Throughout his long career Francis Walsingham dedicated himself to identifying and eradicating his country’s internal and external enemies. This grim ideologue is hardly the most sympathetic character of the Elizabethan age, but even those who most strongly disapprove of him cannot deny his energy and efficiency. For nearly twenty years Walsingham served Elizabeth I as her principal secretary, a post with multifarious responsibilities relating to domestic and foreign policy, and ‘subject to more cumber and variableness’ than any other in the kingdom. It is, however, as Queen Elizabeth’s spymaster that he is principally remembered. In that role, depending upon one’s point of view, he either performed wonders in safeguarding national security or acted as a merciless instrument of tyranny.
Walsingham was, literally, a militant Protestant. He constantly urged on Elizabeth the necessity of armed intervention on the Continent in favour of co-religionists who were suffering at the hands of Catholic monarchs. He argued that since the kings of France and Spain would turn against England once they