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This month’s pulpit is written by Jeremy Lewis, our editor-at-large. He is currently at work on a biography of David Astor, the former editor of The Observer. Christopher Andrew is Professor of Modern and Contemporary History at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge and the author of Defence of the Realm: The Authorised History of MI5. Roderick Bailey is the author of The Wildest Province, a study of SOE operations in wartime Albania, and is currently completing the official account of SOE’s war against Fascist Italy. Jonathan Barnes is the author of two novels, The Somnambulist and The Domino Men. Tim Blanning’s most recent book, The Romantic Revolution, is published in paperback this month. Frank Brinkley lived in Pakistan from 2006 to 2009. Helen Castor’s latest book is She-Wolves: The Women Who Ruled England before Elizabeth. David Cesarani’s latest book is Major Farran’s Hat: Murder, Scandal and Britain’s War against Jewish Terrorism 1945-1948 (Vintage). Rupert Christiansen writes on the arts for the Daily Telegraph. Clare Clark’s latest novel is Savage Lands. Steven Connor is the academic director of the London Consortium. He is the author of books on subjects such as Dickens, Beckett, skin and flies. His books include Paraphernalia: The Curious Lives of Magical Things. John de Falbe is a novelist and director of John Sandoe Books in Chelsea. Katherine Duncan-Jones's latest book is Shakespeare: Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan. She is currently working on Elizabethan foolery. Patricia Duncker’s latest novel is The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge. Juliet Gardiner’s most recent books are The Thirties: An Intimate History and The Blitz. David Gilmour's books include Curzon and The Ruling Caste: Imperial Lives in the Victorian Raj. John Gray’s most recent book is The Immortalization Commission: Science and the Strange Quest to Cheat Death (Allen Lane).
Valerie Grove writes for The Times when not litter-picking. So Much to Tell, her life of Kaye Webb, is out in paperback. Claire Harman’s latest book is Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World. Sudhir Hazareesingh’s next book In the Shadow of the General, a study of Charles de Gaulle's place in modern French political culture, will be published by OUP in 2012. Emma Hogan is a freelance writer. Andrew Hussey is Dean of the University of London Institute in Paris and currently writing a book called The French Intifada. Robert Irwin’s most recent book is Memoirs of a Dervish: Sufis, Mystics and the Sixties. Joanna Kavenna is the author of The Ice Museum, Inglorious and The Birth of Love. John Keay writes on Asia and edits The London Encyclopaedia. Mary Kenny's most recent book is Crown and Shamrock: Love and Hate between Ireland and the British Monarchy. Sam Leith’s You Talkin’ to Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama is published this month. Jessica Mann is the author of twenty crime novels. Her new book, The Fifties Mystique, a combination of memoir and polemic, will be published in March by Quartet Books. Thomas Marks is a writer and tour guide. Peter Marshall is Professor of History at the University of Warwick. His most recent book is The Reformation: A Very Short Introduction. Jeffrey Meyers has recently published George Orwell: Life and Art (2010) and John Huston: Courage and Art (2011). John Montague’s most recent collection of poetry is Speech Lessons (Gallery Press). He was the first Ireland Professor of Poetry.
Harry Mount is the author of Amo, Amas, Amat… and All That: How to Become a Latin Lover (Short Books). Richard Overy is Professor of History at the University of Exeter. The Morbid Age: Britain Between the Wars and 1939: Countdown to War were both published in 2009. Lucy Popescu was Programme Director of English PEN’s Writers in Prison Committee from 1991 to 2006. James Purdon is completing a doctorate on modern literature, information and security. Frederic Raphael’s fifth volume of notebooks, Ifs and Buts, was published in March by Carcanet. Chris Riddell’s latest book is Alienography: How to Spot an Alien Invasion and What to Do about It. Donald Sassoon teaches history at Queen Mary University of London and is the author of Mona Lisa and The Culture of the Europeans. Raymond Seitz was US Ambassador to the Court of St James from 1991 to 1994. Daniel Snowman’s books include a study of the cultural impact of the Hitler emigrés and The Gilded Stage: A Social History of Opera. Anne Somerset is the author of Elizabeth I. Her biography of Queen Anne will be published by HarperCollins in January. John Stubbs's most recent book, Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War (Viking), was shortlisted for this year's Samuel Johnson Prize. Jonathan Sumption’s latest book, Divided Houses (Faber), is the third volume in his history of the Hundred Years War. John Sutherland is Lord Northcliffe Professor Emeritus at UCL. His Lives of the Novelists: A History of Fiction in 294 Lives will be published by Profile this month. John Sweeney is a reporter for Panorama. Gillian Tindall’s most recent book is Footprints in Paris: A Few Streets, a Few Lives. She has just completed a book about three English houses, which will be published next year. Frances Wilson’s latest book is How to Survive the Titanic, or the Sinking of J Bruce Ismay. Philip Womack is the author of The Other Book and The Liberators (Bloomsbury).
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Man in the Know The Queen’s Agent: Francis Walsingham at the Court of Elizabeth I
By John Cooper (Faber & Faber 375pp £20)
Throughout his long career Francis Walsingham dedicated himself to identifying and eradicating his country’s internal and external enemies. This grim ideologue is hardly the most sympathetic character of the Elizabethan age, but even those who most strongly disapprove of him cannot deny his energy and efficiency. For nearly twenty years Walsingham served Elizabeth I as her principal secretary, a post with multifarious responsibilities relating to domestic and foreign policy, and ‘subject to more cumber and variableness’ than any other in the kingdom. It is, however, as Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster that he is principally remembered. In that role, depending upon one’s point of view, he either performed wonders in safeguarding national security or acted as a merciless instrument of tyranny.
Walsingham was, literally, a militant Protestant. He constantly urged on Elizabeth the necessity of armed intervention on the Continent in favour of co-religionists who were suffering at the hands of Catholic monarchs. He argued that since the kings of France and Spain would turn against England once they had rooted out Protestantism within their own countries, it was in Elizabeth’s interests to aid those monarchs’ embattled Calvinist subjects. Yet what John Cooper calls ‘foreign policy driven by faith’ was not to the liking of the more pragmatic Queen Elizabeth. She had scruples about helping insurgents against anointed sovereigns, and rightly feared becoming embroiled in costly overseas conflicts. Such differences of opinion meant that her relations with Walsingham were frequently difficult. She once threw her slipper at him in a rage, and Walsingham complained of being the recipient of ‘many thwarts and hard speeches’. Unlike his colleague Lord Burghley, who amassed a fortune in royal service, he received few rewards at Elizabeth’s hands, and died heavily indebted. But while Elizabeth often found his advice distasteful, she knew the importance of being told what she did not want to hear, and she did not lightly reject his counsel. As for Walsingham, although there were many occasions when tensions between him and the Queen made him ‘weary of the
Walsingham: spycatcher place I serve in’, he remained in harness until his death in 1590.
Walsingham not only regarded it as naive to think that the Catholic powers on the Continent would refrain from attacking Elizabeth at the first opportunity, but he was equally adamant that the Queen’s own Catholic subjects menaced her safety. Accordingly he was tireless in hunting down the missionary priests who came into England after being trained at foreign seminaries to minister to those who clung to the outlawed Roman faith. The secretary kept himself abreast of Catholic activities by placing undercover agents in the gaols where Papists were incarcerated, hoping that unwary prisoners would confide secrets to those masquerading as friendly fellow inmates. He never doubted that captured priests merited execution, dismissing the argument that their work was purely spiritual and should not be construed as treason. His only worry was that what he indignantly termed the ‘constancy or rather obstinacy’ that the priests displayed on the scaffold would inspire compassion in onlookers and persuade some to embrace Catholicism.
It was in ferreting out Catholic plots against the Queen that Walsingham displayed his greatest ingenuity. He extracted information using the rack and the manacles, commenting on one occasion: ‘Without torture I know we shall not prevail.’ Catholic correspondence was intercepted and then entrusted to experts who opened and resealed letters with such skill that it was impossible to tell any tampering had taken place. Many of the letters were written in cipher, but this did not prevent Walsingham from discovering their contents. In a fascinating section Cooper outlines the methods used to encode letters, and the sophisticated techniques adopted by Walsingham’s cryptographers. At crucial times their task was made easier because Walsingham had in his pay a mole at the French embassy, who supplied him with the key to the various ciphers used by the Queen’s enemies. The Frenchman was only one of many double agents within Walsingham’s espionage web. Knowing ‘excellently well how to win men’s minds unto him, and to apply them to his own uses’, he turned Catholic operatives who fell into his clutches, ensuring that in future they passed on all the information entrusted to them.
Walsingham’s aim in all this was not simply to protect the Queen’s life and to gain forewarning of projected foreign invasions. He wanted to link the captive Mary Stuart to conspiracies against Elizabeth, and to uncover evidence that would force the Queen to execute her royal prisoner. Convinced that ‘so long as that devilish woman liveth’ his sovereign would never be safe, Walsingham devoted intense effort to proving that Mary was involved in criminal enterprises.
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