Walsingham, Sir Francis (wôlˈsĭng-əm) [key], 1532?–1590, English statesman. A zealous Protestant, he went abroad during the reign of Queen Mary I but returned on the accession (1558) of Elizabeth I. He entered Parliament (1559) and soon was employed by William Cecil, Baron Burghley, in obtaining intelligence from abroad. Joint secretary of state after 1573, he built up an elaborate and effective spy system, which later implicated the imprisoned Mary Queen of Scots in a conspiracy against Elizabeth (1586) and led to her execution. His system in 1587 also provided England with minute details of the impending attack of the Spanish Armada. Walsingham, as a Protestant, favored an alliance of England, France, and the Netherlands against Spain. But, although he was employed on numerous missions and knighted in 1577, he was never able to persuade Elizabeth to adopt his policies of militant Protestantism. The responsibility for the debts he assumed (1586) at the death of his son-in-law, Sir Philip Sidney, put him in financial difficulties, and he died in debt.
See C. Read, Mr. Secretary Walsingham and the Policy of Queen Elizabeth (3 vol., 1925, repr. 1967).
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.