Francis Walsingham: Life Story

Chapter 13 : The Final Years

With the execution of the Queen of Scots, war with Spain began to seem inevitable. According to the Spanish ambassador, Mendoza, Walsingham and Elizabeth quarrelled again when she still sought peace – according to Mendoza, she threw a slipper at her secretary, frustrated by his unwillingness to negotiate.

Walsingham’s duties as secretary involved him in the preparations for the war that eventually came in 1588. He was instrumental in the renewing of the defences at Dover during the early 1580s, and when it became apparent that invasion was imminent, he was responsible for sending out musters and ensuring that coastal defences were in readiness. He attended every Privy Council meeting held to deal with crisis, liaised with the lords lieutenant of the counties, sent out musters and supervised arrangements for coastal defences and organised supplies of munitions.

He travelled to Tilbury to see Elizabeth’s famous review of the troops there. Impressed by her speech, he wrote to Burghley that ‘this place breedeth courage.’ Despite the destruction of the Spanish fleet, through a combination of weather and rocky coastlines, Walsingham was not sanguine about the future. The Spanish, he was certain, were ‘not yet quenched…but wait opportunity to set on us again.’

Throughout this time, his health deteriorated, but the queen, although she had no choice but to allow him to take some time off for illness, pressed him to return to work. He made his will in December 1589, but continued working. Shortly after, perhaps in March 1590, his daughter, the widowed Frances Sidney, married the Earl of Essex, step-son of Walsingham’s old friend, the Earl of Leicester, and a close friend of Frances’ first husband.

In early April 1590, Walsingham had a fit, but the queen showed little sympathy, merely urging him the following day to arrange meetings and deal with Irish business.

It was too much for him, and on 6th April he died. He was buried in the same tomb as Philip Sidney. Elizabeth, who had never been as attached to him as to Burghley or Leicester, showed some feeling in forgiving his debts to the crown – although as they had been largely incurred in expenditure for her security, it was not a particularly generous gesture.

Walsingham’s widow, Ursula, survived him by twelve years, dying in June 1602. His daughter, Frances, and Essex had at least three children, before the earl was executed for treason in 1601. Frances married a third time, to Robert Burgh, Earl of Clanricarde, and had three more children. 


Alford, Stephen (2012) The Watchers: A Secret History of the Reign of Elizabeth I London: Allen Lane

Alford, Stephen (2011 )Burghley: William Cecil at the Court of Elizabeth I: Yale University Press 

Cooper, John (2013) The Queen’s Agent: Sir Francis Walsingham and the Rise of Espionage in Elizabethan England. New York: Pegasus Books 

Hutchinson, Robert (2007) Elizabeth’s Spymaster: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War That Saved England New York: Thomas Dunne Books

Somerset, Anne (1991) Elizabeth I London: Alfred A Knopf Inc 

Remarkable Monuments from Pre-Fire St Paul’s - St Paul’s Cathedral.”

(St.) Augustine Papey, or in the Wall Academic Dictionaries and Encyclopaedias.

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