Kirkus Reviews QR Code
ELIZABETH’S SPYMASTER by Robert Hutchinson


Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England

by Robert Hutchinson

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2007
ISBN: 978-0-312-36822-7
Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

An examination of the life and sometimes gruesome career of the Protestant official who crushed Catholic resistance in 16th-century England.

Hutchinson (The Last Days of Henry VIII, 2005) delves deep into history to explore the life of Francis Walsingham (1532–90), a seminal yet little known figure whose influence still resonates today. The author’s broad knowledge of the Elizabethan era helps elucidate the key issues in which his subject was embroiled. Perhaps of even greater importance, Hutchinson unveils the methodology Walsingham employed to garner crucial intelligence for his queen after he took over her secret intelligence service from Sir William Cecil. Elizabeth called Walsingham “a rank Puritan,” but both were fervent Protestants, and one of the spymaster’s first tasks was to quash the threat from “that devilish woman,” Catholic Mary Queen of Scots. Walsingham stopped at nothing, even forging correspondence to discredit Mary. As Hutchinson details these events and the growing threat from Catholic Spain, he notes parallels between his subject’s techniques and modern day intelligence operations. Walsingham would have had no problem, the author avers, with the draconian measures taken by many Western nations in recent years to combat terrorism. Indeed, ‘human rights’ was an unknown concept in an age when suspects were routinely tortured to extract information. Hutchinson painstakingly scrutinizes the broad range of grisly devices employed in these activities and proffers information on such accomplices as chief torturer Richard Topcliffe, “rackmaster” Thomas Norton and playwright Christopher Marlowe, who became part of the spy ring Walsingham formed.

Informative, though some may wince at Walsingham’s bloody tactics.