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Morris commented “it is plain that many of the later letters of this series are missing, and that they were purposely withdrawn from the collection is shown by the significant erasure of the item “A bundle of letters from Sir Amyas Paulet succeeding Sir Ralph Sadler 1585 to 1586”.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.
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.
Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State to Elizabeth 1, casts a long but indistinct shadow over history. Currently seen mainly as a founder of counter-espionage and often referred to as a ‘spycatcher’, not only is the wider contribution Walsingham made to Elizabethan politics obscured in general literature on the reign, but is a precursor to struggles of the twentieth century.