Francis Walsingham, the Elizabethan spymaster, moving the bees in a bait hive, and more: newsletter, May 19, 2023

May 19, 2023 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: baseball, beekeeping, books, fiction, history, newsletter, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,845) on Friday, May 19, 2023.

This newsletter will have something special for its readers during the month of June.

First, in each weekly edition, we will present one of the chapters of my latest book, Women With Words: Female Journalists and Writers (Heads and Tales, volume 2). (Amazon and other platforms)

Second, we have reduced the price of all of the editions of this volume (hardback, paperback, and ebook) as much as possible to make this an easy purchase for readers. Those price reductions will remain in place for the entire month.

We hope that you can take a look and find a place for this volume on your bookshelf. Or, maybe do a little birthday or early Christmas shopping. In any event, it’s coming in a couple of weeks, so get ready.

Meanwhile, have a great and literate weekend.


Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,973 subscribers and had a 36.1 percent open rate; 9 persons unsubscribed.

Important: Remember to open the images or click on one of the links so that my email service will record your engagement, and you will stay active on the list. Thanks.


Francis Walsingham and the Elizabethan CIA (part 1)

The court of Elizabeth I, who reigned over England from 1558 to 1603, needed the equivalent of a Central Intelligence Agency to maintain the Queen on the throne and the stability of the government she had established. It needed an information-gathering agency and a counterintelligence operation.

Fortunately for her and her government, it had all of that embodied in one man, Francis Walsingham.

Walsingham didn’t work alone, certainly. In the words of author Kent Tiernan, who has made a study of Walsingham’s methods and actions:

Because of the burden of his other governmental duties, Walsingham was unable to effectively manage a complex deception operation by himself, especially during the deception plan’s implementation. Fortunately, he had access to many talented people who would support his efforts to counter the growing influence of Mary and her loyal Catholic confederates.

(Tiernan, R. Kent. The Walsingham Gambit: Deception, Entrapment, and Execution of Mary Stuart, Queen of Scots, Lexington Books/Fortress Academic, 2022. ProQuest Ebook Central,

But Walsingham was the central figure around which the information gathering, the secret operations, the deceptions, the agents and double-agents, and the disinformation revolved. Walsingham even practiced a bit of psychological warfare (before that term had a name) on his enemies when the occasion called for it.

Francis Walsingham was born in 1532, during the reign of Henry VIII, to a well-to-do and well-connected family. He attended King’s College in Cambridge, but he did not complete his degree. In 1550-51, he traveled throughout continental Europe, and when he returned in 1552, he enrolled at Gray’s Inn and became a qualified English lawyer.

When Henry VIII’s son, Edward VI, died in 1553, the crown was then claimed by Edward’s half-sister, Mary, a devout Catholic and a strong supporter of re-instituting Catholicism in England.

It was a time when peaceful religious toleration was rare in any part of Europe, particularly in England. Many wealthy members of the Protestant church, including Walsingham, exited England to avoid the inevitable repression that would occur. Mary’s reign lasted for only five years, but many Protestants suffered mightily throughout that time. When she died in 1558, Walsingham and many of his fellow Protestants believed it was safe to return and to support the new queen, Elizabeth I, who feigned Catholicism during Mary’s reign but in truth was a Protestant.

Walsingham was among many of those who became determined to protect Elizabeth, and to make sure that England never had another Catholic monarch. To that end, he devoted much of the rest of his life and his considerable bureaucratic and espionage talents.

The dangers to Elizabeth and her reign, both domestically and internationally, were real. Much of the nation, perhaps a majority of the populace, remained loyal to the Catholic Church. That loyalty was supplemented by the Pope in Rome, and by the kings of France and Spain. They encouraged English Catholics to put their religious loyalty ahead of their citizenship. The threat of an internal uprising, supported by an invading army, was uppermost in the minds of the coterie of Protestants who had pledged their support to Elizabeth.

Walsingham was more Protestant than most. He was a Puritan, a sect of Protestantism that had moved far beyond any sympathy toward the trappings of Catholicism.

Walsingham was a friend of William Cecil, one of Elizabeth’s closest advisers. Cecil recognized Walsingham’s talent for attention to detail and for getting things done. Walsingham, Cecil found, was a man you could depend on, forthright, direct, honest, and thorough. Walsingham could master the details of any policy or situation. He knew how to gather information, and because of his earlier experiences, his sources of information were widespread throughout Europe.

In 1571, the Queen chose Walsingham to be the ambassador to France. It was a time of great frustration for Walsingham for many reasons, but it gave him the searing experience of witnessing the Saint Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572. Huguenots, French Protestants, had been invited to Paris to attend the marriage of Henry III to Margaret of Valois. The invitation was symbolic of a precarious peace that had been negotiated between Protestants and Catholics in France. Feelings of enmity between the two religious groups remained raw however, and a mob set upon the Huguenots. During two days of chaos, more than 5,000 Huguenots were killed. (Some estimates of the dead ranged up to 30,000.)

Walsingham used the English embassy as a sanctuary for some of those Protestants. His wife, Ursula, was pregnant at the time and barely escaped to England.

Walsingham never forgot what he had witnessed in Paris during those horrible days. It was a scene, in his mind, that could have happened in London, and he was determined to do whatever was necessary to make sure nothing like that occurred on the English soil. 

Walsingham returned to England in 1573 and a few months thereafter was appointed to the Privy Council and made its Principal Secretary. He later took on the title of Secretary of State. Walsingham’s manner was to deal directly and honestly with the officials around him, especially the Queen. Indeed, the information and advice that he offered to her was so honest and direct that the Queen could never develop any real feelings of affection toward him. Walsingham was often the target of Elizabeth’s moodiness and temper, but he never backed down from what he needed to tell her. To her credit, Elizabeth recognized Walsingham’s value, and although she occasionally dismissed him abruptly, she always sought his return.

Elizabeth needed Walsingham far more than she was willing to admit because plots against her reign and her life abounded.

Next week: Walsingham, Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish Armada. 


The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”


Hiving a swarm of bees

The tale of the swarm continues.

In last week’s newsletter, I related details of how one of my bait boxes had attracted the first swarm of the spring. This was just the beginning. There is much more to tell.

I had noticed that on Friday (May 5), there seemed to be quite a number of bees flying in and out of one of the bait boxes that I had constructed and put up in March and April. This particular box was on a large cedar tree, not far away from the barn that is on our property.

The more I looked, the more bees I could see, and sometime during that day, I began to realize that this box would soon be populated by a swarm. I had no idea, of course, how large that swarm would be, but apparently the scout bees from a swarm somewhere (I don’t know where) had found the box, measured it, and believed that it could hold the entire swarm.

By Saturday, it was apparent that the swarm had indeed located the box. There were plenty of bees, hanging on the outside, and as bees will do, they had found every opening in and out of the box. The fact that they were finding openings was a testament to the shoddiness of the construction of the box and its builder (me).

The box had begun to lean forward from the side of the tree, and I was not yet ready to take the box down and to put it into a regular hive. Consequently, I took a rope and tried to tie it around the tree to secure the box. My plan was to give the swarm a day or two at least to settle into the box before I took it down to put them into a regular hive.

All of that seemed to be going reasonably well, but I still didn’t know how many bees were actually inside the box. Nor did I realize how heavy the box had become. Individual bees do not weigh very much, but when you get thousands of them together, they can add up to several pounds.

On Sunday evening, we had rain, and that rain continued throughout the night. It wasn’t a hard rain, but it was steady. While the box was well protected by the limbs of the trees, water was still accumulating on top of the box, and that added to its weight. 

I walked up the hill on Monday morning to check on the box and found that what I had tried to prevent had actually happened. The box had actually fallen off the tree and was laying on the ground. (See the top two pictures.) Fortunately, the bees were still there. Many of them had gathered in what we beekeepers sometimes call a “bee beard” around the outside of the box.

It was time for me to try to put them into a hive. I could tell from the outside of the box that there were plenty of bees in the swarm, but I still didn’t know how many were inside the box.

I decided to set up the hive within about 40 feet of the tree where the box had been hanging. Under other circumstances, I might have wanted to move the box further away from where the swarm landed, but in this instance, I thought it best to disorient the bees as little as possible.

I set up my hive boxes, took out some of the frames in the lower box, and got everything ready to put the bees into the new hive. This would be the delicate part of the operation. I went over to the box on the ground, squatted down, and picked up the box as gently as I could. My hope was that most of the bees would stay gathered on top of the box. Many of them did just that.

My surprise was the heaviness of the box itself. It weighed a good deal more than what I expected, which meant that there was a large number of bees inside that box.

I moved the box over to where the hive was located and turned it upright, still treating it as gently as possible. I took off the top of the box and got my first glance of the inside. It was packed with bees, many more than I had anticipated.

The three frames that I had placed in the bait box were covered with bees (see the third picture), and I took those out as gently as I could and placed them inside the new hive. Those frames were the most likely place where the queen would be located, and I wanted to make sure that she was not damaged, and that she went into the new hive first. The other bees will not fly off under these circumstances. They will go where the queen is.

After I had done that, I took the bait box, turned it upside down, and shook the bees as gently as possible into the new hive. All during this process, the bees were not particularly happy about being disturbed or moved. Even though I was well covered, the one part of me where the bees could get through my clothing was the socks around my ankles, and they paid a heavy price. I was probably stung about a dozen times.

My reward was that I had captured a large swarm of bees, and that they were now in a proper hive, where they could function as a growing colony. I have located that hive in a convenient place where I can keep watch on what happens with these bees. I will let you know what I see. 

I learned a few valuable lessons from this experience:

– Construct the bait boxes so that there is only one way in and out for the bees. The fact that they had multiple entrances and exits complicated the process of moving them.

– Make sure the bait box is securely fixed to the tree. From now on, I am using ratchet tie-downs to do this.

– Don’t wait longer than a couple of days to put the swarm in a regular hive. They don’t need to settle in too comfortably in the bait box.

– Cover your ankles with a double-layer of socks or other material. That will save you from a good deal of pain and itching in the hours after you have moved the hive. That particular lesson is one I won’t forget.


Group giveaways for May 

Kill the Quarterback, Point Spread, and Murder Most Criminous are part of several group giveaways this month:

Page-turning mysteries and thrillers

Mystery and thriller season (through May 21)

Spine-chilling reads

Historical crime and mystery giveaway

KDP promo (May 9 – May 29)

Each of these giveaways includes more than 20 books of various sub-genres. You can download any or all of them in exchange for your email address. The email address will be shared among all authors participating in the giveaway. The purpose of these giveaways is to get books into the hands of readers and to increase email lists for the authors.


Check out last week’s newsletter

Kath B.: Always enjoy your newsletter & the information on beekeepers I’m forwarding to friends. The poetry by Paul Dunbar is beautiful!

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor: Early harvest

Best quote of the week:

No two persons ever read the same book. Edmund Wilson, critic (1895-1972)

Pray-as-you-go podcast

If you are looking for a quiet, meditative, non-theological but scriptural podcast to start or close your day, try The podcasts are 10-12 minutes long, and they feature beautiful music, a scripture reading, and a very short devotional. It’s a great respite from an otherwise all-too-noisy world.

Helping those in need

Earthquakes in Turkey, fires in California, freezing weather in Texas, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee: disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter: Paul Laurence Dunbar, bait hive success, an apology, and wonderful reader reaction: newsletter, May 12, 2023



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