The master of alternate history who envisioned a Confederate victory in The Guns of the South and an American revolution that never happened in The Two Georges, New York Times bestselling author Harry Turtledove unveils another brilliant foray into what might have been....The year is 1597. For nearly a decade, the island of Britain has been under the rule of King Philip in the name of Spain. The citizenry live under an enforced curfew-and in fear of the Inquisition's agents, who put heretics to the torch in public displays. And with Queen Elizabeth imprisoned in the Tower of London, the British have no symbol to unite them against the enemy who occupies their land.William Shakespeare has no interest in politics. His passion is writing for the theatre, where his words bring laughter and tears to a populace afraid to speak out against the tyranny of the Spanish crown. But now Shakespeare is given an opportunity to pen his greatest work-a drama that will incite the people of Britain to rise against their persecutors-and change the course of history.
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July 13, 2003
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Excerpt from Ruled Britannia by Harry Turtledove
TWO SPANISH SOLDIERS swaggered up Tower Street toward William Shakespeare. Their boots squelched in the mud. One wore a rusty corselet with his high-crowned morion, the other a similar helmet with a jacket of quilted cotton. Rapiers swung at their hips. The fellow with the corselet carried a pike longer than he was tall; the other shouldered an arquebus. Their lean, swarthy faces wore what looked like permanent sneers.
People scrambled out of their way: apprentices without ruffs and in plain wool caps; a pipe-smoking sailor wearing white trousers with spiral stripes of blue; a merchant's wife in a red wool doublet spotted with white -- almost a man's style -- who lifted her long black skirt to keep it out of puddles; a ragged farmer in from the countryside with a donkey weighted down with sacks of beans.
Shakespeare flattened himself against the rough, weather-faded timbers of a shop along with everybody else. The Spaniards had held London -- held it down for Queen Isabella, daughter of Philip of Spain, and her husband, Albert of Austria -- for more than nine years now. Everyone knew what happened to men rash enough to show them disrespect to their faces.
A cold, nasty autumn drizzle began sifting down from the gray sky. Shakespeare tugged his hat down lower on his forehead to keep the rain out of his eyes -- and to keep the world from seeing how thin his hair was getting in front, though he was only thirty-three. He scratched at the little chin beard he wore. Where was the justice in that?
On went the Spaniards. One of them kicked at a skinny, ginger-colored dog gnawing a dead rat. The dog skittered away. The soldier almost measured himself full length in the sloppy street. His friend grabbed his arm to steady him.
Behind them, the Englishmen and -women got back to their business. A pockmarked tavern tout took Shakespeare's hand. "Try the Red Bear, friend," the fellow said, breathing beer fumes and the stink of rotting teeth into his face. "The drink is good, the wenches friendly--"
"Away with you." Shakespeare twisted free. The man's dirty hand, he noted with annoyance, had smudged the sleeve of his lime-green doublet.
"Away with me? Away with me?" the tout squeaked. "Am I a black-beetle, for you to squash?"
"Black-beetle or no, I'll spurn you with my foot if you trouble me more," Shakespeare said. He was a tall man, on the lean side but solidly made and well fed. The tout's skin stretched drumhead tight over cheekbones and jaw. He slunk off to earn his pennies -- his farthings, more likely -- somewhere else.
A few doors down stood the tailor's shop to which Shakespeare had been going. The man working inside peered at him through spectacles that magnified his red-tracked eyes. "Good morrow to you, Master Will," he said. "By God, I am glad to see you in health."