Sir Francis Walsingham: Elizabethan Spymaster

For day two of Elizabethan Intrigue week I have chosen to focus on the figure of Elizabeth I’s spymaster.

Francis Walsingham was an important figure in Elizabeth’s court.    Walsingham was a devout Protestant, who went into exile in Switzerland and Italy during the reign of Mary I.   When he came back to the court he was appointed Elizabeth’s spymaster, as well as serving as an English ambassador to France!    

His appointment as spymaster came at the hands of one of Elizabeth’s chief advisors, the incomparable William Cecil.   Elizabeth knew from the beginning of her reign that there would be factions that were against her.    She was a Protestant queen taking over after the rule of a fervent Catholic (who executed Protestants during her reign).    Elizabeth also knew that many of her Catholic nobles did not view her as a legitimate heir to the throne, because they viewed the marriage of her parents (Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn) as not valid!

Cecil worked hard during the reign of Elizabeth I to ensure her protection, and hiring Francis Walsingham to head up an elite unit of spies to defend the queen was one way to do that.   Walsingham would also go on to use a great knowledge of foreign policy to help bring England and Scotland together.    He, along with other English spies, helped to foil plots to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne in place of Elizabeth!   

Walsingham would go on to be appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and principal secretary (essentially secretary of state).     Elizabeth followed in her father’s footsteps by appointing people to power positions based more on merit than on being nobles by birth.     Figures such as Walsingham, and other spies and privateers, working for her benefited from this policy!    Walsingham was of good birth, with a powerful lawyer as a father, and an education at King’s College Cambridge, but he was not a noble, yet ended up getting titles that in bygone eras would have been reserved for people born of noble or royal blood!    

With his work in espionage and foreign policy Sir Francis Walsingham is truly a figure who was at the forefront of many cases of Elizabethan intrigue!    I hope you have enjoyed this brief overview of information on Elizabeth’s spymaster.    Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is the cover of Elizabeth’s Spymaster.   I found the image on

Further Reading

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