The Marlowe Society

The Government Agent

The Government Agent

1. Political Landscape in the 1580's

Lord Burghley, Queen Elizabeth's chief minister who, together with her Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham, was said to rule the land with the Queen as the Head of all, was also Chancellor of the University of Cambridge. As such he used the University as his recruiting ground to enlist bright, patriotic young men to serve as secret agents. Evidently Marlowe was picked out for this service, which was vitally important, in this age of of Catholic versus Protestant political intrigue, an age of political assassinations, directed against the Heads of States.

In 1584, William the Silent, Prince of Orange, leader of the Protestants in the Netherlands, was assassinated following a failed attempt in 1582. In 1589 King Henri III of France, a Catholic who had flirted with Queen Elizabeth and also patronized Giordano Bruno whom the Holy Roman Inquisition burned at the stake in 1600, was assassinated with the poisoned dagger of a Jacobin friar. His brother, Charles IX, had also been poisoned. In 1610 the next King of France, Henri IV, the former champion of the Huguenots, who embraced Catholicism on ascending the throne with the words 'Paris is worth a Mass', met his death at the point of a dagger also.

The Catholic plots against Queen Elizabeth were ceaseless, but all were uncovered one after another by the English Secret Service, skilfully built up under the direction of Sir Francis Walsingham to become the greatest and most successful espionage network of the time, with agents placed as far away as Turkey to cover every exigency. It was entirely thanks to the efficiency and dedication of Walsingham's Secret Service that Queen Elizabeth led such a charmed life and escaped assassination.

William Cecil, Lord Burghley.

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley (1520-1598) was chief minister to Elizabeth I as well as being Chancellor of the University of Cambridge.