"Both diligent and secret" : the intelligence letters of William Herle
The unpublished letters of William Herle, diplomat and intelligencer to the court of Elizabeth I reveal startling insights into the role of such agents in political affairs. As well as their more obvious content of sensitive information, Herle's letters expose his primary impetus behind the pursuit of intelligence; of the construction and maintenance of a patronage alliance based upon the judicious exchange and release of knowledge at politically sensitive moments. This epistolary aspect of intelligence letters - overlooked by much scholarship - reveals the complex strategies Herle implements to circumvent the disruption of social hierarchy at the moment of counsel, the private transfer of knowledge in a medium often subject to broadcast, and the uncomfortable union of potent intelligence and familiar affect. This dissertation investigates the world of Elizabethan intelligence operations as experienced by William Herle, focusing on the topics of religion, early modern diplomacy, imprisonment, secret communication and patronage relationships based upon intelligence-exchange. The letters are an invaluable resource for scholars of early modern history and sixteenth-century letter writing, documenting the lengths to which a client would go to secure and maintain patronage in this period, encompassing the giving of gifts, the transmitting of books, and the strategic deployment of potent information. Scrutinizing intelligence operations from a social and textual standpoint offers the scholar a wider picture of the agent's position and relation to the political landscape. This dissertation examines Herle's evolving status of common informant, prison spy, diplomatic envoy, and special ambassador, surmounting obstacles of social hierarchy whilst maintaining a marginal, secret status. By identifying the epistolary and social minutiae of Herle's letters, this study relocates the position of the Elizabethan intelligencer, departing from the typical notion of skulking spy and instead positioning the agent directly in contact, both textual and physical, with the political power-base.