By Queen Elizabeth's time, Francis Walsingham and Robert Cecil had set up a spy network across both the country and the continent, but I don't think anything so sophisticated existed in medieval Britain. How was intelligence gathered in the middle ages? Before taking the field a commander would send out scourers or "scouts", as they are known, to watch and report enemy movements, but this was only a short term precaution for the battle that might take place in a few days or even hours. In the long term commanders would also want to know who was plotting against them, the chances of rebellion at home or of invasion from abroad. I believe diplomats and envoys at foreign courts were a main source of information; this was certainly the case of the Italian Dominic Mancini who came to England in 1483, and of some other diplomats caught trying to send illegal letters during Henry VIII's reign. Quite surprisingly the "spy" Dominic Mancini was actually an Augustinian friar (working for the French King Louis XI). Is appears though that this was not so uncommon a practise for men of religion at the time: apparently in England the wandering Dominicans, sworn to poverty, earned a fair bit of money by spying in the different households where they stayed!
The King and important noblemen had numerous "agents" in their service. These could be men who constantly stayed alert and listened for alarming or interesting gossip, sending important news when their master was to far away to hear it for himself and also men who today we certainly would call "spies"; servants and retainers who had betrayed their masters for money.
Does anybody have any more info to share? I've never really read anything on intelligence during the middle-ages - the information I've got is just bits and pieces of info mentioned here and there in some of my books, nothing the authors have looked at seriously.
Edited by kingmaker, 07 August 2006 - 08:53 AM.