pedro tellez-francisco de quevedo-literatura-historia-espionaje-venecia-felipe iii de españa-conspiracion

Francisco de Quevedo, great writer… and spy

It is not too well known that the author of El Buscón (1626), in addition to being a prolific writer, worked as an undercover agent. He did this for his good friend the Duke of Osuna and Viceroy of Sicily Pedro Téllez. The truth is that Quevedo had one of the basic qualities of an agent of influence: the ability to seduce and convince.

Quevedo was forced to flee to Sicily after a conflict that ended in a duel and that could lead to his imprisonment. If he chose that fate, it was because he knew that his friend the Duke of Osuna was already installed there. The latter had the ambitious (and chimerical) ambition of conquering Venice for the Spanish crown, personified in the figure of Philip III, a cautious king who was little inclined to get involved in conflicts. Quevedo’s mission was clear: to convince the king and his court to change their minds and support Téllez.

pedro tellez-francisco de quevedo-literature-history-spy-venice-philip iii of spain-conspiracy
Pedro Tellez, viceroy of Sicily and Naples, used Francisco de Quevedo to destabilize the government of Venice in order to conquer it. Wikipedia

He had some success. Firstly, the king granted the viceroyalty of Naples to Téllez, a premise which, according to the Duke, he required in order to begin his plans. Likewise, the king agreed to initiate an underground and sibylline war against Venice, as long as he could keep himself in the background. The results of his work as a spy earned Quevedo the entry into the Order of Santiago and a monthly salary.

The success of the conquest of Venice depended on one key factor: that Quevedo managed to instigate a coup d’état against the rulers by employing the opposition. However, it seems that he was discovered. Portraits of him and the viceroy of Sicily were burned in Venetian streets. With the conspiracy uncovered, King Philip could no longer stand in the background and ended up withdrawing his support for the Duke of Osuna and Quevedo. The Duke would also abandon his friend when he saw his position at risk. Thus came the end of Francisco de Quevedo’s era as a spy.

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