Elizabeth I was a ruler who radiated a sense of power and purpose. Her long and successful reign was a Golden Age of wealth, confidence, creativity, Shakespeare’s plays and Walter Raleigh’s adventures: the apotheosis of the Tudor dynasty.
Across much of Europe, however, Elizabeth was viewed very differently. She was ‘Jezebel’, the bastard offspring of Henry VIII’s illegal second marriage, a woman and a Protestant heretic. The pope denounced her as a heretic schismatic tyrant and the most powerful rulers of Europe conspired to destroy her, their plans most fully realized by the Spanish Armada. If Elizabeth’s reign was a golden age, then it was also a precarious one that required constant, anxious surveillance against sometimes overwhelming threats.
The Watchers is a beautifully written, gripping account of the unflagging battle by spies, codebreakers, ambassadors and confidence-men to protect the queen. It was a reign that required endless watchfulness – of the coasts, of the Catholic seminaries, of Elizabeth’s own subjects. The stakes could not have been higher: priests coming secretly ashore were hunted down and executed, and assassination plots, real and imagined, sprung up everywhere. Drawing on extraordinary secret files, Stephen Alford brings to life this shadow world, where nobody could be trusted and where a single mistake could have changed England’s history drastically. This is a dark, surprising and utterly compelling account of an extraordinary reign.