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Her Majesty's Spymaster: Sir Francis Walsingham


Sir Francis Walsingham (c. 1532 - 6 April 1590) was principal secretary to Queen Elizabeth I of England from 20 December 1573 until his death and is popularly remembered as her "spymaster".

Born to a well-connected family of gentry, Walsingham attended Cambridge University and travelled in continental Europe before embarking on a career in law at the age of twenty. A committed Protestant, during the reign of the Catholic Queen Mary I of England he joined other expatriates in exile in Switzerland and northern Italy until Mary's death and the accession of her Protestant half-sister, Elizabeth.

Walsingham rose from relative obscurity to become one of the small coterie who directed the Elizabethan state, overseeing foreign, domestic and religious policy. He served as English ambassador to France in the early 1570s and witnessed the St. Bartholomew's Day massacre. As principal secretary, he supported exploration, colonization, the use of England's maritime strength and the plantation of Ireland. He worked to bring Scotland and England together. Overall, his foreign policy demonstrated a new understanding of the role of England as a maritime, Protestant power in an increasingly global economy. He oversaw operations that penetrated Spanish military preparation, gathered intelligence from across Europe, disrupted a range of plots against Elizabeth and secured the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots.


The Babington Plot was a plan in 1586 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I, a Protestant, and put Mary, Queen of Scots, her Roman Catholic cousin, on the English throne. It led to the Queen of Scots' execution, a direct result of a letter sent by Mary (who had been imprisoned for 19 years since 1568 in England at the behest of Elizabeth) in which she consented directly to the assassination of Elizabeth.


The long-term goal of the plot was the invasion of England by the Spanish forces of King Philip II and the Catholic League in France, leading to the restoration of the old religion. The plot was discovered by Elizabeth's spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham and used to entrap Mary for the purpose of removing her as a claimant to the English throne.

The chief conspirators were Anthony Babington and John Ballard. Babington, a young recusant, was recruited by Ballard, a Jesuit priest who hoped to rescue the Scottish Queen. Working for Walsingham were double agents Robert Poley and Gilbert Gifford, as well as Thomas Phelippes, the last a spy agent and cryptanalyst. The turbulent Catholic deacon Gifford had been in Walsingham's service since the end of 1585 or the beginning of 1586. Gifford obtained a letter of introduction to Queen Mary from a confidant and spy for her, Thomas Morgan. Walsingham then placed double agent Gifford and spy decipherer Phelippes inside Chartley Castle, where Queen Mary was imprisoned. Gifford organised the Walsingham plan to place Babington's and Queen Mary's encrypted communications into a beer barrel cork which were then intercepted by Phelippes, decoded and sent to Walsingham.


Ballard was attempting to recruit Babington in an undeveloped scheme to rescue Mary and place her on the throne of England by killing Elizabeth. Babington sent a coded letter to the imprisoned Mary, which gave his name to the complicated multiple-sided plot.

On 7 July 1586, the only Babington letter that was sent to Mary was decoded by Phelippes. Mary responded in code on 17 July ordering the would-be rescuers to assassinate Elizabeth. The response letter also included deciphered phrases indicating her desire to be rescued: "The affairs being thus prepared" and "I may suddenly be transported out of this place". At the Fotheringay trial in October 1586, Elizabeth's Secretary of State William Cecil and Walsingham used the letter against Mary who refused to admit that she was guilty. But she was betrayed by her secretaries Nau and Curle who confessed under pressure that the letter was mainly truthful.


Posted by Conspiracy Cafe on October 26, 2017 at 6:52 PM 68 Views