Two great houses, two kingdoms, two countries poised on the brink.
Conspiracy, is the fifth in a series of narratives about Giordano Bruno by SJ Parris.
Bruno is an absconded Dominican monk, an Italian and a spy, he was first met in the earlier books where he worked assiduously for Queen Elizabeth’s master-intelligencer – Walsingham, but now he is in France trying to gain access to the court of Henri iii, but before he can do that a priest is foully murdered.
The wonder of this book and all the others like it, is the historical background. The 1580’s were pivotal years in both England and France as the two great religions, Roman Catholicism and Protestantism, vied for supremacy. Queen Elizabeth has still not controlled (or killed) her cousin Mary Stuart, so plots abounded as fervent Catholics tried to prize the throne away from the Protestant Elizabeth and put a Catholic Queen on the throne in her place.
The Babington Plot had recently been uncovered and the plotters dealt with; this occurred in a previous book and Bruno was involved (naturally) but as a result he was rather hot property in England and had escaped to France.
Roman Catholicism and French Protestantism (Huguenots) had found no way to become gentle bed-fellows and the French Wars of Religion, which had been raging on and off since 1562, were still destabilising the monarchy and the Church. Between two to four million people had died by the end. It exacerbated the rivalry between the aristocratic houses of France (Bourbon and Guise) and considerably weakened the authority of the monarchy particularly under the Valois Kings – Francis ii Charles ix and Henri iii.
Paris was seething with plots and counter-plots of a slightly different complexion. Like Elizabeth, but for different reasons, Henri iii had no heir. So he represented the last of the line of Valois kings; his natural successor, his younger brother Francis, Duke of Anjou died and the Wars of Religion raged on.
The St Bartholomew Day Massacre has occurred only thirteen years earlier, in 1572, when the streets of Paris and the river Seine had run with blood. Memories were therefore fresh and atrocities between the two disciplines still an ever-present danger.
In Conspiracy, The Catholic League, led in France by Henri, Duke de Guise and supported by Spain, were thought to be implicated in the murder of the priest; the supposition being that they had killed their own priest and would blame it on the king and thereby spark a riot in Paris.
Giordano is tasked by the king to find the murderer, in order to prove the opposite. Several deaths later the truth is out, but it is not the outcome that anyone expected and could have other ramifications…which will affect Giordano Bruno’s future – where will he run to next?
Hovering over the King and pulling the strings is the Italian Queen-Mother, Catherine de Médicis, by now an elderly but still forceful woman, whose endless child-bearing had seen three sons on the throne of France, all now dead except Henri iii. She continued to dominate him until the last few months of his life, dying in January 1589. Henry himself was assassinated in August the same year.