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  • Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I by Peter Lake
  • Frank Swannack
Lake, Peter, Bad Queen Bess? Libels, Secret Histories, and the Politics of Publicity in the Reign of Queen Elizabeth I, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2016; hardback; pp. 512; R.R.P. £35.00; ISBN 9780198753995.

Peter Lake argues that Bad Queen Bess? fills a neglected historical gap by focusing on Catholic propaganda in the Elizabethan period. Key historical moments are given renewed significance through the dialogue between Catholic dissenters and the Elizabethan government.

Chapters 1 to 3 analyse the defence and condemnation of Mary Queen of Scots. Lake reveals in a narrative by John Leslie a predicted marriage between the Duke of Norfolk and Mary. When the marriage negotiations failed, the Northern Earls revolted. Lake analyses the response to the rebellion in Thomas Norton's pamphlets. Initially defending Queen Elizabeth from evil Catholics, Norton calls for the queen to act against the Duke of Norfolk and Mary. With the Ridolfi conspiracy seeking to replace Elizabeth with Mary, Lake notes how pamphlet activity increased. Although these pamphlets claim to officially represent the Catholics or Queen Elizabeth, Lake finds them nothing more than spurious gossip. Furthermore, their various authors use print to create a version of events that appealed to popular fantasies. Despite the threat to [End Page 231] Elizabeth from Mary, the Spanish and the Scots, Lake remarks that she is still queen in 1572. By then a Marian conspiracy is being spread claiming that the Queen of Scots is set on world domination. Meanwhile a Catholic treatise pushes anti-monarchical plotting within Elizabeth's government, claiming Mary's condemnation is simply part of a strategy by the queen's closest aides to stop Queen Elizabeth marrying, then replace her with a king.

Chapters 4 to 6 tackle Queen Elizabeth's proposed marriage to the duke of Anjou. Catholic propaganda presented a successful marriage to Anjou, and a treaty between Mary and Elizabeth. Lake also examines John Stubbs's concern in The Gaping Gulf that if Elizabeth married Anjou she might die in childbirth with her baby. Lake comments that the marriage became 'an assassination attempt by gynaecological means' (p. 101). Furthermore, Stubbs's apparent paranoia extended to Anjou marrying Mary following Elizabeth's death. Lord Henry Howard pens the Catholic response. Lake remarks Howard uses similar arguments to Stubbs, though Howard casts suspicion on those who oppose the marriage. Lake then considers the Catholic tract Leicester's Commonwealth as exemplary political writing in a battle for truth. It reimagines the Anjou marriage as solving all of England's problems both at home and abroad.

Chapters 7 to 9 investigate 'monarchical republicanism' (p. 155), a response to Catholic criticism of the Elizabethan counsellors who plotted England's future without the queen's assent or even knowledge. Lake argues persuasively that both sides endeavoured to make a distinction between religion and politics. He states that recognizing and not blurring that distinction gave the arguments for each side the greater authenticity. Lake investigates the Catholic spy Dr William Parry. His apparent plot to kill the queen allowed the government to insist that tolerating Catholics placed Elizabeth's safety at risk. Lake then examines two texts that respond to John Leslie's defence of Mary. These texts confirm Lake's argument that the Elizabethan government's actions are largely influenced by Catholic activity.

Chapters 10 and 11 examine pamphlets published in 1585. Lake notes these texts begin a genre of ostensibly translated works ventriloquizing the opposition. Within these tracts, Lake identifies the new discursive strategy he terms 'the trope of the whistleblower' (p. 236). Edward Rishton's continuation of the staunch Catholic Robert Parson's historical narrative of the English Reformation is evaluated. Lake identifies that previous arguments in Catholic tracts are rehashed in response to changing contemporary circumstances.

Lake deals with Mary's execution and its aftermath in Chapters 12 and 13. He shows how Elizabeth is eventually convinced to deal directly with Mary. God's judgement and her long-suffering Protestant subjects are used to bend the queen's ear. Lake also reveals in Elizabeth's first...


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