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Agents, Spies and the Post-Elizabethan Underworld

It was in this theatre of theological persecution that the gunpowder conspirators, disillusioned with James' turn-around after promising tolerations to envoys while King of Scotland, virtually bankrupted through the harsh recusancy laws, and the prospect that this would only get worse, began the engineering of the destruction of James and his Lords. This section looks at some of the key government figures and representatives of the political machinary, and those in high places whose loyalty at times came into question, and who were at the forefront of trying to expose such sedition.

The spy network that had so skillfully been crafted firstly by Walsingham, and then by the two opposing factions of Essex and Salisbury had perhaps begun to unravel slightly upon the death of Elizabeth. Walsingham's vast intelligence network that had been so important in the 1580's and 1590's was now aging, and while there were several key figures still in play, historians are less clear as to the identities of those who were predominent after James took the throne. Whether the government tried harder to mask their true identities, nobody knows for certain, but what we do know is that there was no shortage of people willing to sell information to the Crown. How much of this was useful, or even constituted real intelligence, we can only speculate. Some sources claim that Catesby et al were in fact agent provocateurs, double agents working for the government in an attempt to oust their seditious Catholic brethren, yet this is one theory that the Society likes to discount. The extant evidence, and actions of those involved does not indicate such double-dealing. Certainly some aspects of the Plot and its "miraculous discovery" through the Monteagle Letter were carefully crafted by people such as Salisbury, in order to achieve maximum political and public effect. this was only natural, and something that even in today's world we are familiar with, for the concept of "spin" has changed very little since.

We are also aware that within the lower echelons of the nobility and peerage, those who had in earlier times been spared from death, or dishonor, were willing to show the new Monarch, James I, their loyalty. Many of these lesser peers in fact had much to gain from their complicity with the government. It was a time when past mistakes could be erased with single acts of patriotism and loyalty, when a new King was willing to forgive, and establish his coterie of loyal subjects around him. Such were the machinations of people such as Monteagle and Bromley, both of whom had been heavily involved in the Essex Rebellion of 1601. Monteagle, who had been heavily fined was certainly ready, willing and able to make amends for his earlier discretions.

[1] Sir Henry Bromley
[2] Sir William Parker, Lord Monteagle
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