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CBR4 #22: Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage by Stephen Budiansky

Strangely, this is another book I picked up due to my viewing habits. I am a huge fan of the film Elizabeth starring Cate Blanchett. Although it's obviously very fictitious historical fiction, it's still a tremendous film full of amazing performances. My favorite character in it is definitely Sir Francis Walsingham, played by Geoffrey Rush as a cunning strategist and loyal ally. I figured that while he's obviously been made more interesting for the film, somewhere there must be a grain of truth to his role, and I bought this book to try and find it.

Walsingham was in fact one of Queen Elizabeth's most trusted advisers. He was a devout protestant who had spent a great deal of time outside of England, acting as an ambassador. He was a quiet, frugal person, a devoted family man and conscientious civil servant. He was also a master of strategy; he managed to place double agents, crack codes, use misinformation to achieve his goals, and handle a rather indecisive monarch. At the time, there were plots against the queen from every direction, and Walsingham used his network of spies to stay one step ahead of every one.

The other historical personalities who appear in the piece are pretty well fleshed out as well. The queen herself doesn't come off very well--she's shown as often refusing to take action until circumstances are already out of hand, making Walsingham's job more difficult than it needed to be. There is also a lot of petty jealousy from other members of court, as well as some traitors within the walls.

The book is well-researched, but it is not entirely chronological, which leads to some confusion about the sequence in which events happened. However, it's a fascinating depiction of the work of a man far ahead of his time.

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