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Sir Francis Walsingham   1532 - 1590

To most serious students of espionage and counter-espionage, Sir Francis Walsingham, who was knighted in 1577, is considered the father of modern Intelligence and Counterintelligence.  It was Walsingham who as Secretary of State under Queen Elizabeth I, established an elaborate intelligence service that controlled agents in England and abroad.  His agents in Europe kept him informed of the activities of King Philip of Spain.  Thus Britain obtained early warnings of the attack by the Spanish Armada.

Phillip was recruiting sail makers and shipwrights from Sweden to Italy to build his fleet.  Mary received pay from Walsingham in addition the their Spanish wages.  The shipwrights would drive defective treenails holding the planks to the ribs.  The treenails were only shallow plugs; sawed halfway through, others filled with sawdust and putty was used to secure the ribs to the keel.  In the first storm the armada met off the Irish coast many of the 130 ships were turned into kindling, which resulted in its disastrous defeat.

Mary, Queen of Scots was a factor that King Philip was beginning to exploit.  He became an active agent in her cause.  Hence, Elizabeth was very much thrown under Walsingham protection.  She became increasingly dependent on the security and counter-intelligence screen that her Secretary wore about the throne.  During the 1580s, Walsingham became the most important of her ministers and they developed a close relationship.

Walsingham’s security service was built up progressively in the 1570s.  It operated in the ports, in the London taverns, in the French and Spanish embassies and from 1575, in the household of Queen Mary. For more than 10 years, Walsingham worked hard to secure absolute proofs of Mary's plotting with England’s enemies and the assassination of Queen Elizabeth.

Sir Francis Walsingham’s secret service uncovered the “Anthony Babington” plot that in 1586 planned the murder of Queen Elizabeth and the rescue of Mary Queen of Scots from house arrest.  Through his spy network he managed to intercept all the messages to Queen Mary that were hidden in kegs of beer and when invited to hunt deer on the estate where Mary was confined, his men took advantage of the opportunity to search through all of Mary’s papers, discovering the evidence he needed to obtain her death sentence.

Walsingham died on April 6, 1590.  For such a faithful servant he was ill rewarded by his Queen.  He lived and died miserably poor.  He had lavished huge sums in his public service and was never repaid.  He was so far in debt that he was buried at night so that his creditors would not steal his coffin.

Walsingham’s motto was “Knowledge is never too dear”.

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