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.
"This vivid, minutely researched and brilliantly original history is a much-needed look at the dark side of the Elizabethan age." -Dan Jones
"Detailed and absorbing…compelling…God’s Traitors is both a dramatic and thrilling story of fear, faith, courage and deceit and an important exposé of the terror of life as a Catholic in Elizabethan England." -Anna Whitelock
"A triumph of story-telling, backed by first-rate research." -Antonia Fraser
"A riveting account of resistance in an age of intolerance, God’s Traitors brings alive the story of the men – and remarkable women – of a defiant family." -Leanda de Lisle
"Superb and groundbreaking…It isn’t possible in the space of a review to do justice to the breadth and depth of Childs’ research and insight; but they illuminate the entire landscape of English life…a superlative, flawlessly written book…Childs’ description of an exorcism at Lord Vaux’s house in Hackney…is one of the most extraordinary things I have ever read..This is a book about saints and traitors, certainly; but above all it is about the strengths and frailties that made these people human. They have had to wait a long time, but at last they have found a historian who offers them both justice and dignity." -Matthew Lyons
Four months after the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Anne Vaux awoke in a prison cell. She had been on the run, changing her lodging every two to three days. Her confessor had hoped that she would have ‘kept herself out of their fingers’, but the authorities had tracked her down and taken her to the Tower of London. She was placed in solitary confinement and interrogated.
There were three chief lines of enquiry, all concerning Anne’s fraternisation with known, or suspected, conspirators. The first focused on White Webbs, a house she kept in Enfield Chase. It had been used by her cousin, the plot’s ringleader, ‘Robin’ Catesby, as a rendezvous. One official called it ‘a nest for such bad birds’.
Who had been paying for the house’s upkeep? Anne’s interrogators demanded.
Who had visited? When? What had they talked about? Where else had she stayed and with whom?
Anne was pressed about the pilgrimage she had recently undertaken with several of the conspirators and their families to St Winifred’s Well in Wales.
When did she go? With whom? What had been the purpose of the trip and where had they lodged?
Had she seen or heard anything to make her suspicious?
And what had some of the wives meant when they had asked her where she would bestow herself ‘till the brunt were past, that is till the beginning of the Parliament’?
Finally, Anne was asked about Garnet: Father Henry Garnet alias Measy, alias Walley, alias Darcy, alias Farmer, alias Roberts, alias Philips: the superior of the Society of Jesus in England.
What advice had she heard him give the traitors?
Why, after he had been proclaimed a ‘practiser’ in the plot on 15 January 1606, had she helped him evade arrest?
Why, after his capture twelve days later, had she followed him to London and sent him secret letters etched in orange juice?
And what was the nature of their relationship? Was she his sister? Benefactor? Confederate? . . . Lover?
Anne’s nerve had been tested many times. She had faced down spies in her household, slurs against her name and raids on her home. She was well lessoned in the art of equivocation and had heard enough prison tales to have some expectation of her treatment. But nothing could prepare her for the indignity of incarceration, nor the odium concentrated upon those Catholics suspected of involvement in the plot to annihilate King James I, his family and the political and spiritual elite of the realm.
It was reported that ‘to more weighty questions she responded very sensibly’. She revealed the names of some of her house guests, though was hazy on ‘needless’ details, and she admitted that her suspicions had been raised on the pilgrimage, when she had feared that ‘these wild heads had something in hand’. But when her interrogators accused her of impropriety with her priest, Anne’s manner shifted. She ‘laughed loudly two or three times’, then rounded on them:
‘You come to me with this child’s play and impertinence, a sign that you have nothing of importance with which to charge me.’
Of course, she sneered, she had known about the powder treason. She was, after all, a woman, and women make it their business to know everything. And of course Garnet had been involved: since he was the greatest traitor in the world, he wouldn’t have missed it. Then she thanked her guards for giving her board and lodging, as no one else in London was prepared to put her up.
‘She is really quite funny and very lively,’ wrote an admirer. ‘She pays no attention whatsoever to them, and so she has them amazed and they are saying, “We absolutely do not know what to do with that woman!”’
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