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God's Secret Agents: Queen Elizabeth's Forbidden Priests and the Hatching of the Gunpowder Plot Hardcover – June 14, 2005

4.6 out of 5 stars 17 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

As historian Hogge points out in this sometimes dry and sometimes lively popular religious history, the impulse to return Catholicism to England in the latter part of the 16th century arose with the establishment of the Anglican Church. In the early days of her reign, Elizabeth instituted strict laws regarding church attendance and religious practice with punishments that included fines and death. By the time that James I ascended to the throne, persecution of Catholics had risen to such a pitch that a group of Catholic conspirators, including most famously Guy Fawkes, hatched a plot to blow up Parliament. Hogge provides a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of the priests—such as Edmund Campion, John Gerard and Henry Garnet—who made martyrs of themselves in their efforts to reinstate Catholicism in England. Hogge deftly narrates the seething world of religious conflict in late 16th- and early 17th-century England, as well as the intra-Catholic conflicts that arose in the face of persecutions by the throne. Anyone interested in vibrant details of the Gunpowder Plot will have to look elsewhere, since the event plays a small role in Hogge's book, but for a detailed sketch of the religious conflict that led to the plot, Hogge's book provides a starting point. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

England was spared the massive bloodletting of the religious wars that shredded the Continent after the Protestant Reformation, yet the intensity of the religious hostility engendered by the revolution of Henry VIII cannot be minimized. That hostility is best symbolized by the fabled Gunpowder Plot, in which Roman Catholics, purportedly led by Guy Fawkes, conspired to blow up the Houses of Parliament. The precise details of the plot were always murky, but the effects were clear; Catholicism in England was viewed as a form of treason, suggesting allegiance to foreign powers (Spain and the papacy). Hogge, who is descended from a family of devout Catholics, has written a tense, taut, real-life political thriller that examines the plot and the motivations of the plotters and those who thwarted them. She effectively re-creates a world of religious fanaticism in which seemingly trivial theological disputes are matters of life and death. Hogge combines first-rate analytical skills and a flair for conveying irony and high drama to present an excellent examination of this famous episode in English history. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; 1St Edition edition (June 14, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060542276
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060542276
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.4 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,128,945 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
"Remember Remember the Fifth of November

The Gunpowder Treason and Plot

I'll tell you a reason why Jesuit Treason

Should never be forgot

"If there hadn't been given protection from Heaven

To the Parliament Houses and Throne

When the Pope to the flames had devoted King James

They had all to destruction been blown

"Then ever let England her gratitude show

To the Power that averted that terrible blow,

In thanksgiving to God our voices we'll raise

To Him be the glory, to Him be the praise.

"And thus was remembered the fifth of November

The Jesuit Treason and Plot

For should Popery reign we may have it again,

So let Protestants say, IT SHALL NOT!!

"Shout boys shout! let the ring bells ring--

Down with the Jesuits and


Ah, but were the Jesuits really involved (as this English ditty sung for Guy Fawkes Day celebrations assumes) in the 1605 Gunpowder Plot to blow away (literally) the Anglican government of England and restore Roman Catholicism as the true religion of the land? In GOD'S SECRET AGENTS, Alice Hogge sets forth a fascinating case that the plot by dissident Catholics, which was real enough, also provided the Anglican Protestant government with a marvelously effective propaganda tool with which to suppress English Catholicism in general and the Jesuit order in particular.
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Format: Hardcover
Hogge is a terrific writer, and she tackles a subject that makes for edge-of-your-seat reading.

This is the story of Elizabethan England's dark side. Even as Shakespeare created some of the world's greatest literature, a vast number of Englishmen lived in terror.

Catholicism was outlawed. Catholic books weere banned and burned, Catholic citizens first fined, and later killed for daring to attend a mass. The fear of the times is palpable. Any servant, either out of spite or greed, could turn you in.

A small and secret army of priests tended to recrusant Catholics. Priests, who, even if they had been born and educated in England, loved England, were branded the worst of felons and traitors. Many, if not most, would end up sent to grisly deaths, tortured for days before being hung and disembowled. All for believing in a religion that had once been taught throughout the land.

Nothing could save you. Not money or connections. Elizabeth I, with all her glittering entourage, once watched Edmund Campion defeat all comers at an Oxford debate. She was dazzled. The brilliant Campion, deemed "one of the diamonds of England" (P 67) had a secure future. He threw it away to become a priest. Even then, he could have lived in safety in France. He chose to come back and serve God in England, knowing it would end in his death. Andit did, a cruel and prolonged death.

The priests like Campion, mostly Jesuits, lived a precarious existence. Escher-like mazes and priest holes were built to hide them. But there was always a friend or servant who could be tempted to turn you in.

Richard Topcliff, Elizabeth's chief priest hunter, swaggers through the book, a portrait of utter venality and indifference to suffering.
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Format: Hardcover
Alice Hogge's book is about more than English policies against Catholics in sixteenth century England. Ultimately her book is about the doomed Catholics of England, their lives, their beliefs, their incredible courage and how they rankled the Protestant proto-totalitarians by their very existence.

Hogge's book also contains some fascinating photos of priest-holes (the hiding places of Catholic priests, many of which were ingeniously built by an Oxford carpenter named Nicholas Owen).

Just to read the barest of details about Henry Walpole's life after his conversion to his forefather's faith at the execution of St. Edmund Campion is worth the price of the book. Walpole as a largely disinterested Anglican when he stood in the mud of Tyburn fields to watch the execution of Jesuit Fr. Edmund Campion on Dec. 1, 1581. What was Campion's crime? He was Catholic. He had also horribly embarrassed Anglican divines by crushing them in theological debates even though he was denied the use of books, and had been tortured for months. When his entrails were cut from his abdomen and thrown into a boiling cauldron blood splattered onto the shirt of Henry Walpole. Instantly he was converted. He knew he could not remain a Protestant. He left England to become a Jesuit priest. He returned to be martyred. His brother, Michael, and his cousin, Edward, also became Jesuits (or at least priests).
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Format: Hardcover
You know the ship is going to sink, yet the story is still riveting. You know the Catholic mission in England is doomed to failure, yet this was an equally riveting book.

I must confess I was expecting a wholly different book. As a Catholic who is regularly irked by how frequently the Catholic Church is slandered in the mainstream media, I was actually hoping for a book that would turn the tables and portray the English Protestants as inhuman savages. Shame on me.

For my own edification, I am glad the book was far from that. The author did an astounding job of impartially covering the social, political and even theological complexities involving the Catholic-Protestant struggle in England during the sixteenth and and early seventeenth centuries. The author's evenhandedness is most evident in her treatment of Fr. John Garnet and his alleged role in the Gunpowder Plot. After reading this book, one can see that the evidence can be weighted equally towards his guilt or innocence. I personally can't decide.

Although she describes in detail the persecution of Catholics, she does so in a non-judgemental fashion and also makes clear that there were legitimate reasons to fear Catholics being a Fifth Column: the Northern Rebellion, the Ridolfi and Babington plots, and finally the Gunpowder Plot itself. One can only wonder how different history might have been if Pope Pius V had not issued the bull of deposition. Although subsequent Popes rescinded that bull and clearly instructed that Catholics were not to participate in acts of sedition, the damage to Catholic credibility was irreparable.
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