Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Elizabethan Espionage: Plotters and Spies in the Struggle between Catholicism and the Crown

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

Elizabethan Espionage: Plotters and Spies in the Struggle between Catholicism and the Crown

Article excerpt

Elizabethan Espionage: Plotters and Spies in the Struggle between Catholicism and the Crown. By Patrick H. Martin. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Company. 2016. Pp. x, 358. $49.95 paperback. ISBN 978-1-4766-6255-8.)

Elizabeth Espionage: Plotters and Spies in the Struggle between Catholicism and the Crown aims to defend the Catholics of Elizabethan England from the charge of terrorism. Its main argument is that English Catholics were more the victims than the terrorists, during what Martin calls "the struggle over England's religious identity" during the late sixteenth century. He aims to showcase this by re-examining the activities of late Elizabethan spies in a search for their underlying motives, in contrast to much scholarly study which consistently portrays spies as nothing more than traitors.

Martin focuses especially on two spies who worked for opposite sides: George Gifford and William Sterrell. Martin portrays Gifford as an agent provocateur for the spymaster Francis Walsingham, while Sterrell secretly worked for the Earl of Worcester as a Catholic counter-spy. These two characters come alive in the pages of Martin's work, as he presents and examines primary evidence such as letters, notes, and trial transcripts. He delves into the complex world of the code words and aliases they chose, which clearly demonstrates the humor and intelligence of these brave men. Their humanity is shown through Martin's examination of what he calls 'seepage': tiny slips of information or phrasing that shows the true author of various documents, and allows their movements and loyalties to be tracked despite constant misdirection.

The book is structured like a legal defense, complete with an eloquent opening statement in the preface, background information on the defendants in the opening chapters, and the careful presentation and analysis of evidence in the second half of the book. It is perhaps for this reason that a few arguments are not entirely supported by historical evidence: defenses, after all, are meant to convince and persuade, putting the defendant in the best light possible. …

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