Spotlight: Francis Walsingham

Name: Francis Walsingham.

Title/s: Principal Secretary / Spymaster / English Ambassador to France.

Birth / Death: 1532? – 6 April 1590.

Spouse: Anne Barne (dates unknown) & Ursula St Barbe (? – 1602).

Children: Mary (died as a child) / Frances Devereux, Countess of Essex 1567 – 1633 (by Ursula St Barbe).

Parents: William Walsingham & Joyce Denny (dates unknown)

Siblings: Mary Mildmay ?-1576 / Elizabeth Wentworth / Eleanor / Barbara / Christian

Noble Connections: His daughter, Francis, married the Earl of Essex, who was later executed. He secured the execution of Mary Queen of Scots, and served Elizabeth as her Principal Secretary and “spymaster” for many years.

Events of their Lifetime: St Bartholomew’s Massacre, execution of Mary Queen of Scots, deaths of Henry VIII, Edward VI, Jane Grey and Mary I, accessions of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, the mysterious death of Amy Robsart, and the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

Controversy: It has been debated to what extent Walsingham was responsible for the enhancement of England’s navy, and her overseas exploration.

Works of Fiction:
Forrester, James, Sacred Treason (2010)
Forrester, James, The Roots of Betrayal (2011)
Forrester, James, The Final Sacrament (2012)
George, Margaret, Elizabeth I (2011)

Portrayals on Screen:
Ben Daniels, The Virgin Queen, 2006, 3 episodes
Patrick Malahide, Elizabeth I, 2005, 2 episodes
Stephen Murray, Elizabeth R, 1971, 3 episodes
Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth, 1998, directed by Shekhar Kapur
Geoffrey Rush, Elizabeth: the Golden Age, 2007, directed by Shekhar Kapur

Further Reading:
Hutchinson, Robert, Elizabeth’s Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England (2006)
Plowden, Alison, Two Queens in One Isle: the Deadly Relationship of Elizabeth I and Mary Queen of Scots (1984)
Pollen, J.H., Mary Queen of Scots and the Babington Plot (1922)


Sir Francis Walsingham by John De Critz the Elder c.1585.
Sir Francis Walsingham by John De Critz the Elder c.1585.

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