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"We are, by the sufferance of God, King of England, and the Kings of England in times past, never had any superior but God." - King Henry VIII

During the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, spy networks were a significant factor in England's security, for the first time in the nation's history. Documents from that era reveal hints of the work of England's agents at home and abroad, as well as the activities of foreign agents within the country. This was, of course, not the first time spies had been used. For as long as there have been nations, people have looked for ways to covertly gather information about each other. But in the 16th century, the information gathering and use of covert actions gained a level of organization and importance, that had not previously been seen in Western Europe.

The organization of spy networks and the monarchy's perceived need for them, can be traced back to the manner in which the Tudors came to power, and Henry VIII's reign. Over 450 years after his reign, Henry VIII is still the most famous and recognizable King of England, but it's for all the wrong reasons. Though well regarded by contemporaries as a learned king and "one of the most charismatic rulers to sit on the English throne," he is best remembered today for his gluttony and multiple marriages, particularly the gruesome way in which he was widowed, on more than one occasion. Naturally, that was the focus of the popular Showtime drama series centered around his life, The Tudors.

When Queen Elizabeth I came to the throne in 1652, many commentators heralded the beginning of her reign as the second Elizabethan age. The first one, of course, concerned the reign of Henry VIII's second surviving daughter, and middle surviving child, Queen Elizabeth I, one of England's most famous and influential rulers. It was an age when the arts, commerce, and trade flourished. It was the epoch of gallantry, and great, enduring literature. It was also an age of wars and military conflicts in which men were the primary drivers, and women often were pawns.

Elizabeth I changed the rules of the game, and indeed, she herself was changed by the game. She was a female monarch of England, a kingdom that had unceremoniously broken with the Catholic Church, and the Vatican, and the rest of Christendom was baying for her blood. She had had commercial and militaristic enemies galore. In the end, she helped change the entire structure of female leadership.

Spies in Tudor England: The History and Legacy of English Spy Networks During the Tudor Period looks at the complicated process by which the English monarchy developed spy networks.

©2017 Charles River Editors (P)2017 Charles River Editors

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