Her Majesty's Spymaster: Elizabeth I, Sir Francis Walsingham, and the Birth of Modern Espionage
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Sir Francis Walsingham’s official title was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I, but in fact this pious, tight-lipped Puritan was England’s first spymaster. A ruthless, fiercely loyal civil servant, Walsingham worked brilliantly behind the scenes to foil Elizabeth’s rival Mary Queen of Scots and outwit Catholic Spain and France, which had arrayed their forces behind her. Though he cut an incongruous figure in Elizabeth’s worldly court, Walsingham managed to win the trust of key players like William Cecil and the Earl of Leicester before launching his own secret campaign against the queen’s enemies. Covert operations were Walsingham’s genius; he pioneered techniques for exploiting double agents, spreading disinformation, and deciphering codes with the latest code-breaking science that remain staples of international espionage.
offer reassuring words of France’s continued goodwill toward England, was left waiting at Oxford for three days before the Queen would consent to see him. When he was allowed at last into her Majesty’s presence on the 8th of September, he found himself confronted by the entire court, dressed in mourning and silent. The French Ambassador’s earnest explanations of the dastardly Protestant plot that had been foiled were greeted coolly. That story was already known in England to contradict the first
arriving at Dover from Flanders became so insistent that certain packages he was carrying be allowed through that the suspicions of the customs officers were, not unnaturally, aroused. The traveler was arrested and his baggage searched. The man was Charles Baillie, a Fleming of Scottish descent, a servant of the Bishop of Ross. In his possession was a book by Ross, secretly printed in Liège, defending the Queen of Scots. Also in his possession was a packet of letters in cipher. Secretary
young King James. Scotland, Walsingham had once said, was the “postern gate” from which trouble was always threatening to sally forth; his hopes of shutting it up once and for all now seemed destined to fail. Queen Elizabeth and the monarch of Spain continued to exchange messages filled with courtly civilities; their ambassadors sent back reports filled with suspicion and bile. Even the outward façade was becoming hard to maintain. Burghley still hoped to preserve amity or at least neutrality
to keep it quiet for now and not inform Mary, but Paget could not resist: “For though to content him I said I would not, yet I know my duty and obedience ever command me to declare to your Majesty what importeth to you; and specially such a matter of importance as this: and therefore am I humbly to beseech your Majesty to direct me in what sort you will have me proceed further.” Ballard returned that month to London, still dogged by the spy Maude, and at the end of May he sought out one of his
almost up. That night, he sat in Poley’s house and wrote a bittersweet farewell note: Robyn, Sollicitae non possunt curae mutare rati stamina fusi [Neither worry nor pains can alter the thread of fate]. I am ready to endure whatsoever shall be inflicted. Et facere et pati Romanorum est [Both to do and to bear is Roman]. What my course hath been towards Mr. Secretary you can witness, what my love towards you, yourself can best tell. Proceedings at my lodgings have been very strange. I am