(Born around 1532- Died April 6, 1590)
Son of William Walsingham and Joyce Denny.
Married to Anne Barne and Ursula St. Barbe.
Father of Frances Devereux, Countess of Essex and Mary Walsingham.
Sir Francis Walsingham was Elizabeth I’s “Spy Master” and was one of her primary secretaries. It was Walsingham and his men who discovered the Babington Plot and were able to stop it and protect Elizabeth.
Sir Francis Walsingham was born around 1532 to William Walsingham and his wife Joyce, probably at Foots Cray, near Chislehurst, Kent. His father was a very wealthy lawyer who died in 1534 when Francis was around two years old. After William’s death, Joyce married the courtier Sir John Carey in 1538; Carey’s brother William was the husband of Mary Boleyn, Anne Boleyn’s elder sister. In 1548 Walsingham enrolled at King’s College, the most Protestant and reformist college of the University of Cambridge, and then in 1552 he was admitted to Gray’s Inn in London to study law. When Mary I became queen after the death of Edward VI, many Protestants fled to the continent, including Walsingham, who continued his law studies at universities in Basel and Padua, where he was elected to the governing body by his fellow students in 1555.
When Mary I died and Elizabeth I ascended to the throne, Walsingham returned to England. In 1559, he was elected to Elizabeth’s first parliament. He would stay a member of parliament throughout the rest of his life. In January 1562, Walsingham married Anne Barne, daughter of Sir George Barne, Lord Mayor of London in 1552–3, and widow of wine merchant Alexander Carleill. She would died two years later leaving her son Christopher Carleill in Walsingham’s care. In 1566, Walsingham married Ursula St. Barbe, widow of Sir Richard Worsley, and became in possession of her estates of Appuldurcombe and Carisbrooke Priory on the Isle of Wight. In 1567, Ursula gave birth to the couple’s first daughter Frances.
Walsingham became active in soliciting support for the Huguenots in France and developed a friendly and close working relationship with Nicholas Throckmorton, his predecessor as MP and a former ambassador to France. By 1569, Walsingham was working with William Cecil to counteract plots against Elizabeth. He was instrumental in the collapse of the Ridolfi plot, which hoped to replace Elizabeth with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots.He is credited with writing propaganda decrying a conspiratorial marriage between Mary and Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk,and Roberto di Ridolfi, after whom the plot was named, was interrogated at Walsingham’s house.
In 1570, the Queen chose Walsingham to support the Huguenots in their negotiations with Charles IX of France. Later that year, he succeeded Sir Henry Norris as English ambassador in Paris.One of his duties was to continue negotiations for a marriage between Elizabeth and Charles IX’s younger brother Henry, Duke of Anjou, but this failed because of religion. A substitute match with the next youngest brother, Francis, Duke of Alençon, was proposed but Walsingham did not like him and Elizabeth was considerably older than the Duke. Walsingham believed that it would serve England better to seek a military alliance with France against Spanish interest and the defensive Treaty of Blois was concluded between France and England in 1572.
The Huguenots and other European Protestant interests supported the revolt in the Spanish Netherlands, which were provinces of Habsburg Spain. When Catholic opposition to this course in France resulted in the death of Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny and the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, Walsingham’s house in Paris became a temporary sanctuary for Protestant refugees, including Philip Sidney. Ursula, who was pregnant, escaped to England with their four-year-old daughter. She gave birth to a second girl, Mary, in January 1573 while Walsingham was still in France.He returned to England in April 1573, having established himself as a competent official whom the Queen and Cecil could trust.
In the December following his return, Walsingham was appointed to the Privy Council of England and was made joint principal secretary, or “Secretary of State” with Sir Thomas Smith. Smith retired in 1576, leaving Walsingham in effective control of the privy seal, though he was not formally invested as Lord Privy Seal. He was knighted on 1 December 1577 and was appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Garter from April 22, 1578 until succeeded by Sir Amias Paulet in June 1587. Walsingham’s younger daughter Mary died aged seven in July 1580; his elder daughter, Frances, married Sir Philip Sidney on September 21, 1583, despite the Queen’s initial objections to the match earlier in the year.
Walsingham assembled a far-flung network of spies and news gatherers in France, Scotland, the Low Countries, Spain, Italy, and even Turkey and North Africa. Using prison informants and double agents whose services he secured through bribery, threats, and subtle psychological gambits, he worked to penetrate English Catholic circles at home and abroad, particularly among Mary’s friends and agents in Scotland and France.
A spy in the French embassy in London—who has plausibly been identified as Giordano Bruno, a lapsed Dominican friar who would later achieve renown as a freethinking philosopher of the Italian Renaissance—alerted Walsingham to a correspondence with Mary that was being routed through the embassy. The plot was broken with the arrest of the chief go-between, Francis Throckmorton, in November 1583. In his possession were incriminating documents, including a map of invasion ports and a list of Catholic supporters in England. Under torture, Throckmorton revealed a plan for the invasion of England by Spanish and French troops in concert with a rising by Mary’s followers. The Spanish ambassador was expelled and diplomatic contacts with Spain severed.
The Act for the Surety of the Queen’s Person, passed by Parliament in March 1585, set up a legal process for trying any claimant to the throne implicated in plots against the Queen. The following month Mary, Queen of Scots, was placed in the strict custody of a friend of Walsingham. At Christmas, she was moved to a moated manor house at Chartley. In July 1586, Anthony Babington wrote to Mary about an impending plot to free her and kill Elizabeth.Mary’s reply was clearly encouraging and sanctioned Babington’s plans. Walsingham had Babington and his associates rounded up and fourteen of Babington’s men were executed in September 1586. In October, Mary was put on trial under the Act for the Surety of the Queen’s Person in front of 36 commissioners, including Walsingham.
Walsingham made arrangements for Mary’s execution; Elizabeth signed the warrant on 1 February 1587 and entrusted it to William Davison, who had been appointed as junior Secretary of State in late September 1586. Davison passed the warrant to Cecil and a privy council convened by Cecil without Elizabeth’s knowledge agreed to carry out the sentence as soon as was practical. Within a week, Mary was beheaded.On hearing of the execution, Elizabeth claimed not to have sanctioned the action and that she had not meant Davison to part with the warrant. Davison was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London. Davison was eventually released in October 1588, on the orders of Cecil and Walsingham.
Walsingham also helped prepare for the inevitable war with Spain. He helped to hide the preparations for Sir Francis Drake’s surprise raid on Cádiz Harbour in April 1587 by feeding a deliberately false report about Drake’s plans to the English ambassador in Paris, who Walsingham had correctly guessed was with the Spanish. Walsingham’s countless spies provided detailed reports of Spanish preparations for the sailing of the Armada against England in July 1588. It was Walsingham and his spy network that helped prepare England for the Armada attack.
Walsingham was a very sick man, starting in the early 1570’s and yet he served his country extremely well. There are many speculations on what Walsingham’s illness was, anywhere from testicular cancer to kidney stones, diabetes to an urinary infection. Francis Walsingham died on April 6, 1590. He was buried at the Old St. Paul’s Cathedral, which was burned during the Great Fire of 1666 and now a plaque marking where his grave was remains.