England, 1583. Twenty-five years into the protestant Queen Elizabeth’s reign, the kingdom remains dangerously divided between those still loyal to the old Catholic faith and those who accept the official religion. Rumors of invasion plans by the European Catholic powers fuel whispers of conspiracies to assassinate the queen in the name of Rome.
Into this web of tensions arrives one of the most enigmatic and compelling figures of the Renaissance: the Italian philosopher Giordano Bruno. An ex-Dominican friar, on the run from the Inquisition for his heretical beliefs about an infinite universe, Bruno comes to England under the patronage of the French king and is invited to the University of Oxford to take part in a public debate about the new cosmology.
All this is historical record. But some believe that Bruno was working as a spy for Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spymaster, while he was in England, and this theory has been the basis for my novel, Heresy. Oxford was a source of great anxiety to Elizabeth’s government; a hotbed of underground Catholic resistance, where the very young men who would go on to become pillars of the English establishment – politicians, lawyers, churchmen – were being converted to Rome right under the noses of the authorities.
My fictional Bruno uses his time in Oxford as a cover for investigating secret loyalties. But when the university Fellows start to be murdered around him, with apparently religious motives, Bruno realizes that there are those who are willing to kill for their faith as well as die for it.
S.J. Parris is the pseudonym of Stephanie Merritt, a contributing journalist for various newspapers and magazines, including the Observer and the Guardian. She is also the author of Heresy. She lives in England.
IMAGE: Portrait of the real Giordano Bruno
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