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on 12 February 2007
An excellent, very well-written book, transporting the reader into 16th and early 17th century England and the real-life adventures of priests on the run, Catholics who hid them and sometimes died for them, and a Government which saw all priests (and especially the Jesuits) as agents of a foreign power. A balanced presentation, with impressive research but always readable - in fact, a page turner for anyone interested in the religious situation at the time of Elizabeth and James 1st. It's impossible not to admire the bravery of these hunted men and the ingenuity of the hiding places constructed in so many stately homes across the country, and to puzzle over the dilemna faced on both sides of the religious divide. How were Catholics, under persecution, to live in loyalty to both their King and their religion ? How was the government to deal with genuine dangers from abroad, without severe injustice to those many English Catholics who were no danger at all ? The book ends with some brief and interesting thoughts on the Muslim community and the Western response to 9/11. We are reminded that the governments of Elizabeth and James "both preached regular sermons on their own essential decency and reasonableness (in contrast to what they perceived as the king-killing doctrines of Rome), both endorsed State-sanctioned acts of inhumanity, forced internments, show trials, revenge punishments, and the erosion of the common law." Aren't we fortunate that this couldn't possibly happen today ?!! This really is a good book, making me want to read more about the Jesuits and this period of history, and to visit the many country houses and historic buildings of London which play their part in the story. Highly recommended.
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on 1 May 2017
Splendid evocation of cruel times.
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on 23 August 2013
Not everyone's 'cup of tea' I'm sure, but this is based on true history (with the source references quoted throughout) without the added glamour usually given to historical fiction. That said I enjoyed the book.
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on 19 June 2013
Very detailed but easy to read.Really felt like I was back in those dark old days.I reccomend this book to anyone interested in this period.
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on 19 February 2011
Idealistic young men, devoted to their faith, not just willing but desperate to suffer martyrdom, and a government hastily drawing up draconian laws to try and deal with them....the parallels with our own time are inescapable, but to give Alice Hogge her due, she only refers to them in an afterword, and lets the story speak for itself.
And a great story it is, too. This was a period when the religious landscape changed frequently and dramatically. In the century which was drawing to a close, the pendulum had swung at least four times (including a couple just under Henry VIII), and the Jesuits weren't to know that the country had finally settled for the Protestant side, and that Catholics would be more or less discriminated against for another 300 years. So the view in the Church was that England would eventually come to its senses, and in the meantime the loyal remnant must be suppported by priests - who were not allowed into the country. These priests were trained at seminaries on the Continent, and shipped secretly into England. All were well aware of their certain fate if they were captured, and yet astonishingly (to me, at any rate), their superiors had to actively weed out candidates who were only in it for the martyrdom, and actually wanted to be caught as soon as possible, thereby wasting the resources that had gone into their training.
The characters we are shown are absorbing, and by no means the blinkered, unquestioning zealots you might imagine. Edmund Campion, who among the martyrs was the nearest the Jesuits had to a poster-boy, was brought up a Protestant, graduated as a high-flyer from Oxford, and was set for the very top of the Elizabethan tree until he converted to Catholicism. Rather like John Henry Newman a few centuries later, except that Campion was risking more than just social ostracism, as he well knew.
Henry Garnet was the overall leader of the mission in England, and lived undercover for an incredible 18 years, being smuggled from one safe house to another during those years. It's impossible to imagine the stress he must have lived under during all that time, but eventually he too was captured, condemned and executed, at almost the same moment as his deputy John Gerard made good his escape from the country, never to return.
The event that effectively put an end to all this adventuring was the Gunpowder Plot, which is seen here for what it was - a horrendously misjudged terrorist act which put back the cause of Catholics for centuries. The common people, who had almost against their will started to have a sneaking admiration for the sort of men who would willingly put their lives on the line for their faith, were instantly alienated by an act of violence directed against the King and Parliament. Then too, of course, the government could eagerly point to it as proof of what they had been arguing all along - that Catholics were inherently treasonous, having no loyalty other than to a foreign pope, and a faith in the name of which they were prepared to murder. Really, James I culdn't have planned it better himself.
At the end, there's still a gulf for me. I can't understand what fired these priests not just to accept but in some cases actively to seek an unimaginably gruesome death, any more than I can comprehend why somone nowadays would want to blow himself and a bus up for his religion. But I suppose that reflects a failure of imagination in me, and it's certainly not the fault of Alice Hogge, who really brings the people and the time to life again.
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VINE VOICEon 29 July 2010
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.
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on 23 June 2008
I wanted to read this book because I have never been able to understand why people would risk their lives for their faith and go to the stake for their religious beliefs. This is not only because I am not a religious person myself, but also because I find it hard to imagine the overwhelming influence the church had over peoples' lives in the 16th century. I have also been quite puzzled at the strength of anti-Catholic feeling that still seems to exist in some parts of the UK even today, and wanted to get a better understanding of what causes this sort of intolerance. I wanted to understand why Catholics were viewed as traitors.

I have read quite a lot of Tudor history over the years but most of it is very pro-Elizabeth, so it was very refreshing to read this book and get a different perspective. That is not to say that it was one-sided, but it certainly gave me an insight into the strength of feeling that made people risk their lives, as well as the determination of the authorities to suppress it.

I think the author has written a very well researched book and I would recommend the book to anybody who is interested in Tudor history and how it still affects us today.
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on 21 July 2012
I found this book to be very hard to put down until the last 20-30 pages when it seemed to be a struggle to finish the book off hence 4 stars but don't let that put you off as there has only been a handful of books that have gripped me enough to read enthusiastically to the last page. This book brings some food to thought about subjects that seem to be in the headlines in this day an age but was still happening 400 years ago regarding home grown terrorism but based on different religions.
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on 29 October 2014
Authoritative marshalling of a broad and deep field of research, a prose style highly readable and personable but always surgically accurate, and a vivid conjuring of real people in real places. Magnificent.
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on 6 October 2006
Alice Hogge is to be congratulated for a well-researched and well-balanced look back in history at the time of Elizabeth I and James I of England. I could hardly put the book down and was drawn into the story by the author's style. Many of the martyrs' names have become well-known to Catholics today and to read a full account of what so many of the young priests on the mission back to England went through during those times only served to prove the strength of their purpose. The Jesuits can feel vindicated for this well presented account of what so many of their own men did to serve the Catholic Recusants. I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting a clear and well-balanced account of what really lay behind the Gunpowder Plot, the Jesuit Mission and the sufferings of England's Catholics under both Elizabeth and James I.
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