Sir Francis Walsingham

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Sir Francis Walsingham

attributed to John De Critz the Elder
oil on panel, circa 1589
30 in. x 25 in. (762 mm x 635 mm)
Purchased, 1917
Primary Collection
NPG 1807

On display in Room 1 on Floor 3 at the National Portrait Gallery

Sitterback to top

Artistback to top

This portraitback to top

This is the only known portrait type of Walsingham, and is associated with the artist John de Critz whom he patronised extensively in the 1580s. Despite mounting debts, Walsingham repeatedly entertained Elizabeth I at his home at Barn Elms, near Putney, in the second half of the 1580s, the period from which this portrait dates. It shows Walsingham wearing a cameo of the queen who he served so faithfully and yet who failed to reward him for his loyalty and patriotism.

Linked publicationsback to top

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  • Bolland, Charlotte, Tudor & Jacobean Portraits, 2018, p. 162 Read entry

    Raised a Protestant, Francis Walsingham left England on the accession of Mary I, spending time in Basle and Padua. There is little evidence that he was in public employment before the late 1560s, when he began to undertake work for the English diplomat Sir Nicholas Throckmorton and William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley. In 1573, he was appointed principal secretary and privy councillor to the queen and from this position advised Elizabeth I to wage war against Spain, foreseeing the threat of the Spanish Armada. He uncovered the Babington Plot in 1586 that led to the conviction and execution of Mary, Queen of Scots and is generally credited as running the first 'secret service' from 1596, which operated against Roman Catholic conspirators and the agents of Philip II of Spain. Walsingham is depicted in this portrait wearing a cameo portrait of Elizabeth I in profile, which may have been a gift from the queen. The inclusion of the cameo, rather than any insignia relating to the Order of the Garter, suggests that the portrait post-dates his surrender of the chancellorship of the Order in 1587. The artist, John de Critz, had previously acted as Walsingham's informal agent, travelling to Paris to deliver letters and also sending back paintings by his own hand and by others.

  • Bolland, Charlotte; Cooper, Tarnya, The Real Tudors: Kings and Queens Rediscovered, 2014 (accompanying the exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery from 12th September 2014 to 1st March 2015), p. 128
  • Charles Nicholl, Shakespeare and his Contemporaries, 2015, p. 49
  • Cooper, John, A Guide to the National Portrait Gallery, 2009, p. 12 Read entry

    Walsingham ran the secret service that defended Elizabeth I against spies and assassination plots.

  • Nicholl, Charles, Character Sketches: Elizabethan Writers, 1997, p. 18
  • Nicholl, Charles, Insights: Shakespeare and His Contemporaries, 2005, p. 41
  • Saywell, David; Simon, Jacob, Complete Illustrated Catalogue, 2004, p. 640
  • Strong, Roy, Tudor and Jacobean Portraits, 1969, p. 321

Events of 1589back to top

Current affairs

Sir Francis Drake sets sail from Plymouth in command of over 100 ships and 18,000 men. Ignoring orders to attack Spanish ports in the Bay of Biscay, the fleet embarks on a disastrous invasion of Portugal. After sacking La Coruña, Drake fails to take Lisbon and returns to face accusations of disobedience and cowardice.
King James VI of Scotland (later James I of England) marries Princess Anne of Denmark.

Art and science

The geographer Richard Hakluyt publishes Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation, a large collection of voyages from the fourth century to contemporary seamen such as Sir Francis Drake.
The satirical pamphleteer Thomas Nashe publishes The Anatomie of Absurdity, a criticism of contemporary literature.


Assassination of Henry III of France. On his deathbed, he recognises the Protestant Henry of Navarre as his successor. As Henry IV, he becomes the first of the Bourbon kings of France.

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