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  • Forget Le Carré, Deighton and the rest - this is more enthralling than any modern spy fiction

    Rupert Christiansen, Daily Telegraph
  • Absorbing and closely documented ... his accounts of the unmasking of the Throckmorton and Babington plots are full and gripping, and he throws much light on the secret agents who exposed these and similar conspiracies ... Alford vividly evokes this murky world of codes, ciphers, invisible ink, intercepted letters, aliases, disguises, forgeries and instructions to burn after reading ... flowing narrative [and] crisp judments ... engrossing

    Keith Thomas, Guardian
  • Alford brings these men, their worlds and the unfortunate victims of their espionage vividly out of the shadows. Their interlocking biographies and adventures combine to produce a portrait of a mid-to-late Elizabethan England that was ruled by Walsingham's maxim: "There is less danger in fearing too much than too little" ... [Alford] has brought a dash of le Carré to the 16th century

    Dan Jones, Times Book of the Week
  • Alford paints a vivid and staggeringly well-researched portrait of the sinister side of Elizabethan England ... This is a spectacular book. It sheds new light on plots that most historians have ceased to explore and brings less famous conspiracies to the attention of the general reading public

  • Fascinating ... If you want to know the inside story of this struggle, the dark heart of calculation and the fight for survival, then this is the book to read. I know no better

    Alan Judd, Spectator
  • An enthralling account of the murky shadow-world of Elizabethan espionage ... The fascination of Alford's book ... lies in its focus on the worker bees in the intelligence hive. He has delved deep into encrypted archives to discover the lengths to which Elizabethan Englishmen were prepared to go to destroy their queen, or to defend her - and one of the surprises of a story full of dizzying twists is quite how many of them ended up attempting to do both ... In a bravura piece of counterfactual storytelling, Alford describes the moment in an imagined 1586 when one of the many plots to assassinate Elizabeth finally succeeded ... The heart of the Tudor state, as Alford compellingly shows, is entirely human in its darkness

    Helen Castor, Times Higher Education
  • The Watchers ... provides a genuine - and compelling - reappraisal of one of the most studied periods in English history: the reign of Elizabeth I. In exploring the world (or underworld) of Elizabethan espionage, Alford takes us on a darker, more disturbing and arguably more fascinating journey through the Elizabethan era than any other historian of the period ... [He] begins by taking the reader through a terrifyingly dramatic account of an assassination attempt in 1586, which leaves Queen Elizabeth mortally wounded ... It is an imaginary, but startlingly real scenario ... By telling it here, Alford sets the scene perfectly for the rest of the narrative, putting the reader in the mindset of the Virgin Queen's paranoid ministers ... a fascinating cast of characters ... engaging and perfectly pitched narrative ... Alford weaves together the bewilderingly complex threads of plots and counterplots so skilfully that as a reader you are never left floundering

    Tracy Borman, BBC History Magazine
  • Alford ... has delved deeply into 16th-century archives to unearth a history of the dark underside to the Elizabethan golden age - a page-turning tale of assassination plots, torture, and espionage

    Publishers Weekly
  • An intimate and revealing exploration of the men who did the Elizabethan security state's dirty work. Lifting the lid on the Protestant-Catholic 'cold war' of the late sixteenth century, Stephen Alford sifts the sources with a forensic eye, bringing to life the motley collection of self-interested chancers and drifters, religious and political zealots who watched each other in the streets of London, Paris and Rome. Leading us into the dark corners, safe houses and interrogation chambers of this twilight world, The Watchers paints a fascinating picture of the vast and nebulous threat facing Elizabethan England - and its determination to deal with that threat by any means necessary

    Thomas Penn, author of WINTER KING
  • Detailed and diligently researched

    Sunday Times

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