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Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair (Yale Nota Bene) Paperback – 1 Jul 2002


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Product details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Yale University Press; New edition edition (1 July 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0300094515
  • ISBN-13: 978-0300094510
  • Product Dimensions: 1.9 x 13.3 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 588,693 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"Bossy combines meticulous research with a lively style and guides the reader.. to some startling conclusions." -- Andrew Roberts, Sunday Telegraph

"Bossy opens up a startling new angle on certain secret operations of the mid-1580s ... A triumph of close historical focus." -- Charles Nicholl, London Review of Books

"Bossy's creative, thoroughly researched and engaging work emulates the investigative style of the best detective fiction." -- Deborah E. Harkness, Sixteenth Century Journal

"Mr. Bossy's erudition is so great, his virtuosity in handling it so enviable, the story he tells so fascinating." -- H. R. Trevor-Roper, New York Review of Books

"Read the book. It is, quite simply, brilliant." -- Susan Brigden, Country Life

"This book is a detective story told by a masterly historian." -- Diarmaid MacCulloch, New Statesman & Society

About the Author

John Bossy, emeritus professor of history at the University of York, is also the author of Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story (ISBN 0 300 0, new NB paperback, [pound]7.99*), published by Yale University Press.

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
John Bossy's meticulously researched book creates a fascinating snapshot of a brief but important period in the Tudor period when all that protected England from the might of Catholic Europe was our spy network. The author convincingly argues the case that the Renaissance scholar Giordano Bruno spied for England. The only thing the book lacked was a convincing explanation as to why he did it. Perhaps we'll never know.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 4 reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
A book of great learning 6 Feb. 2008
By Hugh Claffey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Giordano Bruno was burned alive in Rome in 1600, after a seven year investigation into his beliefs by Venetian and Vatican authorities. His is a cause which has attracted a significant amount of attention in Italy over the years, however he is less well known in the rest of Europe. He was ordained a priest, though his travels in England France and Germany led him to practice his priesthood spasmodically and in a rather unorthodox manner. He has left behind writing of some significance.
John Bossy has analysed his writings, and concentrates on Bruno's time in the residence of the French ambassador to Queen Elizabeth's court in the 1580s. It was a rather fraught time, France, a Catholic nation, favoured an alliance with Mary Queen of Scots, then a prisoner of Elizabeth's. Spain, the superpower of the era, favoured Elizabeths violent overthrow, and the Pope had authorised her assassination. You can imagine the levels of diplomacy required of the (moderately Catholic) French Ambassador. One small facet of this discretion was the fact that Bruno, the embassy's chaplain, was described as a man-servant. Bossy uses an acute knowledge of the era, as well as cross references from various English and Continental sources to identify Bruno, as the spy who signed himself Faggot. Elizabeth's spy-master, Walsingham, alive to the various threats to her Majesty, needed as much information on Catholic conspiracies as was possible, and Bruno, as confidant and confessor, was well positioned to supply him with it.
Through the book, Bossy gives an overview of the intricacies of the international diplomacy, in particular the play for France, prior to the accession of Henry of Navarre, who in the 1580's was seen as a Protestant champion, but eventually converted to Catholicism to ascend the French throne (`Paris is worth a mass'). Bossy also makes a creditable, but speculative, description of Bruno's inner motivations, which, given the deception and dissimulation necessary in his role as spy, were not necessarily coincident with either his writings or his testimony to various authorities.
In general the book demonstrates great learning, though is perhaps fixated by the English part of the tale. This is entirely understandable, as the historian in Bossy, concentrates on the era and references with which he is most at ease, and, it must be said the revelation of the Bruno/Faggot identity is quite a coup. I would have appreciated more information about the final years of Bruno's life, though Bossy refers us to other
authorities for this.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
A potentially interesting tale opaquely narrated 2 Oct. 2011
By Elizabeth A. Root - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This book sounded very interesting, especially since I had just read S. J. Parris' (i.e., Stephanie Merritt's) historical thriller, Prophecy: An Elizabethan Thriller, her second novel starring Giordano Bruno, which is apparently inspired by this. Bossy is clearly a learned man who has sifted a great deal of material to come to his conclusions. Bossy has included a number of charming maps of London showing the location of Salisbury Court. He also has Fagot's letters in both the original French (apparently Fagot's French was very original!), and translated. It is an interesting puzzle, with significant moral issues, and I am very fond of historical puzzles: Lizzie Bordon, Elizabeth Canning, Richard III, bring them on. Bossy also promises to tell it as a story, without giving away his premise in the beginning, so it should have a narrative arc. Alas, I think Bossy lacks a great deal as a narrator. I also came to suspect that the solving the puzzle was not really the purpose of the book, so much as a justification for Bossy's poor opinion of Bruno in other regards.

This proved to be a little too scholarly for me. Literary criticism and philosophy are not among my favorite subjects, and I have little taste for combing through and interpreting the minutia; the fact that scholars debate so much about the hidden meanings is not encouraging to me. I also wonder if Bruno, and for that matter other people, are consistent enough to be analyzed like this. This is not of failure of Bossy's, just my being the wrong audience, so I say it as a fact, not a criticism. However, this is not helped by the fact that Bossy does not always translate foreign terms. Some of them can presumably be found in the appended texts, but it would be better to have them explained in context. Sometimes a point is completely opaque to me because I have no idea what is being said, and I don't even get the gist in context. Again, the reader must decide if their linguistic skills (French, Italian and Latin) are likely to be up to this.

On the other hand, perhaps I'm dense, but I sometimes had trouble following what Bossy was saying even when discussing what should be straightforward events. On the last pages of chapter 3, he talks about "the case of the (presumably) spurious conspirator William Parry. Sometime in January, Parry had arrived in London with a story of how he had taken a religious vow to assassinate the queen ... in Paris ... with two cardinals as his sponsors. ... He had reported all this to Elizabeth on his return to England and was ... awaiting a letter of encouragement and indulgence from the pope which duly reached him ... at the end of March. ... " [elisions added]

What is going on here? Parry reported to Elizabeth in January that he had made a vow to assassinate her, and was left at liberty for for at least two months? Then what happened? Did any or all of this actually occur, or did Parry (or someone else) just claim it did? What does Bossy mean by "spurious": that Parry didn't exist; or was a fabulist; or a double agent and provocateur?

Thinking at length about this, I finally came to the conclusion that it would make the most sense if Parry was working for Walsingham and trying to get Elizabeth's enemies to show their hand. Then in the beginning of chapter 5, it is revealed that Parry was arrested and executed, apparently about a year later, so I have no idea what "spurious" means, or what happened in between times. Obviously he didn't succeed in his mission of killing Elizabeth, but it was sporting of him to warn her. [added later: In his book Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage, Stephen Budiansky explains the Parry affair (pp. 137-138). In January 1584, Parry told Elizabeth that as part of his investigation into a conspiracy to assassinate her, he had taken the oath to kill her, and the letter from Cardinal Ptolomeo Gallio that arrived in March was corroboration of his claims. Elizabeth accepted that he was only exposing the conspiracy and he was pardoned. A year later, he was denounced for taking part in another conspiracy, and this time he was found guilty and hanged.]

A certain amount of Bossy's case relies on proving that Bruno acted as a priest, which was improper, given that he was excommunicated, and the argument depends upon his being the only priest in the household. I find this a bit puzzling. Wasn't there a priest on hand during the years before Bruno arrived; what happened to him? To someone who didn't know much about him, Bruno could get away with performing priestly functions, although he would later claim to the Inquisition that he never broke the rules of excommunication. Bossy makes the point that, on trial for his life, Bruno was not always honest with the inquisition. But I would suppose that people like Castelnau knew his background; he was rather famous. According to another biography that I read, Henri III sent him out of France precisely because he was too controversial for many Catholics. I wouldn't think that they would want to rely on an excommunicated priest, and perhaps they didn't count him as a priest. If true, this would undermine the argument that they would regard him as a priest and not require another priest in the household, and support the idea that Bruno was telling the truth about his status as a gentleman-servant. It doesn't destroy Bossy's case, but it does put a certain hole in his argument.

I would recommend this for people who have an interest in this time, place, and these people, but not as a general work.

There is a companion work to this book: Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story that examines the leaks from the French Embassy from another aspect, fingering a second agent for Walsingham. I think that it is a superior book in almost all ways.
One of my favourite books on Elizabethan history. Highly recommended. 15 Nov. 2014
By Lenore - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
Few English readers know who Giordano Bruno was. A learned philosopher, scientist and heretic,renegade friar, author of plays and dialogues, he was burnt at the stake by the Inquisition in 1600. His play "il Candelaio" is a classic studied by Italian university students. John Bossy added a new dimension to what we know about Bruno by arguing that he also acted as a spy. He found letters written from the French embassy in London to Sir Francis Walsingham, head of Queen Elizabeth's secret service, signed by the mysterious name "Fagot". The letters betrayed a Catholic plot to oust Queen Elizabeth and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The discovery of this plot led to the execution of Mary and quite possibly saved Protestant England from a return to Catholic rule. So whoever Fagot was, he did a significant job. John Bossy argues that this Fagot was none other than the writer and philosopher Bruno, who is known to have visited England at this time and stayed at the Embassy. I find the identification totally convincing and so, I think so most scholars of the period.
A sceptical critic, quoted above, writes, "If this story is true, then Bruno was not just a spy but a fraud, impersonating a priest, and a traitor, betraying the French king and the ambassador, and all of this for rather vague reasons--neither for money nor power but to undermine the credibility of the papacy and because it appealed to his taste for practical jokes. " Far from it. If Bruno acted as a spy - and I think that he did - he did so from the most serious motives. He had seen the Inquisition operating all over Europe and the attempts of the Cathlic church to stamp out the Reformation, He knew about the Massacre of St Bartholemew's Day in France and had seen how the Huguenots were being persecuted.
Plainly, his motive for acting as a spy would have been a belief that the Catholic Church was far too powerful and a desire to assist those in Europe who were resisting its supremacy. He cared enough about this to take considerable personal risks and was also prepared to be ruthless. He must have known that heads would roll when the plot was exposed. The Inquisition at Venice later questioned him very closely about his time in London and probably suspected that he had been up to something.
There is nothing particularly fanciful about authors and intellectuals acting as spies - we know that Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright who was a contemporary of Bruno and Shakespeare, did carry out various secret service missions, working for Walsingham's team.
Espionage is always a fascinating subject, especially when set in Shakespeare's London. The Elizabethan world was one of political tension and ruthless struggle for power. While it is true that this book may not always be ideally readable, it is very much worth reading.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair 12 Sept. 2011
By corvid111 - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Although I have yet to finish the book many of my questions and previous suppositions about Bruno and the Elisabethan court have been illuminated. The book reads like a spy novel and I am enjoying it immensely.
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