I have just finished reading an excellent book:
It is not my usual sort of reading, I end to prefer fiction, and if I do read history books, the Tudors are not a period I have much interest in. However, I was attracted to this book by its cover, I read the opening chapter in the bookshop and was hooked. I bought it and was not disappointed; it was quite a tough read, but well worth the effort. A fascinating account of the world of espionage in the reign of Elizabeth I, it takes a little getting into but it is utterly gripping when you’re into your reading stride. The first part, which deals with the plots, real and supposed, by a network of Catholics exiled across Europe is quite dense, and there are a lot of names to contend with, but the second half which is about plots within England is a galloping read.
By the end I was totally in the strange world of Elizabethan spying and now I want to know more now about the codes and cyphers the spies used, and more about the chief code-breaker Thomas Phelippes. There are main players in the book which spans the years of Elizabeth’s reign and many interesting and odd characters, but Thomas just leapt off the page at me, and although there was only a slight but no doubt accurate contemporary description of him, and no pictures, I could really see him in my mind’s eye.
Thomas was born in 1556 and went to Cambridge University; he was a small, blondish young man, very short-sighted and with a pock-marked face. He served under Sir Francis Walsingham, a powerful and dangerous man who had an intricate web of spies, intelligencers, informers, forgers and code-breakers, and Thomas was pre-eminent among them. Thomas could read French, Italian and Latin; he cold crack any code, forge any script and has been described as one of Europe’s finest cryptanalysts at the time. He is most famous, or notorious for adding a postscript to a letter sent by Mary Queen of Scots, ‘the bloody letter’ which eventually led to the execution of the Scottish queen
…and if I was making a film of Thomas’s life, maybe this Danish actor could play the part!