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"The Service I am Here for": William Herle in the Marshalsea Prison, 1571

Robyn Adams
Huntington Library Quarterly
Vol. 72, No. 2 (June 2009), pp. 217-238
DOI: 10.1525/hlq.2009.72.2.217
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1525/hlq.2009.72.2.217
Page Count: 22
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Abstract

This essay examines the letters of the Elizabethan intelligencer and agent provocateur William Herle, written to William Cecil, Lord Burghley, from the Marshalsea prison when the Ridolfi plot was unfolding in the spring of 1571. Imprisoned on a charge of piracy, Herle was drawn into the role of prison spy, a role sanctioned and directed by the Elizabethan authorities and explicitly documented in rich detail in this sequence of letters. Moreover, Herle's letters record his experiences of Tudor prison life, offering the modern reader a glimpse of the conditions and layout of the ramshackle Marshalsea. The letters also reveal the prisoners' efforts to circumvent the restrictions of prison life by smuggling letters and objects through the porous membrane of the prison walls.

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