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Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage Hardcover – August 22, 2005

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 235 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st edition (August 18, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670034266
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670034260
  • Product Dimensions: 5.7 x 1 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,178,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Rising from humble roots, Sir Francis Walsingham is a model of a certain type of Elizabethan figure, thriving at an innovative court that preferred service by men of talent rather than by the high nobility. As Queen Elizabeth's secretary of the Privy Council, Walsingham coordinated a number of official and unofficial spy networks, historian Budiansky relates in this fresh look at the Virgin Queen's reign. Corresponding equally with ambassadors and shadowy informants, supervising code breakers and couriers, teaching himself the rules of watching and waiting, Walsingham developed influential models for the roles of secretary and spymaster. Additionally, according to Budiansky, at a time when religion was very much intertwined with both internal and external politics, he proved an early example of the political mindset that put national devotion above religious sentiment. Diplomatic intrigue and attempted conspiracies are natural threads to weave through the stories of Elizabeth's marriage negotiations; her struggle to create a religious settlement; her rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots; and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Even readers who are already versed in Elizabeth's reign will find Budiansky's new angles on a much-examined era enlightening. (Aug. 22)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* A journalist associated with the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Atlantic the author illuminates a new route to appreciating the distinct personality of England's Elizabeth I and the exciting climate found at her court. Budiansky's take on events isolates one particular--and particularly interesting--thread running through Elizabeth's long and vastly consequential reign: the career of Sir Francis Walsingham as the queen's ambassador to France and, later, as Her Majesty's private secretary. It was during the latter tenure that he organized a spy ring to supply his royal boss with diplomatic information vital to the safekeeping of the kingdom and to affect affairs abroad in favor of the maintenance of her throne. The "case" in which he was most engrossed as spymaster to the queen was keeping up with Mary Stuart's "tricks" to disestablish her cousin Elizabeth and pave the way for her to assume the English crown herself, as well as her own Scottish one. Walsingham himself, however, is not shrouded in darkness and mystery in this vivid account; he emerges full-blown as a "strange and powerful combination" of both Puritan and Renaissance man. Brad Hooper
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Customer Reviews

The book is highly recommended for anyone interested in the Elizabethian era and/or the history of espionoge.
Mark R. Whittington
Instead, the book is a commentary on the times of Elizabeth I and associated historical events that just happens to mention Francis Walsingham.
In fact, the book is so loaded down with quotes and excerpts that it lacks any real tone or voice of its own.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 36 people found the following review helpful By Wayne Klein HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 2, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In the 16th century England was at a crossroads. She couldn't possibly hope to match the sheer man power or size of the fleets at sea and hope to dominant world affairs. England would always end up playing catch up with Spain, France and other European powers with better resources. Intelligence and spying seemed to offer the key to help the islands in the Atlantic to dominate the world of politics. Queen Elizabeth turned to people like Sir Francis Walsingham.

Walsingham may not have invented spying or been the ultimate spymaster but he honed it to a fine art as did others in Queen Elizabeth's court. This was the time when monarchy was absolute rule after all and anything hinting at dissent was met swiftly and usually resulted in death. Author Stephen Budiansky has made this period fascinating by grafting a breezy style to this story. While people think they know a lot about the Elizabethan era in England, usually it's bits and pieces gleaned from studying Shakespeare or a course in college on the history of England during this time. The spying and doublecrosses that went on during this era are largely unknown to the average reader and, as a result, this may prove enlightening and entertaining.

This isn't written for academics. Like a lot of history books written for popular consumption this book escapes the dry, stilted text that makes you feel like you're buried in undergraduate classes again and it does bring to light an era largely forgotten by others and it makes it exciting. Based on what I know of the period, Budiansky does a good job with his scholarship and manages to make history---gasp!---entertaining as well as enlightening.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By Todd Saint Pe' on November 26, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Having just read the review by the esteemed Lisa Jardine (her "Worldly Goods: A New History of the Renaissance" is a great book)for the Washington Post, I felt compelled to respond.

She's rather harsh with it I think. I don't think Budiansky's history is any less accurate just because he is writing to an audience wider than us nerdy historians. It's just a lot less technical. I'm sure she misses all the footnotes and endnotes that we tend to live for, but I think that his narrative style gives his subject life and makes it a lot more fun to read than most history that is written for historians.

I think this book is a great introduction into the world of Elizabethan politics and espionage. Budiansky's work should not be compared to one such as Conyers Read's (still a great historian if a bit outdated), for they have completely different audiences for which they are writing. That said, perhaps Jardine was trying to say as much when she cited "Shakespeare in Love", but I think that's an unfair comparison... Budiansky takes FAR fewer liberties with fact.

So, if you are a non-historian, a casual reader, or if you're looking for a book for your undergraduate students, I recommend this book. If you are a history junky, and/or trying to find an authoritative work on Walsingham for graduate studies, you'll probably only want to use this book as a quick summary (it's an easy/fast read) of the carreer of Mr. Secretary Walsingham, if at all. There are certainly more authoritative books out there, but few as entertaining to read. And shouldn't history be fun to read?
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By D.S.Thurlow TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on January 14, 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Stephen Budiansky's "Her Majesty's Spymaster" is a very readable popular history of Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I's personal secretary and informal chief of intelligence. Written in a breathless novelistic style, Budiansky captures the atmospherics and endless intigues of the Tudor period in a way designed to capture the interest of the average person without background in the era. He succeeds in making the religious struggles and dynastic wars of this distant period accessible to the modern reader.

Walsingham was unusual in his time in that he served in a high position in government without having come from the nobility. His rise from what would now be termed a middle class upbringing was based on education, talent, and good service. Walsingham turned out to be a superbly capable spymaster who could get and keep secrets and protect the fortunes of his Queen and country. Walsingham was especially effective in managing the English rivalry with France, including the dangerous problem of the status of Mary Queen of Scots, and the running conflict with Spain.

Budiansky is less than effective in making the case that Walsingham gave birth to modern espionage. Walsingham learned his craft from his mentor and predecessor, Lord Burghley, and his success was due less to inventing new methods of espionage than to making fewer mistakes than his contemporaries in executing already widely-known tactics and techniques.

This book is recommended to the casual reader looking for an introduction to the intrigues of the Elizabeath period. The close student of the history of the period will find no information that has not been covered in more detail elsewhere.
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14 of 15 people found the following review helpful By John Matlock on September 11, 2005
Format: Hardcover
In a time of an abosolute monarch, the court revolves around people who specialize in providing that monarch with what she wants. Walsingham obviously supplied Elizabeth with what she wanted. Using techniques that sound like they come from a James Bond novel, he was able to set up an intelligence network that gave the queen proof of the actions of traitors, vital information about the Spanish Armada, and more. He did this without the nicieties of Miranda warnings, or search warrents, his men opened the mail and copyed letters (especially bad for Mary Queen of Scots).

Mr. Budiansky's writing style is open and easy. It reads fast, not like a history book. There are no footnotes (but there are some notes at the back of the book), there's not even an index (sorely missed if you want to look up something like where does he talk about Dudley).

I'm not so sure that Walsingham's spy networks fit into today's world quite as easily as he believes. Then again during World War II with the 'Man Who Wasn't There,' and other activities, maybe it was pretty close.
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More About the Author

Stephen Budiansky is a writer, historian, and journalist, the author of 14 books about military and intelligence history, science, and the natural world. He is a former editor and writer at U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic and the former Washington Editor of the scientific journal Nature. He lives on a small farm in northern Virginia.