norfolk. The couple was married on June 4, 1550 in the presence of King Edward VI at Sheen Palace. It is believed that this marriage was a love match, but the couple depended heavily on the gifts from John Dudley, since he was the de facto ruler of England from 1550 until 1553 because Edward VI was very ill.

On July 6, 1553, King Edward VI died. Edward decided to not listen to his father’s Act of Succession and removed Mary and Elizabeth from the line of succession in order to place his cousin Lady Jane Grey on the throne. Lady Jane Grey was married to John Dudley’s son Guilford Dudley. John Dudley raised an army for Lady Jane Grey to face off against Mary to prevent her from becoming queen, but it failed and Jane’s reign ended on July 19th. Robert Dudley was put in the Tower of London and condemned to death, just like his brothers and his father, who were executed. Robert Dudley was in the Tower the same time that Elizabeth was imprisoned there for her alleged involvement in the Wyatt Rebellion. In February 1554, Guildford Dudley was executed and in the autumn, the surviving brothers, Robert and Ambrose, were released from prison. Later that year, Ambrose and Robert were welcomed to participate at a tournament to celebrate Anglo-Spanish friendship.

In 1557, Robert and Amy were able to allowed to repossess some of their former lands, and in March of the same year Dudley was at Calais where he was chosen to deliver personally to Queen Mary the happy news of Philip’s return to England. Ambrose, Robert, and Henry Dudley, the youngest brother, fought for Philip II at the Battle of St. Quentin in August 1557 where Henry Dudley was killed. During the first parliament of 1558, Mary I restored Robert Dudley and his siblings titles and they were able to return to court. Mary I would die on November 17, 1558.

On November 18, 1558, Robert Dudley was there to witness Elizabeth’s accession. He was at Hatfield to see Elizabeth receive the Great Seal and the same day, he was created Master of the Horse the same day. The Master of the Horse was a very prestigious position that required much personal attendance on the Queen, as well as organizing her public appearances, progresses, and her personal entertainment. This was a title that suited Robert very well and because he did a great job at this position, Elizabeth lavished titles and honors on him. In April 1559, Robert Dudley was made a Knight of the Garter. Elizabeth spent a lot of time with Dudley and the rumors began to spread that the two were lovers. There were even threats on Dudley’s life and rumors that Elizabeth had a child by Dudley.

Elizabeth would not let Dudley leave her side at court. They acted very much like a married couple. However, there was another person in the middle of this relationship between Elizabeth and her favorite and that was Dudley’s wife Amy Robsart. On September 8, 1560, Amy was found at the bottom of a staircase at Cumnor Place near Oxford with her neck broken. Many speculated that Dudley had his wife killed in order to marry the queen or that she committed suicide, but recent research has shown that it was probably an accident.

In 1561, Dudley wanted to get away and seek military adventures abroad, but Elizabeth would not let him leave. In 1562 when Elizabeth fell ill with smallpox, she said that if she was to die, she wanted Dudley to become Protector of the Realm; Elizabeth did recover so Dudley never became the Protector, but he did become a privy councilor. Dudley still wanted to be involved in foreign affairs and he did get his chance, but probably not the way he wanted. In 1563, Elizabeth offered Dudley as a suitor for Mary Queen of Scots. Both Dudley and Mary Queen of Scots were not convinced about Elizabeth’s sincerity so she decided to make Dudley more appealing to Mary. Elizabeth made Dudley the Earl of Leicester in 1564. Dudley soon realized that his chances for marrying Elizabeth were dwindling fast, but he was still hopeful that she would chose to marry him.

In July 1575, Dudley staged an elaborate 19- day festival that was meant to be his last proposal for the queen’s hand, but it failed. It was in 1569 when Dudley began his affair with Douglas Sheffield, who was a young widow from the Howard family. Dudley refused to marry her, but the couple did have a child in 1574 named Robert Dudley, named after his father.

Dudley would marry again to Lettice Knollys. Lettice Knollys was the wife of Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, and first cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth on her mother’s side. Leicester had flirted with her in the summer of 1565, causing an outbreak of jealousy in the Queen. After Lord Essex went to Ireland in 1573, they possibly became lovers. In July 1576 Essex returned to Ireland, where he died of dysentery in September.

On September 21, 1578, Dudley secretly married Lettice Knollys. He did not dare to tell the Queen of his marriage; nine months later Dudley’s enemies at court acquainted her with the situation, causing a furious outburst. Dudley’s hope of an heir was fulfilled in 1581 when another Robert Dudley, styled Lord Denbigh, was born.The child died aged three in 1584, leaving his parents devastated. Dudley was a concerned parent to his four stepchildren,and in every respect worked for the advancement of Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, whom he regarded as his political heir.

Elizabeth never accepted the marriage. She never could forgive Lettice Knollys and banished her from court. Dudley was able to return to his queen’s side at court. In 1585, Dudley was made commander of the English forces in the Netherlands. The Netherlands were revolting against the rule of Philip II, and the English were helping the Dutch in their campaign. Robert stayed in the Netherlands until 1587, although he did return to England during the Mary Queen of Scots crisis of 1586- 1587, and was present in England when Mary was executed. English involvement in the Netherlands was not particularly successful, and when he did return permanently, he received a lot of criticism for his actions there. Although Elizabeth herself had not always been pleased by what he had done, she would not hear a word said against his efforts there.

In 1588, when the Spanish sent their fleet against England , Dudley was put in charge of the land army, and he organized Elizabeth’s famous visit to Tilbury. However, by now he was not a well man, probably suffering from stomach cancer, and his days were numbered. Following the defeat of the Armada, he travelled to Buxton to try and take the healing waters there, but he never made it. He died at his house in Oxfordshire on September 4, 1588. Elizabeth deeply grieved over the death of one of her favorites at court and a close friend.

Sources:
http://www.elizabethi.org/contents/queensmen/robertdudley.htm
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Robert_Dudley,_1st_Earl_of_Leicester
https://allthingsrobertdudley.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/robert-dudley-earl-of-leicester4.pdf

Biography: Queen Elizabeth I

220px-Elizabeth_I_in_coronation_robes(Born September 7, 1533- Died March 24, 1603)
Daughter of King Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn.
Sister to King Edward VI and Queen Mary I
Elizabeth was known as the “Virgin Queen” because she never married and she never had a child. Elizabeth was one of the greatest rulers in English history.

Elizabeth I was born on September 7, 1533 to Henry VIII and his second wife Anne Boleyn at Greenwich Palace. At birth, Elizabeth was declared heir presumptive to the throne of England. Her older half-sister, Mary, had lost her position as a legitimate heir when Henry annulled his marriage to Mary’s mother, Catherine of Aragon, to marry Anne, with the intent to sire a male heir and ensure the Tudor succession. However, things didn’t go as planned. Anne never was able to give birth to the desired son that Henry wanted. Anne would later be accused of adultery and treason. On May 19, 1536, Anne Boleyn was executed; Elizabeth was two years old at the time and she was declared illegitimate, just like her step-sister Mary.

Henry VIII married Jane Seymour shortly after Anne Boleyn’s execution. Jane gave birth to Elizabeth’s step-brother Edward, but died shortly afterward. Elizabeth’s father would marry three more times; Anne of Cleves who was divorced; Katherine Howard who was beheaded; and finally Katherine Parr. During this time, Elizabeth met Catherine “Kat” Ashley who was appointed Elizabeth’s governess in 1537 and remained with Elizabeth until her death in 1565. William Grindal became her tutor in 1544 and after his death in 1548, Roger Ascham became Elizabeth’s tutor. Elizabeth received a very good education and she loved to learn. Elizabeth’s life was somewhat normal at this point, but life was about to change drastically.

Henry VIII died on January 28, 1547, when Elizabeth was 13, leaving the throne to his nine year old son Edward VI. Before Henry VIII died, he reinstated his daughters to the line of succession so after Edward VI, Mary would become queen and then Elizabeth. Shortly after Henry VIII’s death, his last wife Katherine Parr married Thomas Seymour, the brother of Jane Seymour and Edward Seymour, Edward VI’s Lord Protector. Elizabeth moved in with Katherine Parr and Thomas Seymour at their home in Chelsea where, it is alleged, Thomas Seymour would act inappropriately towards Elizabeth, including bursting into her bedroom while she was barely dress, slap her on the bottom, and one time, shred Elizabeth’s dress. In May 1548, Elizabeth was dismissed from Katherine’s household; Katherine Parr died from childbirth on September 5, 1548 which allowed Thomas to pursue Elizabeth as his wife, but it failed. Thomas was accused of trying to kidnap Edward VI, charged with treason and executed on March 20, 1549. Elizabeth was interrogated during the investigation into Thomas, but she never admitted anything about the nature of their relationship.

Edward VI would die on July 6, 1553, at the age of 15. Under Henry VIII’s Act of Succession, the crown should have passed onto Mary, however Edward did not like that she was Catholic, so before he died, he issued an act that named his heir as Lady Jane Grey. Lady Jane Grey would only be queen for nine days since Mary brought an army to place her on the throne. On August 3, 1553, Mary rode into London with Elizabeth by her side. On the outside, it looked like Mary and Elizabeth had reconciled, however they were pulling farther apart.

Mary and Elizabeth kept butting heads over religion, Mary being Catholic and Elizabeth being Protestant. Mary’s popularity began to wan with her people when she announced in 1554 that she wanted to marry Philip II of Spain, a devout Catholic. That same year in January and February, a man by the name of Thomas Wyatt staged a rebellion to put Elizabeth on the throne instead of Mary, which failed. Wyatt was beheaded and Elizabeth was interrogated. She was imprisoned in the Tower of London on March 18th; she would later be transferred to Woodstock on May 22nd where she spent a year under house arrest in the custody of Sir Henry Bedingfield.

Elizabeth returned to court on April 17, 1555 to help Mary with the final stages of her pregnancy. However, months passed and it turned out that it was a false pregnancy. As Mary fell ill, Philip II started to consult with Elizabeth on how to run the country, and in October 1558, Elizabeth began to formulate her own court. On November 6, Mary recognized Elizabeth as her heir and on November 17, 1558, Mary I died and Elizabeth I succeeded to the throne.

Elizabeth I became Queen of England at the age of 25. She was crowned in an elaborate ceremony on January 15, 1559, which was cold winter day; Elizabeth would get sick shortly after her coronation, but once she recovered, she made William Cecil, later Baron Burghley, her Chief Minister. Elizabeth had two pressing matters to solve when she first became queen, resolving the matters of religious division in England and who she would marry. With the religious division, she sought to strike a balance, so that even though Protestantism became the national religion, those who wanted to hear the Roman Catholic mass were able to do so in private. Elizabeth became the Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

The other issue that plagued Elizabeth during her reign was who she was going to marry. There were many candidates, foreign and English suitors, but Elizabeth would not commit herself to one man, instead she decided to remain single and considered herself the mother of the English people. The man who probably had the best chance of marrying Elizabeth was Robert Dudley. Dudley was the brother of Guilford Dudley, the husband of Lady Jane Grey. He was married to Amy Robsart, but she died of a fall in 1560 and Dudley was accused of her murder. He was created the Earl of Leicester in 1564. Dudley remarried in 1578 to one of Elizabeth’s Maid of the Privy Chamber, Lettice Knollys. This made Elizabeth angry and she banished Lettice from court. Dudley would die in 1588, shortly after the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Robert Dudley tried for over 20 years to convince Elizabeth to marry him and it resulted in a close friendship, but nothing more.

The other serious contender for the Queen’s hand was Francis, Duke of Anjou, who Elizabeth called her “frog”, heir to the French throne. But again, political considerations made the match ultimately impossible. Other suitors included King Philip II of Spain, King Eric XIV of Sweden, Archduke Charles of Austria, and Henry Duke of Anjou (the duke before Francis). Elizabeth had numerous favorites at her court including Sir Christopher Hatton, Robert Devereux earl of Essex, and Walter Raleigh, just to name a few. The problem was that Elizabeth decided not to marry nor would she declare a successor, even when she contracted smallpox in October 1562 and she thought she might die.

Elizabeth’s refusal to marry or name a successor led to one of the most defining conflicts of Elizabeth’s reign. Catholics viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate and had no right to the throne. To them, Mary Queen of Scots, Elizabeth’s cousin, had a better claim to the throne. Mary was the granddaughter of Henry VIII’s sister Margaret. Elizabeth was persuaded to send a force into Scotland to aid the Protestant rebels, and though the campaign was inept, the resulting Treaty of Edinburgh of July 1560 removed the French threat in the north.When Mary returned to Scotland in 1561 a to take up the reins of power, the country had an established Protestant church and was run by a council of Protestant nobles supported by Elizabeth. Mary refused to ratify the treaty which denied Mary the right to succeed to the English throne.

In 1563 Elizabeth proposed her own suitor, Robert Dudley, as a husband for Mary, without asking either of the two people concerned. Both proved unenthusiastic, and in 1565 Mary married Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, who carried his own claim to the English throne. The marriage was the first of a series of errors of judgement by Mary that handed the victory to the Scottish Protestants and to Elizabeth. Darnley quickly became unpopular and was murdered in February 1567 by conspirators almost certainly led by James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell. On May 15, 1567, Mary married Bothwell, arousing suspicions that she had been in on the murder of Lord Darnley. This lead to Mary’s fall from grace and she was held captive starting in July 1567.

Forced to flee her own country, having abdicated her throne in favour of her infant son, James, Mary landed in England in May 1568, seeking Elizabeth’s help in restoring her to her kingdom. Because the matter of Darnley’s death was unresolved, Elizabeth placed Mary in prison for around 20 years. Of course, this angered the Catholics who saw Mary as the figurehead of their cause, so there were plots and plans to get Mary out of prison and place her on the throne instead of Mary. The largest plot was the Babington Plot of the summer of 1586, which laid out plans for Elizabeth’s execution and Spain’s invasion of England. Since Mary knew of the plans, she was tried and found guilty of treason. Elizabeth was very reluctant to sign the death warrant, but eventually she did. Mary Queen of Scots was executed on February 8, 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle; her son James VI was declared Elizabeth’s heir to the throne.

Another huge challenge for Elizabeth was her relationship with Spain and her former brother-in-law, Philip II. With the discovery of the new world and the age of exploration in full force, piracy was becoming more popular. In 1572, Sir Francis Drake decided to plunder Spanish ships in Central and South America. In 1577, Drake was introduced to Elizabeth and she unofficially encouraged his activities against the Spanish. In December 1577, Drake travelled around the world plundering Spanish ships; he returned to England in September 1580 as a national hero and in April 1581, he was knighted.

By 1588, Elizabeth and Philip were considered enemies. Philip had spoken of invading England and dethroning Elizabeth for years, but the execution of the Queen of Scots gave him an added incentive. In July 1587, Philip received a treaty from the pope that gave his approval on the conquest of England. Now he could claim the English throne for himself and dethrone Elizabeth to restore England to Catholicism. In 1587, Drake was able to lead a successful raid against Cadiz, which delayed the Spanish Armada from invading by a year. In the summer of 1588 he sent his mighty Armada fleet against England. But by superior tactics, ship design, and sheer good fortune, the English defeated them. This was one of Elizabeth’s biggest achievements and made Elizabeth extremely popular in England.

In Ireland, there was a revolt against the English, led by Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone. In spring 1599, Elizabeth sent Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to put the revolt down. To her frustration,he made little progress, even though he begged to go there, and returned to England in defiance of her orders. He was replaced by Charles Blount, Lord Mountjoy, who took three years to defeat the rebels. Essex thought that when he returned to England, he would be treated like a hero, but he was treated with contempt. This made Essex upset and in February 1601, the earl tried to raise a rebellion in London. He intended to seize the queen but few rallied to his support, and he was beheaded on February 25, 1601.

After Essex’s death, Elizabeth’s health began to deteriorate. She would die at the age on 69 on March 24, 1603 at Richmond Palace. Elizabeth was interred in Westminster Abbey, in a tomb shared with her half-sister, Mary I.

Sources:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elizabeth_I_of_England#Mary,_Queen_of_Scots
http://www.elizabethi.org/contents/biography/
https://www.biography.com/people/queen-elizabeth-i-9286133
Ashley, Michael. A Brief History of British Kings & Queens. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press, 2008.

Book Review: “The Life of Elizabeth I” by Alison Weir

111222Elizabeth I was perhaps the most influential monarch in English history. There are episodes in her life that became legendary. From her tumultuous childhood to her reign where everyone either wanted her to marry or put someone else on the throne, Elizabeth’s life was hardly easy. Even though much is known about her public life as queen, we really do not know a lot about her private life. In Alison Weir’s book, “The Life of Elizabeth I”, the gap between the public Elizabeth and the private Elizabeth is bridged in order to give a more complete biography of this fascinating English queen.

Alison Weir explains what Elizabeth had gone through in her early life and how it shaped her as a queen:

When she came to the throne her subjects knew relatively little about her. Nurtured in a hard school, having suffered adversity and uncertainty from her infancy, and having gone in danger of her life on at least two occasions, she had learned to keep her own counsel, hide her feelings and live by her wits. Already, she was a mistress of the arts of deception, dissimulation, prevarication and circumvention, all admired attributes of a true Renaissance ruler. At twenty-five years old, she was at last in control of her destiny, and having lived in one kind of constraint or another for the whole of her existence so far, she was determined to preserve her independence and autonomy. She had learned from her sister’s mistakes and resolved never to repeat them. She would identify herself with her people and worked for their common interests. She would bring peace and stability to her troubled kingdom. She would nurture it, as a loving mother nurtures a child. For this, she believed, God had preserved her life. (Weir, 9-10)

Weir begins her book with the coronation of Elizabeth, touching briefly on Elizabeth’s childhood and how she got to the throne. She explains the England that Elizabeth knew and how right after she was crowned, her people desired for the queen to have a husband and to know what religion she would adopt for her own and for her country. Although Elizabeth liked to have quite a few favorites, including Robert Dudley and Francis Duke of Anjou, she never gave her heart solely to one man. Instead she chose to be the mother of her country and to be married to the job of protecting her people. Elizabeth not only had to keep her people happy but she had to deal with threats from other countries, including King Philip II of Spain and his Armada, the  St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre of the Huguenots in France, and the religious feuds in the Netherlands. One of her biggest external threats was her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, who claimed that she should be Queen of England. Elizabeth eventually had to make the decision to execute another queen, very similar to the decision her father had to make when he had Elizabeth’s mother executed a few decades before.

Elizabeth also had to deal with internal threats such as favorites, especially  Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, becoming jealous of others in court and throwing fits. There were those who would dare to marry without the Queen’s permission and had their own children. In these instances, Elizabeth’s anger would come out in full force. She didn’t trust many people and tended to keep her feelings to herself. To the outside world, she was “Gloriana” or “The Virgin Queen”, but to those who truly knew her, she was just Elizabeth, a woman who became queen and who was just trying to survive for herself and her country.

Elizabeth I has always been my favorite Tudor monarch. Her story was the one that really got me interested in the Tudors and this book made me fascinated with her all over again. Alison Weir was able to yet again combine her engaging writing style with amazing details to tell the full story of the reign of Elizabeth I, from her coronation at age of 25 to her death at the age of 69, and how she changed England for the better. I loved reading this book. There was so much information about Elizabeth that I didn’t know about in this book, it was like discovering a whole new side to a person I thought I knew very well. If you want to learn more about Elizabeth I, the woman behind the legend, and her impact on England and the 16th century world, I highly recommend you read this book, “The Life of Elizabeth I” by Alison Weir. An absolutely fascinating read on one of England’s most remarkable rulers.  

Book Review: “The Elizabethans” by A.N. Wilson

When we think of Elizabethan England, we often think of it as the “Golden Age” of 51BiwhXsK0L._SX316_BO1,204,203,200_learning and discoveries. While that is true, like any age, there were good elements and bad elements. We tend to overlook the bad elements with Elizabeth’s “Golden Age” and move on to the good elements. However, we cannot get a full image of the age if we only look at the good elements. That is why A.N. Wilson wrote the book “The Elizabethans”:

 

In this book I hope we shall be basking together in wholehearted appreciation of all of  this[the good elements]; but it is no longer possible to do so without a recognition of the Difficulty- hence my title for the opening chapter. The Difficulty is really a moral one: things which they, the Elizabethans, regarded as a cause for pride, we- the great majority of educated, liberal Western opinion- consider shameful. Things of which they boasted, we deplore.( Wilson, 2).

 

So what was the Difficulty that Wilson was mentioning? To Wilson, that is the issue of Ireland and the “New World” and how the English dealt with the native peoples of these new colonies. These were constant problems in this age that would affect how future generations would view the men and women who made Elizabethan England great. Of course there were the deaths of Mary Queen of Scots and Robert Devereux, the 2nd Earl of Essex, that would affect Elizabeth greatly.

 

Now that we got the bad elements out of the way, let’s dive into what made it good, the “Golden Age”. Wilson decided to break down his book into sections which corresponds with the different decades of the reign of Elizabeth I. Each different decade had elements that made it difficult like the Northern Rebellion, St. Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, Mary Queen of Scots, and of course the Spanish Armada. What made this era known as the “Golden Age” were the people who took those difficult moments and made the best of the situation. Men like Sir Francis Drake, Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Philip Sidney, Shakespeare and Spenser. Of course there were also men like  Richard Hakluyt, Robert Dudley, Robert Devereux and John Hawkins, who made the Elizabethan age a bit more interesting.

 

“The Elizabethans” by A.N. Wilson is the story of the age, both the good and the bad. And of course it is the story of Elizabeth and how she herself handled all the changes that were happening in her lifetime. Wilson wrote this book in such a way that it grabs your attention for the age and gives you a better understanding on what it meant to be someone who lived in Elizabethan England. I would highly suggest this book for anyone who wants a great resource into this “Golden Age” of Elizabethan England and the men and women who made this arguably one of  the most complex and interesting times in English history. This is a must read for anyone who has any interests in Elizabeth, the England she ruled, and the effects that it had on the rest of the world not only in her generation, but for generations to follow.

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.