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A. K. Whitehead (Pontefract, England)
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The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I
The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I
by Stephen Alford
Edition: Paperback
Price: 6.99

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars THE WATCHERS by Stephen Alford who needs watching, 23 Aug 2013
This is an interesting book, dealing with the period from a novel perspective. Despite some repeats of favourite phrases, it is well written. But one must say that the treatment is quite subtle, one might even say crafty, in its pro-Elizabethan/Protestant bias. This only becomes apparent after reading several chapters and is mainly achieved through the kind of relative phrasing and choice descriptions used of one side compared to the other. It is difficult to provide an adequate representation of a this kind of characteristic belonging to a book of some 325 pages but the few example which follow might provide an indication.
In 1572 there was an outbreak of violence in Paris in which many Protestants were killed. In describing this, Alford says that "Elizabethans ...were horrified by the massacre..." Following the death of Admiral Coligny in the events, Alford tells us that "Henry, Duke of Guise led the killing party" and was ..."a first cousin of Mary Queen of Scots, and the eldest of the three Guise brothers"... who "were uncompromising Catholics". (pp50/1). Note the choice of adjective phrases here (fairly indicative of the rest of the book) and that there is nothing of a similar nature when we get to the descriptions of all, or at least, various examples of all the Catholics who were put to death by Elizabeth's government in England. This was accomplished by first dragging them through the streets, then hanging them, but bringing them down before death and, while still alive, cutting them open and extracting their innards, kidney, liver, etc. before dismembering them -- in front of crowds of onlookers.
Although Alford does not mention it, on some occasions these events were so gruesome that the watchers demanded that the individual be put to death early. However, we are told (p 235) that "Good Queen Bess" demanded that, in relation to some who had conspired against her, "Elizabeth took a special interest in how they were to be executed"... and told Lord Burghley (the Queen's Lord Treasurer) that ..."the form of the conspirators' executions' should be `for more terror' and should be referred to herself and her Council. Burghley replied that the usual way of proceeding, by `protracting' the pain of the traitors in the sight of the London crowd, `would be as terrible as any other device could be'". Nonetheless, Elizabeth "wanted the judge"... "to understand her royal pleasure. She wanted vengence, for the traitors bodies to be torn into pieces." Obviously, for Alford, what happened in France which the English could not see, was far more horrific than what happened in London when they could see.
While Alford occasionally allows some space for Catholic views of Elizabeth and her church (which, given the ways her prisoners were treated, did not tend to be ingratiating) there are very frequent, even repeated, descriptions of Protestant views of Catholics, popes and priests. Thus on p 98 "For Elizabeth's government priests like John Hart were agents of a foreign power whose objective was to remove a lawful monarch from her throne. They were traitors, and their torture was a necessary act of state". Well, of course, where Elizabeth's state was concerned, but elsewhere...? The book abounds in loaded phrases like " removal of a lawful monarch"; "traitors"; "their torture was a necessity". Descriptions by Catholics on the other hand always carry inserted caveats like "in their view" or "they considered", etc. whereas descriptions by Elizabeth's officials are genertally unqualified.
So for example, we have p 99 referring to the brilliant written statement by the priest Edmund Campion in his "personal intent" (referred to by Elizabeth's officials, in a derogative manner, as "Campion's brag") Alford includes quotations from "William Charke, a combatative Protestant controversialist" who wrote of Campion's "insolent vaunts against the truth, joined with words pretending great humility". No qualifications here (although Campion, a man of outstanding spirituality, was later beatified and made a saint). After frantic efforts by Protestant officials because of "the power of Edmund Campion's pen" and the "dangerous" nature of the "brag" in persuading English readers, Campion was captured and subjected to a mixture of public debate and examination mixed with periods on the rack -- a devise designed to tear arms and legs from their sockets and which Walsingham used with great expertise. In Alford view, "Both in very different ways, sought to expose truth and encourage the admission of error" (p 110). Really? This is an almost incredible statement to be made by a modern historian. Most men stretched on the rack would soon confess to anything -- and would soon be "encouraged" to say anything! Campion described the rack as a technique "more terrible than hanging" -- and that must be a gross understatement.
There are also inconsistencies in "The Watchers". For example, England is often (albeit frequently by innuendo and suggestion) represented as a heavily Protestant country, yet we then find (e.g. p 121) after Campion was hung, drawn and quartered, Barnard (a government spy) writing that he "believed any danger came from a Catholic uprising in England".
There are various other shortcoming. For example, feelings or emotions, which could not actually be known, are simply imputed to people as a writer might do in a novel rather than a serious historical work. So on p 106 Munday (a government spy and a writer) "relished every encounter with the Catholic enemy." So perhaps one can begin to appreciate the overall impressionistic, if not subconscious bias the unsuspecting reader might finish up with.
Thus Alford on several ocassions assumes the help of God in assuring victory for Elizabeth and her government e.g. p 255 "It was a positively miraculous deliverance" from the Spanish Armada. He clearly agrees with Elizabeth when she "ascribed victory, not to the weather, but to the agency of providence". Again, on p 262 Walsingham "apprehended a war between God's people and the forces of the Devil". This is not a quotation from Walsingham but from Alford. Nonetheless Alford knows that "Walsingham would have used any instrument or method to defend God, queen and country", and what differences could there be between the three?
In many ways this is quite an interesting book although it perhaps belongs to the outdated period of A G Dickens than coming after the profound work of revisionists like Scarisbrick and Duffy. It is well referenced and it is a pity that it is characterised by such gross bias.
The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I


The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,1400-1580
The Stripping of the Altars: Traditional Religion in England,1400-1580
by Eamon Duffy
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.96

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A truely exception work, 1 Oct 2012
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Even the very excellent reviews of this book do not do it justice. The scholarship and depth of research are inspiring. It is probably the most enlightening and moving book I have every read. No one who wishes to understand late medieval Catholicism in England and the enforced divorce of the English people from their cherished Church and religion can afford not to read this outstanding work.


The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000
The Death of Christian Britain: Understanding Secularisation 1800-2000
by Callum G. Brown
Edition: Paperback
Price: 17.59

0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Death of Christian Britain, 4 Oct 2010
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An interesting book but I found first several chapters rather boring and the whole analysis quite narrow in being concerned only with evangelical Christianity and therefore with the lack of generality of the analysis with the UK, not to mention other countries. It is possible that other explanations for the post 1960 decline could be advanced, and that might come better from people with the insights which accompany one actualy being a Christian


Change Your Life in 7 Days (Book & CD)
Change Your Life in 7 Days (Book & CD)
by Paul McKenna
Edition: Paperback

4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Change Your Life In 7 Days, 28 Aug 2010
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The kind of title which will attract many people. The book is well written and Paul McKenna comes across as a likeable individual. But, as the CD itself says, this book will not Change Your Life in Seven Days -- and probably not in 7 months. It's a good idea for a high selling book and interesting if you can spend two hours plus every day for much more than seven days. Every chapter is geared to telling you how good you are, as also is the hypnotic-type CD, but "the secret is out of the bag" in chapter four when it is effectively revealed that, after all, in the end everything depends on you developing a plan and you carrying it out, setting your own objectives and measures of success. We don't really need this book to tell us that


Modern Painters: Volume 1. Of General Principles, and of Truth
Modern Painters: Volume 1. Of General Principles, and of Truth
by John Ruskin
Edition: Paperback
Price: 12.07

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Modern Painters: Volume 1. Of General Principles, and of Truth, 12 Feb 2010
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This is a really thorough treatment. Not the easiest book to read, at least until one gets acclimatised to the style, but well worth the effort for anyone who wants an in-depth introduction. Great pity it is not illustrated.


Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice
Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice
by Juliette Aristides
Edition: Hardcover
Price: 20.99

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice, 12 Feb 2010
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Classical Painting Atelier: A Contemporary Guide to Traditional Studio Practice
In many ways an excellent guide for those serious about developing their skills and well worth the money. It is well produced and the images excellent (although ocassionally a little dark). Anyone prepared to follow all the istructions for putting the teachings into practice should benefit greatly. The following qibbles should not put a prospective buyer off: 1) There really should be some warning that the purchaser ought to have read the "Classical Drawing Atelier" because, for example, some terms are used in the former but only defined in the latter; 2)the presentation could be improved from a DIY point of view for those who cannot aquire personal tuition and, while much advice and instruction is given, it could be improved, not least in showing some of the steps involved.


J. M. W. Turner: The Man Who Set Painting on Fire (New Horizons)
J. M. W. Turner: The Man Who Set Painting on Fire (New Horizons)
by Olivier Meslay
Edition: Paperback
Price: 5.57

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars JMW TURNER, 26 Dec 2009
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A really excellent introduction to and analysis of the work of JMW Turner. Pity the images are not larger, but then, so would be the price, and for what it costs don't miss it.


Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith
Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith
by Scott Hahn
Edition: Paperback
Price: 7.69

4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasons To Believe, Scott Hahn, 5 July 2009
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Reasons to Believe: How to Understand, Explain and Defend the Catholic Faith
Excellent book. Clearly, persuasively and very effectively written. Look forward to reading others by this author


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