Simancas: February 1590

Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603. Originally published by Her Majesty's Stationery Office, London, 1899.

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'Simancas: February 1590', in Calendar of State Papers, Spain (Simancas), Volume 4, 1587-1603, (London, 1899) pp. 565-572. British History Online [accessed 4 March 2024]

February 1590

12 Feb.
Estado, 839.
577. "Document endorsed Papers respecting Thomas Morgan. Charges against him which show him to have been a vile spy, who, after gaining the goodwill of the poor queen of Scotland, betrayed her to the English Queen."
Summary of the charges against Thomas Morgan, both on his own spontaneous confession and on the evidence of various ecclesiastical and lay witnesses. Done in Brussels, 12th February 1590 :—
1. He confesses that he is of English nationality, born in Wales of honourable and Catholic parents, and 47 years of age. From his youth he has lived by his pen, and at 18 years of age became servant to the bishop of Exeter and was for three years his notary of the Archdeaconry. He was then taken by the archbishop of York, whose confidential secretary he remained until the Archbishop died.
2. He confesses during these two years to have been the greatest of heretics and Calvinists and persecutors of the Catholic Church. Although he was a Catholic at heart, he conformed like the rest of them to the heretic services.
3. Having no estate of his own, his said masters endowed him with church prebends worth 4,000 crowns. With regard to this point his confessions vary greatly, for at other times he puts the value at 10,000l., and sometimes as low as 800 crowns.
4. After the death of the Archbishop he took service with the earl of Shrewsbury, the keeper of the queen of Scots. He took the opportunity of captivating the benevolence of the Queen by the information he gave her secretly, and other kindly services.
5. He says that before entering the Earl's service he communicated his design to the earls of Pembroke and Northumberland, and to Sir William Shelley, who he knew were great friends of the queen of Scots, and they—especially Pembroke—encouraged him to take service with Shrewsbury, which would open a road for promotion to him, by means of the services he might render to the captive Queen in planning her liberation.
To this clause a marginal note is attached saying that many witnesses are confident that Morgan entered the service with the secret connivance of the earl of Leicester, in order to betray the queen of Scots and her friends. This was proved by all her adherents having been put to death, many of whom had only communicated with Morgan.
6. He served the queen of Scots by informing her of the measures taken at Court against her, and also when her house and papers were to be searched. He himself used to take charge of her most important papers on such occasions. He also used to forward her correspondence both for England and abroad, through the French ambassadors.
7. After three years the services he was rendering to the Queen were discovered, and he was arrested and placed in the Tower of London. They raised a great outcry that he was in league with foreign Catholic Princes against the State, but in 10 months they let him out on 10,000l. bail, that he would not leave the country for a year, and would not meddle with the affairs of the queen of Scots.
To the aforegoing clause the following marginal note is attached. This release and the case with which he left the country, the greed and ambition which led him to mix in such great matters, and the finding of a large number of cyphers in his possession, by means of which he corresponded with people great and small all over Christendom, afford strong suspicion that he was a spy. Some English Catholics in Paris, seeing him in communication with servants of the English ambassador, and of Walsingham, told him he was a spy, but he passed it over without taking offence.
8. He confesses that it is the invariable rule in England that no prisoner for high treason escapes with his life, unless he be absolved and swears to do some signal service. But he, Morgan, was not saved in this way, but because he gave a good account of himself, and enjoyed the favour of Councillor Wilson, whom he says he won over to the side of the queen of Scots, although he does not say how.
He says they did let him out of the Tower without passing sentence in writing, after he had been a prisoner on so grave a charge, touching the safety of the realm and the Queen. After that, he says he remained 18 months in the country and spent 700 crowns, the proceeds of property he sold.
9. He then went to France secretly, whither the queen of Scots sent him warm letters of recommendation to the duke of Guise and the bishop of Glasgow, asking them to employ him in her service. He was there occupied on her affairs with a salary of 30 crowns a month ; and was so entirely in her confidence that she used no other cypher for her correspondence than that which he had sent her.
The following marginal note is attached to this clause. Many witnesses are persuaded that Morgan's sole object in this voyage was to discover for the queen of England the negotiations of the Pope, his Catholic Majesty, and other Christian Princes with the object of liberating the queen of Scots. He began by sowing discord between her and her advisers, and persuaded her that they, and Dr. Allen and the Jesuits, aimed at conquering England and Scotland for the king of Spain under her name, and so succeeded in getting her to forbid any of them to communicate with her, except through Morgan and Charles Paget. He also introduced division amongst the English Catholics ; being amongst those who maintained that matters might be remedied without the employment of foreign forces, the chiefs of which party are the bishop of Cassano (Dr. Owen Lewis) in Rome and the bishop of Dunblane ; and they, with Morgan, persecute Cardinal Allen and the Jesuits, and others who wish to reduce England by the forces of his Majesty.
10. He confesses that he was imprisoned by King Henry of France at the instance, he says, of the queen of England, for having conspired with others to kill her. He was in the Bastille for two years on this charge without once being interrogated, and was very well treated, with an allowance of two crowns a day for his expenses. He received what visitors he pleased. From this it may be inferred that this imprisonment also was feigned, the better to discover to the queen of England the plans against her and to enable her to undo all her enemies, till the sacrifice of the queen of Scots.
11. He confesses that when he was arrested he had in his lodging seven or eight thousand crowns, and many papers, of which none were lost. He says the money belonged to Lord Paget.
Suspicion is increased by the fact that, having brought to France only 300 crowns, and his friends having sent him 500 since his departure from England, he confesses to have spent in various ways, apart from his maintenance, more than 2,500 crowns.
12. He confesses to have been very intimate with a priest named Gifford, now a prisoner in Paris for having written a book against the authority of the Pope and the good fame of his Catholic Majesty and the Spanish nation, with other heretical conclusions. Gifford in his confessions says he was assisted in the composition of the book by a priest named Gratley, a prisoner of the Inquisition in Rome, and by Thomas Morgan. (fn. 1) Gifford went to England with Morgan's knowledge, where he presented the book to Secretary Walsingham, who Morgan knew was paying Gifford.
13. He declares that he has been cognisant of several plots against England, and all of them have failed. The rest of the English Catholics think that it is he who has divulged them, as he has carried on an extensive correspondence through the French ambassadors there.
14. He says he came hither (i.e., to Flanders) by order of Don Bernardino de Mendoza, who sent him with other English pensioners to serve his Majesty here. Notwithstanding this, he confesses that since he came hither in 1588 he has not once spoken to his Highness (i.e., the duke of Parma), or any other Ministers, nor has he given any information.
15. But still he confesses, and it is proved, that he has since then carried on great correspondence about public affairs of the highest importance, he says with the knowledge of the King (Philip) ; and 13 ciphers were found on him for this purpose. With respect to two of these he either does not know or will not say what they were for. He was also found to possess four separate seals.
16. He confesses that two of the ciphers were for the purpose of corresponding with a brother of his, a priest in England, and with another gentlemen, named Thomas Berne, living in London, and another was for writing to a certain Fernihurst in Scotland. Another was for correspondence with the steward of the princess of Bearn, and another for that with the duchess of Feria's secretary in Madrid. Another was for use with the governor of Montreuil in Picardy, and another for the bishop of Dunblane, a Carthusian, living in Dauphiné, who goes backwards and forwards to the Court of the duke of Savoy. He is a partisan of the bishop of Cassano against Cardinal Allen and the Jesuits. (fn. 2)
And although this Morgan has correspondence with all parts no drafts or replies have been found except some from Cardinal Mondovi, merely thanking him for the information he sends continually for his Holiness. He confesses to have torn up and burnt the rest of the letters he has received, and his own notes and drafts. It may, therefore, be inferred that they referred to great matters that he was afraid of others seeing.
There have only been found amongst his papers the last two letters from the bishop of Dunblane, arid a note of his reply, although he confesses that frequent letters passed between them, and that their correspondence had continued for several years.
With this sheet there is enclosed a true translation of the contents of this draft reply, as well as a copy of the original in English, and of the cipher, all of which have been acknowledged by the confessant.
He confesses that as soon as he arrived in these parts, he went to the house of the postmaster of Antwerp, because he saw that the letters from England passed through his hands and that the couriers lived there. Although he might easily have learnt from one of his numerous countrymen here all he could want to know about forwarding letters, or have been satisfied with the answer given him at the postmaster's, namely, that if he wished to write to England his letters should be forwarded, this was not enough for him. He must needs worm himself into the confidence of the couriers, and pump them as to whether they carried despatches from the duke of Parma to England, and tried to discover who took them and when.
He confesses that he proposed to an influential Scottish gentleman to capture the king of Scots and take him to Rome, offering him the funds for the purpose, and urging him to write to the bishop of Cassano in Rome, explaining his plans for the purpose. It is evident that this, too, was one of the devices of the English Council, in order to divert his Holiness from supporting his Majesty in his undertaking for the conversion of the Kingdom. He frankly confesses that he would be sorry to see his country subjugated by foreigners, and especially Spaniards.
There are many other circumstances which need not be detailed here, which greatly confirm the strong suspicion that his imprisonments have been feigned, in order to increase his influence with the Catholics, and lull into confidence the poor queen of Scots. But no steps have been taken to submit the prisoner to rigorous examination, as he alleges that everything he did and said was with the knowledge and consent of the King (Philip), and it is deemed best that his Majesty should see this paper first and decide what is to be done. (fn. 3)
These clauses are truly copied from the official examination and information against Thomas Morgan, an Englishman, now a prisoner in the prison of the Provost-General of his Majesty's armies by me, the Auditor-General.
De Salinas.
14 Feb.
Paris Archives, K. 1571.
578. Bernardino De Mendoza to the King.
Although, in accordance with your Majesty's orders, I make every effort to send prompt reports from England, I cannot succeed in doing so, as they are very strict about letters leaving the ports, and the danger of the roads on this side is great. This prevents the advices from arriving in time, although the men there in England do their best to send them. I am therefore obliged to depend mainly upon news from Flanders, as ships frequently come to Calais, and from there letters go safely (to Flanders). There are also regular posts from London to Antwerp, whence it is easy to send advices. I have news from London, of 8th ultimo, that Lord Willoughby, who commanded the troops sent from England to this country, had died of illness as soon as he landed at Caen. (fn. 4)
The king of Scotland was still in Denmark. I learn from letters of 23rd ultimo that three ships, with 900 Englishmen, were ready to sail from the West Country (of England) to Brittany. The Africans (fn. 5) were only awaiting a fair wind, and the St. Malo people suspected they were going to that town, as the castle there is held for the prince of Bearn. The townspeople had consequently barricaded themselves against him, and were preparing to oppose the English. If the latter occupy St. Malo they will do a great deal of damage, as the place is one of the most important in Brittany.
It is reported from Havre de Grâce that ships are being armed in England, which confirms the news I sent some time since.— Paris, 14th February 1590.
21 Feb.
Paris Archives, K. 1571.
579. Benardino De Mendoza to the King.
The only news from England I have to add to that sent in my last, is that five English vessels have arrived at Caen with powder, balls, and other munitions of war.
A Portuguese has arrived here, flying from England in consequence of his having been friendly with another Portuguese called Manuel de Andrada. (fn. 6) Don Antonio had secretly ordered the latter to have a Flemish ship fitted out to take him (Don Antonio) across to Dieppe, for the purpose of negotiating with M. de la Chatre for an armed vessel, in which he (Don Antonio) might go to the coast of Brazil ; and if he was unable to do this, then to go in a Flemish ship to Hamburg and thence to Constantinople, with two or three men ; his intention being only to take five with him to Dieppe.
Manuel de Andrada secretly arranged with the master of the ship, that after he had left England he should make for Gravelines or Dunkirk, upon which he promised to pay him 10,000 crowns. After the arrangement was completed it was discovered, in consequence of the capture of certain letters written by Manuel de Andrada to Calais ; although they were written in blank with a certain water. Andrada was therefore arrested and this Portuguese who was a party to the agreement, concealed himself in London for some days and escaped. He says that Don Antonio is staying in London in the house of one Elena Figueira, a Portuguese woman. He is so poor that Dr. Lopez had to give him some money to buy a doublet and breeches of velvet, as those he was wearing were in holes. Diego Botello, Friar Diego Carlos, and Cipriano de Figueredo, were with him, but on very bad terms. He was living on what the Treasurer and Walsingham gave him.
David is in the place where I suspected he was. (fn. 7) He has let me know that if I will provide him with 400 crowns he hopes to get out of it. I have sent him credits for the amount, as I think it will be to your Majesty's interest not to abandon him in his danger and need, for his zeal to serve your Majesty deserves a higher reward than this.—Paris, 21st February 1590.
28 Feb.
Paris Archives, K. 1572.
580. Diego Maldonado to the King.
Five or six sailors have arrived at this place ; those that remained after sending away the 20 odd from here on the 9th. They belong to the Indian ships captured by the English. I advised that 10 ships had been captured, but these men say 12, loaded with hides, cochineal, drugs, dyewoods, etc. Some of the men have travelled through a part of England, whither the ships were sent to discharge in the north country, and they confirm what has been reported by others, namely, that it would be extremely easy to effect a landing on the island, which the English themselves fear and admit. They (the English) say that if it be done it will be the ruin of England. Frenchmen assert that they have heard the same thing said by the English corsairs in Rochelle ; and that they fear no other sort of vessels but galleys in an attack on England for the purpose of landing troops, because they can approach any part of the shore in a calm, whilst the English vessels would be unable to prevent them. I only report what I am told.
A Portuguese cook of Don Antonio arrived here on the 24th on his way to Tours ; and he reports that it is confidently believed in England that a large fleet of 30,000 Spaniards is being prepared in this country. The Queen is therefore putting in order 18 of her ships, with others belonging to corsairs, and making other necessary preparations, the earl of Essex being in command. They are fortifying the ports, and are in great alarm, saying that the second time the Spaniards will win. They are trying to be ready by April. Don Antonio has only seen the Queen twice since his return. He is very poor, old, and broken, and is living in lodgings taken by the month in the house of a Portuguese woman.—Nantes, 28th February 1590.


  • 1. Gilbert Gifford's confession will be found in the Hatfield Papers, Part III., p. 346.
  • 2. There does not appear to have been any ground for the suspicions stated above with regard to the betrayal of Mary Stuart. The real reason for the prosecution will be found in Morgan's opposition to the Jesuit party.
  • 3. Philip must have known well that Morgan's only offence was that of siding with the Pagets and others against a Spanish domination of England, and that he belonged to the party that desired to convert James VI. and make him king of Great Britain. The King was just and magnanimous enough to continue his pension to Morgan until the death of the latter.
  • 4. Peregrine Bertie, "the brave" Lord Willoughby D'Eresby, son of the widowed duchess of Suffolk and Richard Bertie, commanded the English forces sent to the aid of Henry IV. The news of his death was untrue.
  • 5. This expression has been underlined by the King. It is perhaps used as a term of opprobrium for the English.
  • 6. Manuel de Andrada was the spy David, and one of the principal contrivers of the Lopez plot to poison the Queen or Don Antonio.
  • 7. i.e., in prison. For many weeks Mendoza, in his letters to the King and Idiaquez, had mentioned with concern the absence of news from David ; and expressed his fear, either that evil had befallen him or that he was playing false. In a letter of the same date as the above from Mendoza to the King the following passage occurs :—"I do not dare to give your Majesty an account of a certain negotiation, for fear of the cipher being discovered. If God should be pleased to allow it to be effected it would be very advantageous for His service" This doubtless referred to the plot to poison Don Antonio. Vega's loose and boastful suggestions to this end never came to anything ; but Andrada appears to have been a really able man. See his letters to Burleigh in Hatfield State Papers, Part IV., and the confessions of Lopez, Ferreira da Gama, and others in the Calendar of State Papers, Domestic.