Norwich VR company project to become Queen Elizabeth’s spy

Published:
8:30 AM September 3, 2022



What was it like to travel cross country to Norwich in 1578?

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

Norwich-based company, Curious Spark, was set up in April 2019.

It was awarded £98,000 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund to “bring one of the most exciting periods in Norfolk to life”.




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

Called Putting on a Progress 1578 (POP 1578) the project will transport people back in time more than 400 years.

Those involved will discover 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 the Curious Spark, said: “This ‘Royal Progress’ of 200 people included the royal household, members of the government, and even foreign ambassadors.

“The Elizabethan age is so often celebrated as a period of glorious national achievement but was one of intense insecurity.

“Tormented by enemies at home and abroad, the Queen knew that her hold on the crown was always precarious.


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 regarded her as a heretic and attempts were made to overthrow her.

“But before any plotters could be brought to book they had to be revealed.

“So Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster general, and her government ministers created a network of spies and informants.


The project, called Putting on a Progress 1578, is being held at the Millennium Library on September 10

The project, called Putting on a Progress 1578, is being held at the Millennium Library on September 10
– Credit: Elliot Mulhall

“These were the forerunners of MI5 and were termed ‘Watchers’.

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

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

“Traveling with the Court Watchers will enter authentic Elizabethan rooms and listen in on conversations between the Queen and her privy councilors,” 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 appearing at the Norwich Heritage Center and Millennium Library at The Forum on September 10.

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

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

Who were the Watchers?

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

Pope Pius V tried to remove her from the throne.

Not long after, the Ridolfi Plot, also looked to assassinate Elizabeth and place Mary Queen of Scots on the throne.

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

Captained by Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen’s Secretary of State and chief spymaster, a number of spies and agents were employed.


The virtual reality experience will take people back to Elizabethan times

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

Some were high-standing figures, others were captured Catholic priests who were ‘turned’ and sent back to their masters as double agents.

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

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

From keeping suspects under surveillance or intercepting communications.

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