Thomas Cely to Elizabeth

Thomas Cely to Elizabeth, 12 December 1579 (SP 94.1 f.89)

Thomas Cely, from Bristol, was one of Elizabeth’s Yeomen of the Guard and most probably also a spy for the queen. He wrote this letter from the port of Santa Maria, Andalucia, to where he had been sent by the Spanish Inquisition as a galley slave after having been put to the rack. He tells Elizabeth that he had been arrested ‘only for saying service in the churches of her Majesty’s realm and saying it in ships at sea.’ Elizabeth had already written in his favour, but Cely begs that she might do so again. Although the English queen was a religious moderate and famously declared that she had no wish to ‘make windows into men’s souls’, her reign saw the consolidation of the Protestant reforms instituted by her father’s Reformation. She was regarded as a heretic by most of Catholic Europe, and Philip II of Spain in particular, who made it his quest to conquer England and return it to papal authority.

Transcript (extract)

I am wher I can not atteyn to Cownsell, nether wyll I that eny man shall understand that I wryte for that I am sworen by the Inquizision of spayne nether yet to speke nether to wryte nothynge tochyn the secretes of the ynquizision or ther howes wher I was thri [three] yeer In cloes pryzon for godes cawes [cause] & youres & all my goodes taken frome me most unjustly for god I take to wytnes I never dyd eny thynge contrary to spayn In all the deyes of my lyffe not withstandyng thes grete injeryes [injuries] they have condemnyd me to the galys [galleys] for fower [four] yeeres the thrye [three] of them within ii monethes be paste [passed].’

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