One evening in 1588, just weeks after the defeat of the Spanish Armada, two young men landed in secret on a beach in Norfolk, England. They were Jesuit priests, Englishmen, and their aim was to achieve by force of argument what the Armada had failed to do by force of arms: return England to the Catholic Church.
Eighteen years later their mission would be shattered by the actions of the Gunpowder Plotters -- a small group of terrorists who famously tried to destroy the Houses of Parliament -- for the Jesuits were accused of having designed "that most horrid and hellish conspiracy."
Alice Hogge follows "God's secret agents" from their schooling on the Continent, through their perilous return journeys and lonely lives in hiding, to, ultimately, the gallows. She offers a remarkable true account of faith, duty, intolerance, and martyrdom -- the unforgettable story of men who would die for a cause undone by men who would kill for it.
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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 ...
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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
How can I review an in-depth 400 page masterpeice? I will not be able to accurately convey the significance of this book. It is intriguing the way Hogge jumps back and forth between the interconnecting lives of England.No character ever just "appears" in the plot of the book. She recounts the life, hardship, death, ideals ect. of each character in such a way that before you know it you've "lived" through five characters.When a few important characters were executed I felt as if I were some devoted Catholic living during the era and had just heard the sad news. Hogge's vivid writing and retelling of actual events is entertaining -- nothing she says is boring!You don't have to be a Catholic to enjoy this book. I'm not a Catholic. You just have to love the retelling of a 100 year span of most intriguing history.
Lovely...! beautiful.....!.... Just enjoy it.....!