Francis Walsingham

From Academic Kids

Sir Francis Walsingham (c. 1530 - April 6, 1590) is remembered by history as the "spymaster" of Queen Elizabeth I of England.



Francis Walsingham was born in Scadbury Park, Chislehurst, Kent in about 1530, to a family of William Walsingham and Joyce Denny. His father died the next year and later his mother married Sir John Carey.

Walsingham studied in King's College, Cambridge from 1548 with many protestant teachers but did not receive a degree. In 1550, according to contemporary custom, he went abroad and returned in 1552 to enroll at Gray's Inn. The death of Edward VI and accession of Catholic Queen Mary saw him once again travelling abroad, this time as a law student at Padua. He also cultivated languages and contacts that would later form his espionage network in the continent. Between April 1556 and November 1558 he visited Switzerland.

When Elizabeth I acceded to the throne, Walsingham returned to England and, through support of Sir William Cecil, was elected to House of Commons for Banbury in 1559 and then Lyme Regis in 1563. Sir William also assigned Walsingham to unravel the Ridolfi Plot. He also married a widow Ann Carteill who died two years later. In 1566 he married Ursula St. Barbe, widow of Sir Richard Worsley and they had a daughter, Frances.

In the following years, Walsingham became active in soliciting support for the Huguenots in France among the English clergy, and began to organise his later famous network of spies. Among his spies was Christopher Marlowe, the playwright and intellectual, and he employed the services of the cryptographer Thomas Phelippes. He trained agents in intercepting and deciphering letters, create false handwriting and breaking and repairing seals without detection.

In 1570 William Cecil, the queen's chief advisor, chose Walsingham to negotiate in support of the Huguenots in their negotiations with Charles IX for the Treaty of Blois. Later in the year he succeeded Sir Henry Norris as ambassador to France. After the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre his house in Paris became a temporary sanctuary of protestant refugees. He returned to England in April 1573.

Walsingham was so successful that he was entrusted with a more prestigious role, became a joint secretary of state with Sir Thomas Smith. In December 1 1577 Walsingham received a knighthood. He spent the years between 1578 and 1583 engaged in further diplomatic missions and established his network of spies throughout Europe. He paid the expenses of at least 50 agents from his own wealth.

Walsingham was behind the discovery of the Throckmorton plot and Babington plot. The latter would lead to the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots in 1587. He was an active participant in her trial. Prior to the attack of the Spanish Armada, he received large number of dispatches from his agents from mercantile communities and foreign courts.

In other affairs Walsingham remained in a Surrey county seat in which he retained until his death. In 1584 he was part of the committee that considered letters patent granted to Sir Walter Raleigh. He nominated some of his servants to prominent positions. He also received the honourary appointments of Chancellor of the Order of the Garter and Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

Although a devout protestant and an advisor on whom Elizabeth came to depend during the middle part of her reign, Walsingham received little in the way of material reward from the queen. He did obtain land grants, grants for the export of beer and cloth and leases of customs in the northern and western outposts. However, he also used considerable amount of his income to maintain his intelligence network in the continent. After 1579 he lived at Barn Elms, Barnes and after 1589 also had to cover debts of his dead son-in-law Sir Philip Sidney.

Francis Walsingham died in April 6 1590, leaving considerable financial debt. His daughter Frances received only 300 annuity.


  • "There is less danger in fearing too much than too little"
  • "There is nothing more dangerous than security"


  • Alan Haynes - Walsingham: Elizabeth's spymaster (2004)
  • Alan Haynes. 1992. The Elizabethan Secret Services. Sutton Publishing. Reprint, 2001.

Walsingham in fiction

Preceded by:
Sir Thomas Smith
Lord Privy Seal
Succeeded by:
The Lord Burghley
Preceded by:
Sir Ralph Sadler
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
Succeeded by:
Sir Thomas Heneage

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de:Francis Walsingham


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