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The enthralling story of the dark side of Elizabethan rule - its spies, secret agents and informers - from Stephen Alford, dubbed the John le Carré of Tudor history
SUNDAY TIMES BOOKS OF THE YEAR 2012
Elizabeth I was a ruler who radiated a sense of power and purpose. Her long and successful reign was a Golden Age of wealth, confidence, creativity, Shakespeare's plays and Walter Raleigh's adventures: the apotheosis of the Tudor dynasty.
Across much of Europe, however, Elizabeth was viewed very differently. She was 'Jezebel', the bastard offspring of Henry VIII's illegal second marriage, a woman and a Protestant heretic. The pope denounced her as a heretic schismatic tyrant and the most powerful rulers of Europe conspired to destroy her, their plans most fully realized by the Spanish Armada. If Elizabeth's reign was a golden age, then it was also a precarious one that required constant, anxious surveillance against sometimes overwhelming threats.
The Watchers is a beautifully written, gripping account of the unflagging battle by spies, codebreakers, ambassadors and confidence-men to protect the queen. It was a reign that required endless watchfulness - of the coasts, of the Catholic seminaries, of Elizabeth's own subjects. The stakes could not have been higher: priests coming secretly ashore were hunted down and executed, and assassination plots, real and imagined, sprung up everywhere. Drawing on extraordinary secret files, Stephen Alford brings to life this shadow world, where nobody could be trusted and where a single mistake could have changed England's history drastically. This is a dark, surprising and utterly compelling account of an extraordinary reign.
'Forget Le Carré, Deighton and the rest - this is more enthralling than any modern spy fiction' Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph
'Fascinating ... If you want to know the inside story of this struggle, the dark heart of calculation and the fight for survival, then this is the book to read. I know no better' Alan Judd, Spectator
'Alford paints a vivid and staggeringly well-researched portrait of the sinister side of Elizabethan England ... This is a spectacular book. It sheds new light on plots that most historians have ceased to explore and brings less famous conspiracies to the attention of the general reading public' Herald
'An enthralling account of the murky shadow-world of Elizabethan espionage' Helen Castor, Times Higher Education
'Splendid ... a riveting study of the spies, informers and code-breakers who kept the Virgin Queen safe from Catholic conspiracies during an era that was much more paranoid than we remember' Sunday Times, Books of the Year 2012
'Absorbing and closely documented ... Alford vividly evokes this murky world of codes, ciphers, invisible ink, intercepted letters, aliases, disguises, forgeries and instructions to burn after reading ... flowing narrative [and] crisp judments ... engrossing' Keith Thomas, Guardian
'Stephen Alford has written a gripping account of these cruel and dramatic events, proving that the survival of Protestant England was purchased at a very high price indeed' Sunday Express
'Stephen Alford's gripping new book tells the story of [the Elizabethan] years through the eyes of the men he calls watchers ... Alford brings these men, their worlds and the unfortunate victims of their espionage vividly out of the shadows ... [Alford] has brought a dash of le Carré to the 16th century' Dan Jones, The Times Book of the Week
'Alford sets the scene perfectly ..., putting the reader in the mindset of the Virgin Queen's paranoid ministers ... a fascinating cast of characters ... engaging and perfectly pitched narrative ... Alford weaves together the bewilderingly complex threads of plots and counterplots so skilfully that as a reader you are never left floundering' Tracy Borman, BBC History Magazine
About the author:
Stephen Alford is the author of the acclaimed biography Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He taught for fifteen years at Cambridge University, where he was a Senior Lecturer in the Faculty of History and a Fellow of King's College. He is now Professor of Early Modern British History in the University of Leeds.
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