Or: I Think This Quill and Parchment are Bugged
Welcome to 16th Century England. If you are, ever have been, or are considering becoming any of the following, we may have to kill you:
Please Enjoy Your Stay.
This was pretty much the national standard during the lifetime of Sir Francis Walsingham, who earned fame (or infamy) as the spymaster of Elizabeth I.
The 16th Century did not allow for a great deal of trust on any level, with the rapid rise of colonialism, the increasing fervor of religious dissention, and the presence of a Virgin Queen with no heir on the English throne. Potential enemies were everywhere; Walsingham had the difficult job of staying afloat on the sea of incoming--and outgoing--intelligence.
His methods, by the way, were usually just as honest, above-board, and ethical as those you've come to expect from modern intelligence officials.
I Spy With My Little Eye
Very little is known about Walsingham's early life, as will be herein reflected.
The sudden attempted reversion of the country to Catholicism sends the nation reeling, and perks up the ears of England's whole squad of international ne'er-do-wells, all of whom have been waiting for the country to return to the Vatican's fold.
Middling Before Meddling
During the very same year, he stood as a first-hand witness to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and no doubt began to wonder if a treaty with France was all it was cracked up to be. His outspoken nature where Protestantism was concerned was an ongoing source of friction between him and Cecil as well as the Queen.
By the 1580s, Walsingham's spy network reached as far away as Turkey, which was well, for troubles were brewing at home and abroad. The Queen was the target of constant conspiracies, many of which were unravelled by Walsingham's unremitting vigilance.
Your Friends and Neighbors
Are trying to kill you. Philip of Spain was looking for a bride in Elizabeth, and hoped to attach himself to the throne. Mary, Queen of Scots was thinking she'd had just about enough of this religious tolerance nonsense, and the French, despite what the treaties said, were still the French.
- 1584: The Babington Plot
Walsingham garnered much of his notoriety for this little number; many say he started the thing as an excuse to finally be rid of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Walsingham employed two key agent provacateurs, Gilbert Gifford and Bernard Maude, to infiltrate Mary's circle via John Ballard, who believed that the killing of a tyrant was a lawful act. He may have ordered his agents to incite Ballard to take a stab at Elizabeth; his association with Mary would be enough to land her most definitively in the soup.
Happily, further intelligence came to Walsingham about one Anthony Babington, a Catholic man very much in Mary's favor. She had used him to smuggle correspondence in the past. He along with his cohorts hatched a plot to free her from Chartley Hall, where she had been kept prisoner for years.
Agents Gifford and Maude were already in place. Evidence connecting Mary with the plot was gathered or made, where lacking, and reported to Walsingham, who finally managed to prevail upon Elizabeth to send Mary to the block for violation of the Bond of Association, which stated that anyone participating, knowingly or otherwise, in a plot to unseat the reigning monarch would be arrested and put to death.
It was with this Act in mind that Walsingham sent his agents to provoke Mary's men into an attempt on Elizabeth's life--if in fact, he did do so.
- 1588: The Spanish Armada
Philip sent the best of what Spain had to offer in terms of sailors, soldiers, and ships to crush the English fleet and take the country back to the Pope by force.
The English were vastly outnumbered and outgunned--and they utterly routed the enemy. Walsingham had advanced notice of the attack from his Continental spies. This from a contemporary report, printed by Elizabeth's printer, Christian Barker in 1588:
'Such Preparations have beene long made, by her Majestie's Wisdom and Forefighte for Defence of the Kingdome, that (setting aside the common Accidents of War), no greate Danger is to be apprehended, though the Spaniards should lande in any Parte of it; since besides the two Campes at Tilbury and Blackheath, large Bodyes of Militia are disposed along the Coaste under experienced Commandours, with proper Instructions howe to behave, in case a Descent cannot be prevented til a greater Force may be drawne together, and severall of the principall of her Majesties Council and the Nobility have raised Troopes of Horse at their owne Charge, well trained and officered, which are readye to take the Fielde at an Houre's Warning.'
The valiant acts of Sir Francis Drake and the advantageous weather were not the only factors in the defeat of the Armada. Walsingham knew they were coming.
The Greatest Plot of All
Walsingham, with those two rather large feathers in his cap, died in 1590 a very poor man.
He inherited a great deal of his son-in-law's debts, and Elizabeth was unable--or unwilling--to bail him out.
Miscellanies of Espionage
Walsingham, like many other ruthless politicians and figures, was a great patron of the arts, commissioning music and supporting various playwrights.
He tended, though, to mix business with pleasure, recruiting for his network several writers and poets, the most notable of which was Christopher Marlowe, whose death in a tavern at Deptford may not have been merely the unhappy result of a common brawl. Deptford was a frequently used waypoint for trips to the Continent.
For a bit of wildly inaccurate historical fun with Walsingham, check out A Dead Man in Deptford, by Anthony Burgess, or go see Elizabeth, where Geoffrey Rush plays the character quite brilliantly.
Secret Messages of Appreciation to: