Walsingham, Sir Francis

born с 1532, probably Footscray, Kent, Eng.
died April 6, 1590, London

English statesman and adviser to Queen Elizabeth I (1573–90).

A member of Parliament from 1563, he became ambassador to the French court (1570–73) and established friendly relations between France and England. He was admitted to the Privy Council in 1573 and became secretary of state to Elizabeth I. Although not allowed to pursue an independent policy, he faithfully executed Elizabeth's foreign policy. He proved invaluable in uncovering conspiracies by Catholics against Elizabeth's life, including the plots by Francis Throckmorton (1583) and Anthony Babington (1586) to free Mary, Queen of Scots.

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▪ English statesman
born c. 1532, probably Footscray, Kent, Eng.
died April 6, 1590, London
 English statesman and the principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I from 1573 to 1590. He was a skilled diplomat whose knowledge of languages and capacity to organize espionage activities made him invaluable in the execution of Elizabeth's foreign policy. In addition, he was a staunch Puritan who uncovered a number of dangerous Roman Catholic conspiracies against the queen.

      The son of a lawyer, Walsingham was admitted to the bar in 1552, and in 1563 he obtained his first seat in Parliament. William Cecil (later Baron Burghley), the principal secretary, soon discovered his potential; from 1568 to 1570 he was employed to obtain information on the activities of foreign spies in London. As ambassador to the French court from 1570 to 1573, Walsingham was mainly concerned with establishing an alliance with France in order that England might better be able to control the threat of French intervention in the Netherlands and to gain support for the impending and inevitable conflict with Spain. The negotiations were at first connected with the proposal for a marriage between Elizabeth and King Charles IX's (Charles IX) brother Henri, duc d'Anjou (later King Henry III). But neither party was willing to compromise in religious practice, and Walsingham eventually realized that Elizabeth had no serious intention of marrying Anjou. Negotiations were then begun for a marriage with Anjou's younger brother François, duc d'Alençon (later duc d'Anjou). Meanwhile Walsingham successfully concluded a defensive alliance, the Treaty of Blois (April 1572). During the summer of 1572, when revolt broke out against Spanish rule in the northern Netherlands, Walsingham encouraged the French king Charles IX to support a Huguenot raid in favour of the rebels. When this was repulsed, Charles swung over to a repressive policy, and the massacre of St. Bartholomew's Day ensued. Nevertheless, before his recall to England in April 1573, Walsingham had reestablished friendly relations with the French court.

      In December 1573 he was admitted to the Privy Council and became secretary of state, a post he held until his death. From 1576 he was a member of Parliament for Surrey. He was knighted in 1577 and made chancellor of the Order of the Garter in the following year.

      As secretary, Walsingham was not allowed to pursue an independent policy. His own intense Protestantism caused him to single out Catholic Spain as his country's worst enemy, but he faithfully carried out the behests of the Queen even when, as frequently happened, her policies contradicted those he advocated. Politically he was closely allied with Robert Dudley, earl of Leicester.

      Walsingham went on his last embassy abroad in 1583, and from then until his death he was mainly occupied in detecting and frustrating conspiracies by Catholics against Elizabeth's life. His vigilance uncovered Francis Throckmorton's plot—involving France and Spain—to free Elizabeth's prisoner, the Catholic Mary Stuart (Mary, Queen of Scots). In exposing the Babington plot three years later, he found a letter from Mary to Anthony Babington (Babington, Anthony) giving full support to a plan for the murder of Elizabeth. As a result, Mary was executed in February 1587, a course of action that Walsingham had advocated.

      Walsingham was married three times, and his daughter, Frances, had three husbands, including the great poet Sir Philip Sidney and the renowned courtier Robert Devereux, 2nd earl of Essex.

Additional Reading
Conyers Read, Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth, 3 vol. (1925, reprinted 1978), is a definitive if long-winded study.John S. Morrill

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Universalium. 2010.

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