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About the Author
Alice Hogge was educated at the University of St Andrews, Scotland. She lives in London. This is her first book.
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God's Secret AgentsQueen Elizabeth's Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot
By Alice Hogge
HarperCollins Publishers, Inc.Copyright © 2005 Alice Hogge
All right reserved.
' ... as the waves of the sea, without stay, do one rise and overtake another, so the Pope and his ... ministers be never at rest, but as fast as one enterprise faileth they take another in hand... hoping at last to prevail.'
Sir Walter Mildmay MP, October 1586
Armada Year, 1558, swept in on a flood tide of historical prophecies and dire predictions. For the numerologists, who divided the Christian calendar into vast, looping cycles of time, constructed in multiples of seven and ten and based on the Revelation of St John and the bloodier parts of the Book of Isaiah, the year offered nothing less than the opening of the Seventh Seal, the overthrow of Antichrist and the sounding of the trumpets for the Last Judgement.
For the fifteenth century mathematician Regiomontanus, although he had not been quite so specific about the year's unfolding, still the promise of a solar eclipse in February, and not one but two lunar eclipses in March and August had not, he had thought, augured well. Regiomontanus had recorded his findings in Latin verse, concluding: 'If, this year, total catastrophe does not befall, if land and sea do not collapse in total ruin, yet will the whole world suffer in upheavals, empires will dwindle and from everywhere will be great lamentation.' As the year began, in Prague the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolf II, himself a keen astrologer, scanned the heavens for signs that his was not the empire to which Regiomontanus referred. He could discover little more than that the weather that year would be unseasonably bad.
The printers of Amsterdam rang in the year with a special edition of their annual almanac, detailing in lurid prose the coming disasters: tempests and floods, midsummer snowstorms, darkness at midday, rain clouds of blood, monstrous births, and strange convulsions of the earth. On a more positive note, they suggested that things would calm down a bit after August and that late autumn might even be lucky for some, but this was not a January horoscope many read with pleasure.
In Spain and Portugal the sailors assembling along the western seaboard talked of little else, no matter that their King, His Most Catholic Majesty Philip II of Spain, regarded all attempts to divine the future as impious. In Lisbon a fortune-teller was arrested for 'making false and discouraging predictions', but the arrest came too late: the year had already begun with a flurry of naval desertions. In the Basque ports Philip's recruiting drive slowed and halted 'because of many strange and frightening portents that are rumoured'.
In Rome it was brought to the attention of Pope Sixtus V that a recent earth tremor in England had just disgorged an ancient marble slab, concealed for centuries beneath the crypt of Glastonbury Abbey, on which were written in letters of fire the opening words of Regiomontanus' prediction. It was felt by the papal agent who delivered this report that the mathematician could not, therefore, be the original author of the verses and that the prophecy could stem from one source only: from the magician Merlin. It was the first hint that God might be on the side of the English.
But in England no one mentioned Merlin's intervention in international affairs and the English almanacs that year were strangely muted affairs, proffering the general observation that 'Here and in the quarters following might be noted ... many strange events to happen which purposely are omitted in good consideration.' With their fellow printers in Amsterdam working round the clock to meet the public's demand for gruesome predictions it seems odd the English press were grown so coy, particularly when the editor of Holinshed's Chronicles had written the year before that Regiomontanus' prophecy was 'rife in every man's mouth'. But it was not in the Government's interest that England should be flooded with stories of death and destruction, for it was all too likely that any day now it would be visited by the real thing.
For some four years now England and Spain had been at war: an undeclared phoney war, fought at third hand, on the battlefields of the Low Countries and up and down the Spanish Main, by mercenaries and privateers, most notably the 'merry, careful' Francis Drake. Drake's raid on the port of Cadiz in April 1587 had cost Spain some thirty ships and had bought England a twelvemonth reprieve. But all this did was to postpone the inevitable until the fateful year 1588, because the Spanish were coming, with the mightiest fleet that had ever been amassed. Sixty-five galleons like floating castles, many-oared galleys, cargo-carrying urcas, nimble pataches and zabras, all these had been assembling in the west-coast ports of the Iberian peninsula since 1586. Together they could hold some thirty thousand men, numerous cavalry horses and pack animals and all the many carefully counted barrels of food and water needed to sustain a force of such size ...
Excerpted from God's Secret Agents by Alice Hogge Copyright © 2005 by Alice Hogge. Excerpted by permission.
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What People are Saying About This
“Alice Hogge’s vivid narrative culminates in a gripping account of the [Gunpowder] Plot and its disastrous denouement.”
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
A good history of the Reformation in Elizabethan and Stuart England. The suppression of Catholicism and the underground history that resulted are little known, but this book shows the transformation from Catholic to Protestant England was not an overnight occurrence, nor an immediate success. Hogge draws a direct comparison between the secret Jesuit missionaries of the late 16th and early 17th centuries and modern jihadists, but only briefly at the beginning and end of the book, so the fact that these comparisons are largely not tenable has minor impact on what is an interesting and arreting book.
This is quite a confusing book to read but this may reflect the confusing state of English religious politics in the 16th Century. However this is a book I would recommend as it clearly shows that we have not learned from history as the experiences of the catholic minority have strong parallels in the 21st Century.
A very well researched and balanced account of the activities of Catholic priests in the England of Elizabeth I and James I. This illustrates the horror and tension of the secret lives Catholic priests - and lay Catholics - were forced to live, and the terrible penalties that awaited them. It also assesses reasonably the level of general threat posed by the Papacy to England's Government, particularly in light of the notorious Papal Bull Regnans in Excelsis, which left English Catholics in the terrible twin dilemma of being threatened with excommunication if they obeyed the orders of their monarch, and threatened with an accusation of treason if they obeyed their Catholic conscience. The book also examines the full weight of evidence for Jesuit involvement in the Gunpowder Plot, not reaching a firm conclusion, but leaving me with the impression that, while the plot was undoubtedly real and instigated by individual Catholics, the government of King James blamed Jesuits and Catholics generally in the climate of fear and suspicion that events of the past few decades had created. One of the most remarkable things was how Catholicism was now seen as un-English, despite its having been the religion of England (and Western Europe) for nearly a millenium; and how Protestantism was seen as essentially English, despite being a Swiss-German import.My only slight criticism would be that the book could have been structured slightly better. Unusually for non-fiction, the chapters were numbered but had no titles and there was a bit of jumping around in the narrative that was slightly confusing.
Excellent book about Elizabeth I's persecution of England's Catholics.The author painted a vivid picture of what the "Secret Priests" suffered in their attempt to serve the spiritual needs of the Catholics in England. You might also like "Shadowplay" which outlines Shakespeare's hidden messages in his plays.
Alice Hogge has recounted a history of English Catholics during Elizabeth's reign, a time when simply to be a Catholic priest was a crime and 124 were executed as traitors. She focuses on the individual English priests who came as missionaries and on those who came as members of the Jesuit order. Despite the stories of secret landings, pursuit and arrest by government agents, secret hiding places, torture and execution, the work somehow is rather dry and I found it slow going. While there is much discussion of the missions and the context of the times, the book often feels that it lacks a direction. In the end it seems like a Catholic Book of Martyrs.
Except for the perseverant Jewish people, or the high- minded Freemasons, it's hard to think of a group that has been the focus of as much conspiratorial thinking as the Jesuits. Putting aside the rich history history of a certain brand of Machiavellianism known as Papal Diplomacy, still a fair reading of many Jesuit lives seems to belie the odd reputation they have gained over the centuries. This book mentions the Gunpowder Plot and Queen Elizabeth in the subtitle, but clearly those are as attention-getters. What is admirable about the book is the manner in which the author describes the early Jesuit culture and also the issues surrounding the Spanish Armada. In fact, I actually understood the imp[eus behind the Armada better after reading her description than in several books dedicated to the subject. As to the several little plots to infiltrate Protestant England by the Jesuits, it unfortunately comes off as being a bit pathetic and a little tedious for all the sneaking around. Its also commendable how she clarifies that Elizabeth was reluctant to inhibit religious liberties per se, and rather did so by laws enforcing attendance at Protestant Divine Service. What I liked best was the help it gives you in getting that what was feared was Spain, most catholic Spain, and not so much the Catholic Church itself. In some ways the Counter-Reformation can be seen as a massive over- reaction. This especially if one considers that Pope Adrian VI proclaimed that the fault for the protestant revolts was to be found with the corruption of the Church itself. A sentiment echoed by Cardinal Reginald Pole in the his opening statement at the Council of Trent. But balance and long term moral self-examination has never been the Roman Church's strong-suit. In this sense, the whole founding of the Jesuit Order, based as it is in a certain sense in Counter-Reformation over-reaction, would seem almost to make it easier for conspiracy nuts. Sadly the tropes of this paranoid style are alive and well, ironically, in some of the more pugilistic Catholic pundits, whose right-wing thought is indistinguishable from Father Coughlin's in style if not in substance. As to the Jesuits themselves they continue to be very selective thus they tend to, as a group, avoid this more flagrant sort of instability. I knew a guy in my time in the Church, who was turned down by the Jesuits much to his chagrin, who has done quite well for himself, I've read, in the hierarchical jockeying of diocesan priesthood and episcopacy. Most of the skullduggery in the Cathlolic Church today, doubtless in much attenuated form compared to the past, takes place within the diocesan clergy. But this interesting book admirably portrays when the Jesuits were front and center for such things.