Follow TV Tropes

Following

The Spymaster
aka: Spymaster

Go To

https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/ckii_crop_2.png
"Sire, he has a pair of twos."

Wooster: What exactly does the term "Master spy" mean in this part of the world, anyway?
Krosp: Hmm... "Sneaky gossip-monger"?
Wooster: That explains so much.
Advertisement:

The Handler of handlers, moving spies about all over the world. He is easily made a villain because this role lends itself to deception, morally questionable decisions and a We Have Reserves mentality. Though sometimes a spymaster can be an anti-hero, feeling The Chains of Commanding and considering The Needs of the Many. Thus, he is typically cold and dour, though sometimes he has a heart of gold. If rebellious or wildly anti-heroic protagonists work for him, he may have a long-suffering air, as he's the one who has to deal with many of the consequences of their hi-jinx.

Few viewpoint characters are Spymasters because the role is basically office work: sitting at a desk, writing letters, reading reports, etc. It's hardly exciting; The Protagonist is more likely to be a field agent reporting to him because that is where "the action" is. Thus, he is more likely to be the Big Good if he's working with The Hero.

Advertisement:

He is often The Chessmaster.

Compare Knowledge Broker for when the Spymaster is operating freelance.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime & Manga 
  • In Shoukoku no Altair, Süleyman is the chief of spies for Türkiye. He's constantly traveling to keep in touch with the spies stationed in each country of Rumeliana and recruit other potential spies. And he works under Zağanos Pasha, who is their superior and tells them what it is they have to do directly.
  • The protagonist (of a sort, though he's not the POV character) of Joker Game is Lt. Col. Yuuki: The Chessmaster, Magnificent Bastard and Spymaster, all in one.

    Comic Books 
  • The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen features Mycroft Holmes (Sherlock Holmes' brother), then later Harry Lime from The Third Man, and an aged Emma Peel in the modern day, as 'M', Britain's legendary spymaster (the title coming from the James Bond stories). They're all following on from the original 'M': James Moriarty.
  • Amanda Waller and Sarge Steel have both filled this role for the U.S. Government in The DCU.
  • Wonder Woman: While Steve Trevor was essentially a spy in the original comics his characterization and ablilties drifted over the reboots, up until he was turned into DC's equivalent of Nick Fury.
  • The Marvel Universe:
    • Nick Fury: Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. takes a very hands-on approach to this job. He's pretty much the Memetic Badass of the Marvel Universe.
    • He's succeeded by, among others, Maria Hill, Daisy Johnson, Norman Osborn (who replaced S.H.I.E.L.D. with H.A.M.M.E.R.) and the below-mentioned Steve Rogers.
    • Recently, Steve Rogers served his country in this manner upon returning to life, operating as a Nick Fury-esque spy.
    • Pete Wisdom, while not the head of his agency (at first — by the time of Captain Britain and MI13, he's taken the job), serves as the closest thing to a counter-part Nick Fury has in MI-13, Britain's paranormal agency, and is similarly hands-on.
    • The Red Skull more or less had this job when he was with Those Wacky Nazis.
    • Recurring Iron Man foe Spymaster lives up to his name with his own organization, the Espionage Elite, as well as being a master industrial spy himself.
  • Moff Nyna Calixte a.k.a. Morrigan Corde plays this role in Star Wars: Legacy.
  • Paul Crocker, Director of Operations, from Queen and Country is very much a Spiritual Successor to Neil Burnside.
  • Star Wars: Poe Dameron establishes that C-3PO, of all people, serves in this capacity to the Resistance, using a network of droid informants Hidden in Plain Sight across the galaxy in order to acquire intelligence.
  • The fashionable (dig that scarf!) yet mysterious man known only as Control, in the WWII-set OSS feature in G.I. Combat. Appointed head of military intelligence by FDR after Pearl Harbor, Control also scouts civilian agents from all walks of life and dispassionately sends them on deadly sabotage and wetwork missions across Europe, Africa, and beyond.

    Fan Works 
  • The Pieces Lie Where They Fell: Memorizing Gaze, Secret Protector of the Hidden Guards, is officially identified as one of these in the sequel Picking Up the Pieces - the Hidden Guards are Equestria's secret intelligence division, who investigate potential threats to the nation. He even keeps Guards in his fellow Captains' headquarters to keep an eye out for other potential infiltrators.
  • What About Witch Queen? has two: baron Hakan Madsen is the Royal Spymaster of Arendelle (while, at the same time, being the commander of Marines) and colonel Glenn Hunter holds the same position in Weselton. Madsen is more of a heroic example, and Hunter appears villainous, or at least Jerkass.
  • In Bad Future Crusaders, Featherweight serves as this to Queen Twilight, being in charge of the Changeling spies deployed around Equestria. He even refers to himself as "the Queen's ears" at one point.
  • Child of the Storm has a number:
    • Nick Fury, who served as this to the Order of the Phoenix back in the day and currently runs SHIELD. He does remarkably well to keep up with a number of schemers who, to put it mildly, have other than ordinary means to find things out: while he gets less attention than the others, he can usually match Loki and Doctor Strange cryptic remark for cryptic remark, he trained Peter Wisdom, he catches Alexander Pierce red-handed at the end of the first book, and ultimately out-gambits Lucius Malfoy.
    • Peter Wisdom a.k.a. Regulus Black, Fury's protege and counterpart at MI13, comes to prominence as this in the second half of the first book and during the sequel, going from senior Agent to the most powerful man in Muggle Britain (who's capable of bossing around/threatening the Ministry) at the tender age of 32. He makes a point to have a lever on everyone, and somehow figured out that Hermione was Wanda's daughter, being the only person without inside information or who was close to either individual to work it out.
    • Lucius Malfoy, who served this role for Voldemort, returns to this role with a vengeance in the first book and spends almost the entire first book at least three steps ahead of everyone else, using his skills in this department to pull Uriah Gambit after Uriah Gambit on his fellow Death Eaters to control their finances, and usurp control of HYDRA. Then Nick Fury springs his trap in the finale, and Doctor Strange - the puppet-master of it all - reveals just how he's been controlled.
    • Alexander Pierce casually runs both SHIELD and HYDRA - or rather, 'HYDRA's SHIELD-division' - and has been doing so for decades. And yet, no one suspects him or sees past his avuncular and grandfatherly demeanour until he lets them, or Nick Fury catches him. He even manages to successfully double-cross Lucius Malfoy, who's renowned for doing this to everyone else, and the sequel shows that even in prison he's basically just toying with his interrogators.
    • Loki, post reformation, decided this was the best way to serve Asgard, with Carol noting that he not only runs Asgard's intelligence service, he effectively is its intelligence service (and occasional assassin). Being the Magnificent Bastard he is, understands the problem of training and planting spies throughout the world would be incredibly difficult, even more so if he wished to avoid the attention of other spymasters. So he doesn't even try: Instead, he uses taxi drivers, cleaners, and the homeless as informants. All three groups are already everywhere and hear much more than people think. So not only can he set up an invisible network everywhere, he can actually help the less fortunate at the same time by paying for information.
    • The sequel, Ghosts of the Past, adds:
      • General Aleksandr Lukin as the head of the renewed Red Room, who is moderately competent when he's sane. Unfortunately, Sanity Slippage rapidly ensues, which is why despite even Sinister's best efforts, he barely lasts two weeks in real time, as opposed to nearly a year.
      • Alison Carter, the former Deputy Director of SHIELD who is reinstated after the Forever Red arc, repeatedly alludes to taking her supposed retirement relatively lightly (she occupied herself protecting Clark Kent and keeping an eye on Harry, indirectly, as his maternal grandparents were ex-SHIELD - and having those who were doing so on her behalf roasted over a slow flame when the truth of how he'd been treated came out) and who can verbally break Alexander Pierce in five minutes.
  • Dungeon Keeper Ami Has King Albrecht's loyal advisor, The Spymaster. Whose name is not revelaed for obvious reasons. Despite being in the side of the heroes, he always seems to know exactly what just happened in the Underworld or what Sailor Mercury has achieved a day or two after it happened.
    • In addition, Jered and Umbra fill this role for Ami herself.
  • Summer Crowns:
    • Orton Merryweather becomes Master of Whisperers to King Stannis.
    • As Lord Intendant, Tybero Istarion serves as this to the Dragonhunt after the Second Sons are reorganized to be their Secret Police within Myr.
  • In Earth's Alien History, the Director of the Department of Extra-Normal Operations (DEO) serves this role for the Terran Treaty Organization.
  • Queen of Shadows:
    • As General of the Shinobi, this role technically falls to Hiruzen by default, as his tribe is the best suited for infiltration and intelligence gathering.
    • Shendu has his own "Master of Veiled Truths", a wizard named Ban Buwei.
  • An Empire of Ice and Fire: As per canon, Varys serves as Master of Whisperers to the royal court of Westeros until he's killed by the Waif on Littlefinger's orders. By the time of the sequel The Mystery Knight, Arya Stark-Baratheon has ascended to the position.
  • Chasing Dragons:
    • After the Sunset Company conquers Myr and converts it into the start of a new kingdom, Robert appoints Gerion Lannister to serve as his Master of Whispers. And he seems to continue in that capacity even after replacing Ned as Hand.
    • Due to the High Turnover Rate of Westeros' own Master of Whispers (as they all either resign or get fired for failing to foresee one or another of the rebellions against Stannis), and because Westeros' ambassador to Braavos is very placid at his job, Owen Merryweather (Westeros' consul to Braavos-occupied Pentos) serves as Stannis' de facto spymaster in Essos.
    • Donys Rahtheon serves as both Master of Whispers and Master of Coin for the Targaryen exile court.
    • Lady Shipwright sets up her own private spy network, composed of her former associates from when they were all pleasure slaves, for the sake of furthering her newfound noble house's status.
    • To combat foreign espionage, Gerion and the Blackfish merge resources to create the Office of Foreign Intrigue, with the Special Branch (aka medieval black ops unit) of it being headed by Baelish.
Advertisement:

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Kingsman: The Secret Service:
    • Arthur; he's the movie's answer to M. As the head of the agency, every Knight answers to him.
    • The sequel introduces Champagne (or "Champ", as he prefers), the head of the Statesmen, who serves as Arthur's American counterpart.
  • Project Moonbase has Mr. Roundtree, who leads the spies of the "Enemies of Freedom". He is pretty well-prepared, with extensive files and a Criminal Doppelgänger infiltrator ready for almost every important person of the other faction, which he can slip in at a moment's notice. Aside from that, well, he's probably the blandest Red Scare master spy you're ever going to see in film.
  • In Once Upon a Spy, the unnamed intelligence agency that Chenault and Tannehill work for is headed by a mysterious woman known only as 'the Lady'. She is very much a Distaff Counterpart of M.

    Literature 
  • 1632 series: Fransico Nasi takes on the role as spymaster for the newly arrived Americans by the end of the first book of the series, building on extensive information networks spread throughout 17th Century Europe.
  • This is pretty much a stock character archetype in BattleTech fiction — whenever the narration focuses on the setting's movers and shakers (or even just a commanding officer worried about operational security), it's usually a pretty safe bet that their respective spymasters won't be far away. In fact, the main plot of the now-classic Warrior trilogy pretty much revolves around Justin Xiang Allard, son of the spymaster of the Federated Suns, becoming first an arena champion, then an intelligence asset, and finally a spymaster in his own right for the Capellan Confederation.
  • Javelin from The Belgariad is the head of Drasnian intelligence (the best spy network in the world) and is also the direct handler of Hunter, a spy whose identity is known only to him. As a (borderline anti-)heroic version of The Chessmaster, he can seem a bit ruthless at times — in the sequel pentalogy, he even orders the crucifixion of his own niece as one of the cultist traitors captured during a city siege. She's actually the current Hunter, and it's all part of a plan to infiltrate the cult by letting the cultists' rescue attempt succeed.
  • Narses and Irene fill this role in the Belisarius Series. Irene deserves special mention because she is amiable and rather perky rather then being dour (the normal personality for this kind of character).
  • Dr. Harold Smith from the Destroyer series qualifies because he can take on this role, although in most of the novels he is rarely seen playing this part; he does so in cases he doesn't need Remo's skills.
  • Louis Goliath of Doctrine of Labyrinths. Although he's perfectly willing to use hideous methods, from physical mutilation to Mind Rape, to further his ends, he never does anything spitefully or without considering the consequences— indicating a detachment that seems to scare Mehitabel more than his atrocities.
  • The Dresden Files:
    • Bob and other knowledgeable agents identify Archangel Uriel as God's personal spymaster and "black ops guy".He is, however, limited by not being able to affect a person's free will. He cannot give information or knowledge that would otherwise change a person's choice, but rather give them help for a choice already made. Even with this severe limit on a being who states he is capable of destroying galaxies, he knows humanity well enough and can see multiple futures and pasts, that a tiny nudge at the right moment will hit three or more birds with one stone.
    • Nicodemus Archleone is the bearer of Uriel's opposite number, Anduriel, who has the title "Master of Shadows". He was Lucifer's second-in-command during the War on Heaven and cast out from Hell into a Coin to terrorize earth. Befitting his name, Anduriel can spy from anything that casts a shadow unless it falls within a protected domain.
    • As befitting his mythical persona, Donar Vadderung aka Odin is also one of these, and states that "Nicodemus knows very nearly as much as I do." Think about that for a minute. It doesn't hurt that he also visits loads of families every Christmas night, in his alternate form as Santa Claus. Vadderung is also, unlike some examples, a Genius Bruiser: He doesn't seem to do much front-line stuff, but from what we see in Changes and Cold Days, he is very, very capable of messing up an enemy's plans face-to-face if need be. He will also accept payment in information. When Harry phones him to meet him, he speaks in a bugged room knowing the listening side will send agents to follow Vadderung. Vadderung knows this and it will help him learn how the agents do their work so he can take that into account.
  • Thufir Hawat in Dune. One of the few intrigue tales that shows The Spymaster's perspective.
  • Gentleman Bastard: "The Spider", a.k.a. Dona Angiavesta Vorchenza, in The Lies of Locke Lamora. The secret head of Camorr's Midnighters, an order of secret police that reports to the Duke himself. It helps that the Spider goes unnoticed because she's a seemingly harmless old widow.
    • At the end of the book, the position is handed off to two people, Don and Dona Salvara.
  • "Control" is the British spymaster in the George Smiley books by John le Carré; his Soviet counterpart is "Karla". Smiley himself takes the role at times, especially in Smiley's People. Note that "Control" is based on "C", the head of the SIS, also the basis for "M" in the Jame Bond stories.
  • Heralds of Valdemar: In The Collegium Chronicles, Herald Nikolas acts as Valdemar's spymaster, in addition to his public duties as the King's Own Herald. No one suspects him of running an intelligence ring on top of his full-time job as personal adviser to the monarch and duties as a father. The protagonist Mags is trained as a spy by Nikolas, joining him undercover as a pawnbroker and fence in the capital city's poorer districts. In the sequel series The Herald Spy, Mags begins to set himself up as Nikolas's successor, inheriting Nikolas' agents in the city and establishing his own, while Nikolas shifts his focus to the kingdom at large. In the reign of Queen Selenay several hundred years later, this duty has been passed down to Herald Alberich, in addition to his own public job as Weaponsmaster.
  • Bob Ritter from Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan novels is the CIA's Director of Operations, which means that he's the man who manages all of the CIA's human intelligence assets.
  • "M" (Sir Miles Messervy, later Admiral Hargreaves, then Barbara Mawsley) is the spymaster of MI6 in the James Bond novels and movies. While mostly there to gives jobs to, and be sarcastic at, Bond, M has become something of an archetype.
  • In the Modesty Blaise novels, Sir Gerald Tarrant is the head of a department of the British secret service, who occasionally passes jobs to Modesty and Willie that his agents are unable to handle. He's soft-hearted enough to feel bad about manipulating people, including Modesty and Willie, for the greater good, but not so soft-hearted as to stop doing it.
  • Earth's spymaster in Isaac Asimov's Nemesis has so much dirt on the politicians in charge that if he wants something, he can get it. He is integral to allowing Earth's hyperdrive project to succeed, simply because it plays to his obsessions and he has the influence to get the politicians to keep throwing money at it despite the need for secrecy. He also runs the best intelligence agency in the Solar System, for a variety of reason starting with the fact that Earth has a lot of people of pretty much any ethnicity and ending with the fact that the Settlements looks down on Earth and so tend to have something of a blind spot when it comes to Earth's advantages. He dies — of old age and poor health — before the hyperdrive project is finished, but by that point it has come far enough and has enough inertia to be completed anyway... especially as the new spymaster (selected to be less of a threat to his nominal superiors, but almost certainly underestimated by them) decides to back it.
  • In Anthony Price's spy novels, the head of the Department is Sir Frederick Clinton until he retires about halfway through the series and is replaced by Colonel Jack Butler. True to the principle that the spymaster is rarely the protagonist, Fred Clinton is the only series regular never to be the protagonist of one of the novels, and Jack Butler's turns as protagonist are all before his promotion.
  • In the Safehold series, nearly every member of royalty we meet has The Good Chancellor and spymaster or their equivalents as their closest confidantes. Among main characters Prince Nahrmahn is made the Imperial Spymaster for the Empire of Charis, largely to focus his love of Machiavellian plotting to positive ends and because he's really really good at it.
  • Each of James H. Schmitz's milieus has a spymaster:
  • Sharpe: Major Hogan. Nominally an engineer, but, according to Sir Arthur Wellesley "a man with very diverse duties".
  • Jules Sevier in Amante Doree from Somewhere Beneath Those Waves. He's a particularly nasty example, since he deliberately sets up one of his own spies in order to discredit an honest investigator.
  • Varys "the Spider" in A Song of Ice and Fire is the Master of Whispers (and occasional private businessman on the side) and likes saying he gets his information from his "little birds". But, as you can tell from the title of the position, there have been several such spymasters advising the Iron Throne over the centuries, some more renowned (and faithful) than others. Take Brynden "Bloodraven" Rivers for one infamous, yet faithfully ruthless, further example of the breed. And, Not-a-Maester Qyburn for another.
  • Salthar in the Spaceforce novels is head of the Tayshak, the 'semi-clandestine' department of the Taysan Court which conducts internal and external espionage. Given that Taysan culture is squeamish about all such things and recruits only misfits and functional sociopaths as agents, Salthar finds himself in charge of a real rabble of potential rebels and seems to have difficulty in managing them.
  • Duchess Grendine from Terry Mancour's Spellmonger Series. She maintains a sinister alter ego known as "The Mother", the head of the castali intelligence apparatus known as "the Family".
    • Father Mutio Vitelleschi, Superior General of the Society of Jesus, pretty much serves this function for Pope Urban VIII.
  • Star Wars Legends: The Big Bad of the first four books of the X-Wing Series is Ysanne Isard, Director of Imperial Intelligence, the de facto head of the Empire. Her fearsome skill at breaking captives down into Manchurian Agents, and the ruthlessness shown when she betrayed her own father to assume his position, have earned her the nickname "Iceheart". Opposing her is the good guys' own Spymaster, Airen Cracken of New Republic Intelligence, known and feared as "the Kraken" by Imperial operatives.
  • From A Symphony of Eternity there's High Princess Monas’ Zulanasai de Harkonian, nicknamed "Cainblessing" by her allies, and the "Fire Princess" by her enemies, the most feared being in the Empire, if not the Galaxy itself. Besides being a Lightning Bruiser, she's such a great Spymaster that she's able to take information that may seem trivial to anybody else and use it to discover the enemies' greatest secrets.
  • In The Thirty-Nine Steps, Sir Walter Bullivant is the ranking intelligence officer to whom Richard Hannay must deliver his information about the enemy plot he's stumbled on. Sir Walter returns in the sequels Greenmantle and Mr Standfast, sending Hannay out on new missions. John Blenkiron, introduced as one of Hannay's fellow agents in Greenmantle, is in immediate charge of the mission in Mr Standfast and proves his mettle as a spymaster when he goes head-to-head against the German spymaster Graf von Schwabing. In a later sequel, The Courts of the Morning, Blenkiron is again in charge of the operation.
  • In the Tolkien's Legendarium, readers frequently interpret the role of Radagast the Brown as a spymaster for the Istari and White Council. His gimmick being that he would use animals (such as birds) as his eyes and ears. He is also said to be a master of shapes and hues, possibly indicating that he is a Master of Disguise. This is frequently offered as a proposed reason for Radagast's overall reclusiveness and seeming inactivity during the War of the Ring as opposed to Gandalf's conspicuous involvement and Saruman's treachery. Tolkien appeared to be inconclusive regarding his original claim that Radagast failed in his mission (he really only says that "Only Gandalf stayed true to his original mission" and it is a given that Saruman can definitely be said to have failed). Gandalf's high respect for Radagast does not seem to mesh with the any notions that Radagast was neglecting his task. Readers tend to speculate that Radagast may have been doing the job for which he was sent and that not all of the Wizards were intended to employ the same methods or even necessarily work openly or together. Radagast is occasionally credited with the unexpected appearances of the Eagles in various instances, as well as the Thrush who delivered Bilbo's message to Bard in The Hobbit. As a spymaster, Radagast would understandably be very low key and indirect by necessity.
  • Tortall Universe:
    • Sir Myles of Olau is the spymaster for Tortall — at least, he's the one everyone knows about. The primary spymaster is Alanna's husband George.
    • George trained his daughter Aly, and she puts the skills to good use in the Trickster's Duet when she works for the raka in the Copper Isles. She eventually becomes the rebels' spymaster, takes down the Rittevons' own spymaster, and becomes the spymaster for the country when the revolution succeeds.
  • In The Traitor Son Cycle, Kronmir is a spymaster for hire, who creates and maintains networks of spies and assassins wherever his current employers want him to.
  • In Marque And Reprisal, the second book of the Vatta's War series, it is revealed that Aunt Gracie was a skilled spy, going so far as to bug the President's office when it seems he might have something to do with the coordinated attacks against the Vatta family and to scout out the best places for a sniper to take a shot at their home from, booby-trapping those spots with diseased ticks. For bonus points, in the first book, Trading In Danger, this character was explicitly and dismissively described as The Family Spy.
  • William Kraft in Victoria has his own private intelligence network even before he becomes Governor, both internally and abroad, which serves him well in his political machinations. Even the Army turns to him for diplomatic and strategic information.
  • In Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga, Simon Illyan is the head of ImpSec the spying and counterspying organisation of Barrayar. He also plays the role of Da Chief to Miles.
    • Illyan's predecessor, the legendary Captain Negri, was this in spades.
  • Subverted The Wheel of Time, where Pedron Niall's well-known spymaster, Omerna, is an incompetent decoy, and all the spying is actually done by his secretary.
    • Moghedien plays this role for the Forsaken. She's not that impressive power-wise by their standards and knows it, but is incredibly sneaky and treacherous (she's named for a kind of tiny but deadly spider from the Age of Legends). Her tendency to underestimate the "primitives" of the current Age, however, landed her in hot water on several occasions and ended up getting her severely punished by her superior, Moridin.
  • Count Sigismund Dijkstra is the Spymaster of the Kingdom of Redania and one of the principal players in Andrzej Sapkowski's The Witcher series. He is noted to completely lack the stereotypical physical characteristics of the archetype, being very tall, overweight, thuggish-looking and fond of extravagant clothing. But he is also extremely brilliant and skilled at his job.
    "If Dijkstra says it's midday, but it's pitch dark on the street, start to worry about the sun's fate."
    • And in the game based on them the fence Thaler is actually head of Temerian intelligence and the secret police.
  • In The Witchlands, Mathew owns a chain of cafés, which are popular not because they serve good coffee (they don't), but because they're a front for a network of spies and one can buy more than just a vaguely coffee-like fluid there.
  • In The Zombie Knight, Ivan "the Salesman of Death" is the spymaster for the Morgunov Abolishers, as well as being involved heavily with their revenue operations and negotiations with client states. On top of that, he's a fearsome combatant in his own right, as is anyone in the Abolish or Vanguard inner circles.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Michael Coldsmith-Briggs III, Code Name "Archangel" in Airwolf. It is stated in the fluff that he is able to "move the Sixth Fleet". Which is a mistake, because that happens to be whatever is in the Mediterranean at the time, not a specific carrier group.
  • Alias had a villainous example in Arvin Sloane, and heroic examples in Jack Bristow and Marcus Dixon.
  • Babylon 5:
    • It's easy to forget that whoever happened to be in charge of the Rangers at any particular time had this as their primary mission, until the Shadow War broke out and the Rangers were remade into a Badass Army.
    • To a lesser extent, Commander Ivanova sometimes filled this role, gathering information from different sources for Captain Sheridan, in line with her role as the station's Executive Officer. In fact, it's a bit of a running theme that it's very difficult for anyone to do anything over a long period of time without her finding out about it somehow, even when it's ostensibly a secret they'd rather keep from her.
    • And in the last season, Michael Garibaldi, then later Tessa Holloran filled this role for the Interstellar Alliance.
    • G'Kar also did this for the Narn Resistance. Needless to say, with Babylon 5 pretty much being a City of Spies, you run into a lot of characters being The Spymaster for various governments and organizations over the years.
  • The Ancient in Beastmaster knows all there was, is and will be (he makes reference to humanity's future). He teaches this in a lesser extent to his sorcerers, who he gives a magic crystal ball to see anything they please, item which apparently he doesn't need to see himself.
  • "Management" from Burn Notice (probably- we still don't know all that much about them...)
    • Anson Fullerton along with Management. It helps to be the one all agents confide in.
  • Colonel Hunter from Callan.
  • Chuck has General Beckman.
  • Series 2 of Downton Abbey has Sir Richard Carlisle, a newspaper magnate with a vast network of informants across Britain. He says without exaggeration that he knows everything that happens in London, and Lady Mary (his fiancée at the time) explicitly calls him a "spymaster" when presented with evidence he had tried to bribe a housemaid to spy on her. Most of the information Sir Richard has is primarily of social relevance (scandals about the doings of aristocrats and politicians), but it's possible he has useful security knowledge as well.
  • "Control", Robert McCall's former boss in The Equalizer.
  • Game of Thrones: Varys is the King's Master of Whisperers. He claims his "little birds" are everywhere. In episode "Lord Snow" (season 1, episode 3), viewers quickly see the effectiveness of his network when he knows both Catelyn's presence in Kings Landing (despite her traveling incognito) and the reason she came.
  • The Chief in Get Smart.
  • Mary Spalding on Intelligence (2006).
  • Mycroft Holmes in Sherlock. In "A Scandal in Belgravia" he hires Sherlock to take care of an delicate case regarding the Royal Family, Sherlock snarks "So why don't you have one of your men take care of it?" Mycraft casually points out that they are all untrustworthy since "They all spy on people for money."
  • Clayton Webb on JAG was this. He was also a chessmaster.
  • Mr Waverly in The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and The Girl from U.N.C.L.E..
  • Murdoch Mysteries: Terrence Meyers. He says Terrence Meyers is of course not his real name but he uses it whenever he interacts with Station House 4. He's a top-level spy who works for British crown and Canadian government, and he reports directly to the Prime Minister of Canada (who, during the show's run, is Sir Wilfrid Laurie).
  • In The Sandbaggers, Neil Burnside is a rare example where the spymaster is the protagonist. Of course the focus of the show was on the strategic side of espionage, so it fits.
  • Harry Pearce in Spooks.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: Enabran Tain, the only head of the Obsidian Order to ever survive long enough to retire. When the Dominion decided to crush the Obsidian Order and Tal Shiar as a prelude to invading the Alpha Quadrant, they lured him out of retirement to destroy him as well: even in retirement he was simply too dangerous and powerful to ignore.
  • The Game (2014) has 'Daddy'.

    Myths & Religion 

    Tabletop Games 
  • Forgotten Realms has a lot of Cloak & Dagger stuff. The most interesting case is Inselm Hhune, a member of Knights of the Shield inner circle. For supporting Tethyr's new queen he was given a duchy not requiring much ruling and the post of spymaster. The fun part is that Lord Hhune quietly hates his king (he planned to marry the queen himself), but knows that Haedrak works with Harpers opposing his semi-secret society and got more than enough damning information on him. Since he has no clear idea how much the king is aware of his personal spy network, Lord Hhune just to be on the safe side surrenders more information that he'd like to, which in turn raises the risk of infiltration.
  • In Star Frontiers, the Sathar are more likely to operate in this manner than directly against player characters. They recruit willing agents and sometimes brainwash others to act as saboteurs and informants. They are known for their ability to hypnotize people into seeing things from their point of view. Therefore, an unsuspecting person may act normal until it is time for him to carry out his function. The backstory explains that the Sathar realized that they could not defeat the United Planetary Federation in space combat, and thus chose a more indirect way to fight them.
  • On the Rogue Trader roleplaying game, the Seneschal player class is half this, half Battle Butler, with the Flavor Text describing him as the man that creates vast intelligence networks on every port for his Intrepid Merchant master, as well as managing the day-to-day nuances of an interstellar trading empire (which in Warhammer 40,000 fashion includes the assassination of enemies of his master or even the deployment of armies).

    Video Games 
  • In The Elder Scrolls series, basically any leader of the Blades, an Ancient Order of Protectors that has long served the emperors of Tamriel as bodyguards and spies, has qualified throughout history. This was actually the title of the highest ranking Blade in each of the provinces during the height of the Third Empire. In Morrowind, "Spymaster" is literally the title of the rank of Caius Cosades, Morrowind's highest ranking Blade. His cover identity is ironically that of a stoner and he acts as the primary Quest Giver for the first half of the main quest.
  • The announcer in Team Fortress 2, who is Playing Both Sides of the war between the teams, and goes so far as to cause a war-like battle between two enemies who became friends, simply to keep that fact a secret.
  • Guild Wars' Nightfall campaign introduces the Order of Whispers, a secret organization tasked to watch against evil, and the return of a certain forgotten god in particular. Their Crazy-Prepared leader is known only as The Master of Whispers.
  • In World of Warcraft we have Mathias Shaw, leader of SI:7, the Kingdom of Stormwind's intelligence agency.
  • Fallout: New Vegas has Vulpes Inculta as the leader of Caesar's Legion Frumentarii, who doesn't exactly conform to the trope as he's often afield and being directly involved in the actions he commands.
    • As of version 1.2, the Van Graffs are heavily implied to have shades of this, as if you complete Cass' quest the "good" way, they somehow realize you were the one who exposed their plots to the NCR and become permanently hostile.
  • Radiant Historia has Heiss, head of Specint, which deals in espionage and other sneaky business. Specint's existence is not a secret, and interestingly there is some tension between them and the army.
  • Dragon Age:
    • Varric Tethras is referred as "Dwarven Spymaster" in Dragon Age II, though it can be a borderline Informed Ability since you don't actually see him do any spying or intelligence-gathering. In fact, he has a veritable spy network spanning Kirkwall to gather intelligence first for the Dwarven Merchant Guild and his merchant brother, then for Hawke. You do get a few hints, mostly just those few people that were just leaving as you came in to talk to him.
    • In Dragon Age: Inquisition, the Warden's former companion Leliana takes over this job for the title organization, having worked in more-or-less that same capacity for the Divine in the prior decade. Varric also joins the Inquisition but freely admits that Leliana is a better spymaster than him and sticks to the field agent (read: party member) duties.
  • In the later parts of the first Neverwinter Nights, a female Player Character can strike up a romance with Lord Nasher's spymaster, who is given a surprisingly complete backstory but nevertheless has approximately zero actual influence on the plot.
  • Yancy Westridge and Albatross in Alpha Protocol (the former runs the eponymous Government Conspiracy, the latter runs The Conspiracy).
  • In Crusader Kings there are five council positions: Chancellor, Marshal, Steward, Lord Spiritual and Spymaster. Having a better spymaster than your enemies is crucial to discover plots and execute your own. Oh, and you better make sure he stays loyal to you, or else...
  • Produce enough Spies in a Total War campaign and your faction leader might pick up a Spymaster as part of his Standard Royal Court. Though this does provide a global bonus to your espionage efforts, such tactics will increase your leader's Dread rating.
  • Hiram Burrows in Dishonored was the former Spymaster of Dunwall before he staged the assassination of the queen and took over as the new ruler.
  • Star Wars: The Old Republic has Keeper, who serves as the head of Imperial Intelligence and the boss of the Imperial Agent. A large part of his job is to make sure that an Empire built on the foundations of habitual betrayal and psychotic supervillainy doesn't completely fall apart. Compared to most other Imperial figures in the game, he's largely an Anti-Villain who avoids the dog-kicking evil prevalent among other Imperial/Sith figures and is usually a Reasonable Authority Figure to the Agent.
  • Deande from Battleborn is the Spymistress of the Jennerit Imperium and right hand of Lothar Rendain. In secret though, she's been helping Jennerit rebels who disagree with Rendain's regime, and sabotaging Rendain's plans right underneath the Lord Commander's nose.
  • Ravenmark: Scourge of Estellion: Benjamin Allsworth is a nondescript, perpetually smiling dwarf who serves as the Sotran Trade Ambassador to The Empire. He also happens to be in charge of the Commonwealth's intelligence network. He frequently has dealings with his childhood friend and occasional rival Crumston Caldare, his halfling counterpart in the Empire. Both have "Spymaster" titles in their respective governments.

    Web Comics 
  • Girl Genius:
    • One of the Jager generals absent from the Mechanicsberg meeting is referred to as "da sneaky one", presumably he acts as the Heterodynes' spymaster. He's eventually revealed to be Axel Higgs.
    • Oglavia Spüdna serves as this for the Wulfenbach empire.

    Web Original 

    Western Animation 

    Real Life 
  • Sir Francis Walsingham was an early example, in service to Elizabeth I.
  • Cardinal Richelieu performed this function in early 16th century France.
  • The The American Revolution threw up some curious instances of ad hoc spy-mastery:
    • George Washington skirts the trope on top of his role as Four-Star Badass. He was known for actively deploying spies to bring him back information about the British. However, it got to the point that juggling both these responsibilities became a bit overwhelming, and he wrote back to a spy who sent him a report apologizing for forgetting who he was and what he was doing, and could he please reiterate his mission. It sometimes comes up that Washington nominally spent an enormous amount of money on beer and liquor; one suspects that at least some of it was probably disguised funding for intelligence activities. Of course, the majority of Washington's spy-mastering was delegated to Benjamin Tallmadge, head of the Culper Ring; among other things, they may have been the guys who worked out Benedict Arnold's betrayal.
    • When Benjamin Franklin returned from France after the Revolution, Congress did an audit of his expenses. When asked about some money that was missing Franklin replied effectively that they didn't want to know. Likely at least some of it was spent on intrigue and strange doings. In fact, chances are that at least some it went to financing his pirate fleet. Yes, Ben Franklin hired out pirates against the British. Sadly, it... didn't work out for a number of reasons.
  • Not content with being the only one among Napoleon's marshals who was never defeated, Louis-Nicolas Davout also had a very impressive military intelligence network, which of course increased the tension between him and his fellow commanders. Joseph Fouché, Napoleon's most famous Minister of Police, was also known as the best-informed man in France and is commonly depicted as such in fiction (usually at the expense of his successor, General Savary, who is generally shown as being sinister but incompetent or just plain dimwitted).
  • In the 19th century, the Duke of Caxias acquired some fame for pioneering modern counter-insurgency tactics of espionage against his opponents to devastating effect, spreading chaos and betrayal among those who opposed him.
  • Captain Sir George Mansfield Smith-Cumming was the first head of the British Secret Intelligence Service; his particular party trick involved stabbing his false leg with a penknife. To this day heads of SIS are called "C".
  • In World War II, Winston Churchill had William Stephenson as his spymaster, better known by his Code Name, Intrepid.
  • Admiral Wilhelm Canaris, the head of German military intelligence service early in World War II, was unique in that he both spied for and against his own government at the same time, being both a staunch German patriot and a determined enemy of the Nazis. Given the circumstances, details of his wartime activities are difficult to piece together accurately. Unfortunately, he was eventually found out and executed.
  • This page might as well have the picture of Markus Wolf of STASI/HVA on top of it.
  • Stewart Menzies of the British Secret Service was like the classic spymaster of fiction too. Somehow the profession just seems to breed people like that.
  • Juan Pujol García pretended to be a spymaster for the Germans during WWII. In reality, all his spies were made up, and he was pulling details and information out of public records, touristic pamphlets, and his own ass to misdirect the Nazis as much as he could manage. The Brits would go on to hire him as a proper Double Agent soon enough.
  • "Wild Bill" Donovan led the American OSS (precursor to the CIA) during World War II. As his nickname suggests, he was anything but cold, dour, or reserved — essentially he was the Boisterous Bruiser running a spy agency. Alan Dulles, a somewhat stiff Boston Brahmin, was Chief of Station for the OSS in Switzerland and later boss of the CIA. One of his curious tactics during World War II was to make it obvious who he was, as he could and then wait for recruits to show up. Interestingly that worked quite well and he got one or two very useful moles.
  • In the USSR, being head of the KGB made you pretty powerful. Beria made a power-grab after Stalin's death and lost, being executed. Yuri Andropov won, spending two years as General Secretary before dying.
  • J. Edgar Hoover essentially built the FBI himself, and had so much dirt on everyone of prominence and political power in mid-20th Century America he was essentially untouchable up to his death in 1972.
  • Isser Harel, the second director of Mossad (full translated title: Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations) and the Shin Bet (usually translated as the Israel Security Agency), was one of these. He was also quite nebbish and his personal life was dominated by his wife. The story goes that his neighbors thought he was a mid-level bank employee, rather than one of the most powerful men in Israel.

Alternative Title(s): Spymaster

Top

How well does it match the trope?

Example of:

/

Media sources:

/

Report