Espionage and Intelligence from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation By – January 11, 2011

 Espionage and Intelligence from the Wars of the Roses to the Reformation

By Ian Arthurson

Nottingham Medieval Studies, Vol.35 (1991)

Introduction: In the period between the Wars of the Roses and the Reformation spies were used in foreign and military affairs and for reasons of domestic security. Contrary to expectations spies are not difficult to locate or document. They were a feature of classical and ancient civilisations; and the Middle Ages, which drew inspiration from the classical world, followed its example. Classical histories, the study of which was part of a prince’s education, contain examples of espionage. The works of Jean de Bueil (d.1477) and Robert de Balsac (1502), present in the Royal library, prescribed the use of spies. Christine de Pisan, synthesiser of contemporary military practice and the Vegetian canon, was translated into English and published in 1492 on the orders of Henry VII. The literature of the period suggests that spies were an everyday part of military life. Blind Hary’s Wallace, written in 1478, describes two spies being sent out at midnight to reconnoitre a castle. The chronicles of the period deal with espionage in a matter of fact way, presenting it with little or no comment, except where there a contemporary controversy. Polydore Vergil spent several paragraphs dismissing the notion that ‘as some people think’ Sir Robert Clifford and Sir Robert Curzon were spies of Henry VII. Letters of the period also evidence the work of spies. Royal accounts state openly that rewards were given for spying or in the circumnambulation of the time state that such and such an individual was ‘about the king’s business’.

It was Philippe de Commynes who made the classic pronouncement that messenger, spy and diplomat amount to the same thing. Ambassadors from friendly princes were to be suspected because ‘friendship among princes docs not endure forever’. Ambassadors from enemies were to be watched lest they stir up trouble, given an audience and sent quickly out of the kingdom. Commynes was repeating, verbatim, Louis XI who complained that the Milanese ambassador resident in France in the 1470s inhibited his freedom of action in diplomacy. Theorists of diplomacy disagreed with Commynes. From the 1430s onwards Emilio Barbaro’s maxim. The Ambassador should not behave like a spy’, was repeated in every work on diplomacy and ignored m practice. The prime function of the post of resident ambassador was as political intelligence officer. In the 1530s. when relations between England and the Holy Roman Emp1re had deteriorated sharply the Imperial ambassador’s chief activity was to develop an intelligence system in England to supply information to Charles V. He expanded his staff to take on bilinguals. He patronised the alien mercantile cOmmunity in London and he suborned the households of Anne Boleyn and Thomas Cromwell. Some European governments protected themselves with ordinances against such things. Henry VIII’s ministers and officers made a practice of opening ambassadorial letters. In 1516, Cardinal Wolsey not only opened the letters of the Papal Nuncio but when he saw their contents summoned the man to him, assaulted him, and threatened him with the rack

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Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries had its humble beginnings as an idea of a few artisans and craftsmen who enjoy performing with live steel fighting. As well as a patchwork quilt tent canvas. Most had prior military experience hence the name.


Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries.


Vendertainers that brought many things to a show and are know for helping out where ever they can.

As well as being a place where the older hand made items could be found made by them and enjoyed by all.

We expanded over the years to become well known at what we do. Now we represent over 100 artisans and craftsman that are well known in their venues and some just starting out. Some of their works have been premiered in TV, stage and movies on a regular basis.

Specializing in Medieval, Goth , Stage Film, BDFSM and Practitioner.

Patchwork Merchant Mercenaries a Dept of, Ask For IT was started by artists and former military veterans, and sword fighters, representing over 100 artisans, one who made his living traveling from fair to festival vending medieval wares. The majority of his customers are re-enactors, SCAdians and the like, looking to build their kit with period clothing, feast gear, adornments, etc.

Likewise, it is typical for these history-lovers to peruse the tent (aka mobile store front) and, upon finding something that pleases the eye, ask "Is this period?"

A deceitful query!! This is not a yes or no question. One must have a damn good understanding of European history (at least) from the fall of Rome to the mid-1600's to properly answer. Taking into account, also, the culture in which the querent is dressed is vitally important. You see, though it may be well within medieval period, it would be strange to see a Viking wearing a Caftan...or is it?

After a festival's time of answering weighty questions such as these, I'd sleep like a log! Only a mad man could possibly remember the place and time for each piece of kitchen ware, weaponry, cloth, and chain within a span of 1,000 years!! Surely there must be an easier way, a place where he could post all this knowledge...

Traveling Within The World is meant to be such a place. A place for all of these artists to keep in touch and directly interact with their fellow geeks and re-enactment hobbyists, their clientele.

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