Book Review – ‘Raleigh: Tudor Adventurer’ by Tony Riches


Thanks to Tony Riches and Preseli Press for a copy of this book to review.

I enjoyed this book about a man I didn’t really know a lot about. I knew that he’d travelled to the New World, written ‘A History of the World’ and been imprisoned in the Tower of London twice, once for marrying one of the queen’s ladies. But those are the popular things, so it was intriguing to read his story in a fictional sense, and get a sense of the man, though obviously fiction has to be taken with a pinch of salt to allow for some historical licence.

The book is obviously well-researched and doesn’t fall into some of the myths and legends surrounding Raleigh, like the fact that he laid his cloak over a puddle, so Elizabeth I didn’t get her feet wet. I kept waiting for that to come up and it didn’t, which demonstrated to me that Riches was taking his subject and research seriously.

The story mixes time at court with Elizabeth I, Francis Walsingham, Robert Cecil, and Robert Devereux Earl of Essex, with a life of travelling to the New World and the Azores, and then the comfortable home life with his wife and children. The book, being part of the Elizabethan trilogy, only really takes us up to the death of Elizabeth I in 1603, so doesn’t cover Raleigh’s second imprisonment in the Tower writing ‘The History of the World’, or his *spoiler* execution. It would have been interesting to see how Riches tackled this, but maybe for another time as he obviously can’t include everything, or the book would be a mile long!

The sense I got was that Riches wanted to portray some of the lesser-known aspects of Raleigh’s life, and how each decision he made impacted others. For example, his adventuring always seemed to be to the detriment of his family after his marriage. He was drawn to the court and the queen but at the same time wanted to keep away from the intriguing after his first spell in the Tower. Raleigh seems to have been a man who wanted so many things at once, but couldn’t seem to grasp them all.

I haven’t read any complete trilogies by Tony Riches at this point, just odd books, but I have really enjoyed the ones I’ve read and look forward to investing in the others in the future.

Book Review – ‘The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I’ by Stephen Alford


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.

Chapters:

Part One – Spying Out the Land

  1. Ten Days in November
  2. The Lion’s Mouth
  3. English Roman Lives
  4. ‘Judas his parts’
  5. Paris and London
  6. Hunting Edmund Campion
  7. Out of the Shadows

Part Two – Enemies of the State

  1. ‘Sundry wicked plots and means’
  2. The Secret Lives of William Parry
  3. ‘The enemy sleeps not’
  4. ‘A very unadvised enterprise’
  5. Dangerous Fruits
  6. Alias Cornelys
  7. Sleights of Hand
  8. Framing the Labyrinth

Part Three – Politics and Money

  1. An Axe and an Armada
  2. ‘Good and painful long services’
  3. Platforms and Passports
  4. The Fall and Rise of Thomas Phelippes
  5. Politics and Prognostications
  6. Ends and Beginnings
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