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.