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Name: Jonathan Roche

PhD: History

Thesis Title: God's Spies: The Spanish Elizabethans and Intelligence During the Anglo-Spanish War

Thesis Description:

My thesis investigates the political activities during the Anglo-Spanish War (1585-1604) of a group of English Catholic exiles, who, on account of their political alignment with the Spanish monarchy, have been called the Spanish Elizabethans. It reveals how one of this group, Hugh Owen, a Brussels-based Welsh Catholic exile, developed a sophisticated espionage network, which gathered intelligence from England. The information this network obtained was integral in the Spanish Elizabethans' efforts to advance their political and religious ambitions: namely: the re-establishment of Catholicism in England, achieved either through a Spanish military invasion or by the accession of a Catholic candidate to the English throne upon Elizabeth's death.

The limited extent to which the Spanish Elizabethans have been studied has been a consequence of the over reliance on English-language sources, implying that the Spanish Elizabethans were only concerned with, and involved in, English politics. This thesis, though, adopts a broader analytical approach. Drawing on material from Spain and Italy in addition to English sources, it argues that the Spanish Elizabethans were active participants in political debates across Europe, and shows how the English intelligence provided by the Spanish Elizabethans shaped these discussions. The Spanish authorities in Madrid and Brussels, as well as the Papacy in Rome, had to be persuaded that committing military and financial resources to the cause of English Catholicism was the best use of these limited resources. Intelligence, gathered from England by Owen's espionage network, was crucial in this endeavour, forming an integral part of a multi-faceted campaign which also included printed texts, military proposals, and persistent lobbying. Moreover, through an investigation of the intelligence reports sent by Hugh Owen to Spain – the avisos de Inglaterra – this thesis explores the direct impact of Spanish Elizabethan intelligence on the Anglo-Spanish War, revealing previously unknown details about the conflict which, in English-language historiography, is usually examined from an Elizabethan perspective alone.

By examining how the Spanish Elizabethans developed an extensive and sophisticated espionage apparatus to obtain intelligence from England, and exploring how this intelligence was used and the impact it had on political and military discussions in Madrid, Brussels, and Rome, this thesis highlights the variety and vitality of Reformation politics and the end of the sixteenth century.

Academic and Public Engagement Publications 

  • ‘Hugh Owen: Spain’s Welsh Intelligencer for English Affairs’, in F. Domínguez (ed.), Spanish Elizabethans: Anglo-Iberian Entanglements during the Counter-Reformation (Brill, forthcoming 2021). 
  • Los Avisos de Inglaterra: English Intelligence Reports at the Court of Philip II’, History (forthcoming December 2021).
  • ‘Correspondence: A Pedagogical Source Analysis’, Sage Research Methods for Primary Sources (forthcoming 2021).
  • ‘Economic Systems: A Pedagogical Source Analysis’, Sage Research Methods for Primary Sources (forthcoming 2021).
  • Review of Freddy Domínguez, Radicals in Exile: English Catholic Books in the Reign of Philip II (University Park, PA., Pennsylvania State University Press, 2020), Journal of British Studies, (forthcoming in 2021).
  • ‘Hugh Owen: Robert Persons’ Spymaster’, Stonyhurst Association Magazine, 318 (Forthcoming spring 2021).
  • ‘Spain’s Welsh Spymaster’, La Revista, 252, (Autumn 2020), pp. 58-60. 
  • Review of Ioanna Iordanou, Venice’s Secret Service: Organising Intelligence in the Renaissance. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2019. History, 105/366 (2020), pp. 503-05. 
  • Review of Liesbeth Corens, Confessional Mobility and English Catholics in Counter-Reformation Europe (Oxford, Oxford University Press, 2020), Journal of British Studies, 59/1 (2020), pp. 147-48.
  • ‘From the Archives: Cataloguing the Relic Collection’,, 8 April 2019.
  • J. Roche, J. Graffius, and R. Somerset, ‘From the Province Archives: Cataloguing the Relics in the Jesuits in Britain Archive’, Letters and Notices (2019), pp. 127-40

Conference Papers and Public Engagement Events 

  • ‘God’s Spies: English Catholic Espionage during the Anglo-Spanish War’, Instituto Cervantes de Londres/British-Spanish Society, London, 2 February 2021. Available on Youtube
  • ‘Hugh Owen, English Catholic Spies, and the Royal Succession of 1603’, Society for Renaissance Studies 9th Biennial Conference, Norwich, UK, 7-9 July 2020 (Conference cancelled due to COVID-19). 
  • ‘English Catholic Spies, Spain, and the Stuart Succession’, 3rd International Conference on Anglo-Iberian Relations, Oviedo, Asturias, Spain, 14-16 November 2019. 
  • ‘Catholic Spies during the Anglo-Spanish War: A Social Network Analysis’. Sixteenth Century Society Conference, St Louis, Missouri, USA, 17-20 October 2019.
  • ‘Supplying Intelligence to the Spanish Crown: The Operating Methods of an English Catholic Spy Network’. Sixteenth Century Society Conference, Albuquerque, New Mexico, USA, 1-4 November 2018.
  • ‘Moving Against the Crown: The Development of an English Catholic Intelligence Network in Late-Elizabethan England.’ North American Conference for British Studies, Providence, Rhode Island, USA, 25-28 October 2018.
  • PubHD, The Vat and Fiddle, Nottingham, 23 May 2018.
  • ‘A Catholic Spy Ring: Catholic Espionage in Late-Elizabethan England’, EMREM Annual Symposium, University of Birmingham, 17-18 May 2018.
  • ‘Elizabethan Espionage’, Guest Lecture, History and Politics Society, St Albans School, 15 March 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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