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Name: Jonathan Roche

PhD: History

Thesis Title: Catholic Intelligence Networks in Late Sixteenth-Century England


Thesis Description:

In 1559 the first Elizabethan Parliament passed the Acts of Supremacy and Uniformity, collectively known as the Elizabethan Settlement of Religion. Through these acts, Parliament prescribed one form of Protestant worship for the entire realm and declared Elizabeth the 'Supreme Governor of the Church of England'. All English men and women were required to adhere to the new 1559 Prayer Book, attend Sunday and holy day services, and receive Communion three times a year. The majority of the population passively accepted these changes; however, a vocal minority refused. This group clung to the traditional forms of worship, denying the authority of Elizabeth over the Church and instead professing loyalty to a foreign prince - the Pope. This Catholic minority's resolve was bolstered by the arrival of missionary priests (from 1570) and Jesuits (from 1580). Through Elizabeth's reign, Catholics participated in regicidal plots against the Crown, seeking to depose Elizabeth and replace her with a Catholic alternative. Faced with this internal threat members of the Elizabethan regime, such as Sir Francis Walsingham, invested heavily in intelligence, seeking to thwart plots before they could occur and to capture Catholic priests. A great deal of research has been undertaken into the intelligence networks of the Elizabethan regime. The vast majority of this research has looked at the subject from the perspective of the watchers, not the watched, despite the flourishing field of Catholic studies in the last twenty or so years. This thesis seeks to redress this imbalance. It explores Catholic counter-intelligence in the period c.1580-1608, investigating:

(1) how Catholics defied anti-Catholic legislation and traveled into and out of England

(2) the disguises, safe-houses, and other evasion strategies used by Catholics to avoid detection

(3) the secret communication networks Catholics created

(4) the establishment of a Catholic intelligence network by Robert Parsons in the 1590s

and (5) the role of intelligence/counter-intelligence in regicidal plots.

A large part of this thesis will utilise sources from the archives of the seminaries which prepared priests for the English Mission: the Venerable English College, Rome, the Royal English College, Valladolid, and the Jesuit archives now situated at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, and in London. English Catholic links with the rest of the Catholic world is still an underexplored area of historiography and thus the thesis will contribute to our understanding of early modern communication networks. By visiting the archives of the main English seminaries, this study will examine the communication networks which supplied these institutions with information and how the knowledge was used to create ‘tactics’ of evasion. 

Scholarly / Public Engagement Activities:


24.5.18 - 'An Elizabethan Catholic Spy Ring, c. 1595-1603', Poster presented at the 2018 Midlands3Cities Research Festival

23.5.18 - PubhD #50. Gave a ten-minute introduction to members of the public about my PhD topic and a 20-minute Q&A exploring the topic further.

18.5.18 - 'A Catholic Spy Ring: Catholic Espionage in Late-Elizabethan England' - paper given at EMREM Annual Symposium, 'Truth, Lies and Deception in Medieval and Early Modern History'


23.3.17 - 'Catholics, Plotters and Elizabethan Espionage' - paper given to the St Albans School History and Politics Society

18.1.17 - 'The Archpriest Controversy and the Contested English Catholic Identity', Paper presented at the inaugural East Midlands History Network Conference: 'Identity and the Other' 


December - Co-founder and appointed Co-Editor of the Midlands Historical Review, a multi-disciplinary history journal being established at the University of Nottingham in the Spring of 2017.

Supervisors and Institution(s): 

Dr. David Gehring, University of Nottingham

Dr. Elaine Fulton, University of Birmingham


Other Research Interests:

  • Sixteenth- and seventeenth-century religious, social and political history 
  • History of Espionage
  • Diplomatic History



University email address:

Twitter: @jpproche

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