Feb 19, 2010
Robert Hutchinson. New York: Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, August 2007. 399 pages ISBN 978-0-312-36822-7 $27.95
Robert Hutchinson has a wonderful way of recounting the history of Tudor England. His histories flow very well and they keep the reader enthralled with the events of this tumultuous time in English history. The era was tumultuous in the sense that no one knew exactly what the Tudor monarchs were going to do, whose head was going to be cut off or worse, who was going to be hung, drawn and quartered. Tudor England was a nasty place 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, who was responsible for foreign affairs and safeguarding the state and the queen from being overthrown by outside forces or inside “traitors.” This spymaster was Sir Francis Walsingham and his job was a thankless one. Often, the queen would rage and threaten him instead of praising him or giving him an award. Walsingham was a staunch Protestant of the Puritan variety. Despite the difficulty of his position he wanted to protect his queen as well as Protestant England from the Catholics.
Walsingham helped to many Catholics along the road to an early death. As is the case with the martyrs, his actions often lead to the beatification and canonization of his enemies. Walsingham was also in charge of capturing and convicting priests, both English and foreign, who ministered to the Catholics in England and to converted Protestants. These priests and their many helpers had to do this as secretly as possible. Their jobs were complicated and compromised by an abundance of spies and traitors. Hutchinson gives some rather gruesome details about the fates of those priests and their assistants.