Sir Francis Walsingham
Written by Peter Fitzgerald
History of War - Spies
Sir Francis Walsingham was a man of great standing in the court of Queen Elizabeth I of England from 1573 until 1590. Sir Francis Walsingham is seen as someone who pushed the boundaries of conventional intelligence gathering and started the revolution into intelligence methods that are still used today by government intelligence agencies.
Walsingham was born in 1532, the son of William Walsingham and Joyce Denny, he also had six brothers and sisters.
When Francis Walsingham came of age he went to study in Cambridge at the famous Kings College, but interestingly did not sit for his degree after receiving his education. At 18 years of age the young Walsingham went travelling for two years before returning to study at the Honourable Society of Gray's Inn, in London to become a barrister or judge.
His tutoring at Gray’s Inn fell by the wayside when Queen Mary I ascended to the throne as he was a strong protestant and Mary I a strong Catholic. Walsingham left England for Italy where he went to study at the University of Padau to finish his law training.
After finishing his study Walsingham went to Switzerland for two years where he became popular among Protestant men of political standing within Europe.
Francis Walsingham returned to his homeland of England in 1558 when Queen Elizabeth I took control and became Queen of England. Elizabeth was a Protestant Queen and made moves to develop a Protestant church in England so Walsingham felt compelled to come back to England and his Protestant roots.
Upon returning to England Walsingham was quickly elected to the House of Commons for Banbury, five years later in 1563 he was also elected for Lyme Regis too.
During this time he also married, this was in 1562 to Anne Barne, the daughter of the Lord Mayor of London. Unfortunately Anne died after only two years of marriage, this left Walsingham with a step son to look after as Anne had been married previously.
Only two years later in 1566 Walsingham was to marry another widow, this time it was Ursula St. Barbe. Ursula St. Barbe gave birth to two children, one being Frances and the other being Mary, although Mary died as an infant.
In 1569 Francis Walsingham was given his first government role, this role was to break a plan to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, many today know this as the Ridolfi Plot. Along with fellow investigators Walsingham was able to break the plot and bring justice to the Queen.
The Queen must have found favour with Walsingham for his actions in the Ridolfi plot as she then chose Walsingham in 1570 to support the Protestant Huguenots of France in their negotiations with Charles IX, the King of France.
Upon his return from France, Walsingham moved to become the ambassador to France, this move saw Walsingham build strong alliances with key figures such as Charles IX, the Huguenots and others against the Catholic Spain.
Unfortunately this episode was not a huge success as it finished with the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre where many prominent Protestant Huguenots were assassinated in Paris. Walsingham returned to England in 1573.
This latest move however did cement Queen Elizabeths trust in Walsingham and she promoted him to joint principal secretary with Walsingham becoming the only principal secretary from 1576. The time between coming back from France until 1577 was spent managing the English state, both foreign and domestic for the Queen.
In 1577 the loyalty Francis Walsingham had shown to the crown was repaid as the Queen gave him a knighthood making him Sir Francis Walsingham.
From 1578 to 1581 Walsingham was sent on various specialist trips at the Queens request in the Netherlands and France. It was also during this time that Walsingham personally became a stakeholder in the long voyage of Sir Francis Drake.
Until 1584 Walsingham had a strong opinion that the English should intervene in the ongoing conflicts bracing the Netherlands and Belgium. This was finally agreed in 1585 when a treat called the Treaty of Nonsuch was signed with the Dutch.
In this same time period he also personally oversaw the removal of government in Scotland to ensure a pro-English government was put in place.
After 1584 Walsingham spent all his time working on plans to prepare England for war as it seemed that military conflict with Spain was inevitable. This work carried on until he passed away on the 6th April 1590 aged 58 years.
During all his forms of work Walsingham was a major advocate of espionage and was always receiving written and verbal word. This espionage helped him in many of his causes and proved him to be the father of modern intelligence.