March 2012

Famous Spies: Sir Francis Walsingham


Sir Francis Walsingham was born in 1532, though the exact day is lost to history. Like many politicians of the time, he was the product of a wealthy family and received a superior education.  He also spent much time abroad, learning the ways of Britain’s neighbors.  This would come in handy once he became Elizabeth I’s chief spymaster.

Walsingham served as the Queen’s spymaster from approximately 1573 to 1590, though he had been providing information on the activities of spies in London since 1567.  In addition to these espionage functions, he had a busy political career, despite being mostly unsuccessful on that front.

Famous Spies: Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale is known as an iconic figure of the American Revolution, though what he is known for more are the words he spoke rather than any degree of success he had at infiltration and information gathering.  In fact, Hale only went on one spying mission and that one was unsuccessful.  Still, his patriotism and devotion to the cause of American independence has given him a place among the most famous spies in history.

Hale’s life began fairly ordinary for a wealthy man of the time.  He was born into the upper class and sent to Yale to study where he graduated with first-class honors and eventually became a teacher.  When the Revolutionary War began, he, like so many others who desired freedom from Britain, joined up with the local militia.  He would quickly be promoted to 1st Lieutenant of the Connecticut militia.

Famous Spies: Giacomo Casanova

The name of Casanova is one that carries with it a weight of both fame and infamy.  Most everyone has heard of Casanova the great lover, but few realize that he also used his skills as a spy for the Venetian government.

Born April 2nd, 1725 to parents who were both actors, it seems as if Giacomo Casanova’s life was almost predestined.  Early on, he was actually studying to enter the church, though it was short-lived.  Eventually, he made his way to Rome, where he got into a bit of trouble for having an affair and was subsequently booted from the city.  Upon returning to Venice, Casanova again got himself into hot water by making blasphemous statements and having affairs with nuns.  This little stint ended in a 5 years prison sentence, of which Casanova would serve only 15 months before making his escape.

Famous Spies: Mata Hari

"Mata Hari’s Dutch origins gave her a freedom that most did not enjoy during this time of war. "

Among those engaged in the business of spying, there is one woman who stands out from the crowd.  Her name has spread far and wide, not only due to the part she played in spying for the Germans during World War I, but for the way that she managed to accomplish her tasks.  Mata Hari, born in 1876 as Margaretha Geertruida Zelle, had an impact on the world that was larger than just the effects of her intelligence operations.

Born into a fairly affluent family, Mata Hari lived a comfortable life until her father went bankrupt.  She was originally studying to be a teacher, but when she came across an advertisement from an Army Captain seeking a wife, she saw it as her opportunity to move up.  This gave her access to the upper class world that she enjoyed living in, but after putting up with an alcoholic, abusive husband for so many years, she finally left for Paris.