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The Queen's Spymasters: William Cecil, Francis Walsingham, and the First Secret Service

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, January 29, 2024 - 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. ET
Code: 1M2299
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Materials for this program

Engraving by William Faithorne of Queen Elizabeth I with William Cecil and Sir Francis Walsingham, 17th century

When Elizabeth I came to the English throne, her reign was challenged by all Catholic Europe. As she refused to marry, resistance to her rule increased among Catholics in England, and Catholic rulers abroad encouraged her subjects to overthrow Elizabeth and bring the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots, to the English throne.

Spies had infiltrated the courts of all the Tudor monarchs, and this accelerated in Elizabeth’s reign. Catholic rulers, including the pope, sent agents to find any weakness that could be exploited to topple the English queen’s government. To maintain the country’s power, Elizabeth and her court turned to William Cecil and Francis Walsingham, devoted Protestants who assembled a team of agents committed to securing  Elizabeth’s crown and willing to do whatever it took to preserve her rule and her church.

Tudor and Renaissance scholar Carol Ann Lloyd-Stanger examines how Walsingham developed a secret network of spies that spanned Europe and enabled him to prevent the overthrow of the English queen. She also considers how the emerging science of codes and ciphers and new ways of sharing, intercepting, and reading messages changed history and sparked the birth of modern espionage.

Lloyd-Stanger is former manager of visitor education at the Folger Shakespeare Library. Her book The Tudors by the Numbers was published by Pen and Sword in 2023.

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