The Watchers

Written by Stephen Alford
Review by C.W. Gortner

Several recent nonfiction books have delved into the thorny subject of Sir Francis Walsingham, his dedication to Queen Elizabeth I, and ruthless pursuit of those he perceived as enemies of the state. Stephen Alford’s The Watchers is a welcome addition to the popular study of Elizabethan espionage in that he does not repeat facts already established so much as breathes startling fresh life into the origin and spread of the Elizabethan secret service.

Alford is a scholar who has done his work, digging into archives to exhume fascinating and previously unexplored events; starting with a fictional assassination of Elizabeth, he sets the stage for his exploration of the deep-rooted fears that the queen, her people and ministers lived under—a nightmare scenario of an unwed sovereign’s untimely death that would expose England to invasion and war. Alford’s portrayal of the motley crew of opportunists, pariahs and sociopaths recruited by Walsingham in his cold war on terror paint a distinctly darker portrait of the reign of this most beloved queen, exposing a sordid underworld where everything was for sale and no one could be trusted.