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

In a Europe aflame with wars of religion and dynastic conflicts, Elizabeth I came to the throne of a realm encircled 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 queen, could stop at nothing to defend itself. Headed by the brilliant, enigmatic, and widely feared Sir Francis Walsingham, the Elizabethan state deployed every dark art: spies, double agents, cryptography, and torture. Delving deeply into sixteenth-century archives, Stephen Alford offers a groundbreaking, chillingly vivid depiction of Elizabethan espionage, literally recovering it from the shadows. In his company we follow 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 it-ever unsure who could be trusted or when the fatal knock on their own door might come. The Watchers is a riveting exploration of loyalty, faith, betrayal, and deception with the highest possible stakes, in a world poised between the Middle Ages and modernity.

In a Europe aflame with wars of religion and dynastic conflicts, Elizabeth I came to the throne of a realm encircled 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 queen, could stop at nothing to defend itself. Headed by the brilliant, enigmatic, and widely feared Sir Francis Walsingham, the Elizabethan state deployed every dark art: spies, double agents, cryptography, and torture. Delving deeply into sixteenth-century archives, Stephen Alford offers a groundbreaking, chillingly vivid depiction of Elizabethan espionage, literally recovering it from the shadows. In his company we follow 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 it-ever unsure who could be trusted or when the fatal knock on their own door might come. The Watchers is a riveting exploration of loyalty, faith, betrayal, and deception with the highest possible stakes, in a world poised between the Middle Ages and modernity.

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About the Author-
  • Stephen Alford is a fellow in history at King's College, Cambridge, and the author of the acclaimed Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I, The Early Elizabethan Polity: William Cecil and the British Succession Crisis, 1558-1569, and Kingship and Politics in the Reign of Edward VI. He writes for the Times Literary Supplement and other periodicals.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    Starred review from July 2, 2012
    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.

  • Kirkus

    September 15, 2012
    Alford (History/Cambridge Univ.; Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I, 2008, etc.) is an expert on all things Elizabethan, and his intimate knowledge of the queen's ministers and the period's political history guarantees the accuracy and thoroughness of this rip-roaring story. The religious makeup of 16th-century England had bounced from Protestant to Catholic and back again with each succeeding offspring of Henry VIII. Her country's future relied upon Elizabeth's strength. The lack of a successor and England's isolation and defenselessness produced obsessive vigilance on the part of Lord High Treasurer William Cecil (Baron Burghley) and Principal Secretary Francis Walsingham. As the author notes, the more obsessive the vigilance, the greater the danger perceived. That there was a real threat in the 1580s is without doubt. Philip II of Spain, Mary Queen of Scots, exiled Catholics and priests in France all worked unceasingly to usurp, overthrow or murder Elizabeth. Mary, first cousin to the queen, had the strongest claim to the succession. Her Catholic supporters in France plotted unceasingly during her two-decade imprisonment. The threat from Philip took some years to materialize, but England's interference in the struggle of the Low Countries against Spanish rule pushed him to join the Pope's Great Enterprise against Elizabeth. The third threat, posed by priests trained at the English seminary in France, was more insidious. Over the course of 40 years, Elizabeth's hounds identified nearly 500 priests active in England; 116 of those met the gruesome fate of being hanged or drawn and quartered. Tracing the devious machinations of rebels and intelligence agents alike, Alford makes brilliant use of the intercepted letters, illegal publications and incendiary pamphlets found in the Elizabethan archives. A great spy novel--except that it's all true.

    COPYRIGHT(2012) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2012

    Literature regarding Elizabethan espionage often focuses a very bright spotlight on the riveting figure of Queen Elizabeth's "spymaster," Sir Francis Walsingham. However, Alford (history, Kings Coll., Univ. of Cambridge; Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I), who already has several Tudor histories under his belt, has given readers a more holistic view of the intelligence-gathering personnel and processes employed by the Elizabethan state in its understandable, yet merciless, quest for security. Weaving together the stories of conspirators such as Francis Throckmorton, well known to today's readers on the subject, with those of far less documented agents such as Charles Sledd, Alford has written an exhilarating and well-researched history. He has also produced a thought-provoking volume that may lead the reader to ponder the dangerous interplay of national defense and repression. VERDICT This title should appeal to those interested in the roots of modern espionage, the government of Elizabeth I, Tudor history, or European political/religious history. Even readers more familiar with the key players in the dramatic Elizabethan security apparatus may enjoy this refreshing take on the subject.--Tessa Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston

    Copyright 2012 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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