The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I

Stephen Alford. Bloomsbury Press, $35 (416p) ISBN 978-1-60819-009-6
Alford, a fellow in history at Cambridge University, has delved deeply into 16th-century archives to unearth a history of the dark underside to the Elizabethan golden age—a page-turning tale of assassination plots, torture, and espionage. When Elizabeth I ascended to the throne in 1558, Protestants saw her as the rightful heir; Catholics regarded her as the godless Henry VIII’s bastard daughter who had usurped the throne from its legitimate occupant, Mary, Queen of Scots. Thus, throughout Elizabeth’s reign, she was targeted by foes both within and outside the kingdom, from the 471 English priests working to return England to the Church’s fold, to the power-grabbing rulers of France and Spain. A perfect storm of Elizabeth’s childlessness, Europe’s religious wars, and the assassinations of Protestant leaders elsewhere, intensified the anxieties of Elizabeth’s ministers. Her spies thus resorted to deception, interrogation, and even doctoring evidence to destroy both real and perceived threats to the queen’s safety—including Mary Stuart, who was executed for treason in 1587. Her execution “jolted” the Elizabethan world “on its axis.” While the government’s extensive spy network maintained a precarious peace during Elizabeth’s reign, Alford vividly makes the point that its effectiveness actually undermined the monarchy, with repercussions that extended well into the next century. B& illus., maps. Agent: George Lucas, Inkwell. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 07/02/2012
Release date: 11/13/2012
Genre: Nonfiction
Hardcover - 400 pages - 978-1-84614-260-4
Ebook - 400 pages - 978-0-14-193084-8
Open Ebook - 416 pages - 978-1-60819-362-2
Paperback - 397 pages - 978-1-60819-339-4
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