2012 Highlights

Will Tosh

1 May 2012

Will Tosh

Will was born in London and educated at Oxford University and Queen Mary, University of London. He is in his second year of an AHRC-funded PhD on the life and letters of Anthony Bacon (1558-1601), spy-master to the Earl of Essex.


‘The Inns of Court, Spies and Old School Ties in the Age of Elizabeth I’

In the 16th century the Inns of Court – those ancient London seats of legal learning – were the city’s university campuses. Thousands of young men, with money to spend and manhoods to prove, passed through the Inns in the 1580s and 90s. From statesmen and nobles to playwrights and court wits, a spell at an Inn was de rigueur for any ambitious young man. We know they spent their time drinking, whoring, writing lyric poetry and occasionally attending the odd legal lecture.

What we’re less familiar with is the way these important institutions intersected with the wider political landscape. In this short talk, I reveal how the Inns functioned as vital nodes in the networks of patronage, politics and espionage that obtained in the England of Queen Elizabeth. I show that alumni of the Inns worked tirelessly to plant fellow members in important political offices, seeding the growing Elizabethan state with men who owed loyalty and affiliation to their legal alma mater. And I suggest that the Inns themselves – with their situation on the fringes of the city and their transient populations – harboured spies, intelligencers and shady individuals of all types.