Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Spy Network of Elizabeth I

Two new books are reviewed. To quote:
A “loyal Catholic” was a contradiction in terms. Since the queen had been excommunicated by Pope Pius V’s bull Regnans in excelsis in 1570—which, incidentally, prompts the surprising reflection that England remained technically a Catholic country for the first twelve years of her reign—her Catholic subjects had been released from obedience to her or her laws. (John Cooper, however, remarks that the bull was not widely publicized in England and suggests that “most English Catholics never saw a copy.”) Many priests and laity worked actively to overthrow and replace her, first by Mary Queen of Scots, then, after the latter’s execution for treason in 1587—an act which was forced upon a reluctant Elizabeth by her ministers, who had effectively rigged the case against her royal cousin—by King Philip of Spain. Alford’s book tells the stories of many plotters on both sides: some, like John Somerville, minor figures, others among the great of the land. Intriguing though these stories are, they give the work an episodic feel; it lacks the narrative drive of Cooper’s biography of Walsingham (which Alford seems not to know). Where they cover the same ground, Cooper is usually clearer and more perceptive. (Read entire post.)


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