The History of Espionage – Part 2

More Espionage! I still can’t say the word without putting on a silly voice! This episode is a little longer than we generally aim for. We also didn’t cover as much as we had wanted – no Ninjas. But we really did a lot on all the plots and spying going on around the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The main focus is Sir Francis Walsingham, who was known as Elizabeth’s Spy Master.

Please find listening options below:



Stitcher (I am not linking to Stitcher. We had a technical hitch when uploading this episode. For some reason only a 12-minute version uploaded so I had to reupload. Stitcher is not picking up the new version).

Below is Mary’s Cipher – the code that Mary Queen of Scots used to communicate with her Catholic supporters during the Babington Plot. Walsingham had intercepted her communications and his cryptographer, Thomas Phelippes, then cracked this code.


And here is the message that we wrote using the cipher. Listen to the podcast to find out what it says or work it out for yourself.


Elizabeth had many portraits made of herself. She wanted to project her image throughout the country as part of her mission to be seen as the embodiment of England. Look closely at this picture. Can you see why this portrait is thought to be a way of honouring her spies like the Cecils and Francis Walsingham?





Follett, Ken. A Column of Fire. Macmillan, an Imprint of Pan Macmillan, 2017.
Holland, Tom. In the Shadow of the Sword: the Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World. Abacus, 2014.
Hutchinson, Robert. Elizabeth's Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England. Phoenix, 2007.
Martin, Colin, and Geoffrey Parker. The Spanish Armada. Penguin, 1992.
Weir, Alison. Elizabeth, the Queen. Vintage, 2009.
Elizabeth IMDB
Elizabeth, The Golden Age IMDB
Elizabeth's Secret Agents iPlayer
Gunpowder iPlayer
Our Fake History: Real Ninjas? and More Ninjas
Renaissance English History Podcast: Sir Francis Walsingham
History Extra: The Gunpowder Plot
Walsingham: See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Mary's CipherBy Mary, Queen of Scots [Public domain], via Wikimedia
Elizabeth I The "Rainbow Portrait".


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