Click here to read reviewer Dave Roy's take on Elizabeth's Spymaster.
Robert Hutchinson has a wonderful way of telling the history of Tudor England, flowing and keeping the reader enthralled in the events of this tumultuous time in English history - tumultuous in the sense that one did not exactly know what the Tudor monarchs woud do and whose head was bound to be cut off or, worse, who was going to be hung, drawn and quartered. It was a nasty time for those who opposed the Tudors.
This particular book by Robert Hutchinson is about Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster - or rather one of her secretaries of state responsible for foreign affairs and for safeguarding the state and the queen from overthrow by outside forces (or from inside “traitors”). To Sir Francis Walsingham fell this thankless job. Many times his queen raged and threatened instead of praising or awarding him. A staunch Protestant of the Puritan variety, he wanted to protect his queen but also Protestant England from being overthrown by Catholics.
Walsingham helped to create many Catholic martyrs, many of whom were later beatified and canonized. He was in charge of capturing and convicting English priests and their foreign counterparts who came to England to minister to the Catholics in England and convert Protestants. These priests and their many helpers worked as secretly as possible given the existence of spies and traitors. Hutchinson describes to some gruesome degree what happened to such priests or those who aided them.
One of Walsingham’s major targets was Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic and heir apparent to Elizabeth on the English throne. Walsingham worked long hours to catch her in her machinations to assassinate or to overthrow Elizabeth in her quest to become Queen of England and return Catholicism to the empire. Walsingham achieved his goal by finally intercepting some of Queen Mary’s letters and forging others. His biggest problem was Elizabeth’s reluctance to execute her, but eventually she gave in and ordered the execution. Elizabeth later regretted the decision and blamed Walsingham for tricking her into having Mary executed.
One of the major foreign attempts to remove Elizabeth and return England to Catholicism was the Spanish Armada. Hutchinson writes about how Walsingham used his network of international spies and informants to learn the whereabouts of the Armada and when it was going to sail. He was able to prevent the Armada from attacking sooner than it did by working with the English Navy to raid the Spanish fleet. In the end, though the Armada set sail, it was defeated by the English and by nature.
Francis Walsingham was not a healthy man. He suffered from various illnesses when he served Queen Elizabeth and spent long days and nights poring over many documents and reports. He paid for information out of his own pocket many times due to Elizabeth’s frugality and lack of funds, ultimately dying in debt in 1590. He was buried quietly in old St. Paul’s Cathedral in London.
Elizabeth's Spymaster is exciting history. Hutchinson provides several color portraits and illustrations in the centerfold, quotes from many primary sources, and supplies many endnotes. Along with a bibliography and an index, he also provides a section on the main characters in Walsingham’s spy ring with short bios. The dust jacket features an image of Queen Elizabeth; behind her is Walsingham.
Hutchinson is the author of The Last Days of Henry VIII (2005), Thomas Cromwell (2009), and The House of Treason (2009). Elizabeth's Spymaster is highly recommended to those interested in Tudor English history, Catholic Church history in England, or in spies.