Showing posts with label Elizabeth I. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Elizabeth I. Show all posts

10 January 2018

The Once and Future Spy

David Edgerley Gates

Sir Francis Walsingham was principal secretary to Elizabeth I, as well as her spymaster and head of her security detail. Along with William Cecil, the Queen's senior advisor and Walsingham's chief patron, the two men guarded the Protestant crown and Elizabeth's own person with severe diligence. Heads rolled. Not a metaphor.
L-R  Cecil, Elizabeth, Walsingham
Walsingham lived in a treacherous age, but he himself was steadfast. There was a magnetic attraction. What drew him to her, what recommended her to him?

We might remember the fury of religious hatreds in the 16th century. Philip of Spain may very well have felt slighted after Mary Tudor's death, and there wasn't any love lost with the French, either, but Spain and France were Catholic powers, and England was apostate, Elizabeth a heretic.

Her older sister Mary, daughter of Henry VIII's first wife, Catherine of Aragon, wore the crown for five intemperate and bloody years, and did her best to turn back the English Reformation, burning dissenters at the stake. Not few and far between, either, the known number being two hundred and eighty-four. Some better-off Protestants went into exile abroad. Francis Walsingham, then twenty-one, left his law studies at Gray's Inn and beat feet for Basel, in Calvinist Switzerland.
Sir Francis
Mary died in 1558, and Elizabeth succeeded. Walsingham came back to England. He stood for Parliament. He got in good with the Earl of Bedford, with the nimble-footed Nicholas Throckmorton (who survived involvement in the plots of Thomas Seymour and Lady Jane Grey, and the murder of Darnley, among other things), and with Cecil. He took the lead in supporting the French Huguenots - and was later ambassador to France during the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. He played a big part in exposing the Ridolfi plot, which tarnished Mary Stuart, and led to the execution of Norfolk.

Mind you, we're only into the first ten or a dozen years of Elizabeth's reign. Walsingham's got twenty years to go. The through-line, though, is the thwarting of Catholic power and ambitions. This is a guy who seeks to frustrate at every turn the puissant majesties of Papist dominance. Certainly it's a political balancing act, a chess game, but Walsingham seems motivated not simply by loyalty to his sovereign, but gleefully rubbing their Romish noses in any humiliation he could contrive. He wanted boots on the ground in the Netherlands, for instance, open rebellion against Spain by the Protestant Dutch. Cecil persuaded the Queen to more moderate tactics. Then there were the constant negotiations over prospective candidates for Elizabeth's hand. She used the possibility of marriage as an instrument of foreign policy for most of her life, not in some coquettish pursuit, but as a serious means of structuring or weakening alliances. Here too, Catholic and Protestant proved selling points, for and against.
Walsingham's great espionage triumph is the defeat of the Spanish Armada. Given the time and distances, it's extraordinary how well-informed he kept himself, and how immediate the reports were. He recruited merchant skippers and diplomats, footpads and whores. The intelligence was terrific. He also orchestrated Drake's raid on Cadiz, which pushed Spain's invasion planning back a full year. In the event, the naval battles in the Channel, and later at Calais, decided the issue, Francis Drake again the hero of the hour - the famous story of his finishing the game of bowls - but it was Walsingham's system of beacons, built along the south coast, that gave Elizabeth's captains their timely warning.

Less honorable, perhaps, were the inductions devious by which Mary Stuart was betrayed and condemned, but she was easily led, a foolish queen, far less canny than her cousin. Elizabeth would never have put her trust in such a congeries of rascals and lowlifes and feckless naifs.
Marlowe
The story that's always fascinated me, however, is the murder of Christopher Marlowe, at a tavern in Deptford, if in fact it wasn't a whorehouse, in a drunken quarrel over money. The facts were stated at an inquest, and the three other men present were exonerated, including the one who actually stabbed Marlowe over the eye. There's been a lot of back-and-forth about this, over the years, and whether or not the witnesses are credible. Generally speaking, it's been acknowledged that there's 'something queer' about the whole episode. [Marlowe biographer John Bakeless]

For our purposes, there's the longstanding suspicion that Marlowe was a spy for Cecil, in the Low Countries. And perhaps earlier, when he was at Cambridge, for Walsingham. The three men he was drinking with, that afternoon in Deptford, were all connected to the Walsinghams. Two of them, Poley and Skeres, had been active agents provocateurs for Sir Francis in the Babington plot that undid Mary, Queen of Scots. Marlowe's killer, Ingram Frizer, was in the household employ of Thomas Walsingham, a first cousin. Marlowe had been commanded to appear before the Privy Council to answer charges of libel and sedition - privy to the Crown, in effect the Queen's cabinet, the Council was the seat of authority for both Cecil and Walsingham. Marlowe was killed ten days after the summons, but Sir Francis Walsingham himself was already three years dead at the time of Marlowe's murder.

Did he reach out from the grave? One way of looking at it is to ask what Marlowe might have known and what stories he might have told. By far the most interesting speculation involves the so-called School of Night, a supposed group of atheists patronized by Sir Walter Raleigh, although the evidence is exceeding slim: the theory here being that Kit Marlowe was silenced so he wouldn't incriminate Raleigh, atheism as the time being family to treason, the Queen both monarch and head of the Church of England.
Raleigh
But the cold case mystery of Marlowe's murder seems to illustrate how much space Walsingham has taken up in the Elizabethan imagination, that his shadow could fall so far, and that a dead man's hand struck the fatal blow. 


15 September 2016

Kirk O'Field, or How To Blow Up a King

by Eve Fisher

Mary, Queen of Scots (1542-1587).  How you view her depends on if you see her as a romantic, beautiful young woman who had the tragic luck to be rebelled against by her own subjects and executed by the jealous, paranoid Elizabeth I; or if you see her as a beautiful young woman who was stupid enough to marry an unvetted idiot, then marry that idiot's murderer and then flee to England rather than France.  Guess which school of thought I belong to?

FrancoisII.jpg
Francis - looks a
bit sulky, doesn't he?
Mary at 13
Mary, Queen of Scots spent very little time in Scotland until she was 18.  She was shipped over to France at the age of 5 to marry Francis, heir to the French throne.  Her father in law, Henry II, and her mother in law, Catherine de Medici, both found her charming.  Her fiance/husband, probably not so much:  For one thing, Mary was at least 5'11" tall, beautiful, healthy, active, and eloquent, while Francis was "abnormally short", stuttered, and always ailing.  They married in 1558.  (The marriage was probably never consummated, but the debate continues.)  The next year, Henry II died in a jousting accident when a lance splintered and a splinter went up into his helmet and into his eye.

NOTE:  This was foretold by Nostradamus in the following memorable quatrain which is the source for all of Nostradamus' future fame and reputation:
"The young lion shall overcome the older one,
on the field of combat in single battle,
He shall pierce his eyes in a golden cage,
Two forces one, then he shall die a cruel death." 
Anyway, Francis was 15 when he became king.  He immediately turned the management of France over to his mother, Catherine, who turned it over to the House of Guise, who promptly ran amok on power.  Barely 2 years later, he died, of anything from meningitis to an ear infection.

And Mary, Dowager Queen in a kingdom that already had one of those (Catherine de Medici was no shrinking violet), was out - sent back to Scotland, which she barely remembered.  And promptly disliked.  Compared to France, Scotland was crude, rough, cold, and besides she was practically met at the boat by John Knox, ultra-Presbyterian, whose whole attitude towards "The Monstrous Regiment of Women" was summed up in his pamphlet of the same name.  (He walked back on this to Elizabeth I, when he realized she was the only Protestant ruler around, explaining that he really didn't include her. She was not amused.)

And of course, everyone wanted her to marry again, fast, because she was only 18, and Scotland needed an heir to beat back the English.  Preferably Scots.

Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley.jpgInstead, over the border came a young, handsome, TALL young man, of both English and Scots noble blood, Henry Stuart, Duke of Albany, Lord Darnley.  Six foot three inches, TALLER than Mary, one of her nobles described the meeting:  "Her Majesty took well with him, and said that he was the lustiest and best proportioned long man that she had seen."  They were married in 3 months.  She got pregnant almost immediately.  Great rejoicing.

Except that she had married an arrogant, vain, power-hungry man who had no intention of "just" being King Consort - he wanted the Crown Matrimonial, i.e., to be KING, with Mary as his subordinate queen.  She refused.  Darnley was also not the most cultured of men, and she spent more and more time with her secretary and lute-player, David Rizzio.  Now the Scots lairds all already hated Rizzio (Catholic, Italian, plays a lute, what's not to hate?), and since she was spending so much time with him rather than her husband, rumors flew that she was pregnant by him.  (And stuck for a very long time:  Years later, when one man called Mary's son, James VI of Scotland, "the Scottish Solomon", another quipped, "Aye, for he is the son of David".)

Anyway, Darnley joined in the hatred, and joined with the lairds to murder him.  And they did:  lairds and King came storming into Mary's supper chamber and stabbed him 56 times in front of her.  I have to hand it to her:  she was tough.  She was 7 months pregnant, and didn't miscarry.  She managed to, after the murder, to persuade Darnley that the lairds would murder him next, and got him to help her escape.  They fled on horseback, and again, she didn't miscarry.  Some of the lairds fled to England, which did them little good.  (Elizabeth I wasn't thrilled by lords rebelling against their queen.)  Mary had a bonny baby boy, for which all rejoiced.  

So, everyone was great, everything was fine - except that Darnley had developed a bad case of the pox.  Arguments still abound whether it was smallpox or syphilis, but at the time, it was assumed to be syphilis.  (He'd never been known for his faithfulness or sobriety.)

And four months after the birth of James, Mary and her lairds held a meeting to discuss the "problem of Darnley".  Divorce was discussed, but somewhere - and, hopefully, when Mary was not in the room, the nobles agreed that :"It was thought expedient and most profitable for the common wealth ... that such a young fool and proud tyrant should not reign or bear rule over them; ... that he should be put off by one way or another; and whosoever should take the deed in hand or do it, they should defend."[114]

Darnley wasn't entirely stupid - he went to stay on his father's estates in Glasgow, but in January, Mary persuaded him to come back to Edinburgh.  (The rumor was that she promised to bed him again.)  He was staying in a house belonging to the brother of Sir James Balfour at Kirk o'Field. Mary visited him daily.  On the night of February 9, 1567, Mary visited him and then went to a wedding at the palace.  In the late night/early morning hours, a massive explosion blew up the house - later it was proved that the basement had been packed full of gunpowder, and not by accident.  However, Darnley managed to get out before the explosion:  he was found dead in the garden.  There were no marks of violence on the body, or so they said.  (We have no autopsy or photographs, of course.)  It was assumed, however, that he was smothered to death:  and that Mary had ordered it.  And that an old friend and strong ally, James Hepburn, the 4th Earl of Bothwell, was deeply involved.

Elizabeth I wrote her:  "I should ill fulfil the office of a faithful cousin or an affectionate friend if I did not ... tell you what all the world is thinking. Men say that, instead of seizing the murderers, you are looking through your fingers while they escape; that you will not seek revenge on those who have done you so much pleasure, as though the deed would never have taken place had not the doers of it been assured of impunity. For myself, I beg you to believe that I would not harbour such a thought."[124]
NOTE:  And indeed she did not:  when Elizabeth's favorite, Robert Dudley, was suspect of murdering his wife, Amy - who'd fallen down a flight of stairs while he was at court, breaking her neck - Elizabeth sent him away from the court, and ordered a trial.  He was acquitted, and Elizabeth did receive him at court again.  But she never married him, and never would.  In fact, at one point she offered Mary a signed document, guaranteeing her succession to the English throne, if Mary would marry Robert Dudley, which was pretty insulting.  Mary married Darnley almost immediately afterwards.  

James Hepburn, 4th Earl of Bothwell, c 1535 - 1578. Third husband of Mary Queen of Scots - Google Art Project.jpg
Lord Bothwell
But, back to the murder.  Lennox, Darnley's father, demanded Bothwell be put on trial.  He was, on April 12, 1567.  Seven hours later, he was acquitted.

Now here's where it gets tricky.  12 days later, Mary was "abducted" by Lord Bothwell, and taken to Dunbar Castle.  Was she raped, or did she consent?  (I confess, that I have always wondered why, if he did rape her, she didn't have him executed. I mean, fine, agree to marry him, go with him back to Edinburgh, and then call in the palace guards.  By God that's what Elizabeth I would have done...) Either way, something happened, because they returned to Edinburgh and she married him on May 15.  (And she had a miscarriage in July that was far enough along so that they knew there were twins.)

Nobody was happy with the marriage other than (perhaps) Mary and Bothwell.  Everyone was shocked that she had married the man accused and tried of murdering her husband.  Twenty-six Scots peers raised a rebellion against them, and by June 15, Mary was their prisoner.   On July 24, she was forced to abdicated in favor of her son, James, who was 1 year old.  Bothwell was driven into exile. (He fled to Denmark, where he died, insane, in 1578.)

Mary had a knack for persuasion, though: She managed to get the brother of the owner of Loch Leven Castle (where she was imprisoned) to help her escape on May 2, 1568.  She managed to raise an army of 6,000 men, but lost to the forces of the Earl of Moray.  She fled south, and crossed the Solway Firth into England in a fishing boat.  On May 18, she was in "protective custody" at Carlisle Castle.

A really good question is why she didn't try to get to France.  France and Scotland had always had a strong alliance against the English.  The House of Guise was still powerful, and would have helped her one way or another. If nothing else, she would have been a valuable dynastic pawn.  But she somehow thought that Elizabeth would help her get back her throne, which (imho) is ultimate proof of how stupid she was.  After all, Elizabeth I's position as Queen of England was infinitely safer with an infant King of Scotland than with this loose romantic cannon, still reeking of strong scandal.  Mary spent the rest of her life in England, a prisoner, plotting to regain her throne and, eventually, plotting to have Elizabeth I dethroned and murdered.  After a trial, that was more or less rigged, she was convicted.  And on February 8, 1587, at Fotheringay, Mary Queen of Scots was beheaded...

Elizabeth I never had any children.  James VI of Scotland became James I of England after Elizabeth's death in 1603.  It's almost impossible to know what James really thought about his mother, but two points leap out at me:  
(1) James never tried to get his mother released, never wrote to her, and never spoke of her to anyone during the years before her death.  
(2) After he became King of England, it took him 9 years (in 1612) to have her body transferred from Peterborough Cathedral in Cambridgeshire to Westminster Abbey in London.  
Make of that what you will.  




12 November 2014

The School of Night

by David Edgerley Gates

The first of Anthony Burgess' novels I read, or at least finished, was NOTHING LIKE THE SUN, a re-imagining of Shakespeare's life. (I'd tried tackling A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, but found it too difficult.) Many years later, he wrote an extraordinary book called EARTHLY POWERS - which deserves a column of its own - but one of the last books he published in his lifetime was A DEAD MAN IN DEPTFORD. It revisits the Elizabethan age, one of Burgess' great passions, and looks into the mystery surrounding the murder of Christopher Marlowe. 
  
'Mystery' is an inexact word, because we know who killed him. Stabbed him above the eye, during a drinking quarrel. The question is whether it was arranged beforehand.


Marlowe
Kit Marlowe was a poet first, and then a hugely successful playwright. He and Shakespeare were born the same year, 1564, but Marlowe was a marquee name much earlier. DOCTOR FAUSTUS is probably the most famous of his plays, and the most quoted. "Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it." "Is this the face that launched a thousand ships?" "I'll burn my books." FAUSTUS also attached to Marlowe the reputation of being an atheist or a heretic, a damaging accusal.

He was also a spy. This has been disputed, but he was probably in the pay of either Lord Burghley, the queen's treasurer, or Sir Francis Walsingham, her principal secretary. Walsingham, a member of the Privy Council, was Elizabeth's spymaster, a secret and dangerous man. The dates don't always work, but Marlowe was often absent abroad, and his chief mission was apparently to penetrate supposed Catholic plots threatening the queen. More to the point, various criminal charges brought against Marlowe were dismissed or nol prossed, which meant he had powerful protectors. Finally, though, a warrant was issued on the charge of sedition, involving inflammatory anti-Protestant literature. Given the climate
Walsingham
of the time, however, this could have been a deception - a provocation, in present-day vocabulary, bait to draw out suspected conspirators.


In the event, Marlowe was ordered to appear before the Privy Council. He presented himself on May 20th, 1593, but the council didn't meet. He was told to keep himself available, until such time as they did. He was murdered on the 30th, ten days later, without ever testifying.

Four men spent the day drinking at a pelting house in Deptford. Kit Marlowe, Ingram Frizer, Nicholas Skeres, and Robert Poley. Frizer, Skeres, and Poley were dubious characters, loan sharks, confidence men, and all three of them had served in some capacity or another for the Walsinghams, either the late Sir Francis or his first cousin, Thomas, a one-time agent provocateur in the intelligence trade, now turned gentleman, and a member of the queen's court. At some point late in the afternoon, according to the inquest, Frizer and Marlowe got in a fight over the bill. Marlowe attacked Frizer, Frizer stuck him in the head with a knife and killed him. It was ruled self-defense. Kit Marlowe was buried in an unmarked grave. Frizer was pardoned inside of a month.

This much is known. The rest is speculation.


Raleigh
Sir Walter Raleigh's name surfaces. Although a favorite of Elizabeth's, he had many enemies, and his star rose and fell. There was plenty of malicious gossip being passed around. One story goes that Raleigh, thought to be no respecter or religion, hosted a coven of unbelievers, known as The School of Night. Marlowe was said to attend, as were Henry Percy, the Earl of Northumberland, and the astronomer Thomas Harriot. Nothing supports this, or even that the men knew each other, but it certainly thickens the plot, if plot there was. Supposedly, should Marlowe have been tortured, he might have incriminated Raleigh. This fabrication could have been circulated by Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex, another of Elizabeth's favorites and a rival of Raleigh's. Essex went to the block in 1601, Raleigh himself was executed some years later, both men attainted by treason to the crown. No evidence suggests either of them had a hand in Marlowe's death. The circumstances have remained unexplained.

Shakespeare has the last word, in AS YOU LIKE IT. "When a man's verses cannot be understood, nor a man's good with seconded with the forward child, understanding, it strikes a man more dead than a great reckoning in a little room." The 'reckoning' refers to an unpaid bill, the 'little room' to a shabby kennel in Deptford.



http://www.davidedgerleygates.com/

31 January 2013

Role Models

by Eve Fisher



           "...the magnificent Spade, with whom, after reading 'The Maltese Falcon', I went
           mooning about in a daze of love such as I had not known for any character in
           literature since I encountered Sir Launcelot at the age of nine.  (Launcelot and
           Spade - they're pretty far apart, yet I played Elaine to both of them, and in that
           lies a life-story.)"  Dorothy Parker, The New Yorker, April 25, 1931, p. 92

Me and Dorothy have a lot in common.  I, too have mooned after Sam Spade, Simon Templar, Nick Charles, James Bond (I'm a Sean Connery gal), Lord Peter Wimsey, Sir Gawain, Prince Valiant, Rhett Butler, and Thomas Hewlitt Edward Cat.  See Robert Loggia below - I loved that show.  I watched every episode for its two year run.  Besides the fact that I thought Mr. Loggia was pretty darned hot, it was set mostly at night, with lots of cool jazz music - he owned his own jazz bar - and references to gypsies and jewel thieves, and I thought that was pretty much the kind of life I wanted to lead.  Note to Netflix:  get this show on DVD!

But none of these were role models.  For that I needed women, and strong, interesting women were hard to find back in the 1960's, when Donna Reed et al were still vacuuming wearing high heels and pearls.  Here are some of the women whom I admired and modeled myself after when I was a child:

Elizabeth I.  The original great leader, sharp and witty, supremely well educated, steely, manipulative, able to get and keep her throne in an age of beheadings, able to keep her country out of almost all wars, dignified, bawdy, athletic, musical, and poetic.  Do not even get me started on her antithesis, Mary, Queen of Scots.  Anyone stupid enough to marry the chief suspect in her husband's murder deserves whatever she gets.  Elizabeth had the good sense to stay single, both because it was to her taste and because she knew that no husband would ever please her countrymen.  "I would rather be a beggar woman and single than to be a Queen and married." (But I personally don't believe she was a virgin...)

Anyway, she managed to keep her country free, her ministers subordinate, and live pretty much as she wanted to live for almost 50 years.  On top of that, she was one of the first to realize that religion was a lousy excuse for burning a man, and pursued the first "don't ask, don't tell" policy (re religion) in history.  "I have no desire to make windows into men's souls."  (Eventually she did have to send some people to the fire, but they did keep trying to kill her.)  Yes, she was overdressed.  Yes, she was vain.  Yes, she was an autocrat.  But she also said, and I believe she meant it, "There will never Queen sit in my seat with more zeal to my country, care to my subjects and that will sooner with willingness venture her life for your good and safety than myself. For it is my desire to live nor reign no longer than my life and reign shall be for your good. And though you have had, and may have, many princes more mighty and wise sitting in this seat, yet you never had nor shall have, any that will be more careful and loving."  She made GREAT speeches. 

Okay, on to pop culture.

Emma Peel.  In an age when most women were running screaming from villains and tripping at the first available opportunity, or huddling in fear, waiting to be rescued, Mrs. Peel was the first woman I ever saw who rescued the guy.  She was beautiful, well-educated, athletic, musical, stylish, witty, and could kick some serious butt.  And she had class.  Whatever happened between her and Steed or her and anyone else was private.  The double-entendres were subtle (and oh, how I miss those days!). I admit that the plots of "The Avengers" ranged from clever to just plain stupid, but I never missed an episode.


Harriet Vane.  I hear that some people feel about her the way I feel about Susan Silverman although I don't understand why.  To me, Harriet was an intelligent, well-educated, witty, musical, athletic woman who could solve a murder just as well as her would-be lover and future husband, Lord Peter Wimsey.  I also liked that she wasn't physically beautiful - not all of us are - and it didn't matter, to Peter or to herself.  She had a wonderful voice, could look striking, was passionate and intellectual and liked a good wine.  And she had a successful writing career, supporting herself so that she was dependent on no one but herself.  I liked all of it.

Nora Charles.  (Note to Dorothy, I changed my mind:  I'll take Nick over Sam any day.)  Fun.  Smart.  Witty.  Great marriage.  Good times.  Can't ask for much more than that...



NOTE:  During the next 3-4 weeks, my husband and I will be moving to the bottom floor of an old school in Madison - lots of room, so we're not downsizing too much.  Anyway, this means chaos, heartburn, aching backs, and not too much writing.  I've logged ahead my blog posts for the month, but I may not be checking in as much as usual.  Forgive me, and I will say hi when I can!