Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
  playwright game the show for educators
dossier players locations evidence glossary works In Search of Shakespeare - Home
« back

Sir Francis Walsingham

Depending on which side of the theological divide you were on, Francis Walsingham was probably either a heroic defender of the State or a ruthless persecutor of the innocent.

Walsingham occupied the trusted role of Secretary of State for 17 years, but more importantly he was Elizabeth I's Controller of Intelligence, a spymaster and latter day equivalent to the head of British intelligence's MI5 (domestic intelligence) and MI6 (overseas) combined. Strongly Protestant, Walsingham was the head of a spy network that included at its simplest level local paid informers, and at its more sophisticated, "plants" in Catholic countries suspected or known to be hostile to England's Reformation. He was successful in countering plots against the Queen, and through the work of his overseas agents was able to give advanced warning of the approach of the Spanish Armada in 1588.

Walsingham was a patron of writers and adapted some of his contacts in the theatrical world to create the Queen's Men, a travelling theatrical group that performed plays with high propaganda content. By performing their entertainments in the grand manor houses of the rich and influential throughout the country, the group also provided eyes in the homes of known and suspected Catholic sympathizers.

Doubtless to those of the Old Faith, Walsingham was a kind of Himmler and Goebels figure combined. Walsingham, meanwhile, balanced the day-to-day business of sanctioning the interrogation and torture of suspects with investments in the voyages of discovery of Sir Francis Drake and Martin Frobisher.

He died in 1590.

The Player

Sir Francis Walsingham portrait
In your state
« back  
©MayaVision International, 2003 (site credits) (site feedback)