“This is a glorious novel! Rich in detail and atmosphere, jewel-like in its creation of Elizabethan England, it’s the best kind of historical fiction, transporting readers to a captivating time and place and story. Goldberg does a magnificent job of conveying the intrigue, passion and sometimes sheer sumptuousness of Elizabeth I’s court and politics. I loved it.”
— Jeanne Mackin, award winning author of fiction and non-fiction. (The Beautiful American; forthcoming A Lady of Good Family; Dreams of Empire; The Queen’s War; The Sweet By and By; and The Frenchwoman. Penguin, St. Martin’s Press.)
“Her story shimmers with the detailed specificity of, say, Proust’s A Remembrance of Things Past, while its roots bring to mind the embedded sensuality that drives Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude. Goldberg’s protagonist, Edward Latham, a dashing Elizabethan double agent, personifies the nerve-tingling tension between passionate patriotism and a tormented Catholic conscience. For all its scholarship this tale of derring-do rollicks along at a terrific pace.”
— Caroline Thomas, Total Theatre Lab, Director
“The book has some amazing battle sequences, especially the battle of St. Ghislain. The descriptions of fire boats (boats loaded with gunpowder and sailed into naval battles, then blown up) and flyboats (fast freshwater ships adapted for naval warfare) give the reader a better understanding of the Armada battle tactics.”
— Alison McMahan, International Thriller Writer’s Association, Fearless Blogger
“…The Reversible Mask held me from start to finish. I loved the span and scope balanced with the individual rhythm of each character. You weaved a story so engrossing that I’m feeling a touch of mourning now that I’ve finished. Thank you for this novel.”
— Doug Shapiro, Actor, AEA/SAG-AFTRA
“Goldberg has created a richly detailed world, brought to life with a brilliant cast of engaging characters. The Reversible Mask is a true delight.”
— Adrienne Dillard (Cor Rotto: A Novel of Catherine Carey, Catherine Carey: History in a Nutshell Series; Raven’s Widow. MadeGlobal Publishing.)
Kathleen Lea, Geoffrey Ashe and Leo Hicks all mention Sir Anthony Standen’s trip to Constantinople in articles, taking the account bearing his name on the title page at face value. Leo Hicks S.J. in The Embassy of Sir Anthony Standen, Recusant History, April 1963 states that Standen was in Constantinople in 1578 or before, citing the document now in the Beinecke Library: Relation of Sir Anthony Standen. Memories of a Turkish Voyage, collected in Constantinople in the year of our Lord God 1578. He remarks that Standen hadn’t disclosed in any of his writings why he went, but speculated that it was in connection with trade competition between the French, Florentines and English vying for Ottoman favour. Certainly, Elizabeth’s merchants were then in Constantinople, lobbying for privileges for the Levant Company. But the Relation of Sir Anthony Standen says little about tariffs.
To my eyes, it’s a clarion call by a military foe advertising unsuspected weaknesses in a long-time enemy, exhorting Christians to unify and take advantage of the naval victory at the Battle of Lepanto of 1572. The writing throbs with triumphalism, and a feral reappraisal of what had looked so mighty from afar, but really wasn’t.
Here’s a flavour. After stating that he made his observations personally in Constantinople, “having to deal with so barbarous a people and so insolent a generation,” the writer outlines Ottoman lands and client states, military forces and funding. Then he adds, “although these are necessary to be understood, yet are they but bodies without spirit if unto the other manner of life be not applied, wherefore this inward knowledge of this great Empire is most necessary.”
On this inward condition he’s scathing: “themselves do know and confess that although their Empire be great, and of so many Kingdoms, a great part thereof be weak, disinhibited and ruined…they also well know that their ancient valour and discipline is much decayed.”
Referring to the Battle of Lepanto, he asserts, “the Turks were of the opinion that the Christians durst not affront them, which now is contrary. Their minds being so overwhelmed with dread and doubt that they dare not so boldly presume upon the Christians. Confessing of their own free wills, as some of these have done to me, that their galleys in all respects are far inferior to the Christians, as well for the soldiers and men of combat, as also for mariners, galleotes, artillery, and other provisions pertaining to the sea.” He offers a plausible sociological analysis of why Ottoman crews don’t measure up to Europeans, rooted in gathered facts. Still, he marvels at their building of 170 galleys in six months to reconstitute their devastated navy, calling it “a feat incredible to those who saw it.” This doesn’t prove he was on the spot in 1573—it could have been hearsay—but it has the feeling of a witness account.
He sees the Ottomans as now rotten at the core, corruption bringing the least able to power. “…such manner of people are brought in, whose favours and greatness do grow by carnal affections, full of lechery and covetousness and above all replenished with arrogance and pride, which two vices are nourished in them by prosperity and good hap…All these are known truths to them, and hereupon will they not stick to say that in time these disorders will be an impediment to the conservation of all that they have gotten with so much blood…(but) to come to some other quality of their religion, I must say that few of them are there which hold the Mahomet religion to be good, which law is divided among them in opinions…yet in outward appearance the Turks are very strict observers thereof, for that few or none of them shall be seen to omit their ordinary prayers…” Transcription by Jacqueline Ly.
The accumulated weight of the writer’s verdict reflects an Ottoman government reeling from yesterday’s shocking drubbing, and looking inward. It is a distorted overview, more descriptive of the “sick old man of Europe” of the late nineteenth century than sixteenth-century Ottoman viability. This part of the text, particularly the frank exchanges the writer says he had with Turk officials, seems to have been written in the raw emotions of 1573-4, flush after Lepanto. But it is hard to place Anthony Standen out of Europe before 1577.
So who wrote these broiling words? Tune in next week for a candidate.
I wrote in my first blog that I would say more about Sir Anthony Standen, the inspiration for Sir Edward Latham. Standen’s actions and motives are sketchy; they can support opposing characterizations. When a spy’s handler advises him in letters to write like a Catholic and the spy does, it’s hard to pinpoint his real feelings.
Stephen Alford (The WATCHERS: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I. Bloomsbury Press, London, 2011) described him simply as a man whose loyalty was for sale, while Geoffrey Ashe (An Elizabethan Adventurer. The Career of Sir Anthony Standen, The Month August and October 1952) liked him as a conflicted moderate dedicated to both faith and country. John Guy (ELIZABETH:The Forgotten Years Viking, New York, 2016) rated him one of Walsingham’s more shady agents, yet Alan Haynes in The Elizabethan Secret Services, Sutton Publishing 199) admired him as a “plucky intelligencer,” an adventurer who won pensions from various notables, but was such a nomad that Haynes couldn’t imagine how he ever got paid. Kathleen Lea, in Sir Anthony Standen and some Anglo-Italian letters, The English Historical Review Vol. 47 #187, July 1932, calls him a fantasist, tripped up by episodic indiscretions. This doesn’t square with cold hard cash, in the form of a bill of exchange for 300 crowns, that Walsingham certainly sent Standen in 1586 to get Spain’s war plans. That’s a lot of money, and would only have been entrusted to a proven agent. Will the real Anthony Standen please stand up? I long to meet you!
One of the most teasing hints about Standen concerns a trip to Constantinople in the late 1570s. Scholars Kathleen Lea, Leo Hicks S.J and Geoffrey Ashe refer in articles to his account (citations in my next blog). Interestingly, they don’t quote him. This lengthy account lived in tantalizing footnotes. So imagine my excitement when I realized that this document, Relation of Sir Anthony Standen. Memories of a Turkish Voyage, collected in Constantinople in the year of our Lord God 1578, was in the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale, New Haven. I pass New Haven in my weekly New York/ Clinton, Connecticut commute. Thirty-one pages long, the library only provided a short abstract, along with the description: “attributed by another hand to an unrecorded Sir Anthony Standen.”
Some content in the abstract was juicy.
“…I will set down in what esteem and consideration the Turks do hold all other potentates about them that are not their subjects…and to allure and draw with pleasant morsels the people to the liking of his merchandise, he slaked the reins of the bridle to all kinds of carnal concupiscence and fleshly appetite, through which kind of licent life he chiefly wrought his purpose upon infinite numbers of men, who, naturally inclined to evil, embraced his horrible sect…”
This seemed awfully hypocritical, given Standen’s notorious patronage of Edinburgh prostitutes with Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley, Mary, Queen of Scots’ husband. It also didn’t quite fit with a subtlety I saw in the Bacon papers when I first read about him. Still, three scholars had taken it at face value, so I asked Jacqueline Ly, a doctoral student of history at Yale, to complete the transcription. I was delirious at the prospect of hearing Standen’s voice across the centuries, getting a feel for how this Catholic expatriate viewed the Ottomans. I had experienced beginners’ luck in my prior careers—music then financial services—perhaps my writers’ beginners’ luck was arriving. Stay tuned. Had I found the white rabbit?
Members of my writers group asked me what influenced me in creating Latham?
Initially, a spy I knew as a friend, then fiction and non-fiction. But a documentary offered me the most compelling crawl around a spy’s emotional innards. The Green Prince is an interview with the son of a Hamas leader—the Green Prince—who spied for Israel for ten years, and an interview with his Israeli handler.
Originally coerced into collaborating with Israel because he was gay, the Green Prince gradually determined that informing on Hamas was the more virtuous course. He loathed what he called “the Hamas project,” built, as he learned, on provable lies. But as a Muslim Palestinian, he couldn’t accept Israel either, and he honoured his parents. He constructed his own moral code, lines he wouldn’t cross, and trained himself to feel right in his code. Latham also constructs his own moral code. The Israeli handler had stresses, too. More empathetic to his agent than Shin Bet allowed, he got into trouble. Both men were hollowed by the experience. Latham isn’t hollowed out, but he pays a price. Love isn’t available to him; his attachments are partly transactional. Serving a higher purpose sustains him. With a grandiose streak, he writes his life large as he goes.
In my reading about the Tudor era, I came across an incident from the time of Henry VIIII. English soldiers were besieging a Scottish town. A church spire was in artillery range. Officers called a halt and pored over their bible. Was bombarding the spire allowed? They concluded that it was, and fired the cannon. I wondered if Hamas soldiers consult their Koran before storing weapons in Gaza’s UN refugee centres. There are affinities between Latham and the Green Prince. I decided to incorporate a search for theoretical justifications in Latham; he thinks and dreams a lot.