UNDER THE MOLEHILL: An Elizabethan Spy Story

John Bossy, Author . Yale Univ. $25 (208p) ISBN 978-0-300-08400-9

This sequel to Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair, which plotted the course of espionage in Salisbury House (the French embassy in London) in the 1580s, sniffs out a mole in the house. Someone was leaking letters, including potentially incriminating correspondence between the ambassador and Mary, Queen of Scots, to England's spymaster (officially, secretary of state), Francis Walsingham. The letters revealed alarmingly rapid progress in plans for a marriage between the Duke of Anjou, once a suitor of Elizabeth's, and a Spanish princess, which threatened to bring a closing of Catholic ranks against Elizabethan England. Mary herself suspected the existence of a mole. This individual would also be instrumental in uncovering the "treachery" of Francis Throckmorton, a young Catholic gentleman who had compiled—for the benefit of the Spanish—a list of those who might be expected to support a Spanish invasion. But who was this insider whose significance to England's future in this turbulent time, Bossy argues, was very real? Was it Claude de Courcelles, the ambassador's secretary, who had been orchestrating contacts with a variety of Catholic sympathizers? Courcelles appears to have been devout in his faith, but he was also melancholic, frustrated and ambitious. Or was it the clerk, Laurent Feron, who lived suspiciously close to one of Walsingham's agents? Since France had not confirmed its allegiance either to Spain or to England, what was the role of its ambassador in London? Bossy, professor emeritus of history at the University of York, explores the intricate web of possibilities with the single-minded focus of a chess player, reflecting like Poirot on the difficulties of detective work. While intriguing to Anglophiles, the game requires strict concentration from the reader—proof, if any were needed, of the cryptic sophistication of Elizabethan secret intelligence. Illus. (May)

Reviewed on: 04/30/2001
Release date: 05/01/2001
Genre: Nonfiction
Paperback - 208 pages - 978-0-300-09450-3
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