Sir William Paget (pictured here), Henry VIII’s advisor, had three sons – Henry, Thomas and Charles. Both the older brothers succeeded Sir William as the second and third Baron Paget of Beaudesert respectively. The Pagets were a Catholic family and did not initially become Protestants as so many of their contemporaries had done.
Once Elizabeth came to the throne in 1559 Henry found himself travelling around Europe. History knows of his travels because he was a childhood friend of Lord Robert Dudley and wrote to him often. It is from one of Paget’s letters that historians know that Mary was habitually called Queen of England following the quartering of her arms with those of England. Henry eventually returned from his travels which included Venice and Turkey but died in December 1568. He left a widow and a baby daughter called Elizabeth.
Thomas Paget now succeeded to the title. He was married to Nazareth Newton and his life was troubled both by his wife and by his religious beliefs. Thomas and his younger brother Charles had both studied at Cambridge. They left without taking their degrees which was a normal element of noble education before being accepted into the Middle Temple where they practised law. Both brothers were at Cambridge during Elizabeth I’s visit of 1559 and initially their catholicism did not seem to be a bar to their careers; certainly they had supporters at court who pleaded their case. However, Thomas became more devout. He refused to take the Oath of Supremacy and found himself, on one occasion, under house arrest at Windsor where he was forced to undergo a course in the doctrine of the Church of England. The archives contain letters from him to Walsingham pleading to be allowed not to attend church services in St Paul’s. There are other letters directed to Cecil where he justifies his decision to separate from his wife who eventually turned state evidence against him. It is perhaps telling that his son, the next Baron Paget, was a Protestant. So far, so sad – religious belief seems to lie at the heart of Thomas Paget’s troubles. After his wife died he fled to the continent where he eventually gained a pension from Philip II and it appears that he hoped to be restored to his title in the event of the Armada being a success. Thomas’s story is complicated by his love-life and his beliefs but it is a fairly straightforward story.
By contrast his younger brother Charles Paget steered a far more difficult course which is fogged by conspiracy as well as the mists of time. Charles Paget scarpered to France in 1881 on account of his Catholicism. One version of events sees him making contact with an agent of Mary Queen of Scots called Thomas Morgan and entered the embassy of Archbishop Beaton in Paris – an out and out traitor to Elizabeth’s England in other words. For the next seven years history records Charles as working for Mary and even receiving a pension from her. This was not entirely surprising to his acquaintances at home in England. After all, the Paget family seat was in Staffordshire not far from Tutbury Castle. Charles had even spoken in Mary’s defence to Lord Howard.
Paget is first known to have plotted on Mary’s behalf in 1582. Cardinal William Allen of the English College at Douai was also associated. The plan was for the Duke of Guise to invade England with the financial backing of Philip II of Spain. Prior to the invasion English Catholics were rise up, depose Elizabeth and release Mary.
In 1583, the plot which came to be known as The Throckmorton Plot, was well underway. Paget went on a secret visit from France to England under the pseudonym Mope where he met the Earl of Northumberland and brother Thomas Paget who hadn’t yet fled from England. He is also known to have met with Lord Howard. Was it a meeting to transact family business; was Charles Paget warning his friends and family against involvement with the plot – he was known not to have approved of the whole plot – certainly that was what he wrote in a letter to Mary Queen of Scots- he objected to Spanish and Jesuit involvement. Or was he a double agent working for Walsingham all along?
Paget met with Walsingham in Paris in 1581 where he offered the spymaster his services. The Watchers by Stephen Alford suggests that Paget wasn’t a double agent using the evidence of Walsingham’s letter to Stafford at that time the English Ambassador in France saying that Paget was a ‘most dangerous instrument’ and fearing for the Earl of Northumberland if he continued to associate with the man. Another of Walsingham’s letter’s makes it clear that he regarded Charles as completely untrustworthy.
Whatever the case, honest man or double agent, Paget remained on Mary’s staff and was involved in the Babbington Plot which cost the Queen of Scots her life. Paget, unlike his older brother, had no great love for the Spanish and by 1599 he was in contact with another generation of English diplomats. He returned home on the accession of James I of England from whom he had a pension – for the support of his mother or the spying agains the Spanish he’d undertaken in Europe – history can’t be sure. He died in 1612 at home at his manor of Weston-on-Trent which had been given to him by James I.
it is my view that Charles Paget was persuaded to become a double agent by Walsingham in 1581. Whatever Walsingham may have written for public consumption, Paget fed to him details of all the plotting taking place in Paris to place Mary on the English throne. Morgan also seems to have been Walsingham’s man.
The murky world of the Walsingham’s secret service has so many twists and turns. There are always tantalising glimmers of evidence, unbelievable naivety by some of the individuals involved and so many chunks of information missing – no wonder fiction writers have a field day with the period.