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Francis Walsingham was one of the most loyal and trusted men of Queen Elizabeth I. He was her principal secretary and a well-known excellent spymaster general.
See the fact file below for more information on Francis Walsingham or alternatively, you can download our 33-page Francis Walsingham worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Francis Walsingham was born in 1532 in Foots Cray near Chislehurst in Kent.
- He came from a wealthy and well-connected family and was the only son of William and Joyce.
- His father, Sir William Walsingham, was a lawyer but died in 1534 when Francis Walsingham was about two years old.
- Joyce Denny, his mother, was the daughter of Sir Edmund Denny and the sister of Sir Anthony Denny, who both served in the offices of Henry VIII.
- After the death of Francis Walsingham’s father, his mother had married Sir John Carey.
- In 1548, Francis Walsingham and other Protestants got admitted to King’s College, Cambridge.
- However, Francis Walsingham left two years after when he wasn’t able to take his degree.
- He traveled and continued his studies in France and Italy for two years.
- When he came back to England in 1552, Francis Walsingham enrolled at Gray’s Inn and pursued a career as a lawyer.
- Upon the death of Edward VI, Mary I took over the throne.
- As a protestant, Francis Walsingham was exiled during the reign of Queen Mary I, a devout Catholic.
- He returned to Europe and continued studying Roman civil law in Italy until 1560.
- During his stay, he became fluent in both Italian and French.
- In the years he traveled, the methods he learned at the different Italian Courts became helpful for the next years of his career.
- Francis Walsingham was only able to return to England when Queen Mary I died.
- In 1562, he married the daughter of Sir George Barne, Anne Barne.
- Anne Barne was the widow of Alexander Carleill.
- Anne Barne and Alexander Carleill had hada son named Christopher Carleill.
- Two years after Anne Barne and Francis Walsingham married, she died and left Christopher in Francis’ care.
- In 1566, Francis Walsingham married Ursula St. Barbe, who was the widow of Sir Richard Worsley.
- Through their marriage, Ursula St. Barbe’s estates of Appuldurcombe and Carisbrooke Priory were acquired by Francis Walsingham.
- The couple had a daughter named Frances.
- John and George, who were Francis Walsingham’s stepsons with Ursula, were killed at Appuldurcombe due to a gunpowder accident.
Francis Walsinghams’ Return and Parliamentary Work
- On Francis Walsingham’s return to England, he was appointed to do various tasks under Queen Elizabeth I’s reign.
- Through Francis Russell’s (2nd Earl of Bedford) support as a fellow exile, he was able to secure positions in government.
- He was first elected as a member of the Bossiney Cornwall and then he became a Member of the Parliament for Lyme Regis in Dorset.
- In the succeeding years, Francis Walsingham was actively engaged in different affairs, including supporting the Huguenots.
- During his service, William Cecil saw the potential of Francis Walsingham, so in 1568, the latter started working with William Cecil for confidential tasks.
- As a secretary state, his task was to supervise an intelligence-gathering group and counterattack plans to overthrow the queen.
- Several threats to kill or overthrow the queen began circulating.
- As a result, Francis Walsingham made efforts to serve Queen Elizabeth I as the spymaster general.
Francis Walsingham as an Ambassador
- In 1570, Francis Walsingham was appointed as an ambassador to the French Court, replacing Sir Henry Norris.
- Queen Elizabeth I chose Francis Walsingham to support the Huguenots in their negotiations with Charles IX of France.
- One of his tasks was marriage arrangements between Queen Elizabeth I and the Duke of Anjou.
- The marriage did not push through due to his religion.
- Another proposed marriage was with Francis, Duke of Alencon but to Francis Walsingham, his looks were unpleasant, and he lacked humor.
- As Queen Elizabeth I was twenty years older than Francis, Duke of Alencon, he thought the age difference might look absurd.
- Francis Walsingham believed that having a military alliance with France against Spain would be better for England.
- The Treaty of Blois was made in 1572 but there was no provision regarding marriage, thus questioning Queen Elizabeth I as a successor.
- There were emerging revolts in the Spanish Netherlands supported by the Huguenots and other European Protestants.
- The opposition of the Catholics led to the death of the Huguenot leader Gaspard de Coligny.
- The massacre on St. Bartholomew’s Day also took place.
- With these events, the home of Francis Walsingham became a temporary shelter for the Protestant refugees.
- Her wife Ursula was also pregnant during this time.
- She escaped and went to England with their four-year-old daughter.
- Ursula gave birth to their second daughter, Mary, in January 1573.
- Due to his proven loyalty, Francis Walsingham was able to go back to England in April 1573.
- Although there were some arguments between Francis and Queen Elizabeth I, the latter always fully trusted Walsingham.
- He was appointed as a Privy Council of England.
Walsingham as a Principal Secretary
- He and Sir Thomas Smith were both made principal secretary.
- Francis Walsingham was granted Surrey county seat in the Parliament in 1572 and knighted din December 1577.
- His roles involved both foreign and domestic affairs.
- Francis Walsingham supported the use of England’s maritime power to open new trade routes.
- He also took part in the English policy towards Spain, the Netherlands, Scotland, Ireland, and France.
- With the opening of the new trade routes, he also supported the trade promotions and invested in companies such as the Muscovy Company and Levant Company.
- Francis Walsingham hated both Spain and Mary, Queen of Scots.
- He thought that Spain was a threat to England and Mary was a threat to Queen Elizabeth I.
- According to Francis Walsingham, England would not be safe unless Mary was and Spain was defeated.
- Francis Walsingham had his network of spies expanded.
- He added agents, most of whom were paid through his own money.
- He was able to establish agents in the courts of France, Low Countries, Germany, the United Provinces, and also Turkey.
Francis Walsingham as a Spymaster General
- Francis Walsingham was considered a great spymaster as he successfully prevented several plots for the assassination of Queen Elizabeth I.
Ridolfi Plot (1571)
- The Ridolfi Plot was carefully planned by Catholic and Florentine banker Roberto Ridolfi.
- The plan aimed to change Queen Elizabeth I with Mary, Queen of Scots as queen of England and restore Catholicism.
- According to the plan, the Duke of Alba would invade the Netherlands, murder Elizabeth, and let Mary marry Thomas Howard (Duke of Norfolk).
- Francis Walsingham played a significant role in the collapse of the Ridolfi plot.
- He was credited for anonymously writing propaganda criticizing an alliance among Mary, Sir Thomas Howard, and Robert Ridolfi.
- William Cecil and Francis Walsingham discovered the plot that led to the execution of Thomas Howard.
Throckmorton Plot (1583)
- This plot was headed by the young English Catholic Francis Throckmorton.
- Francis Walsingham heard rumors in 1582 that a group of Scottish Jesuits, the Spanish ambassador Mendoza, and Mary were planning a plot.
- Francis Throckmorton was arrested and tortured to confess.
- Upon confession, it was known that the plan was for France and Spain to invade England and release Mary to make her queen.
- Francis Throckmorton was executed while Mary got transferred to Tutbury Castle, where security was stricter.
Babington Plot (1586)
- On May 1586, another proposed invasion and plot to kill Queen Elizabeth I was heard through the discussions of Sir Anthony Babington and John Ballard.
- Information that trainee priest Gilbert Gifford was coming to France to act as a messenger between Mary and her supporters on the continent was known by Francis Walsingham.
- His travel was halted and he was brought to Francis Walsingham.
- Francis Walsingham convinced Gilbert Gifford to work with them instead of with Mary.
- The spymaster had this all planned so that all correspondence would pass to him before getting to the channels.
- With the code-breaking expertise of Thomas Phelippes, Francis Walsingham’s secretary, all Mary’s communication was able to be monitored.
- Two letters from Mary were sent in May 1586.
- One was for Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, giving her consent to the invasion of England, and the other was for Charles Paget, instructing him to tell Philip of Spain about the urgency of the plan of invasion.
- Despite the gathered evidence, there was still no connection to Mary directly plotting the killing of Elizabeth.
- On July 17, 1586, strong evidence against Mary was collected.
- A letter of approval of the plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I was written by Mary in response to Anthony Babington.
- Francis Walsingham quickly made his move and had John Ballard and Anthony Babington arrested and imprisoned in the Tower of London.
- On September 13, the people involved in the scheme were put on trial and condemned.
- A week later, John Ballard, Anthony Babington, and five other people were dragged on hurdles to St. Giles Field, Holborn.
- They were hanged and killed in front of a large crowd.
- After 19 years of imprisonment, Mary, Queen of Scots, was convicted of treason and was beheaded at Fotheringhay Castle in England.
Death of Francis Walsingham
- Francis Walsingham complained of ill health from 1571 onwards.
- Cancer, kidney stones, urinary infection, and diabetes were his suggested diagnoses.
- He died on April 6, 1590 at his own house in Seething Lane and was buried the following day in a private ceremony in Old St. Paul’s Cathedral.
- According to historian William Camden, Francis died of testicular cancer.
- However, due to the Great Fire of London, both his grave and monument were destroyed.
Francis Walsingham Worksheets
This is a fantastic bundle that includes everything you need to know about Francis Walsingham across 33 in-depth pages. These are ready-to-use worksheets that are perfect for teaching about Francis Walsingham who was one of the most loyal and trusted men of Queen Elizabeth I.
Complete List Of Included Worksheets
- Francis Walsingham Facts
- Fill It In
- Truth or Lie?
- What’s Next?
- Time Travel
- He Once Said…
- Totally Spy
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