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God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England by Jessie Childs

Posted By Claire on May 16, 2014

Gods TraitorsThis is the best history book I’ve read in the last few months. I just can’t say enough good things about it. I’ve raved about it to friends, family and contacts, and read passages out to my husband and anyone who would listen. It is fantastic!

What makes it so fantastic? Well, I could say Jessie Childs’ first-rate research and the detailed information she gives about Catholics living in Elizabeth I’s reign, but what I really enjoyed about God’s Traitors was how Childs brought the subject to life by giving the information through people’s stories. It could have been a dry, academic book about Catholic recusants, but Childs chose to make it personal and that made it a gripping read. By concentrating on the Vaux family, Childs was able to explore what it was like for real people living at that time. The reader meets some strong characters, particularly women, who put their lives on the line to not only practise their faith but to help others practise theirs and to protect Catholic priests and evangelists.

The book also shows another side to Elizabeth I’s reign, a time which has become known as the Golden Age, without demonizing Elizabeth or her advisers – a tricky balance. While Mary I has become known as “Bloody Mary” because of her persecution of Protestants, Elizabeth has maintained more of a positive image, even though Catholics suffered at the hands of her government – for example, Margaret Clitherow who was pressed to death under “seven or eight hundred weight” in York for her faith and for refusing “to plead to the charge of priest-harbouring”. These were brutal times.

The reader is drawn into the life and times of the people, particularly those of the Vaux family, and it is fascinating to learn how skilled carpenters were able to make hiding places for families to hide not only their Catholic relics and religious objects, but also priests. The terror of the families when their homes got raided is palpable, as is their relief and faith when the visitors somehow miss what is on full view or their horror when loved ones are arrested, tortured and executed. Those accounts are truly thrilling and, at times, incredibly moving.

God’s Traitors is fully referenced, containing footnotes, end notes and a bibliography. I enjoyed reading some of the footnotes as much as the main text at times, they were very enlightening.

As you can see, I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I heartily recommend it to anyone who wants to know more about Catholic recusants in Elizabeth I’s reign. I was hooked.

Book Details

The Catholics of Elizabethan England did not witness a golden age. Their Mass was banned, their priests were outlawed, their faith was criminalised. In an age of assassination and Armada, those Catholics who clung to their faith were increasingly seen as the enemy within. In this superb history, award-winning author Jessie Childs explores the Catholic predicament in Elizabethan England through the eyes of one remarkable family: the Vauxes of Harrowden Hall.

God’s Traitors is a tale of dawn raids and daring escapes, stately homes and torture chambers, ciphers, secrets and lies. From clandestine chapels and side-street inns to exile communities and the corridors of power, it exposes the tensions and insecurities masked by the cult of Gloriana. Above all, it is a timely story of courage and frailty, repression and reaction and the terrible consequences when religion and politics collide.

Hardcover: 464 pages, also available on Kindle
Publisher: Bodley Head (6 Mar 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1847921566
ISBN-13: 978-1847921567
Available from Amazon.com, Amazon UK and your usual bookstore.

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