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Friday, December 4, 2015
Secret Service, Spies and Underhanded Dealings by Katherine Pym
century England was volatile. The Stuarts ruled most of this century. There was
civil unrest. One king was beheaded outside the Banquet House in London. Cromwell
died on a cold and dreary night. His body was embalmed and dressed as an
emperor’s; then whisked away to be buried (due to a noisome stink). His son was
considered weak, so King Charles II was returned from exile. After he died (a
pretty horrible way to go, by the way, which I should probably tell you about
one day) his brother took the crown but as a Roman Catholic, he lost it almost
immediately and was pretty much kicked out of England. After almost two
centuries of kings and queens in religious battles, by the end of the 17th
century, true-blue Protestantism held sway. The rest is history (as I swipe at my sweaty brow).
During all these different reigns, there was a lot of Espionage.
King Charles II
Charles II professed to be Protestant and returned to England with great pomp
and ceremony. His new populace greeted him with exuberance along the roads and
into London. Everyone who hated him last week, loved him today.
new king was not a stupid man. He
understood people are fickle. He fully expected to be assassinated or beheaded
as his father was. While in exile, his life was often imperiled. Men had
conspired against him. One example: During the Cromwell years, his spymaster
orchestrated a plot where Charles and his brother, James, were to be lured out
of exile and back to England. The plot was to kill both brothers the minute
they disembarked onto home soil. Thankfully this plot failed but espionage in
England had turned really devious.
in power used good spymasters. Cromwell’s was John Thurloe, a brilliant man. He
created a network of spies (men & women) who infiltrated the most royal of
houses. His net was vast. His spies could be located in every English county,
overseas, i.e., in Charles II’s exiled court, in the Americas, and the far
compiled lists, sent spies into enemy camps, had men tortured and killed. One
such fellow, Samuel Morland, confessed
to witnessing a man ‘trepanned to death’ at Thurloe’s word.(Dictionary.com states the following
definition to trepan:“a tool
for cutting shallow holes [in this case the skull] by removing a core.”)Really really painful and a horrid way to go.
spies infiltrated homes, churches, and businesses to destroy the royalist
enemy, and under Charles II’s, his government did the same.Their goal was to destroy nonconformists, or
“fanaticks”. Plots were a part of political life.
the Restoration, Thurloe was dismissed, but not executed for crimes against the
monarchy (Charles I and II). He was released in exchange of valuable
Commonwealth government documents.
Charles II placed Sir Henry Bennet as the Secretary of State and overlord of
England’s espionage, who in turn brought in Joseph Williamson, another man born
to this work. He took the
bull by the horns and enhanced the processes Thurloe had begun.
built a brilliant spy network.He
allowed informers who, for money, turned on associates. He burrowed spies into households, businesses
and churches.He used grocers, doctors
and surgeons, anyone who would send him notes against persons who were against
the king. He had men overseas watch for any plots. Informants were literally
tools were numerous.Williamson loved
ciphers and cipher keys. Known as Mr.
Lee in the underworld, he used the Grand Letter Office for ciphered messages to
pass back and forth between the undersecretary’s office and spies. He expected
his people to keep him informed by ciphered letters at the end of each day, and
passed through the post office.
obtained ambassador letters, had them opened and searched for underhanded
deceit. He developed a system of local informers, letters and money crossing
palms.Under Thurloe, the secret service
per year. Under Bennet, the money doubled. Most of the annual budget was spent
on spies to keep them alive.
a result, most plots failed. Besides Williamson’s expertise and doggedness,
most plotters employed too many people. Everyone around the countryside knew of
one plot or another, a family member probably involved. Because of Williamson,
these plots dissolved before they were brought to fruition.
seem to be a part of every decade, every century. Today is no different but electronics
have replaced ciphered notes sent to spymasters through the post offices.