Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage

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"Elizabethan England could boast of many things: it was the center of European trade, it produced Shakespeare, and it had begun to cultivate colonies in the New World. But it had little military power and lived under the constant threat of invasion by Spain and France. Unable to match her enemies at sea or on the battlefield, Queen Elizabeth was forced to engage them in a battle of wits. Her secret weapon was Sir Francis Walsingham, who carried the modest title of Principal Secretary but was in fact her spymaster. Walsingham trumped the Catholic
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Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage

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Overview

"Elizabethan England could boast of many things: it was the center of European trade, it produced Shakespeare, and it had begun to cultivate colonies in the New World. But it had little military power and lived under the constant threat of invasion by Spain and France. Unable to match her enemies at sea or on the battlefield, Queen Elizabeth was forced to engage them in a battle of wits. Her secret weapon was Sir Francis Walsingham, who carried the modest title of Principal Secretary but was in fact her spymaster. Walsingham trumped the Catholic nations with a force more formidable than Spain's armada: espionage." "With the narrative of a spy novel, Her Majesty's Spymaster recounts how, in a time of terrific religious and political strife, Walsingham invented the art and science of modern espionage - and set Elizabethan England on the path to empire." "Planting or recruiting agents in every foreign court in Europe as well as deep within the conspiracies of domestic plotters, Walsingham coolly thwarted repeated attempts on English soil. He used the new mathematical science of code breaking to decipher messages intercepted between ambassadors and kings. He spread subtle disinformation campaigns to foil Britain's foes and beguile her allies. And, with a brilliant sleight of hand, he caught Mary Queen of Scots deep in a plot to kill Elizabeth, and sent the Catholic queen to the gallows. Covert operations were Walsingham's genius: the techniques he pioneered remain staples of international espionage today." Stephen Budiansky brings to life not only the icy, Puritan Walsingham and the flamboyant Queen Elizabeth, but also Walsingham's intricate spy network, the shadow world beneath the tumult of Elizabethan England.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rising from humble roots, Sir Francis Walsingham is a model of a certain type of Elizabethan figure, thriving at an innovative court that preferred service by men of talent rather than by the high nobility. As Queen Elizabeth's secretary of the Privy Council, Walsingham coordinated a number of official and unofficial spy networks, historian Budiansky relates in this fresh look at the Virgin Queen's reign. Corresponding equally with ambassadors and shadowy informants, supervising code breakers and couriers, teaching himself the rules of watching and waiting, Walsingham developed influential models for the roles of secretary and spymaster. Additionally, according to Budiansky, at a time when religion was very much intertwined with both internal and external politics, he proved an early example of the political mindset that put national devotion above religious sentiment. Diplomatic intrigue and attempted conspiracies are natural threads to weave through the stories of Elizabeth's marriage negotiations; her struggle to create a religious settlement; her rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots; and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Even readers who are already versed in Elizabeth's reign will find Budiansky's new angles on a much-examined era enlightening. (Aug. 22) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
A staunch Puritan, sober in dress, Sir Francis Walsingham must, ironically, have stood out in the flamboyant court of Elizabethan England. What distinguished him was not only his dress; as Budiansky succinctly puts it, "he knew how to shut up." This narrative recounts Walsingham's growth from Protestant expatriate to English ambassador to France, principal secretary, privy councilor, and untitled spymaster for Elizabeth I, engaging in operations related to her rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots, and to the Catholic countries of Spain and France. Walsingham's discretion was so complete that he took to his grave many of his intelligence-gathering methods, which had helped make England a major player on the world stage. Nonetheless, Budiansky (Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II), a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, shows that this man was responsible for forging many espionage techniques that carry into our own era (e.g., codebreaking, double agents). Budiansky's prose is peppered with a wry wit that makes the book a pure joy to read. A chronology of events, a list of relevant names, and a brief discussion of the language, money, and calendar of the period make for helpful additions to the character-rich tale. Recommended for all libraries.-Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Versatile nonfiction author Budiansky (Air Power, 2004, etc.) takes on the career of Elizabeth I's wily Puritan ambassador, in an occasionally clotted but ultimately riveting study. Walsingham was one of the new generation of university-educated laymen from the gentry (rather than nobility), men of the Renaissance Enlightenment whom Queen Elizabeth I sagely kept around her, the other two being William Cecil (Lord Burghley) and the Earl of Leicester. Promoted by Cecil as Elizabeth's ambassador to France, where he nearly lost his life during the ghastly Bartholomew Massacre of 1572, Walsingham quickly ascended to the position of Principal Secretary, a job he largely created himself. A polyglot and master of discretion, Mr. Secretary, as he was known, had to "understand the state of the whole realm" as well as take the blame from his irascible queen when something went wrong. Walsingham, whose motto was "Hear all reports but trust not all," built up a network of "paid scoundrels" to infiltrate Catholic circles, being faced continually with crisis after crisis involving the conniving Mary Queen of Scots and her sympathetic Catholic followers. Walsingham finally engineered a conspiratorial web around Mary that caused her to betray herself in correspondence, and the Babington plotters were caught. A hard-liner, Walsingham pushed for Mary's execution, and, despite Elizabeth's vacillation, the warrant was signed and Mary executed in 1587. Further, Walsingham warned of Spain's recalcitrance and, overcoming Elizabeth's "perfected art of tactical delay," saw the triumph of the English fleet over the Spanish Armada. Budiansky gets bogged down in detail at the start, as he opens his story in Pariswith the first attempted murder of the Huguenot leader Coligny just prior to Bartholomew Day, then stepping back to fill in the picture. The result is a satisfying and shrewd portrait of a key historical and very human figure. For both scholar and lay reader, a historical study that makes us wish for more like it on subjects too often only glanced at.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670034260
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/18/2005
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.74 (w) x 8.48 (h) x 0.99 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Budiansky, journalist and military historian, is the author of nine books about history, science, and nature, including Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II. He publishes frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post and currently serves as a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
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Sort by: Showing all of 5 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 3, 2009

    A great book for Elizabeth lovers

    If you enjoyed The Succession or Death of the Fox you got a taste for what Francis Walsingham could do for Elizabeth I. Those were well-researched works of fiction, this is non-fiction but equally engaging. Probably most enjoyable are the descriptions of the disreputable characters who became Walsingham's agents, and the way W. used two (or three) agents' tales to corroborate what each other said, all known only to Walsingham. The queen herself is somewhat remote in this study and one could wish the book longer to bring her more fully into the story. And Mary Queen of Scots fans needn't apply-- they aren't so much rebutted as ignored.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 18, 2013

    The book was stuffed full of facts and figures, but conveyed abs

    The book was stuffed full of facts and figures, but conveyed absolutely nothing about the man himself or gave much flavor to the time period.  By the end of the book, I never felt like I got to know Walsingham or the intrigue of the time period.  Overall, I would classify this as a scholarly book rather than one that  is entertaining to read.

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  • Posted June 12, 2013

    more from this reviewer

    Wonderful easy reading and funny.

    Wonderful easy reading and funny.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 5, 2013

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted February 27, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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