Thursday, September 10, 2020

The Queen's Devil: The History Behind the Story


I'm pleased to be a part of Paul Walker's blog tour for The Queen's Devil, the latest installment in his William Constable series. Set during the reign of Elizabeth I, this spy thriller is one you won't want to miss. The Tudor era is rich with history that makes it a perfect setting for Walker's story.

Join me in welcoming Paul Walker to the blog today!

~ Samantha


The Queen's Devil: The History Behind the Story

A guest post by Paul Walker

The third book in the William Constable series, The Queen’s Devil, is set in London during the years 1583 and 1584. They’re not instantly memorable dates, but more than enough took place in that period to trigger my writing itch. Elizabeth I was 50 years old and had been on the throne for 25 years. All talk of marriage was gone, but Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley were occupied with conspiracies, war in the Low Countries and the threat of Spain coupled with the influence of the Catholic League in France.

History records John Somerville as a conspirator. In October 1583, he journeyed alone from his home in Warwickshire, uttering threats to kill the Queen. He was arrested and, under torture, implicated his father-in-law, Edward Arden, and Hugh Hall, a Catholic priest. They were also arrested. Arden, who protested his innocence, was in dispute with the Earl of Leicester for refusing to sell him property and reportedly had made comments about the Earl’s affair with Lettice Knollys and the suspicious death of her first husband, the Earl of Essex.

All were found guilty under a fast-track legal process. Hall was released, but Arden was executed at Smithfield. Somerville was moved from the Tower to Newgate prison and within two hours was found dead as the result of self-strangulation. Even by the standards of jails at that time, his death was suspicious. The historian William Camden in his Annales (published after the death of Elizabeth) wrote that he had heard gossip linking his strangling to the Earl of Leicester.

In hindsight the Somerville episode seems undeserving of the term ‘conspiracy’. The ravings of a lone madman were surely no more than a flea bite on the affairs of state, but his threat was taken seriously by Walsingham, and I found the possible link to Leicester intriguing.

The Throckmorton Conspiracy was on a different scale and presented real danger to Elizabeth. It led to the strict confinement of Mary Queen of Scots, the expulsion of the Spanish Ambassador and eventual war with Spain.

Francis Throckmorton was from a prominent Catholic family based in Warwickshire. In 1580 he travelled to Paris, Italy and Spain, where he met with exiled Catholics. In 1583 he returned to England and became involved in an elaborate plot to release Mary Queen of Scots and restore the authority of the Pope. An invasion of England was planned, backed by Spain and led by the French Duke of Guise.

Throckmorton carried messages from the Spanish Ambassador, Bernadino de Mendoza, to Mary and correspondence was routed through the French Embassy at Salisbury Court. Sir Francis Walsingham was alerted to the plot by an agent in the Embassy and Throckmorton was arrested at his house on St Paul’s Wharf in November 1583.

Throckmorton confessed under torture, naming other conspirators. He later retracted his confession, saying he was forced by pain and words put in his mouth. However, his confession agreed with details from other sources and documents seized from his properties confirmed his guilt. His trial took place in May 1584, and he was executed at Tyburn in July of that year.

It may be a coincidence that the conspiracies of Somerville and Throckmorton took place at the same time and there were links of kinship and geography between the two men, but it is known that both affairs shared space on Walsingham’s desk at Seething Lane in November 1583. Ample excuse to suggest a connection in my writing.

Leicester’s Commonwealth was a book first circulated in 1584 attacking Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester for numerous crimes including murder and immorality. The original title was The Copy of a Letter written by a Master of Arts of Cambridge, and begins with a plea for religious toleration of those Catholics loyal to the Queen. The book progresses to defend Mary Stuart’s succession rights, but its primary purpose was to vilify Dudley. The title Leicester’s Commonwealth was first used in the 1641 edition and the book had a significant influence on Dudley’s reputation.

The accusations are many and include the murder of his first wife, Amy Robsart, who broke her neck after falling downstairs. The book also claims he was assisted by his physician, Doctor Guilio Borgarucci, in several acts of poisoning. The victims of poisoning were said to include Walter Devereux, first Earl of Essex, and Baron Sheffield, husbands to his lovers Lettice Knollys and Lady Douglas Sheffield. The book also details Dudley’s amoral behaviour, his monstrous sexual appetite and the lewd conduct of his second wife, Lettice Knollys. Elizabeth was not amused at the trashing of her favourite’s name and published an official condemnation of the libel.

Authorship is uncertain, but likely to be the work of a group of Catholic exiles in France and linked to a factional struggle in the French court, favouring the Catholic League against those who wanted friendship with Elizabeth and England.

Two conspiracies and a scurrilous tract attacking Robert Dudley disturbed the peace of the Queen and her ministers. But there was more, including: the death of Duc d’Anjou, one-time suitor of Elizabeth; William of Orange was assassinated; the fourth edition of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs was published; and Giordano Bruno, the philosopher of an infinite universe arrived in London. The presence of Bruno brings added spice as he was probably Walsingham’s informer on the suspicious activities of Throckmorton.

Research had provided me with a juicy collection of events and characters. Now, all I had to do was weave these into a believable and compelling fiction. Simple. Or was it?

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Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.

Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series - State of Treason and A Necessary Killing - were published in 2019. The third book, titled The Queen's Devil, was published in the summer of 2020.

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