Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Spymater's Daughter

I have read a few books of Jeane Westin's and I wanted to read this book because it centered on Frances Sidney, the daughter of Elizabeth I's Secretary of State Walsingham.  He was in charge of a large spy network to protect the Queen.  The pope had given word to all Catholics that they could assassinate the Queen.  Elizabeth ascended the throne after the death of her very Catholic half sister Mary.  She was prepared to tolerate them until they forced her hand to more drastic measures.  The Catholics recognized Mary Stuart of Scotland as their queen, because the Pope viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate and therefore had no right to the throne.  Walsingham was for the Protestant cause and Elizabeth had to curb his passion for persecuting the Catholics.  They were not fined for going to church but for practicing Catholicism.  The Pope excommunicated Elizabeth and absolved her subjects from allegiance to her.  This is when things became dangerous for her.

Frances was at court for the height of all this- she was married to Phillip Sidney, a famous poet, and had been sent to court to serve Her Majesty.  It was in her blood to be an intelligencer like her father, but being a woman, she had to be careful to show her talents of ciphering.  Her marriage was a loveless one as her husband was in love with Lady Stella Rich, and while at court Frances tried finding herself.  She was tutored by Dr Dee and worked on ciphers secretly for her father.  At this time, Elizabeth and her cousin Mary of Scots were at war.  Her cousin had fled Scotland when Bothwell was said to have killed her first husband Darnley, and she fled to her cousin's safety.  Having tried claiming the throne before, she was a threat.  For 18 1/2 years she was imprisoned at various homes and castles.  Walsingham worked tirelessly to rid England of this Catholic threat to their sovereign.  His spies were busy at work reading her letters.

Frances had a servant, a Robert Pauley, who worked for her father.  Often together, she eventually fell in love with him.  They ended up on an adventure together, trying to catch Mary Stuart corresponding with Babington about assassinating the Queen.  Frances's husband Phillip, meanwhile, was at war against the Spanish fighting for the Protestant cause.  He was shot in the thigh and died of gangrene 26 days later, at age 32.  His funeral procession was so sumptuous it almost bankrupted his father in law Walsingham.  His poetry made him famous and he was well known.  He had recommended Essex to Frances, and so she was remarried to him.  Elizabeth was not pleased as he was one of her favorites, the stepson of her lifelong favorite Robert Dudley.  Essex was eventually executed in 1601 in a coup against the Queen.  It was likely not another love match.  She did marry once more, and had more children-- I believe 10 total but not all living.  France's children were the great-great grandchildren of England's best-known king.

My Thoughts:  This was a fun historical mystery, with big things happening.  Elizabeth eventually executed her cousin Mary Stuart, but always seemed to regret it.  It is likely her councillors including Walsingham pushed her to it.  Religion was never an easy thing for a sovereign, and Elizabeth had come to the throne trying to keep peace or a middle ground.  This book showed Elizabeth's unique behavior and that of those at the court.  Frances seemed to be smart but was used to being a pawn in the marrige world to whomever was advantageous to the family's status and wealth.  If she had been good at ciphering or intelligence work, I doubt her father Walsingham would have let her dabble in it.  The love story between Frances and Robert was nice, although fictional.  In other books I've read, Frances was in them briefly; she seems to have been quiet and biddable to her husband the Earl of Essex and his overpowering mother Lettice Knollys.  I hope her third marriage was happy and that she found joy in her children.  She is not a well known character it seems, but was present in an exciting time in history.

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