Either you got it, or you don't.
It's not street smarts, which are valuable but you need to bring more to the party.
It's not book learning, although that's a key ingredients.
It's also not provable by a high SAT score, which only proves memory skills.
Again, a big part of it, but memory skills alone are like that weirdo kid who can name every dinosaur species until you just want to fucking throttle him to stop his know-it-all peeping little voice.
|"I like the Wizard of Oz. It reminds me of dinosaurs."|
Still with me?
Gathering intelligence in Elizabeth I's reign went on constantly and at every level at court, by county, within religious orders (especially there,) by region of her realm, by countries bordering her realm (hellooooo, Scotland and France,) by countries overwhelmingly Roman Catholic, by satellite.
Kidding about the last one.
It was easy enough to succeed at knowing what was going on socially within spitting distance of the throne; Elizabeth was needle-sharp in her immediate read on persons and situations.
Once they'd left spitting distance of her throne, it was a little easier to deceive - marriages disapproved of by the queen were knit together at an embarrassing rate and number and always royally pissed her off.
Appearing to not know what was going on made her look vulnerable, exploitable, not in-the-loop.
She really hated that; it gave offense by the truckload.
|Not even a little bit.|
The counties also contained her subjects, who went to church, and some to Catholic church, which leads us to all things religious.
In the early years of her reign, she and, she'd guessed correctly, her people were sick and tired of the smell of burnt human in the name of religion.
That smell was everywhere under the reigns of her half-brother and half-sister (especially that one.)
Elizabeth didn't underestimate, though, just how serious the Roman Catholic church felt about the insult of having been called on their shit as people realized generations of their family had 'tythed' their earnings in good faith - and the church had spent them on wine, women and Wolsey.
|Any similarities to Jabba the Hutt are unintentional.|
To make matters worse, if other countries caught on to the tricky pay-as-you-go salvation scam, the Roman Catholic church would find herself operating in the red - and she'd grown used to the cash cow thanks to the pockets of her faithful.
That would not do at all.
So, they did just what Jesus
Elizabeth's cousin, Mary Queen of Scots, was good with that, as she'd double her kingdom size immediately.
But Elizabeth had intelligence of her own as well as a terrific crew of intelligence gatherers but so did Mary Queen of Scots.
Key difference between the two queens: Mary lacked the 'I get it' component.
As in, 'I get it that unless I have a spy network doing whatever it takes to minimize risk to my neck, I'm doomed because everything has changed and people's words don't carry as much weight as they used to.'
Mary Queen of Scots had an almost childish belief that people other than herself and her operatives could be taken at face value, and that no one would stoop so low as to read her private letters, nor snoop in her embroidery basket.
Mary's own brand of blatant collusion was all over the place; plots to off Elizabeth popped up as annoyingly and as quickly as the rodent in a Whack-a-Mole game.
|Gotta be quick and accurate, dude.|
They digested the rumors, the statements, the coded letters, the minutes from the clandestine meetings.
Their informants dwelt in every different class; from scullions to princes - as varied as they were spatial on the (then-known) globe.
When the likelihood of a crazy self-flagellating Catholic extremist showing up became a reality yet again, chances were good that Team Elizabeth, if not Elizabeth herself, already knew.
Assassins take care to not look as obvious as a prom night zit.
|Daniel Craig, channeling Emperor Palpatine.|
Except, of course, nice Father Craig had a gun or a knife under his cassock.
Better he should have dressed like this:
|Bless me Father, for I have sinned. In fact, I continue to sin as I type this.|
As the queen died of old age and being really, really tired, in her bed rather than bleeding out in front of horrified courtiers, her intelligence gathering team succeeded in their mission; after all, one slip and it would have been bye-bye, Elizabeth.
Their tactics went from bribery to questioning to questioning with threats, to flat-out nail-pulling torture, to making an example of the unlucky plotters who got caught by making them die horribly - then, at the last possible second bringing them back to consciousness in order to do something even more horrible that the plotter got to watch. ("Look! I got a handful of his intestines!")
It was a commence-to-crapping-yourself-as-they-read-the-sentence kind of death.
|". . . m'kay? . ."|
|Wow. That's the work of a really bored woman.|
Not even the invasion of the Spanish Armada was a surprise to Team Elizabeth - they'd been aware for at least seven years beforehand that Spain planned some type of invasion .
When the Earl of Essex, that pretty flirt of a boy, wildly flattered Elizabeth, she played along but only long enough to figure out the kid was sulky and mutinous as well.
While in her favor, he opened his trick-or-treat bag wide to catch the titles, favors, lucrative light-work-big-paycheck jobs she dropped in there.
Then - after he mightily effed up a fairly straightforward task of bringing to heel the Irish who'd been acting up most destructively - the Earl found himself doing the courtier's version of the Don Draper fall.
He'd underestimated the scope of Team Elizabeth's network, the rich and powerful he'd thought he'd charmed hadn't been charmed enough to back him, and the guy just could NOT keep his trap shut.
|Listen to Mister T!|
Intelligence gathering only works if the one receiving the gathered intelligence understands it.
There was never any doubt among her school-day tutors that Elizabeth possessed a keen and sharp intelligence that rivaled, and often succeeded, their own.
She built her own advisory team and intelligence gathering community.
She trusted the men she'd put in charge.
Like a mother who never lets her smile slip lest her children be frightened by the rattlesnake in the corner, Elizabeth likewise ignored the rattlesnakes of assassins, and beamed radiance and confidence every time she made an appearance to her people.
She was their queen.
She loved them.
The rest was all trifles.