The Norwich VR company’s plan to become Queen Elizabeth’s spy

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Published:
08:30 September 3, 2022



What was it like traveling across the country to Norwich in 1578?

Now people can find out thanks to a company offering the chance to become a medieval super spy with “an immersive virtual reality experience.”

Norwich-based company Curious Spark was established in April 2019.

He received £98,000 from the National Lottery Heritage Fund to ‘relive one of Norfolk’s most exciting periods’.


Putting on a Progress 1578 follows Queen Elizabeth I’s journey from London to Norwich
– Credit: Elliot Mulhall

Titled Putting on a Progress 1578 (POP 1578), the project will transport people back in time to over 400 years ago.

Those involved will find out how and why, in the summer of 1578, Queen Elizabeth I traveled from London through East Anglia to the Fine City.

Sarah Power, founder of Curious Spark, said: “This 200-person ‘Royal Progress’ included the royal household, members of government and even foreign ambassadors.

“The Elizabethan era is so often celebrated as a time of glorious national achievement, but was a time of intense insecurity.

“Tormented by enemies at home and abroad, the queen knew her hold on the crown was still tenuous.


Sarah Power, founder of Norwich-based company Curious Spark

Sarah Power, founder of Norwich-based company Curious Spark
– Credit: Sarah Power

“The Catholic powers of Europe considered her a heretic and attempts were made to overthrow her.

“But before plotters could be brought in to book, they had to be exposed.

“So Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s Spymaster General, and the ministers of his government created a network of spies and informers.


The project, titled Putting on a Progress 1578, will be held at the Millennium Library on September 10

The project, titled Putting on a Progress 1578, will be held at the Millennium Library on September 10
– Credit: Elliot Mulhall

“They were the forerunners of MI5 and were called ‘Watchers’.

“They integrated into society by operating in pubs, markets, lanes and at the royal court.”

Those who wear the VR headset will be transported to the heart of this “perilous journey to help protect Queen and Country”.

“Traveling with the Court Watchers, you’ll enter authentic Elizabethan rooms and listen to conversations between the Queen and her Privy Councillors,” Sarah added.


Katie Ellis, event producer at Heritage Open Days

Katie Ellis, event producer at Heritage Open Days
– Credit: Katie Ellis

The project will be presented at the Norwich Heritage Center and the Millennium Library at the Forum on September 10.

Katie Ellis, Events Producer at Heritage Open Days, said: “Putting on a Progress 1578 is a real highlight of the Norfolk Heritage Open Days programme.

“Sarah has crafted a truly special and innovative approach to heritage, which offers visitors new experiential opportunities to enjoy at this year’s festival.”

Who were the Watchers?

Queen Elizabeth I constantly faced opposition from Catholics seeking to overthrow her after she returned the Church of England to Protestantism.

Pope Pius V attempted to remove her from the throne.

Soon after, the Ridolfi plot also sought to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

With the loyalty of English Catholics still in doubt, Queen Elizabeth set up a medieval counter-terrorism unit.

Commanded by Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s Secretary of State and Chief Spymaster, a number of spies and agents were employed.


Virtual reality experience will take people back to Elizabethan times

Virtual reality experience will take people back to Elizabethan times
– Credit: Elliot Mulhall

Some were high-ranking figures, others were captured Catholic priests who were “transformed” and returned to their masters as double agents.

Others were men who started and ended their careers behind bars in prison – having offered their services to Walsingham.

Like the agents of Elizabeth I, today’s security services employ a number of tactics used back then.

To keep suspects under surveillance or to intercept communications.

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