12 February 2013

Tuesday's Review: The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I by Stephen Alford


In The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I Stephen Alford presents a book that satisfies both the history buff in me and the side of me that loves mystery and intrigue. Although political intrigue is not a new phenomenon, Tudor England, in particular, the Elizabethan era, had it in spades. The setting of the book is a time when religion was less about worshiping God, and more about power and the riches and control of the world that went with that power. This is no romanticized version of the paranoia and intrigue that surrounded the governments of the day. It is a excellent detailing of the methods and lengths that governments would go to protect themselves in a time when the stakes were the highest and turmoil was the norm. 

Alford begins the book with a look at what history might have been like if one of the supposed assassination plots against Elizabeth had succeeded. With this alternate look at history, he immediately throws the reading into the feelings of fear and conspiracy that were rampant at the time. And who could blame the Court for these feelings? In the few years after the death of Henry VIII, England had switched from Anglican  to more austere Prostestanism, back to Catholicism, and then back to Protestantism. Also in this time, a pretender to the throne, Lady Jane Grey, had been beheaded, and two monarchs, Edward and Mary, had died without an heir, and the Catholic Church had Mary Queen of Scots waiting in the wings. 

Enter into this miasma two of the most cunning men in Elizabeth's court, Sir Francis Walsingham and William Cecil, both trusted advisers to Elizabeth and men who would stop at nothing to protect their Queen. It is Walsingham in particular that is adept picking men that he cold "turn" to spying. Alford's research and discussion of the many men and varied methods used by Cecil and Walsingham to protect the Queen is well researched and presented in a manner that is easily followed by those interested in and familiar with Elizabeth and her court. He leaves nothing out, detailing the dealings of many of the eras most prolific spies and double agents and the various plots against the Queen. I was particularly fascinated by his discussion of the Throckmorten Plot and the attempts to place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. 

The one drawback to this book, as to all non-fiction history books is that the detailed information can be a bit overwhelming to the casual reader. On the other hand, if you are a fan of anything Elizabethan, this book will not disappoint. 

I am thankful to Bloomsbury Publishing and Netgalley for giving me the chance to read this book for an honest review.