Francis Walsingham

John de Critz, the Elder. Francis Walsingham (Detail). Oil on wood. ca. 1585. National Portrait Gallery. London. CC0

Francis Walsingham (* 1532, † 16 April 1590) first studied at Cambridge without graduating. Afterwards, he travelled through Europe and decided to become a lawyer on his return. Under Mary I, Walsingham left England and studied in Switzerland and Italy. He only returned when Elizabeth I became Queen. As a diplomat, he conducted various negotiations with France, where he was English ambassador between 1570 and 1573. Walsingham had the trust of Burghley and the Queen. He became Secretary of State and a member of the Privy Council.
Up to this point, English intelligence activities were marginal. Walsingham became so active in this field that he is considered the founder of the English Secret Service. He was very successful in uncovering conspiracies, or in provoking conspiracies which he was then able to uncover – academics are divided on this question. However, he was also active in trade policy, promoting expeditions and economic projects. Next to William Cecil, he was the most influential and busy politician of the Elizabethan age. His daughter Frances married Philip Sidney in her first marriage. After his death she became the wife of Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex.

On the night of 16 April 1590 Francis Walsingham died and was quietly buried at St Paul’s the next day. Several of Walsingham’s documents could no longer be found shortly after his death. An indication of battles being fought over his succession, because whoever controlled the secret service had access to all information and thus unrestricted power. Both Burleigh and Essex claimed the post. Burleigh prevailed and his son Robert Cecil took over as head of the intelligence service. Essex, however, did not admit defeat. He set up his own secret service, the direction of which he gave to Anthony Bacon, the elder brother of Francis Bacon and a cousin of Robert Cecil.

Aktualisiert am 24.05.2024

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