Sir Francis Walsingham

(Sir Francis Walsingham features fictitiously in the novel, When the Time is Ripe by Tony Thistlewood. Walsingham fears for the Queen's safety when Lord Burghley employs a young orphan of unknown parentage as his assistant secretary. Sir Francis sets his spies to find out everything about this upstart.)

Sir Francis Walsingham will always be remembered as the founder of what eventually became the United Kingdom’s Secret Intelligence Service.

When, in July 1553, Queen Mary I ascended the throne and started burning traitors and Protestants at the stake, Sir Francis Walsingham, being an ardent Protestant, sensibly left England. He travelled throughout Europe making many useful contacts that would serve him well in later years. During this time, Walsingham became enamoured with the political philosophy of that infamous Florentine, Niccolo di Bernardo dei Machiavelli.

After Queen Mary’s death in November 1558, Sir Francis Walsingham returned to England and entered politics as the Member of Parliament for Banbury. His talents were soon recognised by Lord Burghley. After a two-year spell as Ambassador to France, Lord Burghley brought Walsingham home and promoted him to the position of Queen Elizabeth's Principal Secretary for the South.

The office of Principal Secretary, sometimes referred to as Secretary of State although that term was probably never used in sixteenth century England, eventually became the Foreign Office. To this day, the Foreign Office is responsible for the Secret Intelligence Service, better known as MI-6.

Snapshot Bio of Sir Francis Walsingham

Date of Birth:

    c. 1532

Place of Birth:

    Probably at Scadbury Park, near Chislehurst, Kent.

Date of Death:

    6th April 1590 at Barnes, London.


    St Paul’s Cathedral, London.


    Knighted – 1st December 1577


    King’s College Cambridge (from 1548 to 1550)
    Studied Law at Gray’s Inn (briefly in 1553)
    Padua University (1555 to 1556)

Positions held:

    Member of Parliament for Banbury (1559)
    Member of Parliament for Lyme Regis (in addition to Banbury) (1563)
    Ambassador to France (1570 – 1572)
    Principal Secretary – often referred to as ‘Secretary for the South’ or ‘Secretary of State’. (1573 – 1590)
    Member of the Privy Council*
    Member of Parliament for Surrey (from 1576)
    Chancellor of the Order of the Garter from 22nd April 1578.

* Dates are unknown because many records were lost when the Palace of Whitehall, the largest palace in Europe, was destroyed by fire in 1698. The Banqueting House is all that remains today of the original buildings.


    (1) 1562 Anne Barnes, (d. 1564), daughter of George Barnes, Lord Mayor of London.
      No issue although Anne had children from her first marriage to Alexander Carleill.

    (2) 1566 Ursula St Barbe, (d. 1602), widow of Sir Richard Worsley.

      (1) Frances (b. 1567 d. 1631)
        m. (i) Sir Philip Sidney (b. 1554 d. 1586)
        m. (ii) Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex (b. 1565 executed 1601)
        m. (iii) Richard de Burgh (or Burke), 4th Earl of Clanricarde (b. 1572 d. 1635)

      (2) Mary, died in infancy.

    Scadbury Park, Chislehurst, Kent. The Manor House was demolished in the 18th century but the extensive grounds, now owned by Bromley Borough Council, are open to the public.

    Barne Elms, Barnes, London. This house no longer exists.

Sir Francis Walsingham features fictitiously in Tony Thistlewood's historical novel:

When the Time is Ripe

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