Or: I Think This Quill and Parchment are Bugged

Welcome to 16th Century England. If you are, ever have been, or are considering becoming any of the following, we may have to kill you:

Please Enjoy Your Stay.

This was pretty much the national standard during the lifetime of Sir Francis Walsingham, who earned fame (or infamy) as the spymaster of Elizabeth I.

The 16th Century did not allow for a great deal of trust on any level, with the rapid rise of colonialism, the increasing fervor of religious dissention, and the presence of a Virgin Queen with no heir on the English throne. Potential enemies were everywhere; Walsingham had the difficult job of staying afloat on the sea of incoming--and outgoing--intelligence.

His methods, by the way, were usually just as honest, above-board, and ethical as those you've come to expect from modern intelligence officials.

I Spy With My Little Eye

Very little is known about Walsingham's early life, as will be herein reflected.

The sudden attempted reversion of the country to Catholicism sends the nation reeling, and perks up the ears of England's whole squad of international ne'er-do-wells, all of whom have been waiting for the country to return to the Vatican's fold.

Middling Before Meddling

During the very same year, he stood as a first-hand witness to the St. Bartholomew's Day Massacre, and no doubt began to wonder if a treaty with France was all it was cracked up to be. His outspoken nature where Protestantism was concerned was an ongoing source of friction between him and Cecil as well as the Queen.


By the 1580s, Walsingham's spy network reached as far away as Turkey, which was well, for troubles were brewing at home and abroad. The Queen was the target of constant conspiracies, many of which were unravelled by Walsingham's unremitting vigilance.

Your Friends and Neighbors

Are trying to kill you. Philip of Spain was looking for a bride in Elizabeth, and hoped to attach himself to the throne. Mary, Queen of Scots was thinking she'd had just about enough of this religious tolerance nonsense, and the French, despite what the treaties said, were still the French.

The Greatest Plot of All

Walsingham, with those two rather large feathers in his cap, died in 1590 a very poor man.

He inherited a great deal of his son-in-law's debts, and Elizabeth was unable--or unwilling--to bail him out.

Miscellanies of Espionage

Walsingham, like many other ruthless politicians and figures, was a great patron of the arts, commissioning music and supporting various playwrights.

He tended, though, to mix business with pleasure, recruiting for his network several writers and poets, the most notable of which was Christopher Marlowe, whose death in a tavern at Deptford may not have been merely the unhappy result of a common brawl. Deptford was a frequently used waypoint for trips to the Continent.

Recommended Media

For a bit of wildly inaccurate historical fun with Walsingham, check out A Dead Man in Deptford, by Anthony Burgess, or go see Elizabeth, where Geoffrey Rush plays the character quite brilliantly.

Secret Messages of Appreciation to:

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