Book Title: A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery
Author: Suzanne M. Wolfe
Time Period: Late 16th Century
Setting: London, during the reign of Elizabeth I
I loved everything about this book. Starting with the cover…which I admit is THE thing that caught my attention in the first place, to the colorful 16th century language of not only the court royals but the common folk as well. The main character, Nick Holt, is extremely likable. What makes his likability so unusual is that, although he is of noble blood and is a spy for Queen Elizabeth, he also has a compassionate nature and can make even the lowest servant feel at ease. And although he himself has shady dealings as a tavern owner who frequently visits women of less-than-stellar reputations, he’s not a complete rake.
Of course, I can’t speak of characters without mentioning Nick’s sidekick and true star of the show, Hector, Nick’s Irish Wolfhound. I always love when authors not only include animals in their stories (after all, they are so much a part of our world) but give them real personality and a human connection that pet owners can truly relate to.
The murder of a young noblewoman is at the heart of this story, and I’ll admit I was stumped the whole way through the story, trying to figure out who the culprit was. Ms. Wolfe does an amazing job at weaving an intriguing story that keeps you guessing and mixing it with historical tidbits and facts that don’t feel like a historical information dump.
Well researched and artistically written, A Murder by Any Name is a great start to this Elizabethan Spy Mystery Series. It will be interesting to see where Nick and Hector go from here.
Purchase your copy of A Murder by Any Name: An Elizabethan Spy Mystery by Suzanne M. Wolfe here.
Alyce Bradley is practically past her prime in terms of making a good match. When she is faced with marriage to a man that repulses her, the offer of marriage from another man, though rumored to be a womanizer and a pirate, almost appeals to her.
Alyce makes her choice, and has to live with it. And slowly she is making it work. But when jealousy and bad blood cause Alyce to be accused of damnable deeds, she will face the most difficult trial of her life.
She is not the perfect, beautiful protagonist that you see quite often in fictional stories, which is one thing that makes this story unique. Alyce has a sharp tongue, is quite practical and solemn, and has a hard time showing her affection. But she has likable qualities, and the one I found to be most admirable was her ability to bite her tongue when those around her were being rude to her. I found myself quite often thinking of all the things I would have said in response to the characters that verbally mistreated her, had I been in her shoes! (Yeah, I probably would have been accused of witchcraft for being insolent, incorrigible, or whatever other bad qualities that get attached to women who aren’t demure and meek. LOL)
Meyrick gives you a wonderful insight into the everyday life of a late 16th century English household and the workings of a manor house. Her attention to detail concerning the court systems, jails and commerce of the time period are wonderfully described making you feel as if you are experiencing it for yourself. She demonstrates perfectly how tittle-tattle, jealousy, and revenge played a large part in the witchcraft accusations in the 16th century, and it is easy to see how one might find themselves on the wrong side of the law, just because a neighbor (or worse-a friend or relative) had it out for them.
Alyce had so much stress in her life. From a husband whom she was trying to get to know and understand in the small snatches of time they were allotted together, to a jealous sister, and a delusional former suitor. I fretted throughout the story as to how she was going to get out of her predicament. Meyrick really knows how to build the tension and keep you guessing as to what is going to happen next. I worried myself to find out how all the loose ends were going to come together to resolve the conflict in poor Alyce’s life. I am a sucker for a knight in shining armor and I tend to lean toward the whole rescued damsel in distress trope. Alyce’s husband tries to be that for her but can’t. And I’m ok with that. I was still pleased to see the author give Alyce the happy ending that she deserved!
This was my first exposure to reading books from this author. I do plan on reading more of her wonderfully detailed works.
The celebrated poet, T.S. Eliot may have penned these famous words in his poem, “East Coker”, however, he was not the first person to use them. Mary, Queen of Scots took this phrase as a motto sometime during her long captivity in England. Embroidering the words on her canopy of state, they served as a sort of prophetic epitaph of her life, that ended so tragically at the hands of the Queen of England, Elizabeth I.
Some scholars speculate that she
may have been referring to her late grandfather-in-law, Francis I’s symbol of
the salamander with these words. In medieval times the salamander had an
allegorical element that symbolized a righteous person’s ability to withstand
fire, just as the three Hebrew children in the Biblical story, emerged unharmed
from the fiery furnace.
Mary was an unrepentant Catholic.
She never swayed from her religious beliefs, even though it caused heartache
for her for most of her life. It is no secret that she considered herself a
martyr for her Catholic faith (even going so far as to wearing a red petticoat,
the martyr’s color, at her execution). She is known to have told her
cousin, the Duke of Guise:
“For myself, I am resolute to die for my religion. . . With God’s
help, I shall die in the Catholic faith and to maintain it
constantly. . .without doing dishonor to the race of
Lorraine, who are accustomed to die the sustenance of the faith.”
In her Essay on Adversity, written in 1580, Mary wrote of the
lives of rulers:
“Tribulation has been to them as a furnace to fine gold—a means
of proving their virtue, of opening their so-long blinded eyes, and
of teaching them to know themselves and their own failings.”
Perhaps Mary saw herself emerging victorious on the other side of this mortal life with that everlasting life promised to believers that can only come after death.
words can also be a bit predictive. They are a sort of foretelling of the
immortal, romanticized life that she has taken on since her death. She is,
beyond a doubt, one of the most controversial figures in Scottish history.
Whether you believe she was complicit in her second husband’s death, and guilty
of plotting a treasonous over-taking of the English throne, one cannot deny
that she has had more than her fair share of 15 minutes of fame, and she
remains one of those characters in history that we non-participants either love
to love, or love to hate.
A little back history
After her disastrous second
marriage to Lord Henry Darnley ended in his death by strangulation, Mary was
kidnapped, raped and accepted a marriage proposal by another man accused in the
death of her husband (we’ll save that story for another day.) When Mary followed through with the marriage barely
two months after Darnley’s death, suspicions were heightened concerning Mary’s
involvement with Darnley’s murder.
Soon Scottish lords were seeking
to implicate Mary in Darnley’s murder as well, and she was forced to abdicate
her throne to her one-year old son, James. When attempts to raise an army to
take back her throne failed, she ended up imprisoned at Loch Leven Castle where
she eventually miscarried Bothwell’s twins. She finally escaped ten months
later with the help of one of her sympathizes.
Mary attempted a second time
to raise an army, trying in vain to defeat her leading opponent, her half-brother
James Stewart, Earl of Moray. When she was not successful, she fled to England,
hoping to obtain help from her cousin, Queen Elizabeth.
Any indications of sympathy
that Mary may have received from Elizabeth were short lived. She was quickly
taken into custody and remained so, moving from residence to residence under
house arrest for the next 19 years. Although records indicate that she led a
somewhat pampered life while in England (after all—she was a queen), the fact
remained that Mary was still a captive of Elizabeth’s. With her health
declining, she made it no secret that she would use any means necessary to
escape her situation. This was not a confession to treason, but merely an
admission that she had tried on more than one occasion to escape.
A victim of one scheming nobleman after
another, she continued to be a political pawn, having no control of her own
life. When her private letters were produced for Elizabeth to read, the
contents were condemning. Through plots originating at the hands of her
supporters in an attempt to rescue her, and plots formed at the hands of her
enemies in an effort to entrap her, Mary endured some of the most farcical
examples of court intrigue that have ever existed and rivals anything even
Hollywood could come up with.
The day finally came
On August 11, 1586, Mary was arrested for her part in another
murder plot to kill Elizabeth that would eventually come to be called the
Babington Plot. Mary’s long-time English
foe, Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, William Cecil, and another of Elizabeth’s
secretaries, Sir Francis Walsingham, had finally succeeded in scrounging up
something to pin on the Scottish queen.
By this time, Mary was suffering from arthritis, making
movement in her arms and legs very painful. She could not walk without
assistance and was confined to a bed most of the time. She testified in court
that due to her illness, she had no desire to take the reins of government again.
She also complained that her letters and papers had all been taken from her,
and that she had not been given any counsel as to how to proceed in her trial. The
most adamant of her complaints, however, was the fact that since she was not an English subject, they had no
right whatsoever, to try her under English law.
Her pleas and complaints went unheard, and after Elizabeth’s attempts to end her Scottish problem with other means had failed, she finally signed the death warrant to execute Mary on February 1 the following year. She was executed seven days later. Mary was 44 years of age when she laid down her life in typical martyr fashion, her red petticoat announcing to the world the glorious death to which she had been called.
The following pictures were taken at the Mary Queen of Scots House in Jedburgh, Scotland when I was there in 2017. They depict examples of the high demand for relics pertaining to Mary and her fascinating story. There are many more relics at Jedburgh, but here I have posted only the ones that pertain to this post.
One final note of interest…
If you are interested in seeing some of the places that Mary stayed after her initial arrest in Scotland in 1567, or if you want to start at the beginning of her life in 1542, this is an excellent book. The author is Andrew Burnet.