The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England

John Cooper, Author
John Cooper. Pegasus, $27.95 (392p) ISBN 978-1-60598-410-0
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British historian Cooper’s biography of Elizabethan spymaster Francis Walsingham is as thrilling and suspenseful as any modern spy novel. Plumbing both primary and secondary sources, Cooper deftly sets Walsingham’s life and accomplishments in their historical context, from his birth in the 1530s to his death in 1590. It was a life that spanned one of the more turbulent periods in English history: during the Tudor era, England moved away from the Roman Catholic Church to establish a separate Church of England, with the monarch as its head. Elizabeth’s reign was a time of great insecurity for her and for her government, which had to contend with external threats, as well as the efforts of those working from within to depose Elizabeth in favor of Mary Stuart, the Catholic claimant to the throne. Knowledge was power in Elizabethan England, and Walsingham obtained both with promises of “patronage and profit” for informants. Cooper, an Oxford-trained historian at the University of York, paints a sympathetic portrait of the spymaster, who built up an efficient and effective espionage network out of a “web of relationships.” This engaging narrative makes it clear how much England’s transformation into a nation-state during the 16th century had to do with Walsingham’s intelligence operations. (Feb.)
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