Luminarium: Encyclopedia Project Tudor Rose England under the Tudors

Luminarium | Encyclopedia | What's New | Letter from the Editor | Bookstore | Poster Store | Discussion Forums | Search

Scroll and Dagger
Gilbert Gifford (1561?-1590)

GILBERT GIFFORD or GIFFARD (1561?-1590), Roman catholic spy, belonged to the well-known Roman catholic family seated at Chillington, Staffordshire. His father, John Gifford (d. 1612), suffered imprisonment for recusancy. Gilbert is said as a schoolboy to have challenged a schoolfellow to a duel. After spending some months at Anchine he entered Douay College, then at Rheims under the direction of William Allen (1532-1594), 31 Jan. 1576-7. In the register he was described as 'clarus adolescens.' In 1579 he removed to the English College at Rome, and in October publicly defended theses embracing all philosophy before a large assembly of prelates and noblemen.

He and a friend and fellow-student, Edward Gratley, made the acquaintance at Rome of Solomon Aldred, a Roman catholic spy of Sir Francis Walsingham, who lived there with his wife, and had English secret service money to dispose of. Gifford readily entertained proposals to enter the English secret service at some future date. His superiors at the English College admired his intellectual capacity and did not suspect his intentions, but they complained of his dissimulation and deceitful character, and before 1582 expelled him on grounds that are not exactly defined. He returned to Rheims to teach theology on 23 June 1582, after having apologised to Cardinal Allen for past misconduct. On 29 March 1583 Allen wrote, objecting to his remaining at either seminary, Douay or Rome. In 1583 he paid a second visit to Rome. On 16 March 1584-5 he was ordained sub-deacon, and on 6 April 1585 deacon by Cardinal de Guise, in the church of St. Remigius at Rheims. He left Douay College on 8 Oct. 1585, and went to Paris.

Gifford definitely entered Walsingham's secret service in 1583. While at Rheims he seems to have become acquainted with John Savage, afterwards an associate of Babington, a Roman catholic, who had thought of killing Elizabeth. At Paris he placed himself in communication with Thomas Morgan, a representative of Mary Queen of Scots. Morgan gave him a letter (15 Oct. 1583) recommending him to Queen Mary, then confined at Chartley. He was represented to be an enthusiastic adherent who could be trusted to convey her private correspondence from and to Chateauneuf, the French ambassador and her chief agent in London.

He arrived in London about December, and was received unsuspectingly at the French embassy. Some catholic noblemen, as well as the Countess of Arundel and many catholic youths of good family, entertained him, but neither they nor members of his own family suspected his treacherous occupation. He soon presented himself to Phelippes, the chief of Walsingham's spies, and lived in his house for a short time, receiving instructions, and 'practising secretly among the catholics.' In January he went to Chartley and ingratiated himself with Queen Mary, who readily accepted his offer to direct the conveyance of her secret correspondence to London. Her gaoler, Sir Amias Paulet, knew that Gifford was an accredited government spy, and at first doubted his intentions, but quickly placed implicit trust in him.

Gifford had arranged with Phelippes and Walsingham to place all Mary's letters at their disposal. He had to adopt means to avoid rousing the slightest suspicion on the part of Mary or her London agent. Much importance attaches to his methods. He told Mary, the French ambassador, and others of Mary's friends that he secured the services of a catholic brewer of the village to take her letters in his barrels to a neighbouring catholic gentleman, who conveyed them to another catholic gentleman, and that the latter forwarded them by a servant to the French embassy in London. Letters were, he pretended, also sent from London in the same way when he himself or one of his trusted servants did not carry them direct. Mr. Froude accepted this story and, exaggerating its details, assumed that Gifford kept the letters he received from Mary only just time enough to copy them, and then at once sent them to London by means of his secret and circuitous device. As a matter of fact Gilford's account of his device was a lying tale, concocted to lull the suspicions of Mary and her friends.

He himself, on receiving Mary's letters from her, usually copied them in conjunction with Paulet, but he also invariably sent the originals to Phelippes's house in London, and Phelippes at his leisure employed some agent who could be trusted to deliver them to the French ambassador. A letter written by Queen Mary on 31 Jan. was thus not delivered at tho French embassy till 1 March. It lay in the interval in Phelippes's rooms. The French ambassador was nevertheless thoroughly deceived, and gave Gifford in March letters received for Queen Mary in the previous two years, which he had had no opportunity of sending her. All these Gifford took in batches to Phelippes, who deciphered them for Walsingham before forwarding them to Mary. In April Gifford was again at Chartley and still retained the full confidence not only of Queen Mary but of her keeper Paulet.

In the next few months he paid many visits to London and Paris. He was well acquainted with Anthony Babington, John Ballard, and their fellow-conspirators, and encouraged them to pursue their plot, at the same time keeping Walsingham well informed of its development. At Paris he saw Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador who had been expelled from London, and is reported to have given him the first intelligence of the Babington conspiracy. Mendoza freely promised Spanish aid. Roman catholic writers assert that it was Gifford who suggested and arranged the whole conspiracy. At present the better supported view is that the priest Ballard was its originator. Gifford continued to satisfy both his masters. He carried the fatal letters from Queen Mary to Babington, which contained her approval of the conspiracy, and duly showed them to Walsingham and his agents before they reached their destination. On 8 July 1586 he was in London,and gave Walsingham a book denouncing Parsons and the Jesuits which he and Gratley had written some time before. Walsingham highly prized the manuscript, and is said to have distributed printed copies.

By the end of July Gifford's work was done. All the details of Babington's plot were settled by the conspirators, and had been brought by Gifford to Walsingham's knowledge. He seems to have felt the danger of his position and hurried to Paris (29 July). After the conspirators' arrest he wrote to Phelippes and Walsingham, hoping that his departure would not be judged 'sinistrously.' On 3 Sept. he offered to do further work for Walsingham, but the offer was not accepted. That he was capable of almost any villany is clear, but that he was the ooncoctor of the Babington plot, and that he interpolated those passages in Queen Mary's letters which convicted her of complicity in the conspiracy and brought her to the scaffold, are charges that have some prima facie justification, but have not yet been proved.

Both sides soon suspected Gifford to be a traitor, although neither knew the exact extent of his treachery. His catholic associates were certainly cognisant of some portion of his action in England. Fitzherbert, writing from Paris (February 1586-7), hoped that he would 'prove honest.' In the spring of 1587 he travelled to Rheims and Rouen under the name of Jaques Colerdin. At Rheims he was ordained priest (14 March 1586-7), and expressed an intention of seeking a professorship at Rome. In 1588 he was again at Paris, dressed as disguised priests dressed in England. He quarrelled with Sir Charles Arundel, one of the chief English catholic exiles, who accused him of writing against the jesuits. In December 1688 he was found in a brothel and brought before the bishop of Paris. The bishop committed him to prison; Sir Edward Stafford, the English ambassador, made some endeavours to procure his release, but Gifford thought to serve his own ends better by bringing serious charges against Stafford. His catholic enemies proved more powerful than he anticipated, and he died in prison in November 1590. He announced to Walsingham in 1588 the arrival in Paris of Father John Gerard, and is said to have written to Cardinal Allen while in prison an account of the injuries he had done the catholic cause.


      Lee, Sidney L. "Gilbert Gifford."
      Dictionary of National Biography. Vol. VII. Leslie Stephen and Sidney Lee, Eds.
      New York: The Macmillan Company, 1908. 1181-1182.

Backto Mary Queen of Scots
Backto Luminarium Encyclopedia

Site ©1996-2023 Anniina Jokinen. All rights reserved.
This page was created on May 1, 2009. Last updated February 15, 2023.

Index of Encyclopedia Entries:

Medieval Cosmology
Prices of Items in Medieval England

Edward II
Isabella of France, Queen of England
Piers Gaveston
Thomas of Brotherton, E. of Norfolk
Edmund of Woodstock, E. of Kent
Thomas, Earl of Lancaster
Henry of Lancaster, Earl of Lancaster
Henry of Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster
Roger Mortimer, Earl of March
Hugh le Despenser the Younger
Bartholomew, Lord Burghersh, elder

Hundred Years' War (1337-1453)

Edward III
Philippa of Hainault, Queen of England
Edward, Black Prince of Wales
John of Eltham, Earl of Cornwall
The Battle of Crécy, 1346
The Siege of Calais, 1346-7
The Battle of Poitiers, 1356
Lionel of Antwerp, Duke of Clarence
John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster
Edmund of Langley, Duke of York
Thomas of Woodstock, Gloucester
Richard of York, E. of Cambridge
Richard Fitzalan, 3. Earl of Arundel
Roger Mortimer, 2nd Earl of March
The Good Parliament, 1376
Richard II
The Peasants' Revolt, 1381
Lords Appellant, 1388
Richard Fitzalan, 4. Earl of Arundel
Archbishop Thomas Arundel
Thomas de Beauchamp, E. Warwick
Robert de Vere, Earl of Oxford
Ralph Neville, E. of Westmorland
Thomas Mowbray, Duke of Norfolk
Edmund Mortimer, 3. Earl of March
Roger Mortimer, 4. Earl of March
John Holland, Duke of Exeter
Michael de la Pole, E. Suffolk
Hugh de Stafford, 2. E. Stafford
Henry IV
Edward, Duke of York
Edmund Mortimer, 5. Earl of March
Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland
Sir Henry Percy, "Harry Hotspur"
Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester
Owen Glendower
The Battle of Shrewsbury, 1403
Archbishop Richard Scrope
Thomas Mowbray, 3. E. Nottingham
John Mowbray, 2. Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Fitzalan, 5. Earl of Arundel
Henry V
Thomas, Duke of Clarence
John, Duke of Bedford
Humphrey, Duke of Gloucester
John Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury
Richard, Earl of Cambridge
Henry, Baron Scrope of Masham
William de la Pole, Duke of Suffolk
Thomas Montacute, E. Salisbury
Richard Beauchamp, E. of Warwick
Henry Beauchamp, Duke of Warwick
Thomas Beaufort, Duke of Exeter
Cardinal Henry Beaufort
John Beaufort, Earl of Somerset
Sir John Fastolf
John Holland, 2. Duke of Exeter
Archbishop John Stafford
Archbishop John Kemp
Catherine of Valois
Owen Tudor
John Fitzalan, 7. Earl of Arundel
John, Lord Tiptoft

Charles VII, King of France
Joan of Arc
Louis XI, King of France
Charles the Bold, Duke of Burgundy
The Battle of Agincourt, 1415
The Battle of Castillon, 1453

The Wars of the Roses 1455-1485
Causes of the Wars of the Roses
The House of Lancaster
The House of York
The House of Beaufort
The House of Neville

The First Battle of St. Albans, 1455
The Battle of Blore Heath, 1459
The Rout of Ludford, 1459
The Battle of Northampton, 1460
The Battle of Wakefield, 1460
The Battle of Mortimer's Cross, 1461
The 2nd Battle of St. Albans, 1461
The Battle of Towton, 1461
The Battle of Hedgeley Moor, 1464
The Battle of Hexham, 1464
The Battle of Edgecote, 1469
The Battle of Losecoat Field, 1470
The Battle of Barnet, 1471
The Battle of Tewkesbury, 1471
The Treaty of Pecquigny, 1475
The Battle of Bosworth Field, 1485
The Battle of Stoke Field, 1487

Henry VI
Margaret of Anjou
Richard Plantagenet, Duke of York
Edward IV
Elizabeth Woodville
Richard Woodville, 1. Earl Rivers
Anthony Woodville, 2. Earl Rivers
Jane Shore
Edward V
Richard III
George, Duke of Clarence

Ralph Neville, 2. Earl of Westmorland
Richard Neville, Earl of Salisbury
Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick
Edward Neville, Baron Bergavenny
William Neville, Lord Fauconberg
Robert Neville, Bishop of Salisbury
John Neville, Marquis of Montagu
George Neville, Archbishop of York
John Beaufort, 1. Duke Somerset
Edmund Beaufort, 2. Duke Somerset
Henry Beaufort, 3. Duke of Somerset
Edmund Beaufort, 4. Duke Somerset
Margaret Beaufort
Edmund Tudor, Earl of Richmond
Jasper Tudor, Earl of Pembroke
Humphrey Stafford, D. Buckingham
Henry Stafford, Duke of Buckingham
Humphrey Stafford, E. of Devon
Thomas, Lord Stanley, Earl of Derby
Sir William Stanley
Archbishop Thomas Bourchier
Henry Bourchier, Earl of Essex
John Mowbray, 3. Duke of Norfolk
John Mowbray, 4. Duke of Norfolk
John Howard, Duke of Norfolk
Henry Percy, 2. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 3. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 4. E. Northumberland
William, Lord Hastings
Henry Holland, Duke of Exeter
William Fitzalan, Earl of Arundel
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
John de Vere, 12th Earl of Oxford
John de Vere, 13th Earl of Oxford
Thomas de Clifford, 8. Baron Clifford
John de Clifford, 9. Baron Clifford
John Tiptoft, Earl of Worcester
Thomas Grey, 1. Marquis Dorset
Sir Andrew Trollop
Archbishop John Morton
Edward Plantagenet, E. of Warwick
John Talbot, 2. E. Shrewsbury
John Talbot, 3. E. Shrewsbury
John de la Pole, 2. Duke of Suffolk
John de la Pole, E. of Lincoln
Edmund de la Pole, E. of Suffolk
Richard de la Pole
John Sutton, Baron Dudley
James Butler, 5. Earl of Ormonde
Sir James Tyrell
Edmund Grey, first Earl of Kent
George Grey, 2nd Earl of Kent
John, 5th Baron Scrope of Bolton
James Touchet, 7th Baron Audley
Walter Blount, Lord Mountjoy
Robert Hungerford, Lord Moleyns
Thomas, Lord Scales
John, Lord Lovel and Holand
Francis Lovell, Viscount Lovell
Sir Richard Ratcliffe
William Catesby
Ralph, 4th Lord Cromwell
Jack Cade's Rebellion, 1450

Tudor Period

King Henry VII
Queen Elizabeth of York
Arthur, Prince of Wales
Lambert Simnel
Perkin Warbeck
The Battle of Blackheath, 1497

King Ferdinand II of Aragon
Queen Isabella of Castile
Maximilian I, Holy Roman Emperor

King Henry VIII
Queen Catherine of Aragon
Queen Anne Boleyn
Queen Jane Seymour
Queen Anne of Cleves
Queen Catherine Howard
Queen Katherine Parr

King Edward VI
Queen Mary I
Queen Elizabeth I
Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Richmond

Margaret Tudor, Queen of Scotland
James IV, King of Scotland
The Battle of Flodden Field, 1513
James V, King of Scotland
Mary of Guise, Queen of Scotland

Mary Tudor, Queen of France
Louis XII, King of France
Francis I, King of France
The Battle of the Spurs, 1513
Field of the Cloth of Gold, 1520
Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor
Eustace Chapuys, Imperial Ambassador
The Siege of Boulogne, 1544

Cardinal Thomas Wolsey
Archbishop Thomas Cranmer
Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex
Thomas, Lord Audley
Thomas Wriothesley, E. Southampton
Sir Richard Rich

Edward Stafford, D. of Buckingham
Thomas Howard, 2nd Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk
John Dudley, Duke of Northumberland
Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk
Thomas Boleyn, Earl of Wiltshire
George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford
John Russell, Earl of Bedford
Thomas Grey, 2. Marquis of Dorset
Henry Grey, D. of Suffolk
Charles Somerset, Earl of Worcester
George Talbot, 4. E. Shrewsbury
Francis Talbot, 5. E. Shrewsbury
Henry Algernon Percy,
     5th Earl of Northumberland
Henry Algernon Percy,
     6th Earl of Northumberland
Ralph Neville, 4. E. Westmorland
Henry Neville, 5. E. Westmorland
William Paulet, Marquis of Winchester
Sir Francis Bryan
Sir Nicholas Carew
John de Vere, 15th Earl of Oxford
John de Vere, 16th Earl of Oxford
Thomas Seymour, Lord Admiral
Edward Seymour, Protector Somerset
Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury
Henry Pole, Lord Montague
Sir Geoffrey Pole
Thomas Manners, Earl of Rutland
Henry Manners, Earl of Rutland
Henry Bourchier, 2. Earl of Essex
Robert Radcliffe, 1. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 2. Earl of Sussex
George Hastings, Earl of Huntingdon
Henry Courtenay, Marquis of Exeter
George Neville, Baron Bergavenny
Sir Edward Neville
William, Lord Paget
William Sandys, Baron Sandys
William Fitzwilliam, E. Southampton
Sir Anthony Browne
Sir Thomas Wriothesley
Sir William Kingston
George Brooke, Lord Cobham
Sir Richard Southwell
Thomas Fiennes, 9th Lord Dacre
Sir Francis Weston
Henry Norris
Lady Jane Grey
Sir Thomas Arundel
Sir Richard Sackville
Sir William Petre
Sir John Cheke
Walter Haddon, L.L.D
Sir Peter Carew
Sir John Mason
Nicholas Wotton
John Taylor
Sir Thomas Wyatt, the Younger

Cardinal Lorenzo Campeggio
Cardinal Reginald Pole
Stephen Gardiner, Bishop of Winchester
Edmund Bonner, Bishop of London
Nicholas Ridley, Bishop of London
John Hooper, Bishop of Gloucester
John Aylmer, Bishop of London
Thomas Linacre
William Grocyn
Archbishop William Warham
Cuthbert Tunstall, Bishop of Durham
Richard Fox, Bishop of Winchester
Edward Fox, Bishop of Hereford

Pope Julius II
Pope Leo X
Pope Clement VII
Pope Paul III
Pope Pius V

Pico della Mirandola
Desiderius Erasmus
Martin Bucer
Richard Pace
Christopher Saint-German
Thomas Tallis
Elizabeth Barton, the Nun of Kent
Hans Holbein, the Younger
The Sweating Sickness

Dissolution of the Monasteries
Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536
Robert Aske
Anne Askew
Lord Thomas Darcy
Sir Robert Constable

Oath of Supremacy
The Act of Supremacy, 1534
The First Act of Succession, 1534
The Third Act of Succession, 1544
The Ten Articles, 1536
The Six Articles, 1539
The Second Statute of Repeal, 1555
The Act of Supremacy, 1559
Articles Touching Preachers, 1583

Queen Elizabeth I
William Cecil, Lord Burghley
Robert Cecil, 1st Earl of Salisbury
Sir Francis Walsingham
Sir Nicholas Bacon
Sir Thomas Bromley

Robert Dudley, Earl of Leicester
Ambrose Dudley, Earl of Warwick
Henry Carey, Lord Hunsdon
Sir Thomas Egerton, Viscount Brackley
Sir Francis Knollys
Katherine "Kat" Ashley
Lettice Knollys, Countess of Leicester
George Talbot, 6. E. of Shrewsbury
Elizabeth, Countess of Shrewsbury
Gilbert Talbot, 7. E. of Shrewsbury
Sir Henry Sidney
Sir Robert Sidney
Archbishop Matthew Parker
Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Penelope Devereux, Lady Rich
Sir Christopher Hatton
Edward Courtenay, E. Devonshire
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Thomas Radcliffe, 3. Earl of Sussex
Henry Radcliffe, 4. Earl of Sussex
Robert Radcliffe, 5. Earl of Sussex
William Parr, Marquis of Northampton
Henry Wriothesley, 2. Southampton
Henry Wriothesley, 3. Southampton
Charles Neville, 6. E. Westmorland
Thomas Percy, 7. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 8. E. Northumberland
Henry Percy, 9. E. Nothumberland
William Herbert, 1. Earl of Pembroke
Charles, Lord Howard of Effingham
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Henry Howard, 1. Earl of Northampton
Thomas Howard, 1. Earl of Suffolk
Henry Hastings, 3. E. of Huntingdon
Edward Manners, 3rd Earl of Rutland
Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland
Francis Manners, 6th Earl of Rutland
Henry FitzAlan, 12. Earl of Arundel
Thomas, Earl Arundell of Wardour
Edward Somerset, E. of Worcester
William Davison
Sir Walter Mildmay
Sir Ralph Sadler
Sir Amyas Paulet
Gilbert Gifford
Anthony Browne, Viscount Montague
François, Duke of Alençon & Anjou

Mary, Queen of Scots
Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley
James Hepburn, Earl of Bothwell
Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot
John Knox

Philip II of Spain
The Spanish Armada, 1588
Sir Francis Drake
Sir John Hawkins

William Camden
Archbishop Whitgift
Martin Marprelate Controversy
John Penry (Martin Marprelate)
Richard Bancroft, Archbishop of Canterbury
John Dee, Alchemist

Philip Henslowe
Edward Alleyn
The Blackfriars Theatre
The Fortune Theatre
The Rose Theatre
The Swan Theatre
Children's Companies
The Admiral's Men
The Lord Chamberlain's Men
Citizen Comedy
The Isle of Dogs, 1597

Common Law
Court of Common Pleas
Court of King's Bench
Court of Star Chamber
Council of the North
Fleet Prison
First Fruits & Tenths
Livery and Maintenance
Oyer and terminer

The Stuarts

King James I of England
Anne of Denmark
Henry, Prince of Wales
The Gunpowder Plot, 1605
George Villiers, 1st Duke of Buckingham
Robert Carr, Earl of Somerset
Arabella Stuart, Lady Lennox

William Alabaster
Bishop Hall
Bishop Thomas Morton
Archbishop William Laud
John Selden
Lucy Harington, Countess of Bedford
Henry Lawes

King Charles I
Queen Henrietta Maria

Long Parliament
Rump Parliament
Kentish Petition, 1642

Thomas Wentworth, Earl of Strafford
John Digby, Earl of Bristol
George Digby, 2nd Earl of Bristol
Thomas Fairfax, 3rd Lord Fairfax
Robert Devereux, 3rd E. of Essex
Robert Sidney, 2. E. of Leicester
Algernon Percy, E. of Northumberland
Henry Montagu, Earl of Manchester
Edward Montagu, 2. Earl of Manchester

The Restoration

King Charles II
King James II
Test Acts

Greenwich Palace
Hatfield House
Richmond Palace
Windsor Palace
Woodstock Manor

The Cinque Ports
Mermaid Tavern
Malmsey Wine
Great Fire of London, 1666
Merchant Taylors' School
Westminster School
The Sanctuary at Westminster


Chart of the English Succession from William I through Henry VII

Medieval English Drama

London c1480, MS Royal 16
London, 1510, the earliest view in print
Map of England from Saxton's Descriptio Angliae, 1579
London in late 16th century
Location Map of Elizabethan London
Plan of the Bankside, Southwark, in Shakespeare's time
Detail of Norden's Map of the Bankside, 1593
Bull and Bear Baiting Rings from the Agas Map (1569-1590, pub. 1631)
Sketch of the Swan Theatre, c. 1596
Westminster in the Seventeenth Century, by Hollar
Visscher's View of London, 1616
Larger Visscher's View in Sections
c. 1690. View of London Churches, after the Great Fire
The Yard of the Tabard Inn from Thornbury, Old and New London

Site copyright ©1996-2023 Anniina Jokinen. All Rights Reserved.