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Sir Francis Walsingham: A Courtier in an Age of Terror
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 8 November 2010
Wilson's biography is intriguing. His research is comprehensive and can occasionally spark forgotten incidents to life in vivid colour.

One fine example is the case of the unfortunate William Davison, appointed to oversee the death warrant of Mary Queen of Scots. An apparently honest man with strong puritan beliefs, he becomes a fall guy, protests his innocence furiously from the tower and then - unbelievably - meekly confesses to all, accepts his prison sentence and an astronomical fine mostly humbly and - after a soft sentence of confinement - is quietly released, draws his salary (without ever working again), is never asked to pay the fine, and then gets awarded a generous portion of land by Elizabeth I once the furore has died down. As Wilson observes "A distinct odour of fish hangs over the whole of these proceedings"

A previous reviewer found Wilson's observations, particularly those tying Elizabethan incidents with 21st century preoccupations, to be "grating". I'm a little more ambivalent about this. On many occasions, Wilson draws a fine metaphor. My criticism is that he cannot draw nearly enough. He is hampered by the thorough decency of his title character. Walsingham spent more money in the Queen's service than she ever did in his. He rehabilitated reputations, paid off debts, hired his own spies, kept his own horses...and here's the rub. Politicians and leaders today are rarely so selfless. It is difficult to compare Walsingham to anyone in modern Government so in the end, the metaphors run dry.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
TOP 100 REVIEWERon 23 September 2009
The sub-title of this is `A Courtier in an Age of Terror' and that's very apt for Wilson's positioning of this study of Francis Walsingham: it focuses almost exclusively on the statesman and politician rather than the man; and it critically deconstructs the `Golden Age' of Elizabeth.

If you're already familiar with the politics of the Elizabethan age then there is not likely to be much that is new in this book: even the attempt to slant it via Walsingham is rather half-hearted. So this reviews in particular the religious wars of the mid-late C16th and the clashes between England, France and Spain, with Scotland and Ireland thrown in as satellites.

However Wilson is no great fan of Elizabeth and he does a good job of deconstructing the myth of Gloriana and the `golden age' giving us instead a queen who is indecisive, uncommitted, self-protective and politically-inept (Wilson's words). Some people might hate this book for this very reason since the Gloriana myth still has currency today, polished by the recent spate of Tudor films and books. But if you'd like a more realistic look at the politics of the age, de-glossed and unromanticised this might suit you.

I found Wilson's style somewhat grating as he uses anachronistic political terms to make the narrative understandable to a contemporary audience: so Spain is the first European `superpower' (what about the Roman empire?), there are `police states', `pre-emptive strikes' and Protestants seeks `political asylum' in England.

Overall this is an interesting read but I didn't feel it enlightened me to any extent about Walsingham the man. Maybe that's because the sources have all been mined already and there is nothing else to be said, but I still felt disappointed. So a good read on the politics and especially religious wars of the mid- to late C16th but this really delivers nothing new.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 1 August 2010
This is a very thorough and well written book. I especially liked the analysis of Elizabeth's behaviour, particularly with regard to the order for the execution of Mary Queen of Scots. It was fascinating to actually read the letters that sealed Mary's fate. I was surprised to learn that the key one was only a copy as Babington had burnt the original and I would have supposed her to have argued that without the evidence of the original anything could have been made up but apparently not.
Walsingham has never appealed to me as a figure but this was very interesting reading and I though Derek Wilson's conclusion was absolutely excellent and insightful as he grappled with the realisation that Walsingham got nothing substantial for all his labour and it was, in fact, Elizabeth who was indebted to him.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 29 November 2009
Very interesting and easy to read for those with a general interest to find out more about Elizabethan England. I have no idea of it's historical integrity but it is a very good general read. Worth getting if you like the period of history.
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