Book Review – ‘Execution’ by S.J. Parris


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!

Book Review – ‘The Queen’s Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I’ by John Cooper


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.

Chapters

  1. Exodus
  2. Massacre at Paris
  3. Armed with Innocence
  4. The English Mission
  5. Security Services
  6. Bonds and Ciphers
  7. Western Planting
  8. Eleventh Hour

Elizabeth I Episode 2 Starring Lily Cole


Episode 2 – The Enemy Within, aired 16.05.2017

Elizabeth I c.1563 Hampden portrait by Steven van der Meulen
Elizabeth I c.1563 Hampden portrait by Steven van der Meulen

Aged 25 Elizabeth is queen but not safe

1559 Elizabeth crowned queen, but her path to power had been a long battle

She had survived but could never drop her guard

War was raging across Europe as Catholics and Protestants tore each other apart – Elizabeth was plunged into the middle of the battle

Elizabeth most powerful protestant monarch surrounded by catholic enemies

 

Privy council believed Elizabeth needed to marry

Elizabeth declared she was already married to England – sounded great, but just words

Queen had a good reason for not wanting to wed – would reduce her power, wanted to be a real queen not queen in name only

Understandable but left a huge problem – who would rule if she suddenly died?

Continue reading “Elizabeth I Episode 2 Starring Lily Cole”

Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory


  1. Bess describes George and herself as newlyweds happy and in love. On page 2, she says, “Only my newly wedded husband is so dotingly fond of me that he is safe under the same roof as such a temptress.” What is it that first makes Bess uneasy about her husband’s feelings towards Queen Mary?

Philippa Gregory's 'The Other Queen' (2008).
Philippa Gregory’s ‘The Other Queen’ (2008).

I think it is the fact that Mary is so unusual and attractive. Bess of Hardwick was unusual but Mary was in a different league. I think it is the time that Shrewsbury spends talking to Mary that makes Bess uneasy. I think she wonders whether Mary is converting her husband to Catholicism and rebellion against the queen, which would threaten her own position. Shrewsbury turns into more than Mary’s captor; he becomes a kind of friend and protector.

  1. Authors often challenge themselves by writing from the point of view of characters of the opposite sex. Do you think Gregory does a convincing job of creating her main male character, George Talbot? Do you think he is more or less realistic than the women in this novel, such as his wife, Bess, or Queens Mary and Elizabeth?

I think George is quite a weak character. Bess comes across more strongly in my opinion. Possibly it is difficult for a modern female to get into the mind-set of a medieval man. I don’t think he is entirely realistic, as I don’t believe that Shrewsbury was, in reality, so easily taken in by Mary, otherwise he would doubtless have been removed as her gaoler. I think Bess and Mary come across the most strongly as the story revolves most obviously around those two. Elizabeth is a background character but you can still sense her presence and influence across the events of the novel. Continue reading “Discussion Questions – ‘The Other Queen’ by Philippa Gregory”