Sir Robert Cecil and Elizabethan Intelligencing, 1590-1603

Mains, Christopher (2021). Sir Robert Cecil and Elizabethan Intelligencing, 1590-1603. PhD thesis The Open University.



Much scholarly attention has been given to the development of Sir Francis Walsingham’s intelligence-gathering network and how it played an important role in Elizabethan foreign and domestic politics during the 1580s, but little has been attempted for the 1590s. This thesis will argue that the practices and methods that Walsingham laid down did not completely dissipate after his death but in fact continued to be adhered to, most notably in the person of Sir Robert Cecil. It was Cecil who, more than any other Elizabethan in high authority, looked to create his own intelligence-gathering network as he foresaw the benefits of doing so. However, this transition was by no means straightforward, and in fact it can be seen as disjointed.

The thesis will also show that the rise of Cecil’s intelligence-gathering network became intertwined with the rise of his political career. It was not until he became principal secretary in July 1596 that the creation of his own network could really proceed apace. The make-up and construction of his intelligence-gathering network will be discussed, as will the backgrounds of the people who worked for Cecil: his secretaries, his agents and message carriers. In sum, it will be shown that Sir Robert Cecil created by 1603 an effective intelligence-gathering network that was put to good use in the final years of Elizabeth’s reign and continued into that of James I.

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