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God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  242 ratings  ·  45 reviews
A true story of plots, priest-holes and persecution and one family's battle to save Catholicism in Reformation England.

Elizabeth I criminalised Catholicism in England. For refusing to attend Anglican services her subjects faced crippling fines and imprisonment. For giving refuge to outlawed priests -- the essential conduits to God's grace -- they risked death. Almost two
Hardcover, 443 pages
Published 2014 by Bodley Head
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Average rating 3.92  · 
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DNF. Rarely do I not finish a book, especially when it relates to English history. However, try as I might I just didn't connect with this, even after 120 pages.

I didn't find the Vaux family that interesting despite the times they were living in, nor did I find myself interested in the subject...and yet I am, normally.

So why? Well certainly not because the book is not highly researched or detailed as Jessie Childs has put significant of both into the book.

Ultimately this is one of those relati

Disclaimer: ARC read via Netgalley.

Let’s get it out there. What’s not to like about a book with a chapter entitled Hot Holy Ladies?


God’s Traitors covers much of the same ground that God’s Secret Agents did - the activities in Tudor and Early Stuart England of Catholic spies, worshippers, and rebels. Traitors is different from Agents in that it ties the famous people like Campion to a family – the Vaux. Particularly interesting in this family are the women who seemed far more involved in
Roman Clodia
Jun 26, 2016 rated it really liked it
Explores the Elizabethan Catholic experience through the Vaux family of Harrowden Hall

There have been more than a few recent books which have explored the religious wars of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries for a non-academic audience: Child’s book plays in this space, but approaches her subject not via the spies and intelligencers but through the Vaux family of recusants.

At a time when religious belief could overlap with treason – and carry the ultimate penalty of death – English Catholic
Karen Brooks
Jan 13, 2015 rated it it was amazing
God’s Traitors: Terror and Faith in Elizabethan England is a tour de force of research and wonderful prose. Reading like a novel, this non-fiction book explores the plots and plans of one particular family of desperate Catholics, the Vauxes of Harrowden Hall, during the reign of Elizabeth First but also James Ist of England and VI of Scotland.
Elizabeth came to the throne during a tumultuous period and she not only set about restoring the Protestant faith to her land, but trying to keep foreign
Jun 15, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: history, england, tudor, nonfic
I decided to read this to try to get a better idea of the Catholic side of Elizabeth's reign, since I still have issues trying to understand why they'd do such risky and stupid things. This book helped a little with that, but I'm still kind of bewildered and I still couldn't see myself being an active recusant especially toward the very end of the Elizabethan Era.

This book was definitely also written from the point of view of Catholic or at least someone who strongly sympathizes with their cause
Jun 04, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Rather like Adrian Tinniswood with "The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth Century England", which focused on that family's reactions to events like the English Civil War and Interregnum, in "God's Traitors: Terror & Faith in Elizabethan England" Jessie Childs focuses on the Vaux family of Harrowden Hall (and connected families like the Treshams of Rushton) and how they, remaining true to their Catholic faith, responded to the ever-tightening restrictions on recusant ...more
Scarlett Stevens
Jun 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I read this whilst researching my dissertation. Childs' use of narrative in this micro-history allows for a smooth and gripping read; this is very rare in academic texts which are often dry and dull.

Though the title may be initially deceiving, I'm baffled that people are rating it so low because it explores Elizabethan Catholicism through the lens of one family - that's the whole point of the book! I can understand why this book may not be the best place to start for those only starting to read
Kyra Kramer
Jan 26, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Religious turmoil was ubiquitous in sixteenth century England. In fact, the entire continent of Europe was a roiling cauldron of ecumenical and dogmatic crazy-sauce. The question of who had the “correct” form of Christianity – the Catholics or the Protestants – was so controversial and important that people were burned to death over their answer, and chose to be martyred in such a painful fashion rather than recant. Even death itself could not excuse you from choosing sides, inasmuch as corpses ...more
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, history
An account of the lives of English Catholics during the reign of Elizabeth focusing on the noble Vaux family and the problems their Catholicism brought them. The role played by the women of the family and their support for the Jesuit mission to England is particularly fascinating and their personalities and those of the priests they sheltered come across strongly. The growing persecution of the Catholics by the government of Elizabeth I gives a different perspective on the reign of "Gloriana", t ...more
Michael Bully
Dec 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
I ordered this book as have got a great interest in the Gunpowder Plot and wanted some background reading . Can recommend this book for fellow 'gunpowder treason heads'. Some very useful information on Thomas Tresham ( father to 1605 Plotter Francis Tresham) and also William Catesby ( father to Robert Catesby). Also the Vaux family- particularly Anne - knew many of the Plotters...also helpful to learn about the Jesuit martyrs such as Edmund Campion, Robert Southwell, Henry Garnet , and the one t ...more
Charlotte Skinner
Jul 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Full of amazing characters like Anne and Eleanor Vaux who dedicated their lives to harbouring Jesuit priests, Nicholas 'Little John' Owen who designed and built the priest holes we're still discovering today, and 'Long John' Gerard who escaped from the Tower of London by abseiling down a rope. Childs allows us to make up our own mind as to whether the English Catholic community of the 1570s up to the Gunpowder Plot were treacherous terrorists or brave non-conformists. Whichever side you come dow ...more
Rodney Binley
Nov 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well researched book of particular interest because I live in Northamptonshire. I found some of the extract texts a little difficult to get the grip of but not the fault of the Author However I did find some of the words in some of her text a unnecessarily ostentatious and little used, which prompted too frequent word searches. But a book I would strongly recommend for those interested or even remotely interested in the history of this period
Jul 02, 2019 rated it liked it
The author has researched the subject matter in great detail and has unearthed some amazing stories. Unfortunately the stories are not well told and the characters do not come to life. Having finished the book I feel I have learnt some forgotten history but I’m not sure it was worth the effort of reading it.
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
I found this book really interesting. This book enlightened you about some of the horrors that catholics had to face in Elizabethan England. I would definitely recommend reading this if you enjoy learning about this part of history however if you are not really interested in the Tudors then I probably wouldn't recommend this book. ...more
Apr 02, 2019 rated it liked it
Well-written history of a Catholic landed family shortly after the Reformation. The author has clearly done considerable research, but the book's focus on one particular family made it a bit confusing to readers unfamiliar with the period. ...more
Jul 05, 2020 rated it liked it
A little dry, but an interesting look at the events leading to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, as seen through the eyes and actions of a Catholic family in the English countryside. I did learn that the Jesuits came out of the Reformation as a way to educate and convert Catholics. Who knew?
Oct 28, 2020 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this, I have previously studied the reformation and this adds a human dimension to the story of religion in England. Its scrupulously footnoted and referenced and this pleases me too, much popularist history lacks these essential details that give confidence to the reader.
Paganus Kiley
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2020
Excellent detail. It's hard to understand with a modern mind why they would have continued to reject a peaceable solution, to convert. However, in that I was a Roman Catholic, I suppose I can see it through the faith of my forebears. Well written, well researched, very enjoyable. ...more
Marianne Meyers
Nov 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
Fascinating history of a Catholic noble family in Queen Elizabeth's time, great scholarship and the author kept me interested. ...more
Jun 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, catholicism
A heart-rending account of the fortunes of a noble Catholic family in the Elizabethan age
Nov 14, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book. Well worth a read.
Sep 02, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Wonderful. Thank you.
May 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
God’s Traitors’ by Jessie Childs tells the story of Catholic recusancy in the Elizabethan and early Jacobean periods through the prism of the Vaux family. Ever since the break from Rome during Henry VIII’s reign Catholics were faced with swearing a dual loyalty to their monarch and the Pope with many unable to swear the former. The execution of Protestants during the country’s brief swing back to Catholicism under Mary I did not help their cause under the long reign of Elizabeth I. During that t ...more
Aug 04, 2016 rated it liked it
This books follows the story of three generations of the Vaux family, a family of Catholic recusants from the time the Church of England split with Rome, until the Gunpowder Plot (1605). While it is very well-researched and detailed, it reads something like a novel, following a narrative rather than a thematic organisation that one would normally see in an academic text. It's good enough to use for research, but entertaining enough to read for fun.

I should probably like this book more than I did
Charlotte Wightwick
May 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book follows the history of England’s Catholics between the accession of Elizabeth I and the Gunpowder Plot, through the lives of members of one staunchly Catholic noble family. The Vaux defied increasingly stringent laws to practice their faith, shelter its priests and advance its cause. Using the Vaux family as her focus provides Childs with a strong narrative backbone and human interest: these are fascinating, complex, and above all, real people. It also keeps us conveniently close to th ...more
Nov 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Here is the tragic story of the great collision between religion and politics, of saints and sinners, that erupted under the Protestant reign of Elizabeth I, her henchman and her successor James I. We see in their story the lasting example of ardent and defiant Catholic women recusants and their Jesuit confessors who remained loyal to their faith even in the face of dispossession, imprisonment, torture and brutal executions. Their story also reminds us that, among the saints, lurked sinners who ...more
Aug 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
The sanguinary, bigoted obscurantism that we see every day motivating public policy and terrorist fervour in the Islamic world is not really all that alien to Western sensibilities. Four hundred years ago, the now barely-comprehensible responses of ordinary English folk to doctrinal differences between Catholic and Protestant gave rise to tortures, massacres and oppressions not dissimilar to the kind of excesses engaged in by Shi'a, Sunni, Salafist, and Wahhabi in various corners of the contempo ...more
Jul 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an excellent book. Really original in its inception and although potentially microscopic in scope it magnifies the Catholic recusants' experience during the reign of Elizabeth I. The research is impeccable and the writing is thrilling. I found myself swept away by the stories of the "protagonists" who were real people. I read every single footnote.

It was useful to set the Gunpowder Plot in its Elizabethan origins - this makes sense given the experience of those involved over the precedi
Joyce Reynolds-Ward
Dec 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
A heavy read but well worth it if you're interested in the Elizabethan era, especially the Catholic side of things. It's fairly easy to find the Protestant accounts of the era, but this history focusing on the Vaux family is also quite informational about priest's holes and hiding spaces for Catholic priests during the Elizabethan period. It is quite detailed and long, and may be a bit of a slog for the casual reader. But one of the most vivid images from the books is about a shepherd watching a ...more
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