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



Fe that would follow It sets up his thesis that all the spying torturing and killing that took place to keep Elizabeth safe was both necessary and proper He nds with the ueen dying in her bed and James IV of Scotland soon to be James I of England ready to accept the crown He was the son of her cousin Mary ueen of Scots sent to the block by Elizabeth in 1567 The peaceful succession was uietly arranged during Elizabeth s last illness by Robert Cecil son of William Cecil and the new spymaster of the realm Note on the kindle dition it is necessary to use the Kindle Cloud app to actually see the illustrations As is always the case the kindle device is too small to render drawings and images of 16th century text legibly For some reason I randomly became obsessed with Elizabethan spycraft in the last week so of course I had to read this And for the most part this book had what I wanted There is an insane level of detail here many many documents get referenced I also liked how the author xplained all of the broader concepts at work as well for those of us who don t know off the top of our head the politics of Philip s Spanish court Yes there is an obvious bias but it s so mundane that it didn t really affect my reading Alford may be in love with Phelippes just saying But anyway I think this book gave a very comprehensive overview of the state of Canadian Art, Volume 1 (A-F) espionage in Elizabethan England as well as a pretty good idea of what the political climate was like It would probably be a great source that leads to MANY great sources but I really did read it for fun And I do have to say that Alford makes his subject very accessible so that reading it wasn t a chore and was actuallynjoyableMy only slight annoyance was how much he would focus on one particular person and then completely forget them later on If you re going to give me someone s life story you have to finish it Other than that there is very little to complain about here This is a gossipy romp through Elizabethan spying The best part of the book is in the very beginning when the author describes a scenario where Elizabeth is assassinated and what might have happened as a result This is the terror the government lived with The fear that her spymasters felt becomes palpable and as a result I had a very good sense of why they acted as they did The book needs Counter-Amores editing It s redundant in many places repeating information about individuals plots and basic history I am fine if say information is repeated from one chapter to the next but not from page to page or within the same chapter This is my main gripe with the book because of all the sins for an author to commit wasting my time is the absolute worst Rereading the same tidbits over and over again makes me stabbyIt reads as if it s cobbled together from lectures This isn t necessarily a bad thing but to a minister s daughter who grew up with sermons delivered with the slightly dramatic cadence of a university lecture it was as if my father were reading the book to me I doubt that s going to be an issue for most readers but it was definitely odd In reality I d give this book 35 stars I d subtract one for the redundancies and one half for the somewhat haphazard organizatio. Ollow Her Majesty's agents through the streets of London and Rome and into the dank cells of the Tower We see the world as they saw itver unsure who could be trusted or when the fatal knock on their own door might come The Watchers is a riveting xploration of loyalty faith betrayal and deception with the highest possible stakes in a world poised between the Middle Ages and moderni.

This review also appears on The Mad ReviewerFull disclosure Bloomsbury sent me a free print copy in xchange for an honest review of this bookI don t read nearly as much nonfiction as I would like so The Watchers was both a refreshing change from YA novels and a great book in its own right For someone who knows a decent amount about the Tudors and Medieval England I was shocked at how big of a role spying played back then It wasn t just basic spying Double Jeopardy either it was sophisticated and at times incredibly complicated Stephen Alford has documented the lives of some of the main players in the spy game from the talented to the incompetent theccentric to the boringAlthough Alford s writing can get a bit choppy here and there as he jumps from spy to spy he does tie things up well at the Composition and Literature end of the chapters and at the verynd of the book Despite the head hopping the writing style itself was very Cezanne and Provence engaging for a nonfiction writer and made The Watchers farnjoyableTo illustrate his point that spying was very important in Tudor England he had a very lengthy introduction imagining a scenario in which spies did not Dark Voices exist and Elizabeth I really had been assassinated I would have liked for the introduction to be cut down slightly but Alford certainly did make his point wellOne thing I really liked about The Watchers is that Alford isn t telling a completely one sided story of the struggle of Protestants to protect their ueen fromvil Catholics We get to see how the Protestant agents felt about their missions but also get to see things from the point of view of Catholic xiles it s rare to find such balanced nonfiction these days but Alford managed it The political triumphs of courtiers like Lord Burghley are balanced by accounts of the terrible torture captured Catholics faced Alford does not depict a picture of a Golden Age as most books about Elizabethan England seem to and we get to see that the ugly side of the Golden Age was uite ugly at times It s nice to find a realistic portrayal of the timesOverall The Watchers is a great book for both newcomers to history and old hats at it Personally I m looking forward to any future books Stephen Alford publishesI give this book 455 stars rounded up to 5 stars for the purpose of Goodreads ratings Elizabeth I reigned for a total of 45 years in England and the stability she gave as head of state gave us the Golden Age of wealth and greater self assurance as a nation The final Tudor monarch saw a cultural advances too this being the time of Shakespeare and military confidence on the high seas However the Europeans saw her very differently as daughter of Anne Boylen Henry VIII s second wife she was considered a bastard and Protestant heretic by catholic Europe Following her denouncement by the Pope various European rulers prepared plans to dispose her replacing her with Mary The vent that most people are aware of is the almost invasion by The Spanish Armada but throughout her reign she was protected by a team of loyal subjectsThese men were a motley bunch of ambassadors codebreakers and confidence men and spies who used all sort of covert and overt methods to counter the catholic threat Infiltrators were sent to the continen. In a Europe aflame with wars of religion and dynastic conflicts Elizabeth I came to the throne of a realm ncircled by menace To the great Catholic powers of France and Spain England was a heretic pariah state a canker to be cut away for the health of the greater body of Christendom Elizabeth's government defending God's true Church of England and its leader the ueen could stop at no.

T to ingratiate themselves with the church uncovering conspiracies both real and imagined identified and followed gentlemen who were plotting the overthrow of their ueen The network tracked priests ntering the country under cover intercepted and deciphered almost all correspondence between suspects in England and their contacts in France Spain and Italy and neutered the threat that hung over the crownDrawing on documents from archive and collections Alford shines a light into this dark and shadowy time of history The narrative details tense searches across the countryside looking for specific people who were perceived to be a threat to the crown Traitors who were convicted sometimes only on hearsay and confessions uttered under torture on the rack were condemned in horrific ways to die It is an interesting account of those involved in keeping their monarch safe from all the assassination attempts and plots but at times was fairly complicated as he details all the people involved in these plots Worth reading though for those that like their Tudor history The Watchers gives us a very different view of Elizabethan England than we or at least I are used to Instead of Shakespeare Marlowe Ben Jonson and the university wits there is the constant threat of invasion and the first stirrings of a centralized police state Elizabeth is not the Gloriana of Spenser s Faerie ueen but a headstrong monarch who put her kingdom at risk by refusing to name a successor While the arts flourished voyages of discovery sent out and Creating Country Music everyone went to the theaterxcept when they were closed by the plague there were undercurrents of treachery perfidy and treason The ueen might be assassinated Phillip of Spain s armies might Blacklands embark from the Low Countries and cross the narrow sea to land on English beaches and the horror of religious civil war could be imminent Mary ueen of Scots and cousin of Elizabeth would be freed from house arrest to rule as a Catholic monarch None of this happened Stephen Alford does his best to show that it was due to the machinations of two men William Cecil and Francis Walsingham the ueen s spymasters directors of the watchers of the title and themployers of spies turncoats and torturers Alford knows the sources has a firm sense of narrative and tells the story wellThree actions had to occur for the plot to succeed The ueen had to die preferably at the hand of a man claiming to be a loyal Englishman and devout Catholic Elizabeth had already been condemned as a heretic schismatic and bastard Mary her cousin had to be proclaimed the new ueen soon to marry a Catholic monarch from the continent Evolutionary Patterns either Phillip of Spain or the Duke of Guise of France and the army of a Catholic country had to invade while Catholic nobles from the north of England and Scotland raised a rebellion The plots were constant and Alford shows how Cecil and Walsingham s spies in France and Italy kept track of them while their operatives in the ports kept watch for seditious literature produced by the migr community and for priests trying to sneak into the country Alford begins with a counterfactual account of a successful assassination plot against the ueen in 1566 with the chaos and stri. Thing to defend itselfHeaded by the brilliantnigmatic and widely feared Sir Francis Walsingham the Elizabethan state deployed Evolution As Entropy every dark art spies double agents cryptography and torture Delving deeply into sixteenth century archives Stephen Alford offers a groundbreaking chillingly vivid depiction of Elizabethanspionage literally recovering it from the shadows In his company we

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Stephen Alford FRHistS born 1970 is a British historian and academic He has been professor of early modern British history at the University of Leeds since 2012 Educated at the University of St Andrews he was formerly a British Academy Post doctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge 1997–99 and junior research fellow of Fitzwilliam College Cambridge and between 1999 and 2012