Tag Archives: Sir Francis Walsingham

On this day in 1586 – Sir Philip Sidney died

Sir Philip Sidney was born on 30th November 1554 at Penshurst Place, Kent to Sir Henry Sidney and his wife Lady Mary Dudley. His uncle was Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester. Sidney was educated at Shrewsbury School and later Christ Church, Oxford.

In 1572 Sidney was elected as Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury and he also travelled to France in the same year as part of the team tasked with negotiating the marriage of Queen Elizabeth I and the Duc D’Alençon. Whilst in France Sidney witnessed the St. Bartholomew’s day massacre in Paris on 24th August 1572. Sidney would spend the next few years travelling around Europe visiting countries like; Germany, Italy, Poland, Hungary and Austria during this time Sidney met many prominent politicians and even visited an exiled Jesuit priest, Edmund Campion. Sidney returned to England in 1575 and he soon met Penelope Devereux, Devereux would go on to inspire Sidney’s sonnet entitled ‘Astophel and Stella.’ Devereux’s father had planned to marry his daughter to Sidney but died before the marriage could take place.

Aged 22 Sidney was sent on a diplomatic mission by the Queen and was sent to Rudolf II, the German Emperor, and Louis VI, Prince of Orange, in order to present the Queen’s condolences on the death of their fathers. Sidney was also tasked with learning whether the Spanish and their control over Europe was a threat to England. Sidney returned and gave the Queen a positive report of his mission, but his age and lack of experience went against him and Elizabeth sent other diplomats to gather information, they returned with a less optimistic view than the one Sidney returned with.

Sidney opposed the Queen’s prospective French marriage which caused some tensions within the political world. He wrote a detailed letter to her in 1579 outlining why she should not marry the Duke of Anjou, although moved by the letter the Queen reprimanded Sidney for speaking out of line as he was still a commoner. Sidney would go on to clash with Edward De Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford, regarding the Queen’s marriage. In August 1579 Oxford and Sidney would clash during a performance of play with Oxford insulting Sidney during an exchange between the two Sidney would leave but the following day sent Oxford a reminder of honour’s obligation ad Oxford responded. The Queen and the council heard of the argument and quickly put a stop to it. As a result Sidney retired from the court for the next year and stayed with his younger sister, Mary, in Wilton.

During his time in retirement Sidney wrote ‘Arcadia’ originally entitled ‘The Countess of Pembroke’s Arcadia’ with the title being a reference to his sister.

ArcadiaSir Philip Sidney’s Arcadia

In January 1581 Sidney was a Member of Parliament for Kent, a post he also held in 1584. During this time at court he met Penelope Devereux and quickly fell in love with the future Lady Rich. The love could not grow and he wrote ‘Astrophil and Stella’ about his experiences of impossible love, with Penelope being the inspiration.

In 1583 Sidney was restored to the Queen’s favour and was knighted and stood in for Prince Casimir who was being inducted as a Garter Knight. Later in this year Sidney married Frances Walsingham, daughter of Elizabeth’s Secretary of State, Sir Francis Walsingham. The marriage was opposed by the Queen who felt that she could use Walsingham’s daughter for a political marriage. As part of the couple’s marriage Sir Francis paid off £1500 of Sidney’s debt and to allow the couple the chance to save money they moved into the Walsingham family home.

Sidney was sent abroad in the service of the Queen and on 22nd September 1586 he was wounded at Zutphen in the Netherlands. Sidney was serving under his uncle, Robert Dudley, in his first military campaign. He was hit in the thigh with a musket ball after giving his leg armour away to a soldier who had none. Although his wound was serious he was able to ride the mile back to camp where he arrived with a large loss of blood. He was offered water upon arrival but shunned it so another wounded soldier could drink some. It was believed that Sidney would recover from the injury and so was taken to Arnhem to recover. Sidney died 26 days after being shot on 17th October 1586, his body was returned to England in a boat that sailed with black sails and the court went into mourning. A state funeral was held at St. Paul’s Cathedral .

Sir Philip SidneySir Philip Sidney

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On this day in 1586 – The trial of Mary Queen of Scots began

The trial of Mary Queen of Scots began at Fotheringhay Castle, Northamptonshire on 14th October 1586. Despite being kept essentially under house arrest for the duration of her time in England she was finally officially arrested on 11th August 1586 after being implicated in the Babington Plot to assassinate Queen Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne of England in her place. Mary had letters smuggled out of Chartley thinking that they were safe however; they were delivered straight to Sir Francis Walsingham who deciphered and copied them before allowing them to continue to the intended recipients. It was clear in these letters that Mary endorsed the killing of her cousin. Following her arrest she was transferred to Fotheringhay Castle and placed on trial charged with treason under the Act for the Queen’s Safety.

Mary stood trial in front of 36 noblemen that included Cecil, Shrewsbury and Walsingham himself. Mary denied the charges that were put before her and initially refused to even attend the trial but was told by Cecil that it would go ahead with or without her presence. Mary eventually appeared in front of the jury at 9am dressed in a black velvet gown and a white cambric cap and veil. She began to argue that the court was not legitimate and that she had not been allowed to seek legal representation or arrange for any witnesses to appear on her behalf.

Trial of Mary QoSThe counsel seated for the trial

The trial began with the intricate details of the Babington Plot being retold to the jurors and accused Mary of giving her blessing to the plot. A brief exchange occurred between Mary and the jurors;

Mary: I knew not Babington. I never received any letters from him, nor wrote any to him. I never plotted the destruction of the Queen. If you want to prove it, then produce my letters signed with my own hand.
Counsel: But we have evidence of letters between you and Babington.
Mary: If so, why do you not produce them? I have the right to demand to see the originals and copies side by side. It is quite possible that my ciphers have been tampered with by my enemies. I cannot reply to this accusation without full knowledge. Until then, I must content myself with affirming solemnly that I am not guilty of the crimes imputed to me…”

Unknown to Mary, Sir Francis Walsingham had amassed a large collection of evidence against the former Scottish queen that included:-

  • Sir Anthony Babington’s confession
  • A deciphered transcript in English of Mary’s response to Babington
  • A reciphered copy of the original letter sent by Mary to Babington that is an exact replica
  • Confessions from Mary’s personal secretaries.

The court produced this evidence to Mary who broke down in tears but continued to deny any involvement claiming that the evidence presented was fraudulent and that Walsingham was attempting to frame her.

Following a break in the proceedings for lunch the counsel read out the secretaries confessions and although surprised at what was being read out Mary was claiming that the letters must have been intercepted and changed. The proceedings then broke for the day with them to resume the next morning.

trial-of-mary-queen-of-scots-in-fotheringay-castleMary Queen of Scots on trial at Fotheringhay Castle

The next morning saw the counsel go straight into reiterating the accusation that Mary had consented to the plot, the trial would go back and forth between the accusers and Mary with the trial eventually closing with Mary demanding that the case should be heard in front of Parliament and the Queen. Elizabeth delayed the verdict for as long as she could, wrestling with her conscience over whether she could condemn an anointed monarch but eventually on 4th December Elizabeth declared that Mary was indeed guilty but she was unwilling to sign the warrant for her death until 1st February 1587 when Elizabeth asked for William Davison, her secretary, to bring the warrant to her and she signed it but also requested that instead of a public execution she wished that Walsingham wrote to Sir Amyas Paulet, Mary’s jailer, to ask him to perform the task in secret therefore meaning Elizabeth could deny any involvement in it.

However, Paulet was appalled at what was being asked of him and said ‘God forbid that I should make so foul a shipwreck of my conscience or leave so great a blot on my poor posterity’. At the same time Cecil had arranged a secret meeting of the Privy Council where it was agreed that the warrant would be sent to Fotheringhay Castle and appointed the Earls of Kent and Shrewsbury to oversee the execution, they would keep this from Elizabeth until the task was done.

On 8th February 1587 Mary Queen of Scots was executed at Fotheringhay Castle.

execution warantMary Queen of Scots execution warant signed by Queen Elizabeth

On this day in 1612 – Robert Cecil died

Robert Cecil was born in 1563 and was the son of William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley and Mildred Cooke.

Cecil attended St John’s College in Cambridge during the 1580’s but he did not undertake a degree and in 1584 and 1586 he sat representing Westminster and Hertfordshire from 1589 at the House of Commons.

In 1588 Cecil joined Henry Stanley, Earl of Derby, in a diplomatic mission to the Spanish Netherlands to negotiate peace with Spain. This trip was unsuccessful and peace was not reached.

In 1589 Cecil married Elizabeth Brooke and the couple had a son, named William, in March 1591. His wife died when their son was six years old. The couple also had a daughter, Frances.

In 1590 Cecil took on the role of Secretary of State following the death of Sir Francis Walsingham. In 1591 Elizabeth knighted Cecil and he was sworn in as the youngest member of the Privy Council. Cecil took a leading role at Queen Elizabeth’s court after the death of his father in 1598 and served not only Elizabeth but also her successor, King James I.

Cecil saw many crises from the Spanish Armada to the war in Ireland. He also had many run-ins with Robert Devereux, Earl of Essex. Devereux was unsuccessful in Ireland after Cecil convinced Devereux to go to Ireland to stop the uprising. With Devereux’s failure and unauthorized return after agreeing a truce with the Earl of Tyrone, Cecil saw this as an opportunity to place Devereux on trial. Later, in 1601 he led the ill fated Essex Rebellion and was sentenced to death.

Cecil’s position at court grew with the death of many of Elizabeth’s closest advisors such as, Robert Dudley, Sir Walter Midmay, Sir Francis Walsingham and even his own father William Cecil. Cecil was pivotal to matters of state security and he oversaw the smooth transition between Elizabeth and James’ rule. It is believed that he was in secret communication with the King of Scotland before Elizabeth’s death as he was to be Elizabeth’s heir, even if she would not publicly name him. Upon the Queen’s death she made a silent gesture to Cecil for him to write to James to invite him to be the next King of England.

Cecil was highly decorated by King James on 20th August 1603 he was created Baron Cecil of Essendon, in 1604 Viscount Cranborne and finally Earl of Salisbury in 1605. James also persuaded Cecil to exchange his home from Theobalds, Hertfordshire for Hatfield Palace which Cecil extensively rebuilt.

Cecil began pushing for the laws of the last monarch regarding Catholics to be reinstated pushing James to believe that Catholics could still not be trusted; this was proven for Cecil with the actions of the Gunpowder Plot. Catholics plotted against the new King and planned to blow up Parliament at the state opening.

Suffering from poor health and scurvy Cecil took a journey to Bath, to take the hot spring water but he died at Marlborough on 24th May 1612 before the trip could be completed and buried in Hatfield parish church. Despite his position at court Cecil died £30,000 in debt and much of his estate was sol off to pay his debts.

Robert Cecil

On this day in 1590 – Sir Francis Walsingham died

Sir Francis Walsingham was born around 1532 to William and Joyce Walsingham in Chislehurst, Kent. The Walsingham’s were a well connected couple and William served as one of the members of the commission that was created to investigate Cardinal Wolsey.

Walsingham had a great education at King’s College, Cambridge but he did not complete a degree and after a year in Europe he enrolled at Gray’s Inn in 1552 to qualify as a lawyer but things didn’t go to plan. In 1553 Edward VI died and Mary I ascended the throne many Protestants fled England for fear of being arrested as a heretic. Walsingham continued his studies at Basel and Padua.

Elizabeth I came to power in 1558 and with that the Protestant exiles returned to England. Walsingham was quickly elected into Elizabeth’s first parliament representing Bossiney, Cornwall. Walsingham married Anne, the daughter of the Lord Mayor of London; however she died after just two years of marriage. Walsingham remarried in 1566 to Ursula St. Barbe and they had a daughter, Frances.

A huge influence in parliament by 1569 Walsingham soon found himself working with William Cecil stopping plots against the Queen. One of his biggest triumphs included the collapse of the Ridolfi Plot, which aimed to place Mary, Queen of Scots on the English throne.

Walsingham in 1570 was created ambassador to France and helped negotiations for a marriage between Elizabeth and Henry, Duke of Anjou. The negotiations soon collapsed on the grounds that Henry was a Catholic. Walsingham believed that the French should be England’s closest allies and so the Treaty of Blois was agreed between the two nations in 1572.

Walsingham successfully returned to England in 1573 proving himself in his duties in France as competent and trustworthy. As a result he was appointed to the Privy Council and made joint principal secretary with Sir Thomas Smith. Smith retired in 1576 leaving Walsingham in office alone and in charge of the privy seal.

Walsingham’s role as principal secretary included handling all royal correspondence and setting agendas for council meetings. Walsingham also opened new trade routes and commissioned the exploration of the New World. Walsingham was also sent on many missions across Europe to discuss peace treaties, marriage potential and gather military intelligence.

Walsingham was knighted on 1st December 1577 and held many positions as a result including Recorder of Colchester and High Steward of Salisbury, Ipswich and Winchester. In 1578 Walsingham was appointed Chancellor of the Order of the Garter, a post that he held until 1587 when he became Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster as well as retaining his position of principal secretary (also known as secretary of state).

With Catholism still causing the Protestant Queen problems Walsingham began authorising the use of torture on Catholic priests and those suspected of conspiring with Catholics in order to gain confessions or information. In order to drive any potential of a Catholic rebellion out of the country Walsingham began employing informers and intercepting messages. In May 1582 Walsingham intercepted messages from the Spanish ambassador to Scotland which indicated another attempt to place Mary, Queen of Scots on the throne of England. Involved in this plot was Nicholas Throckmorton, an old friend of Walsingham’s. Throckmorton was arrested and tortured in order to gain a confession. Throckmorton was executed in 1584.

As a result of the Throckmorton plot a new law was passed that announce that anyone conspiring against the Queen would be arrested and executed. The Bond of Association was drawn up by Walsingham and William Cecil. Mary, Queen of Scots was placed under house arrest with a friend of Walsingham’s. He instructed his friend to intercept all of Mary’s letters and report back to him. Whilst also arranging Mary to believe that her letters were being sent out safely whilst in fact they were being intercepted. In 1586 Anthony Babington wrote to Mary about a plot that was in the works to rescue her and assassinate the Queen. Mary and her conspirators were arrested and put on trial. Mary was eventually executed in 1587.

Walsingham’s work was far from over also in 1586 he received many notifications from his informants abroad warning him of Spain’s preparations to invade England. Walsingham oversaw many preparations to ensure that England would be ready for the oncoming invasion in particularly he oversaw the renovations of Dover Harbour.

Walsingham died on 6th April 1590 at his home and was buried the following day at 10pm in Old St Paul’s Cathedral. His grave was destroyed during the Great Fire of London in 1666.

Sir Francis Walsingham