Three decades after he died, the historian E P Thompson occupies an ambiguous position in British intellectual life. While his reputation as a commentator has declined, he remains someone who has to be referred to, but with little real engagement. His historical work has lasted and if as a Marxist he suffered from the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Maoist Chinese move into capitalism, the current wave of protest movements in the UK echoes his own protest activity and makes bringing his work back into focus a priority. The recent reference to Thompson in the Political Quarterly aligned him with Cowling, Pelling and Namier in a debate over how political history has produced an alleged split between High and Popular history. This is hardly the case with Thompson. Trevor Fisher reviews aspects of his academic life.
Amyas Paulet was the most stringent jailer of Mary Queen of Scots, and there is a large amount of correspondence from Paulet to Walsingham while he was in charge at Tutbury Castle and Chartley Manor. The letters are not entirely complete, and in compiling them, the Catholic priest Father Morris commented “it is plain that many of the later letters of this series are missing, and that they were purposely withdrawn from the collection is shown by the significant erasure of the item “A bundle of letters from Sir Amyas Paulet succeeding Sir Ralph Sadler 1585 to 1586”. (J Morris The letter books of Amyas Paulet, London 1874, p3).
Francis Walsingham has become a legendary figure in the history of spying, but while he was a genius, his genius was based on a combination of hard work and the ability to exploit strokes of good fortune. The story of Henry Fagot demonstrates this. Discovering the Throckmorton plot so preventing a Catholic invasion of southern England only happened because someone in the French embassy in London, self named Henry Fagot, contacted Walsingham and passed him copies of secret letters between Mary Queen of Scots and her French supporters. Walsingham’s skill was to work out that the crucial link outside the Embassy was Francis Throckmorton. Walsingham worked a lucky break.
I first applied to university at age 18 – my birthday is the 6th October – and entered Warwick University on my 21st birthday, October 6th 1967. The three years in between were a painful example of how a working-class boy with little cultural capital experienced the admissions process in the mid 1960s – and sadly my experience has many lessons to give over half a century later. The university admissions system then was an obstacle race for working class children – and it still is.
Walsingham’s reputation as a spy catcher is based on building a spider’s web of agents and using counter espionage to control potential threats to Elizabethan government. But in 1580 and for some years to come, he was groping in the dark. As Conyers Read comments, “In the year 1580…. It is pretty clear that his secret service was not yet developed. He had to do what he could with the means at his command.