Antony Standen passed information from Europe
to Elizabeth I’s ‘spymaster’ Sir Francis
Walsingham. His intelligence reports on the Spanish Armada
made him a key figure in the Elizabethan secret service. Yet for almost
thirty years Standen was a Roman Catholic refugee from Protestant
England. Despite a knighthood from Elizabeth, he was never able to
reconcile loyalty to his religion with service for his country.
Walsingham’s duty was to protect the
Queen, her sovereignty and her religion, not only from plots inside
England, but also from the danger of invasion. Philip II, King of
Spain, had once been a suitor of Elizabeth’s but wanted to remove
her from the throne and replace her with a Catholic monarch. While
England remained isolated in Europe, Spain under Philip grew and prospered.
By 1585 the two countries were at war - and Spain’s navy was
as big as England’s and the Netherlands’ combined.
Walsingham wanted to find out if and when
Spain was going to invade. One of his spies in Europe was Standen,
a restless and adventurous Catholic who had left England for Scotland
in 1556 with Lord
Darnley. In 1565 Standen went to France and in the early 1580s
he seems to have settled in Tuscany. In Florence Standen used the
pseudonym ‘Pompeo Pellegrini’. He made friends with Giovanni
Figliazzi, Tuscan ambassador to Madrid and an excellent source of
information about developments in Spain. Although Walsingham was probably
in contact with Standen from about 1582, it was not until the spring
of 1587 that a regular correspondence began and Standen started to
receive £100 a year from the Queen for his service as a spy.