Walsingham House is a property located at 35 Seething Lane. It commemorates a former resident of the street, better known as the address of Samuel Pepys. The building is currently undergoing a major refurbishment, accumulating storeys.
Walsingham’s visage is obscured by a piece of piping.
Sir Francis Walsingham was Secretary of State for Queen Elizabeth I, better known as the Queen’s ‘spymaster’. He was MI5 and MI6 combined, protecting the reign of Elizabeth from the Catholic threat at home and abroad. He did a brilliant job, culminating in two major triumphs at the twilight of his career: masterminding the entrapment and execution of Mary Queen of Scots in 1587, and helping to see off the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Frankly, I – as an Irishman, republican, and former Catholic – might wish he hadn’t succeeded so well. He dashed myriad hopes, doused a thousand dreams of insurrection in preventing Elizabeth’s nightmares from coming true.
His final decade was lived at Seething Lane where he purchased a distinguished ‘capital messuage’ called Muscovy House in 1580. This house was situated between Tower Hill to the south and Crutched Friars to the north, and between the two parishes of St Olaves Hart Lane and All Hallows Barking. It was connected to a laneway called Muscovy Court.
His employment of Christopher Marlowe as an agent was doubtless helped by Marlowe’s friendship with Thomas Walsingham, a younger cousin of the spymaster and patron to the budding poet. Marlowe was a frequent guest at the Walsingham country seat at Scadbury in Kent, now rubble.
On occasion, Marlowe would have visited Francis Walsingham in Seething Lane. Much important interrogation and debriefing work was conducted there. The Tower of London was nearby if subjects proved reticent.
The ‘Seething’ seems sinisterly apt.
Walsingham was a masterful questioner. Only one person seemed to be able to withstand his subtleties, a dubious figure called Robert Poley, witness of Marlowe’s killing. Poley boasted that he never gave an inch to Sir Francis who tried to conceal his frustration by looking out the window and grinning like a dog.
Another famous poet associated with the site is Sir Philip Sidney, husband of Walsingham’s daughter Frances. The Queen disapproved of the marriage but later attended the 1585 christening of Walsingham’s granddaughter at St Olaves. The child was called – tactfully – Elizabeth.
Sir Philip died in 1586 on the frontline of the Protestant vs Catholic struggle, fighting the Spanish in the Lowlands. It is unlikely he and Marlowe met.
Walsingham died at home, to be buried in Old St Pauls. His dying in 1590 exonerates him from any taint of the Marlowe assassination, but questions must surely be asked of Thomas Walsingham, who employed Ingram Frizer as a servant before and after the murder.