Wednesday 12 August 2020

Join #HistoricalFiction author, Paul Walker, as he explores what life was like in London for Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno #History #Tudors


Life in the time of Giordano Bruno 

(The London Years, 1583-1585)

By Paul Walker

Why include real people in historical fiction? A plot surrounding actual events with only fictional characters can be satisfying. But action played out with real and recognisable figures can add colour, interest and tether the fiction more securely in the period. At the other extreme, there are many outstanding novels based entirely on the lives of famous historical characters. That’s not my way of writing. In my books, although real people are encountered, the main protagonist is fictional, offering greater freedom with plot development.

So much for theory – in practice, it’s never that simple. In my experience, writing doesn’t follow meticulous planning. The book develops a life of its own, with events taking the story in unexpected directions and the personalities of real characters often veer away from the commonly accepted understanding (if there is one). I will admit to being liberal with the use of real characters in the William Constable series but would argue there is a purpose behind their inclusion.

William Constable is a fictional physician, mathematician, astronomer and reluctant agent for Sir Francis Walsingham, Spymaster for Elizabeth I. He has demonstrated expertise in astronomy by the invention of a navigational aid for ships sailing to the ‘New Lands’. (William’s device and its use by the explorers, John Hawkins and Humphrey Gilbert are described in books 1 and 2 in the series – State of Treason and A Necessary Killing.) Astronomy is the first reason for William to encounter Giordano Bruno in the third book in the series – The Queen’s Devil. Bruno was a defrocked Dominican Friar who travelled Europe and landed in London in 1583, lodging at the French Embassy. He was well known for his controversial views on an infinite universe and wrote some of his most significant works during his stay in England. But there’s more. In Giordano Bruno and the Embassy Affair, John Bossy makes a convincing case that Bruno acted as a spy for Walsingham. It was Bruno’s reports, under the pseudonym Henry Fagot, that led to Francis Throckmorton’s arrest

for treason by Walsingham. The Throckmorton conspiracy was one of the most important in Elizabeth’s reign, leading to the strict confinement of Mary Queen of Scots, the expulsion of the Spanish Ambassador and eventual war with Spain.

Giordano Bruno is the main protagonist in an excellent series of historical thrillers by S J Parris. When a historical character has been portrayed so well by another author, it’s a daunting prospect to include that character in your work. In the end, the temptation was too much; Bruno was such a fascinating figure that I shaped a significant role for him in The Queen’s Devil. William is an open-minded scholar and would have been likely to sympathise with Bruno’s theory of the universe, despite the general view that it was heretical. Also, as a fellow spy for Walsingham, Bruno could assist in freeing William from a dangerous entanglement in the Throckmorton conspiracy.

Bruno was born in 1548, and at the age of 17, he entered the Dominican order at a monastery in Naples. His inclination to free- thinking and forbidden books caused him difficulties and he fled to avoid an indictment being prepared against him in 1575. Bruno wandered Europe until, in 1583, he arrived in England as a guest of the French Ambassador, Michel de Castelnau. He was introduced to Sir Philip Sidney to whom he dedicated two books. Sidney accompanied Bruno on a visit to Oxford University where he debated and lectured on his controversial views. The visit to Oxford was not a success. He was mocked for his opinions, his accent and expressive way of oration. His support of the Copernican view of the heavens was criticised and, rather than the earth rotating, ‘... it was his own head which did run round, and his brains did not stand still.’ Bruno was offended at his reception, saying of the Oxford academics that they, ‘... look down their noses, laugh at you... fart with their lips.’

To comprehend the controversy and outrage caused by Bruno’s views, the state of astronomy in the sixteenth century should be understood. The Ptolemaic conception of the universe was still generally accepted in western Europe. Here, the earth was at the centre of a finite universe, around which the moon, sun and the five naked-eye planets circled. Outside this was another sphere containing fixed stars. Copernicus challenged this view in 1543, placing the sun in the centre and asserting that day and night were explained by the rotation of the earth rather than the heavens. But the Copernican model remained a closed system with an outer sphere of fixed stars. It was Bruno, not Copernicus, or even Galileo years after Bruno’s death, who conceived of an infinite universe containing suns with their own families of planets.

Bruno was not a mathematician and didn’t have the aid of telescopic observations for his theories. He relied upon logic and metaphysical arguments. What defines the limit of the universe? If the earth traverses the skies, why not the sun? Are the stars distant suns? His contention was not only that the universe was limitless; there were also infinite suns offering heat and light to other earths. He stated that these other worlds, ‘... have no less virtue, nor a nature different from that of our earth.’

Imagine how radical and outlandish these views must have appeared in sixteenth-century England, where deviation from the proscribed religion was regarded as heresy, and a physician could administer a poultice of boar’s grease wrapped in owl skin as a cure for gout. Bruno ignored the danger and continued to develop his theories. Some of Bruno’s writings and tactless language eventually lost him the support of friends, and in 1585 he returned to France with Michel de Castelnau.

Giordano Bruno lived at the wrong time. Fifty years before his birth or fifty years after his death, his outspoken views may have been tolerated by the church and received proper acknowledgement by scholars. But at the end of the sixteenth century, the Inquisition was in full force. Bruno was confined in prison in Rome for seven years before being stripped naked, gagged and burned at the stake on 17 February 1600. A sad end to a visionary – and an Elizabethan spy.


The Queen’s Devil

(William Constable Spy Thriller, Book #3)

By Paul Walker




William Constable, recently married astrologer and mathematician, has settled into routine work as a physician when he is requested to attend two prisoners in the Tower of London. Both are accused of separate acts treason, but their backgrounds suggest there may be a connection.

Sir Francis Walsingham and Lord Burghley urge William to discover further intelligence from the prisoners while tending their injuries from torture.

The agent's investigations lead him to the French Embassy, which lies at the heart of a conspiracy which threatens the nation.

Through his enquiries, an unsuspecting William becomes entangled in a perilous web of politicking and religious fervour.

The threat comes from one the most powerful men in the English court – one referred to as the Queen’s Devil.

William faces a race against time to unpick these ties, climaxing in a daring raid on the Embassy.



Praise for Paul Walker


“Walker skilfully creates a treacherous world of half-truths, plots and duplicity... simmering with impending danger.”

Michael Ward, author of Rags of Time.


"A gripping and evocative page-turner that vibrantly brings Elizabeth's London to life."

Steven Veerapen, author of A Dangerous Trade.


"Full of convincing characters both historical and imagined."

Peter Tonkin


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The Queen’s Devil


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Paul Walker

 Paul is married and lives in a village 30 miles north of London. Having worked in universities and run his own business, he is now a full-time writer of fiction and part-time director of an education trust. His writing in a garden shed is regularly disrupted by children and a growing number of grandchildren and dogs.


Paul writes historical fiction. He inherited his love of British history and historical fiction from his mother, who was an avid member of Richard III Society. The William Constable series of historical thrillers is based around real characters and events in the late sixteenth century. The first two books in the series - State of Treason and A Necessary Killing - were published in 2019. The third book, titled The Queen's Devil, was published in the summer of 2020.

Connect with Paul:

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx