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Morgan, Thomas (1543-1606?) (DNB00)


MORGAN, THOMAS (1543–1606?), catholic conspirator, born in 1543, was the son of a Welsh catholic. He claimed to belong to 'a right worshipful family of Monmouthshire,' doubtless that of Llantarnan. He mentions two brothers, Harry and Rowland (Cal. Hatfield MSS. iv. 7-9). One brother is said to have been educated at the catholic college at Rheims, and after returning to England to have accepted protestantism, but suffered so much remorse that he drowned himself (Foley, Records, vi. 14). When Thomas was eighteen he entered the household of William Allen [q. v.], bishop of Exeter, and afterwards became secretary to Thomas Young, archbishop of York, with whom he remained till the archbishop's death on 26 June 1568. Both prelates were Calvinists, but Morgan concealed his creed while in their service, and, though a layman, he received from them, according to his own account, church preferment worth four thousand crowns a year. His attachment to his own faith nevertheless grew firmer, and when Young died he resolved to devote himself to the service of Mary Queen of Scots. Ignorant of his designs, Lord Northumberland and the Earl of Pembroke recommended him in 1569 as secretary to Lord Shrewsbury, in whose house at Tutbury the Scottish queen was then imprisoned. Morgan was soon installed at Tutbury, and was able to be useful to the queen. He managed her correspondence, and read and communicated to her what passed between his master and the court. Whenever her rooms and boxes were to be searched, he had notice beforehand, and concealed her papers. But Shrewsbury's suspicions were gradually aroused. On 28 Feb. 1571-2 he reported to Burghley that Morgan was conveying letters to the queen from the Bishop of Boss, and on 15 March sent him to London to be examined by the council (Scottish State Papers, ed. Thorpe, pp. 909 sq., 937). He was committed to the Tower, at the suggestion, it is said, of Leicester, on a charge of having been acquainted with the Bidolfi conspiracy (cf. Foley, vi. 14), but after ten months' confinement he was dismissed unpunished. He denied that he purchased his release by treachery. Burghley, he said, had interceded for him, he knew not why. There is no doubt of his fidelity to the cause he had espoused, and he still retained the confidence of the Queen of Scots. As soon as he regained his freedom she directed him to take up his residence in Paris, and to join Charles Paget in the office of secretary to James Beaton (1517-1603), archbishop of Glasgow, who was her ambassador at the French court. He carried with him recommendations to the Duke of Guise as well as to Beaton. On his settling in Paris Queen Mary allowed him thirty crowns a month out of her dowry, and soon placed her most confidential correspondence under his control. He arranged for her the ciphers in which she wrote her letters, and contrived to communicate with her regularly, besides forwarding letters from her or her advisers to the pope, to the nuncio in France, and to the English catholics at home and abroad who were taking part in the conspiracies against Elizabeth. He issaid to have constructed as many as forty different ciphers (ib. vi. 14). Elizabeth was soon anxious to secure his arrest, and in January 1577-8 Sir AmiasPaulet [q.v.],her ambassador in Paris, was considering the suggestion of a spy, Mazzini Delbena, who offered to invite Morgan to Rome, in order to capture him on the road (Poulet, p. xxiv). Sir Amias regarded Morgan as Mary's 'professed minister,' whose doings he was always 'careful and curious to observe.'

In the autumn of 1583 Morgan received a visit from his fellow countryman, William Parry [q. v.], the Jesuit, and persuaded him to join in a plot for Queen Elizabeth's assassination. When Parry was arrested next year he threw the blame in his confession on Morgan, and Elizabeth, through her ambassador, Lord Derby, applied in March 1583 to the French government for his extradition. She promised to spare his life, but desired to obtain from him 'the circumstances of the practice.' The French king declined to surrender him, but arrested him and sent him to the Bastille. He had time to burn most of his papers, but a note from Parry respecting the plot, and containing a compromising reference to the Queen of Scots, fell into Lord Derby's hands. The queen was still dissatisfied, and soon sent Sir William Wade to demand his surrender. The nuncio at the French court interested himself in protecting Morgan, and the pope was even petitioned to demand his release, on the ground that his services were needed by the church. Wade returned home in May, with the assurance that Morgan was to be kept some time longer in his French prison. Queen Mary (Letters, ed. Labanoff, vi. 300) asserted that Morgan's imprisonment was really due to Leicester, who suspected that he was responsible for the libel known as 'Leicester's Commonwealth.' On 18 May 1585 Queen Mary wrote to the Bishop of Ross, begging him to use his influence to obtain Morgan's release (ib. vi. 307). On 20 July Morgan wrote to Queen Mary from the Bastille lamenting his fate, and regretting his consequent difficulties in dealing with her correspondence (Murdin, pp. 446-52, cf. p. 443).

In October 1585 Morgan was visited in the Bastille by Gilbert Gifford [q. v.] Deceived by his feigned ardour in Mary's cause, Morgan enlisted him in her service as messenger between the imprisoned queen and her friends (cf. Cal. Hatfield MSS. iii. 347-9). Gifford soon placed himself in communication with Walsingham, but Morgan does not seem to have suspected his double dealing. Gifford's devices enabled Morgan to communicate with Mary with increased regularity, but all Morgan's letters were now copied by the English government before they reached her. In January 1586 Morgan heard that Elizabeth had offered 10,000/.for his delivery (Murdin, p. 470), and Mary directed that two hundred crowns should be paid him (Lettres, vi. 263). Although still in prison Morgan helped to organise the conspiracy of Anthony Babington [q. v.] and his associates, and in April he advised Mary to send Babington the fatal letter approving his efforts in her behalf (Murdin, pp. 513-14). On 16 July he introduced Christopher Blount to her notice (Cal. Hatfield MSS. iii. 151), and on 16 Jan. 1586-7 both Mary and her secretary, Gilbert Curie, wrote, condoling with him on his long imprisonment (ib. p. 271).

But the catholics abroad were divided among themselves, and Morgan and Paget were growing irreconcileably hostile to the Jesuits, who were under the leadership of Cardinal Allen and Parsons (Cal. State Papers, Dom. Addenda, 1580-1625, 11 Aug. 1585 ; cf. Cal. Hatfield MSS. iv. 6 sq.) After spending nearly five years in the Bastille Morgan was released early in 1590, and made his way to Flanders. There his enemies contrived his arrest and a three years' imprisonment, culminating in an order of banishment from the dominions of Spain. He seems to have subsequently visited Italy, and had an audience of the pope, while secretly carrying on war with Cardinal Allen, until the latter's death in 1594 (Scottish State Papers, ed. Thorpe, p. 587). Returning to France, he was expelled in May 1596, but before long he returned to Paris.

In January 1605 it was reported that Morgan was involved in a 'plot of the French king's mistress' (Cal. State Papers, Dom. 1603-10, p. 187). In August 1605 the king of France expressed an intention of paying him two thousand French livres, a legacy which Queen Mary was said to have destined for him (ib. p. 232). Guy Fawkes, in his confession respecting the gunpowder plot in 1606, argued that Morgan had proposed 'the very same thing in Queen Elizabeth's time' (ib. p. 314). It is probable that he died in 1606.

[Most of Morgan's letters to Queen Mary appear in Murdin's State Papers. Queen Mary's communications with him are in Labanoff's Lettres de Marie Stuart, vols. v. vi. and vii. A mass of his correspondence is calendared in Thorpe's Scottish State Papers. Many of the originals are at Hatfield (cf. Cal. of Hatfield MSS. pts. iii. and iv.); see also Foley's Records of the Jesuits, vi. 14 sq.; Froude's Hist.; Cardinal Allen's Letters and Papers; Sir Amias Paulet's Letter-Book, ed. Father John Morris.]

S. L.