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

Who Was … William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley?


William Cecil is best known as Secretary of State to Elizabeth I, as well as Lord High Treasurer and Lord Privy Seal. He also served Edward VI as Secretary of State and then moved to look after Princess Elizabeth’s properties before she became Queen. Cecil’s role in the execution of Mary Queen of Scots is also questionable, and he was blamed in part by Elizabeth for it. He was responsible for the building of Burghley House and Theobalds.

Name: William Cecil

Title/s: 1st Baron Cecil of Burghley

Birth: 13 September 1520 in Bourne, Lincolnshire, England

Death: 4 August 1598 at Cecil House, London, England

Buried: St Martin’s Church, Stamford, Lincolnshire, England

Spouse: Mary Cheke ?-1543 & Mildred Cooke 1526-1589

Children: Thomas Cecil, Earl of Exeter 1542-1623 / Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury 1563-1612 / Anne de Vere, Countess of Oxford 1556-1588 / Francisca Cecil / William Cecil 1559 / William Cecil 1561 / Elizabeth Wentworth 1564-1583

Parents: Richard Cecil c.1495-1553 & Jane Heckington ?-1587

Siblings: Agnes White c.1527-? / Margaret Cave 1523-1553 / Elizabeth Wingfield c.1525-1611

Noble Connections: William Cecil was Secretary of State to both Edward VI and Elizabeth I. He was also Elizabeth I’s closest advisor for most of her reign. He also initially supported the reign of Lady Jane Grey in 1553. He is the founder of the Cecil dynasty which has produced 2 prime ministers including the 3rd Marquis of Salisbury.

Continue reading “Who Was … William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley?”

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”

Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir


Alison Weir 'The Marriage Game' (2014)
Alison Weir ‘The Marriage Game’ (2014)

Alison Weir, The Marriage Game (London: Hutchinson, 2014) 432 pages, Hardback, ISBN 978-0-0919-26250

Genre/s: = Historical / Drama / Romance

Setting: = London, Kenilworth and Hatfield (England)

Characters: = Elizabeth I of England / Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester / Mary, Queen of Scots / Lettice Dudley, Countess of Leicester / Katherine Knollys / Kat Astley / William Cecil, Baron Burghley / Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex / Christopher Hatton / Sir Francis Drake / Sir Walter Raleigh / Francis Walsingham Continue reading “Book Review – ‘The Marriage Game’ by Alison Weir”

Potted History of Tudor Homes


Bradgate House = Bradgate House is now a ruin, but it was home to the Grey family, descended from the first son of Elizabeth Woodville by her first husband. Lady Jane Grey and her sisters, Katherine and Mary, grew up here. The Grey family lived here for two hundred year until 1739, but a newer house, also in ruins, now stands nearby to the original ruins. More of the Tudor chapel and tower stand now than of the house itself.

Burghley House was the home of William Cecil, advisor to Elizabeth I
Burghley House was the home of William Cecil, advisor to Elizabeth I

Burghley House = Burghley House was built by William Cecil, Lord Burghley. He was the most trusted councillor of Elizabeth I, and very focused on trying to catch Mary Queen of Scots in conducting treason. Burghley’s changes to the house took from 1555 to 1587, but little of the Tudor inside now remains. Burghley House is the only one of Cecil’s many properties still standing today, though it has been much changed. Continue reading “Potted History of Tudor Homes”

Potted History of Prominent Tudor Families


Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.
Katherine Howard miniature by Hans Holbein.

Howards

The Howards were one of the oldest families. They were the family who had the Dukedom of Norfolk. Anne of York, the daughter of Edward IV and Elizabeth Woodville, married into the Howard family. Well-known descendents included Anne Boleyn (second wife of Henry VIII) and Katherine Howard (fifth wife of Henry VIII). Mary Howard married Henry Fitzroy, illegitimate son of Henry VIII and Duke of Richmond and Somerset. It was probably their ambitions that brought them down in the end.

Seymours

Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.
Jane Seymour by Hans Holbein c.1536.

The Seymour family were pretty obscure until Henry VIII fell in love with Jane Seymour, who later became his third wife after the execution of his second, Anne Boleyn. Their triumph was short-lived. Jane’s only child became Edward VI, but he had no children. Jane’s two brothers, Edward and Thomas, were both executed in the reign of their nephew, Edward VI. Edward Seymour had been Lord Protector, until he was overthrown by John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland. Thomas Seymour tried to get control of Edward VI and was killed for it. Continue reading “Potted History of Prominent Tudor Families”