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A Most Secret Service: William Herle and the Circulation of Intelligence

Adams, R; (2011) A Most Secret Service: William Herle and the Circulation of Intelligence. In: Adams, R and Cox, R, (eds.) Diplomacy and Early Modern Culture. (pp. 63-81). Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke, Hampshire. Green open access

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Abstract

This essay examines the letters of the Elizabethan intelligencer William Herle during a period of intelligence-gathering in the Low Countries in 1582. Writing to his patrons Lord Burghley and Sir Francis Walsingham, Herle’s letters offer a rich landscape of detail and information. Yet these are not simply ‘administrative’ letters devoid of emotive expression, but display epistolary structures designed to maintain patronage, and attempting to recreate the distance between correspondent and recipient. While Herle was in Antwerp, there was an assassination attempt against William of Orange. Herle was keen to convey ‘breaking news’ as quickly as possible, and bridge the geographical distance between the English court and Delft, where the attempt occurred. In anticipation of pitfalls in postage, and to ensure that each of his recipients received the same intelligence at the same time, Herle increasingly opted to send ‘verbatim’ letters: duplicate copies of important correspondence. Letter-writers could also employ diverse methods to avoid interception and perusal, such as ciphers and the accompaniment of bearers. In this way, the letter might travel unnoticed, or under protection. These ideas of envoys and letters disseminating through porous membranes, ideally, but not necessarily, authorised and endorsed by the authorities are tantalising. I explore this transmission and translation, and attempt to determine through his letters the relationship between Herle and his correspondents; writing from a location without, reinforcing his liminal status as both spy and informant, decentralized yet essential to the English political landscape.

Type: Book chapter
Title: A Most Secret Service: William Herle and the Circulation of Intelligence
ISBN-13: 9780230239760
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
DOI: 10.1057/9780230298125
Publisher version: http://doi.org/10.1057/9780230298125
Language: English
Additional information: Reproduced with permission of Palgrave Macmillan. This extract is taken from the author's original manuscript and has not been edited. The definitive version of this piece may be found in Diplomacy and Early Modern Culture edited by Robyn Adams and Rosanna Cox which can be accessed from www.palgrave.com
Keywords: William Herle, Intelligence networks, Early modern correspondence
UCL classification: UCL
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Centre for Editing Lives and Letters
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1367034
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