Thank you to Avon Books for sending me a copy of this for review.
I really enjoyed this book, and it was interesting to see the spying in the Elizabethan court from a fictional point of view, having read a lot of nonfiction about it recently for my own book. It’s quite a complex subject and period of time but Clare Marchant deals with it in a sympathetic and concise manner, keeping the story moving along.
The Babington Plot was a pivotal moment in the history of Elizabethan and Tudor England, because it led directly to the execution of an anointed monarch, Mary Queen of Scots, although the book doesn’t cover the execution itself. We see the background to the plot through the eyes of a deaf and mute apothecary’s assistant, Tom Lutton, who is pulled into the dark world of Francis Walsingham and back-street spying and conspiracy.
In the end he pays a high price for his involvement, but this is contrasted with the parallel story of one of Lutton’s descendants in 2021, Mathilde and Rachel. I’m never entirely sure about a book written both in the present and in the past, having had bad experiences with parallel narratives before. However, this was startlingly clear, and the two parts worked really well together.
Mathilde, Rachel, Fleur, and Oliver, all added something to the narrative of the past, even though they are characters based in the present. The way they explored the triptych and the history behind it added more depth to Tom’s story in his chapters, and the ending tied everything together really nicely, making it feel like a completed whole.
An excellent fictional exploration of a complex period in English history, with characters that make you want to read on and find out how their stories end. I was completely gripped.
For those who don’t know, I am writing my first book to be published by Pen and Sword History, on Elizabethan Rebellions.
When I first started writing this book I was intending to write at least fortnightly updates on my blog, but the time has just overtaken me! If you follow me on social media, you’ll probably have seen some updates, but I have been struggling to write anything at the moment aside from my book, hence the lack of posts on this blog.
I am over halfway through the writing, having written 50,000 words. I like to edit as I go along so my process is to write a couple of thousand words and then edit what I’ve written. The manuscript deadline is January 2022 to get it to the publisher.
I’ve had some problems with sourcing images, however. Wikimedia Commons was suggested as a way to get images that are in the public domain. However, images on Wikimedia Commons are only public domain in the US, the rules for the UK are less obvious, described as ‘inconclusive’.[i] Rather than risk any copyright infringement I have looked into images under the Creative Commons License.[ii] It’s interesting because there are images that I maybe wouldn’t have looked at, but are quite intriguing – I’m using the Wellcome Collection at the moment to source images.[iii]
Understanding Elizabethan Rebellions takes quite a bit of brain power I’ve learnt. There is so much plotting and conspiracy that people get confused and the exact order of what happened. There is also a lot of missing evidence or propaganda replacing the real story.
It has been a real eye-opener working on this book and now I have all kinds of ideas running through my head for things I’d like to write in the future.
This was a very intriguing read largely regarding the secret network of spies and informants built up around Elizabeth I, with William Cecil, Baron Burghley, Sir Francis Walsingham, and Sir Robert Cecil at its heart. It explores in detail the Throckmorton Plot of 1583 and the Babington Plot of 1586 where the use of spies and ciphers really came into their own.
It was well-written and clearly a lot of research had been done, much of which I hadn’t read about before. However, I felt that in places it also seemed overly complicated, and I couldn’t wrap my head around some of it until I’d read it at least three times. I also had to keep going back to check on the people involved in various plots. There was a lot of jumping about from person to person which I think is sometimes where I got a bit lost, and the writing then lost some of its cohesiveness.
There were detailed endnotes and a comprehensive bibliography, easy to track down the research used. The book plate section in the centre I also felt was well-chosen and linked to what was written about in the text. It was nice to also have some images spread throughout the text when they were particularly appropriate, it made a nice change actually.
There was an interesting introduction of ‘what if’ Elizabeth I had been assassinated after the spy network failed and how this could have influenced English and European history. It illustrated Alford’s point of just how important the Tudor spy network was in keeping monarch and country safe and prosperous.
This was a very helpful book to read for my own writing on Elizabethan Rebellions, but I did have to make a lot of notes and then go back through them to make sure I understood it. Not an easy read, but a very informative one, nonetheless.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Reading it as part of my research for my own book puts a different perspective on it, I’m realising. I focus more on the sections that I myself am writing about rather than the overall work. But Williams writes really clearly and concisely and it’s easy to get pulled into the narrative she’s telling. There are plenty of primary sources discussed throughout, which gives an insider view on what people were thinking and feeling at the time.
The title perhaps is a bit misleading as it suggests that Mary Queen of Scots’s downfall was due entirely to Elizabeth, but that simply wasn’t the case. There were a lot of circumstances that combined to cause Mary’s downfall and execution, not least her own desperation and stupidity. The book does discuss Mary’s mistakes and how she created her own mess.
However, the book as a whole was very cohesive and explored the deep and complicated relationship between the two female monarchs, Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots, which lasted across decades although the two never met in person. It is an intriguing and at times convoluted relationship which does require a lot of explanation at points, especially regarding the rebellions which surrounded Mary and impacted Elizabeth greatly. This does get confusing at points, and I did have to go back reread to make sure I understood what was going on.
Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots come across as women in their own right, not just as queens, who had their own wants, hopes, dreams, thoughts, and feelings. Sometimes historical biographies can treat their subjects as objects rather than living people (or dead people now, but who were living and real, to be more precise). Kate Williams didn’t fall into that trap with her retelling of the relationship between the two.
The book is thoroughly well-researched and cited, and I must thank Kate for her excellent research which has pointed me to several other sources which I can use myself. One of the best and most interesting books about the tumultuous relationship between Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots you’ll ever read.
Thank you to Tony Riches for giving me a copy of this book to review.
I really enjoy Tony Riches’ writing. He has a way of bringing the world of the Tudor court to life that makes these historical figures who lived over 400 years ago seem very real in the present. Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, is an intriguing character with plenty of history. All I really knew about him was the end of his life – the rebellion that resulted in his execution, from my own research. This book opened my eyes to some of the events of his earlier life.
I’ve been researching Elizabethan rebellions, so it was interesting to find out more about this figure who was central to a rebellion in 1601 against Elizabeth I. The story follows him from his childhood, and the death of his father, to his death by execution. It explores scandal, romance, and treason. We really get to see the changeable attitude of the Queen and how fortunes could change on just one roll of the die.
It features a wide range of real historical characters along Essex, like Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, William Cecil Lord Burghley, Robert Cecil, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, Sir Francis Drake, and Sir Philip Sidney. These characters come together to create a richly detailed storyline with plenty going on which keeps the story moving. I was really intrigued by the supporting character of Lettice Knollys, Essex’s mother, who herself was the granddaughter of Mary Boleyn. Her relationships with her children and partners were particularly interesting.
What is particularly interesting for me in this story is to see the development of Essex from a boy who loses his father at a young age and has to step suddenly and unexpectedly into his shoes, to the Queen’s favourite at court, to an attainted rebel who ends on the scaffold. The story is full of ups and downs and makes you want to keep reading.
If you don’t know much about key characters in Tudor history, then I would really recommend reading books by Tony Riches because he introduces them without too much fuss, but with enough detail to bring them to life, and makes you want to find out more about them. I can’t wait to fill in the gaps and read the ones I haven’t read yet.
I really enjoyed this book. I am currently working on my first non-fiction book about Elizabethan Rebellions, so this was a really interesting fictional account of the Babington plot which led to the execution of Mary Queen of Scots the following year. This is the fifth in a series of books revolving around Giordano Bruno.
Giordano Bruno as a character was intriguing and keeps being so throughout each book in the series. He is complex, with different strands like his religious history, academic studies, and his spy and undercover work. Bruno was a real person who was in England spying for Francis Walsingham, although the exact nature of his assignments doesn’t seem to be known, and it look as though he left England in 1585 so couldn’t have been involved in the Babington plot in 1586.
A bit of historical license is OK, and Bruno is such an interesting character that I can imagine he would have been involved in the Babington conspiracy if given the opportunity. The conspiracy was the interesting bit for me and the relationships between those involved in the conspiracy – Babington, Titch, Ballard, and Savage. In historical sources we don’t see these relationships so that was what drew my attention.
Those who know the history will know how it ends and the basics of the progression of the plot, but Parris manages to hold you on the edge of your seat anyway, weaving the real history through with fictional sub-plots which blend in seamlessly to the rest of the story. The reason I didn’t give it five stars is because I found the beginning quite slow and hard going. It didn’t seem necessary to spin it out for so long.
I’ve always enjoyed reading this series because of the interactions between the characters and their involvement in various conspiracies. Whether there will be further books in the series, I don’t know, but there are several unresolved issues, so I really hope so!
It has been a very difficult year for museums, many of which have remained closed, or have only been able to open for a month or two. I was approached by Royal Museums Greenwich about their new upcoming exhibitions. With my anxiety I don’t feel like I can travel at the moment to attend the exhibitions, but I am hoping to get the chance to visit before they close as they both look excellent!
If you want to attend one of the exhibitions, tickets are on sale now at the links below, open from 17 May 2021.
The first exhibition is called ‘Tudors to Windsors’ on royal portraiture from Henry VII to the present day. The second is called ‘Faces of a Queen’ which will bring together the three surviving Armada portraits for the first time.
This was a really interesting book. It’s the first book I’ve read with Francis Walsingham at the centre, though I do also have the biography of Francis Walsingham by Robert Hutchinson. If you’re interested in the secret life of Elizabethan England and how the fairly new idea of a spy network came into being and developed, then this is the book for you.
This book is also very good at discussing Walsingham’s involvement in the downfall and execution of Mary Queen of Scots. There is a huge variety of both primary and secondary sources used, given full credit in the notes and bibliography, which means that it is fairly easy to track the sources down if you want to investigate further. The one thing that I will say is that the primary sources themselves could be discussed more within the text, as I find it useful to see the wider context of the sources and the events they describe.
The index is also quite comprehensive so if you’re looking for something in particular within the book it’s simple to look and find it. There is a good selection of images in a book plate at the centre, with portraits, sketches, maps, paintings, places, and artefacts. These are all clearly captioned as to what they are, but the sources of the images could do with more information otherwise it’s difficult to research them further or verify their antecedents.
It’s the first real book I’ve read in researching my own book, and the section on the Babington plot in particular is fantastic, though I could have done with more detail about the Ridolfi and Throckmorton plots as they aren’t as well described, though perhaps that’s due to lack of sources and information. I’m not sure. The Spanish Armada from an intelligence point of view is also discussed in great detail, which was very interesting, not something that you usually read about the Armada.
This book was very detailed and incredibly interesting. I want to know more about Walsingham now. I didn’t know about his ongoing illness or about his origins. You only really tend to find out about his relationship with Elizabeth and Walsingham and how he saved England in most books about Elizabethan England, so this was really fascinating for me to read.
I’ve been watching a lot of documentaries during lockdown so I thought I’d pull together some of my favourites here – not all Tudor so if you’re looking for something different, look no further!
If there are any that you’ve particularly enjoyed watching, please leave a comment, always looking for new things to watch and learn from!
David Starkey’s ‘Monarchy’
Period: Anglo-Saxons to Queen Victoria
David Starkey explores how the British monarchy has evolved over time, from the patchwork of counties that made up Anglo-Saxon England to how they united under a single king, working through the monarchs right up to Queen Victoria. It focuses less on the monarchs themselves but rather how their actions informed the idea of monarchy.
David Starkey has been involved in some controversy over the last few years with some of his comments hitting the news headlines, so I was a bit wary of including this one on my list, but I don’t think that some of his personal opinions affect the historical research that went into this documentary series. I have this on DVD and have watched it several times, making me interested in aspects of our history that I haven’t been before.
Simon Schama’s ‘A History of Britain’
Period: Stone Age to Modern Day
Simon Schama takes a different approach to our history than David Starkey, looking less at the monarchs and more at the general population and how life changed for them from the Stone Age to the modern day through times that have shaped our history.
I have this on DVD as I thought it looked different to other histories of Britain, and I wanted something definitive to widen my area of interest and my knowledge. This certainly didn’t disappoint. It’s not completely definitive, being unable to cover the entire history of Britain in 15 episodes, but it covers some of the most pivotal moments in our history in detail, drawing extensively on primary source research.
Thank you to Pen and Sword for sending me a review copy of this book.
I really enjoyed reading this book about the life of Elizabeth I. There is a lot of focus on various different events of her reign and how they influenced her character and the way she ruled England. The split is pretty much half based around her queenship and half before her queenship, which is really interesting.
Much of the section on Elizabeth’s queenship focuses on Mary Queen of Scots and the relationship between the pair, as well as looking at how Mary’s actions influenced Elizabeth. Although there are a lot of chapters, they are quite short. Perhaps this isn’t the book for you if you are looking for something incredibly detailed, but it introduces a lot of different events and concepts and how the people and events relate to each other.
One thing that did annoy me and has knocked a star off my rating is that there are a few historical errors in the book. It says that the Duke of Cleves had two daughters, but he actually had three – Anne, Amelia and Sybille. John Dudley is described as the Duke of Warwick but was actually the Earl of Warwick. Warwick and Northumberland are described as being two different people but are actually the same person as the Earl of Warwick became the Duke of Northumberland. Anne Boleyn’s last miscarriage is said to have happened in January 1535, but it actually happened in January 1536, no rumours of anything in January 1535 as far as I know.
Despite these few errors I still enjoyed reading it, and I thought that the writing was clear and concise, and the sources were all documented, with plenty of use of primary sources which are quoted throughout. One of the most enjoyable books I’ve read about Elizabeth I, easy to understand and pulling all the chapters back to how the event discussed in that chapter shaped Elizabeth as a queen and woman was fascinating.
The Birth of a Princess
The Execution of Anne Boleyn
The Birth of Prince Edward
The Second and Third Stepmothers of Lady Elizabeth
The Marriage of Henry VIII and Katherine Parr
The Death of Henry VIII
The Scandal of Thomas Seymour
The Common Book of Prayer & The Prayer Book Rebellion
The Premature Death of Edward VI – The Tudor’s Last King
The Nine Day Queen
The Wyatt Rebellion
The Death of Queen Mary Tudor
The Coronation of Elizabeth I & The Religious Settlement
The Mysterious Death of Amy Robsart
The Return of Mary Queen of Scots from France
The Death of Lord Darnley
The Abdication of Mary Queen of Scots & Her Escape to England