The Queen’s Spy, Guest Post by Clare Marchant

1584: Elizabeth I rules England. But a dangerous plot is brewing in court, and Mary Queen of Scots will stop at nothing to take her cousin’s throne.

There’s only one thing standing in her way: Tom, the queen’s trusted apothecary, who makes the perfect silent spy…

2021: Travelling the globe in her campervan, Mathilde has never belonged anywhere. So when she receives news of an inheritance, she is shocked to discover she has a family in England.

Just like Mathilde, the medieval hall she inherits conceals secrets, and she quickly makes a haunting discovery. Can she unravel the truth about what happened there all those years ago? And will she finally find a place to call home?

A Historical Aspect of The Queen’s Spy

As history is such a passion of mine, sometimes it is difficult to choose exactly which aspect of the era to concentrate on. However when it came to Tom’s story I was quite sure where I wanted him to fit in – the notorious battle between Elizabeth 1st and Mary Queen of Scots is such an interesting one with many twists and turns.

Considering that the Babington plot happened five hundred years ago it is quite astonishing how Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster managed to rule over a huge network of spies all across Europe. With the vast majority of the continent still Catholic whilst England was now Protestant, it was vital he knew what was happening and what plots the Spanish and French may be cooking up. The level of mistrust between the two religions was so high with battles constantly ongoing in France, that the threat of the war coming to England’s shores hung like a pall over the country. It was thought by some that if England had Catholic monarch on the throne it would calm down tensions, and as they did not recognise Henry VIII marriage to Anne Boleyn following his divorce from Catherine of Aragon, Mary Queen of Scots in their opinion had a greater claim to the throne than Elizabeth.

Given that Walsingham didn’t have any of the equipment and tools that we consider imperative for spying these days (having watched numerous James Bond films!) it is quite amazing how well Walsingham did. As we discover in The Queen’s Spy, he had some remarkably clever people working on ciphers and codes for him. The most famous was Thomas Phelippes, an expert who was able to decipher the coded messages sent from Chartley where Mary was kept as a prisoner (via barrels of ale which in my opinion was an inspired idea!) before copying and sometimes altering them, and forwarding to France. Likewise, he then read the coded messages as they were returned to Mary. The number of double agents he had working for him were quite mind-blowing as they slipped from assignations between conspirators to meeting up with Walsingham and not being discovered. In an age when people could and were killed and disposed of without anyone noticing, it was a dangerous occupation. The likes of Berden and Robert Pooley (who were real spies in Walsingham’s network) did well to keep their cover.

I also like the fact that not only was Walsingham using codes to convey messages across the continent but even in the sixteenth century he had a way of using shorthand so that messages could be written on the smallest of pieces of parchment and easily hidden.

Despite the danger that Mary posed to the English throne, Elizabeth did not wish to have her cousin executed. After each plot to have her deposed was discovered (and there were others before Babington) she still refused to sign a death warrant. It was one thing to have the plotters meet a gory and unpleasant death (and Babington’s apparently was such a blood bath that the Queen decided to have his co-conspirators simply hung, drawn and quartered so as not to upset the Londoners who had come to watch!) but it was another to have a member of her own family killed. After all, she had managed to keep Mary as a prisoner for many years. However Walsingham and Lord Burghley, the Queen’s chief advisor knew that the only way to keep the throne safe was to remove the threat once and for all. So having persuaded Elizabeth to sign the death warrant, Walsingham immediately rode to Fotheringhay Castle where Mary was incarcerated to ensure that it was carried out. Sure enough within days Elizabeth had changed her mind, but it was too late and the job was done. Her throne was safe.

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Meet Clare Marchant

Growing up in Surrey, Clare always dreamed of being a writer. Instead, she followed a career in IT, before moving to Norfolk for a quieter life and re-training as a jeweller.

Now writing full time, she lives with her husband and the youngest two of her six children. Weekends are spent exploring local castles and monastic ruins, or visiting the nearby coast.

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