Long before James Bond, there was John Dee and a network of other spies drawn together by Francis Walsingham to serve Elizabeth I. Some research material on such spies in Shakespearian times is found in Brunel’s Holmes collection.
Edward Holmes researched into the authorship of the works attributed to William Shakespeare. He published Discovering Shakespeare: a handbook for heretics (Mycroft : 2001) which discusses the authorship in an accessible way through fictitious dialogue between two people. His research notes were given to Brunel University Library and are housed in Special Collections. However, the notes are far more extensive than the subject of the book. There are files on many subjects related to Tudor and Elizabethan times, including language, gardens, music, and other literary men. As a tangent to this last, Holmes notes that there seems to be some overlap between writers of literature and drama, and spies or secret agents.
Perhaps the most well-known example of this overlap is Christopher Marlowe. Here’s a page of Holmes’ notes on Marlowe’s death and related issues.
Holmes goes on to amass a file of information on espionage and ciphers at this time, sometimes interweaving Shakespeare, and similarities to characters in Shakespeare’s plays, with details on other men. Much of the material is in note form and it tends to be brief and cryptic, but forms a basis for further study both of Elizabethan spies and of academic views on them at a particular time.
There are notes on the life and work of individuals who may have been connected to the network of agents, and theories about their activities. Here Holmes notes information about “John Doulande”, John Dowland the musician who some suspect of being involved with espionage.
Much of the “espionage” file consists of attempts to draw together a unified picture of the web of intrigue at particular point in time, by charting names, places, contacts, and so forth. Below are three diagrams of such networks.
There seem to be no conclusive findings here, but many questions are raised and ideas generated for further study.
For more on espionage and secret agents in this period, see
For more on John Dee, see the material surrounding the Royal College of Physicians’ exhibiton.