John Bossy

John Bossy is an emeritus professor of history at York University. His books include Under the Molehill: An Elizabethan Spy Story.

Compared to boring old Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, we think, had a short life and a gay one. When not writing his sonorous verse, he was spying, preaching atheism, fighting and getting murdered. Park Honan has done one of the two already, and now has done the other. Coming shortly after David Riggs’s solid, even too-solid The World of Christopher Marlowe, his Christopher Marlowe:...

Once I rebuked for bad taste a friend who described Savonarola, at his execution, as ‘serving as the pièce de résistance of a public bonfire’. Actually his taste was better than mine: I had ignorantly supposed that the friar had been burned alive, whereas he had been hanged first and his dead body then burned in what was indeed a public bonfire. His soul had gone...

What on earth, you ask, is a scarith? Well, it is a sort of mud-piecrust package, which may be tubular in shape, containing in various layers documents of immense antiquity. What language is the word from? Apparently from ancient Etruscan, or Hetruscan, if stories about the grandeur of the Tuscan kingdom up to the time of Lars Porsena of Clusium are to be believed. Since the Etruscan tongue...

Why is it so hard to write a decent history of the Jesuits? Perhaps the subject is too large; but people manage with other worldwide institutions, such as the British Empire or the Roman Church in general. Why would the Society of Jesus prove more tricky? Well, there is the long history of self-advertisement, which has sometimes seemed to be one of its special characteristics, and the equally...

Holbein’s double portrait known as The Ambassadors must have been anatomised any number of times since its emergence into public view at the end of the 19th century, and recently had an exhibition all to itself in the National Gallery; but I doubt if anyone has gone into it so pertinaciously as John North. North is an expert in the history of astronomy and mathematics, so naturally his...

Walsingham’s Plumber: John Bossy

Patrick Collinson, 5 July 2001

‘Incidentally, they know you know they know you know the code.’ Peter Ustinov’s Cold War satire Romanoff and Juliet (1956) could have been about Salisbury Court, the London home...

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Nolanus Nullanus

Charles Nicholl, 12 March 1992

The files of the Elizabethan intelligence service are a rich and oddly neglected source: rich in historical detail, in the surprising appearance of famous names, in the whole tawdry but...

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