Mastodon The Writing Desk: Special Guest Post by C. P. Giuliani, Author of A Treasonous Path: Murder and double-dealings in Elizabethan England (Tom Walsingham Mysteries Book 2)

24 November 2022

Special Guest Post by C. P. Giuliani, Author of A Treasonous Path: Murder and double-dealings in Elizabethan England (Tom Walsingham Mysteries Book 2)

Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US

England, 1583: Tom Walsingham is back in London, being groomed for intelligence work by his spymaster cousin, Sir Francis. An anonymous informer has started sending letters from the French ambassador’s residence, claiming to have bribed the man’s secretary to pass on information. The informer has discovered messages between the French and Mary, Queen of Scots, which could harm the 
English Queen Elizabeth.

History and Story in A Treasonous Path

It all began with the letters. In the spring of 1583, you see, someone began to write anonymously to Sir Francis Walsingham from Salisbury Court, the London residence of the French ambassador.

Walsingham was not only the Queen’s Secretary of State, but also the creator and head of England’s informal intelligence service… Why, you could say that he owned the thing, since he largely paid for it out of his own pocket. It was very fortunate for everyone that he was unwaveringly faithful to Elizabeth!

Anyway, Mr. Secretary was the man to contact if you had information to sell – and this is exactly what the mysterious Henry Fagot did, in a series of fascinating letters. He wrote in bad French, providing a quirky mix of gossip and valuable tidbits, and even claimed that he could bribe the Ambassador’s secretary into leaking secret correspondence…

At the time, with the Gowrie Protestant regime teetering to its end, Scotland was the proverbial powder-keg – or even more of it than usual – and some insight on just where France stood on the matter would be obviously welcome. So very obviously so, that Sir Francis – always a man to look gift horses in the mouth – took this bizarre correspondence with several grains of salt: being offered just what he needed, just when he needed it, made him wary.

I can’t say that I blame him – although in time Fagot proved to be a trustworthy (if not quite game-changing) source of news. Still, Mr. Secretary’s wariness provided me with the perfect set-up for my hero Tom Walsingham’s second foray into espionage and sleuthing: what would be more natural than Sir Francis sending his trusted young kinsman, fresh from Paris, to have a good look at the Embassy’s household and single out the mysterious Fagot?

This is how A Treasonous Path was born. Tom’s own adventures and the murders are, of course, my own invention – but I’ve tried to weave them into the known facts of the time, especially the framework provided by the letters. It greatly helped that the actual facts came complete with a varied and rather picturesque cast of characters.

Henry Fagot, whoever he was, goes into some very lively detail about the people at Salisbury Court, and more can be found elsewhere. The Calendar of State Papers, for instance, was a mine of information – including the letters of Walsingham’s original plant at the Embassy, William Fowler. 

The beauty of it is, of course, is that through the letters the fellow comes vividly to life: a nervous, eager, rather excitable and occasionally scatterbrained young man, whose observations of Ambassador Castelnau’s entourage intersect with Fagot’s more gossipy ones… I’m sometimes told that I get a kid-in-the-toyshop gleam in my eyes when I talk about this kind of things – and I’m not denying it: to find in a centuries-old letter the outlook, the fears, the ambitions, the foibles, the voice of these long-dead people is, to me, one of the chief joys of writing historical fiction.

The other is to fill the gaps through a mix of guess-work, imagination, and extrapolation. I try to always do this within the bounds of what we actually know, always keeping in mind that I write fiction, I am allowed to make up things. Then again, this balance of History and Story is what all the game of historical fiction is about, isn’t it?

In this case, the biggest gap was, of course, the identity of Fagot himself. I was going to say “apart from whodunit” – but actually, I very soon found that the two questions were woven together to a good extent; in fact, changing my mind about Fagot at some point, had the not-so-side effect of turning part of the plot on its head.

 I spent a good deal of time and many notebook pages deciding just who “my” Fagot should be, working with what is in the letters, and the strands of the fictional plot. The answer I chose is perhaps the most obvious example of the interplay of history and story in A Treasonous Path.

I’m not telling what this answer is, of course. It can be found – together with a few others things – in A Treasonous Path. All I’ll say here is that, this time, I got to play with an actual historical mystery, one that, in spite of a few pretty convincing theories (think of historian John Bossy’s work), is still not quite solved after four centuries and a half: it was a fascinating challenge – and a lot of fun.

C. P. Giuliani 

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About the Author

C. P. Giuliani lives in Mantua, Italy, and 
began by studying the Classics and International Relations – and then swerved to the timber trade first, and later the pen and the stage. A passion for history and stories has led her to write historical fiction both in Italian and English. She also writes, directs, teaches playwriting, does backstage work, and very occasionally understudies with Mantua’s historic Compagnia Campogalliani. Find out more from her website and find her on Twitter @laClarina

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