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Her Majesty's Spymaster

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About the Author

Stephen Budiansky, journalist and military historian, is the author of nine books about history, science, and nature, including Air Power: The Men, Machines, and Ideas That Revolutionized War, from Kitty Hawk to Gulf War II. He publishes frequently in The New York Times and The Washington Post and currently serves as a correspondent for The Atlantic Monthly.


A staunch Puritan, sober in dress, Sir Francis Walsingham must, ironically, have stood out in the flamboyant court of Elizabethan England. What distinguished him was not only his dress; as Budiansky succinctly puts it, "he knew how to shut up." This narrative recounts Walsingham's growth from Protestant expatriate to English ambassador to France, principal secretary, privy councilor, and untitled spymaster for Elizabeth I, engaging in operations related to her rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots, and to the Catholic countries of Spain and France. Walsingham's discretion was so complete that he took to his grave many of his intelligence-gathering methods, which had helped make England a major player on the world stage. Nonetheless, Budiansky (Battle of Wits: The Complete Story of Codebreaking in World War II), a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, shows that this man was responsible for forging many espionage techniques that carry into our own era (e.g., codebreaking, double agents). Budiansky's prose is peppered with a wry wit that makes the book a pure joy to read. A chronology of events, a list of relevant names, and a brief discussion of the language, money, and calendar of the period make for helpful additions to the character-rich tale. Recommended for all libraries.-Tessa L.H. Minchew, Georgia Perimeter Coll. Lib., Clarkston Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Rising from humble roots, Sir Francis Walsingham is a model of a certain type of Elizabethan figure, thriving at an innovative court that preferred service by men of talent rather than by the high nobility. As Queen Elizabeth's secretary of the Privy Council, Walsingham coordinated a number of official and unofficial spy networks, historian Budiansky relates in this fresh look at the Virgin Queen's reign. Corresponding equally with ambassadors and shadowy informants, supervising code breakers and couriers, teaching himself the rules of watching and waiting, Walsingham developed influential models for the roles of secretary and spymaster. Additionally, according to Budiansky, at a time when religion was very much intertwined with both internal and external politics, he proved an early example of the political mindset that put national devotion above religious sentiment. Diplomatic intrigue and attempted conspiracies are natural threads to weave through the stories of Elizabeth's marriage negotiations; her struggle to create a religious settlement; her rivalry with Mary, Queen of Scots; and the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Even readers who are already versed in Elizabeth's reign will find Budiansky's new angles on a much-examined era enlightening. (Aug. 22) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

Fascinating and superbly written. Walsingham was the CIA's 'Wild Bill' Donovan and George Smiley rolled into one.--The Wall Street Journal

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