Walsingham must reign supreme in the gallery of spy supremo’s and it is through his faith and fortitude to his Queen, that England was richly protected against the Vatican and her assorted allies. In Francis Walsingham, the pope and the Jesuits met their equal. His skills in espionage and its uses have never been bettered. However, with today’s culture of human rights and ineffective political correctness, this would have seemed dangerously delusional for the protection of his country, of which he had been entrusted to guard and keep watch in times of attack and of or war. Sir Francis Walsingham was always the supreme spymaster, never second-rate, and always submissive to his queen’s commands and above all to God’s commandments.
Walsingham had inherited the true tenets of his faith from his mother and these would later be reinforced in his spiritual life by his second wife. For him, Catholicism was as dangerous to the survival of his country as we rather view terrorism today, and further, through its secret papal agents especially the Jesuits and other religious orders, it all had to be prevented and cauterised quickly. His was not only a spiritual war for the hearts and souls of the English but a battle that would be fought on land and sea until his death.
For Walsingham, there was no finer privilege or pride in serving his monarch and naturally, of course, the defence of the Realm, and all of this combined with the wisdom of his faith. Quite simply Walsingham believed politically that if the downfall of the queen ever occurred then the foundations of England that he loved and served would collapse into papal superstition. Interestingly much of the day-to-day running of his espionage network and preparation was funded out of his own financial means. On a personal note it has been written that Walsingham enjoyed a glass of mull wine occasionally but this I somehow doubt because as a practising puritan he would have rejected and despised such earthly pleasures as alcohol, and all the usual sins of the flesh.
Yet God had another important agenda to be completed in the future, that being King James I authorising through Parliament the translating of the Holy Bible into to the vernacular of English in 1611. Today its gift still flourishes in a world of phoney religions and instant pleasures that drip from the slopes of sin.
Francis Walsingham was born in 1531. His family seems were financially secure with his father employed in the burgeoning legal profession. Of that day he would later attend Kings College Cambridge and rather like his father discovered he had a talent for the law within himself. This would offer him a unique position in the espionage service of Queen Elizabeth; dangerous times for a dedicated spymaster.
With the arrival of Queen Mary (“Bloody Mary”) Walsingham went into self-imposed exile in Europe, then as a young exile in Switzerland and elsewhere he absorbed the teachings of Calvinism, and befriended the author of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs of which three of the published volumes would be dedicated to him.
After his return to England he would serve another queen, that of Elizabeth, and to her service, he would later be appointed as secretary of state and privy councillor.
Earlier whilst English Ambassador in Paris he witnessed the terrible massacre of the Protestant Huguenots, later assisting where he arranged their safety and safe passage to England. He has even been likened as the “French Oscar Schindler” because of the preparing and distributing of government letters of transit to so many grateful escapees fleeing from the massacre that later shamed Paris and the world.
But it is in his unique role as her spymaster that he is remembered today. Espionage, it has been claimed, can only survive in suspicious times. Fear in itself is useless if complacency descends upon a nation’s welfare. Today the threat of terrorism is still a fearful feature of everyday life here in London and other English cities.
Indeed as a solitary spymaster, he was always searching peoples eyes, were they friend or foe, and always suspicious of what he saw in them. And sleep when it arrived for him lasted but a few hours, wasn’t there always work to be done he would complain. Few earned his complete trust and even fewer his loyalty, that was reserved always for his queen, family and his God. His social attire it has been said resembled that of a Presbyterian cleric yet he remains comfortable in his Puritan beliefs, and if his immediate staff did not wholly support or understand all of his ways and beliefs then no matter, he knew at least he had their loyalty and respect, or so he thought.
The well-lubricated English espionage that he organised and orchestrated stretched out to Europe, America, Turkey, and maybe Africa. It evolved mostly from his secluded country estate at the Elms in Surrey, where we are informed outriders from his stables of over a hundred prepared horses, would ride day and night, all in the queen’s and Walsingham’s business. His London residence in Seething Lane would also witness agents arriving and departing day and night. Much of that house has changed in appearance and today an insurance building, politely known as “Walsingham House,” which he referred to as his London residence.
No foreign or domestic Jesuit he vowed on his watch would ever subvert the state or the crown or export turmoil to England. In his hands, the nation he served had to be protected whatever the cost in coinage or conspiracy. Through it all, he remained diligent and watchful in his watching of England’s many enemies. Yet his network uncovered plots after plots aimed at assassinating Elizabeth.
One wonders how aware Elizabeth was of his efforts for her safety. He had prevented her life from being terminated by her enemies of which there were many, both in England and on the continent.
The delayed execution of Mary Queen of Scots by the axe ended her attempt with other numerous collaborators to eliminate by whatever means the reign of Elizabeth. Yet it has to be remembered that the pope had issued a papal bull encouraging the murder of the queen by whatever means or ways. Mary would certainly have supported this holy order from Rome. I’m not sure Walsingham planned all of the legalities to end Mary’s life but he certainly was a major player in its success, referring to her as “that devilish woman.”
One also wonders how Rome would have felt, had protestant nations or secret agents interfered in their domestic affairs. Yet Rome has constantly down this for centuries! And has successfully hidden such from her parishioners and others.
As Secretary of State, his ordained mission or so he understood was to secure the soul of England from Catholicism and nothing less and to protect his nation from catholic rituals to its rubrics, from its indulgences to its incense burning. He despised them all. And he certainly would have been shocked and sickened by today’s blasphemous so-called ecumenical movement. All born-again believers should also despise them as well.
At Mary’s execution, Walsingham seems strangely to have been absent when the blunted axe used by the executioner, a Mr. Bull, who actually received £10 for his work, separated her head from her body (it took, however, three pathetic attempts on his part to complete the execution). Yet at the trial, he certainly seems to have been present for the initial charges brought against her. After the execution, I like to speculate that he perhaps offered a new home to her little dog, a Skye terrier by the unusual name of “Geddon,” even maybe taking the little chap home to his country seat in Surrey. Who knows, after all the poor little thing had hidden away under Mary’s long skirts during her execution, and must have been rather traumatised afterwards by what he heard and witnessed about what was performed on his beloved mistress, but then I don’t know if Walsingham was an animal lover or not.
With the removal of Mary from the English politic scene by whatever means, Walsingham must have been very high on the pope’s hit list for future murder, either by poison or the pistol, the then very popular means of assassination. Also sharing that list of distinguished names on the pope’s parchment would be Sir Francis Drake and of course the queen. The future planned naval armada invasion against England could also be seen as an act of revenge for Mary’s death as well.
Once again like so many others the pope and the king of Spain underestimated England’s sea power and the determination of Walsingham’s fine-tuned spy network that reached into the bedrooms of the pope, the king, and others who would harm England or her queen.
Of his loyalty to Elizabeth and always surviving her “sly, spiteful, suspicious moods” must have been equally difficult for the man to accept, yet he never seems to have flinched from his faith or his devoted duty towards the crown and England. From his London home to his country estate would come the study and breaking of enemy cyphers, the use of invisible inks, forged letters, and dead letter box-drops, and the devious use of double and triple agents in the field. Walsingham, as usual, was always one step ahead of his rivals in the dangerous game of espionage that he had created. Yet much of its funding and its success was paid for out of his own pocket as stated before, and by today’s value, it totals over two million pounds. This noble but expensive gesture would leave him almost bankrupt after his death; spying it seems never comes cheap.
Previously Walsingham’s health had been in decline for many years, yet amazingly he always recovered from these bouts of illnesses after convalescing in the hills of Surrey. But the end when it came was on April 6th 1590 at Seething Lane in London. The cause of death seems to have been testicular cancer but I have to offer perhaps the following scenario in that I suggest he was gradually being poisoned by someone or other paid persons in the vicinity of his London home, maybe by dispatched secret agents from the Vatican or France who were later employed in his city home or maybe one of his personal secretaries who were perhaps being blackmailed into betraying him. He may even have made many jealous ambitious opponents in his own covert organisation, we cannot know for sure but men of his stature and importance acquire many enemies in what they do. It all goes as they say with the territory. Walsingham was always stoic enough to realise that life for all of us is fragile and easily snuffed out. Repentance should never be far from each of us, whatever our age or health.
His was a simple funeral lacking pomp or pageantry or professional mourners nor marble tombstones, instead, we read: “His own bleak self-denying brand of Protestantism may also have figured in the choice of ceremony,” writes the historian, Robert Hutchinson. And I would second that true statement. It’s not from where we have been but rather where we are heading is what matters.
In his Will, he wrote: “Of Jesus Christ my true and only Saviour” because only through Christ is there any salvation, all else is worthless and as useless as ashes in a cold hearth.
Today he remains a remarkable man and certainly always prepared for the survival of his country whatever the cost. His defence of the Realm has not been surpassed. England and his queen owed him much in his endeavours to protect the shores of England from the curse of the Jesuits and the wicked papacy. Yet it was his belief and preservation in the protection of the Holy Bible and its saving word that revealed this spymaster to be so defiant and so remarkable in an age of suspicion and superstition.
The faith of Sir Francis could never be destroyed or diminished, it is not a luxury but a gift awarded to the born again Bible believer, something that the Jesuits or the church of Rome or any others can or will never destroy, now or in the future.
“Heaven and earth shall pass away but my words will not pass away.”
“It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.”
Used books for reference
Elizabeth’s Spy Master, Robert Hutchinson
The Queen’s Agent, John Cooper
Mary Queen of Scots, Lady Antonia Fraser
Under the Molehill, John Bossy
27 March 2013
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