Sir Thomas WALSINGHAM of Scadbury, Knight

Born: 1561, Scadbury, Chislehurst, Kent

Died: 11 Aug 1630

Buried: 19 Aug 1630, Chislehurst, Kent, England

Father: Thomas WALSINGHAM (Sir Knight)

Mother: Dorothy GUILDFORD

Married: Etheldreda (Audrey) SHELTON




The details in this biography come from the History of Parliament, a biographical dictionary of Members of the House of Commons.

Born 1561, son of Sir Thomas Walsingham of Scadbury and Dorothy Guildford. Married Etheldreda (Audrey), dau. of Sir Ralph Shelton of Norfolk. Succeded brother Edmund 1589. Kntd. 1597. J.p. Kent from c.1592, dep. lt. 1595, commr. musters Apr. 1597; keeper, Eltham park 1600; chief keeper of the Queen's wardrobe 1603; warden of Rochester bridge 1615.

By his father's will Walsingham was left an annuity of 24 from Croydon vicarage, to be followed after seven years by another of 50 from Burwell, Cambridgeshire and elsewhere. Five years later, in 1589, Tom Walsingham succeeded to the family estates at Chislehurst on the death of his elder brother, Edmund. These, which had been built up by the family from the reign of Edward III, included Scadbury and lands in Chislehurst, St. Paul's Cray, Footscray, St. Mary Cray, North Cray, Eltham, Mottingham, Lee, Orpington, Bromley and Bexley. But they were heavily encumbered both by his father's debts and by the generous provisions of his will.

Walsingham was a patron of literature. He offered his house at Chislehurst to the playwright Christopher Marlowe as asylum from the plague; Marlowe was his servant and was living with him in May 1593 when summoned before the Privy Council for atheism. His relations with literature, by which he best deserves remembrance, date from 1590, when Thomas Watson dedicated to him his poem "Meliboeus", a Latin pastoral elegy on the death of Thomas' uncle Sir Francis, Queen Elizabeth's chief of intelligence. Thomas is introduced into the poem under the name of "Tityrus".

George Chapman, who also enjoyed Walsingham's patronage, dedicated his plays called "All Fools" (1605) and "Biron's Conspiracy and Tragedy" (1608) to Thomas in affectionate terms. Chapman is supposed to have completed Marlowe's narrative poem "Hero and Leander" which he dedicated to Thomas' wife Audrey in 1598.

In 1598 Shakespeare publisher Edward Blount dedicated Marlowe's posthumous poem, "Hero and Leander". Blount wrote that Walsingham "bestowed many kind of favors", upon the poet in his lifetime "with good countenance and liberal affection".

Like so many in Marlowe's circle, Thomas served as a courier and confidential agent in the service of the Queen. At times, he seems to have acted as intermediary between Robert Poley and Sir Francis Walsingham. A letter from Poley refers to a meeting in Seething Lane, at the residence of Sir Francis, 'where I attended Mr. Thomas Walsingham for my secret recourse to Mr. Secretary'.

From about 1594 there are numerous references to Walsingham as an official in Kent. Thomas Walsingham became a Kent justice of the peace in 1596. In Nov 1596, during the preparations for defence against the second Armada, he and five other captains were ordered to conduct men to Upnor castle, to man boom defence ships across the Medway. In Jul 1597 the Queen visited him at Scadbury, where she planted oak and fig trees which survived to the present century. Perhaps as a result of her visit, Walsingham obtained a lease of the manor of Dartford, together with lands in Chislehurst, Peckham and Mereworth, known as Richmond's lands, which had previously been held by his father and brother successively. It was also, presumably, at this time that he received his knighthood.

Described in 1603 as one of Rochester's principal friends, Walsingham played no prominent part in the proceedings of either of the Elizabethan Parliaments to which he was returned by the borough. However, as a Rochester burgess he was put on the monopolies committee, 10 Nov 1597. By Sep 1598, when he was appointed a commissioner in Kent to apprehend rogues, vagabonds and highwaymen marauding in the city of London, he must have been familiar with the problems of vagabondage an issue dealt with at length in the 1597 Parliament. During the last few years of Elizabeth's reign he became steadily more influential in his county, taking part, for example, in the negotiations for the 1598 Kent by-election, and intriguing for the keepership of Eltham park before Sir William Brooke, Lord Cobham, was cold in his grave. He obtained the reversion to this post in 1599 and the office itself on the death of Lord Roger North in Dec 1600. In 1599 he exchanged gifts with the Queen.

Sir Thomas, who about this time became an honorary member of Gray's Inn, was occasionally employed on ceremonial duties, such as meeting the French Ambassador, Biron, when he arrived at Dover in the autumn of 1601; but most of the references to him until 1603 are still concerned with his regular county duties. Sir Thomas represented Rochester in Parliament until 1626.

In 1603 Walsingham and his wife walked in Elizabeth's funeral procession, and early in the new reign Lady Walsingham accompanied Anne of Denmark from Scotland to London. This led to the joint appointment of husband and wife as keepers of the Queen's wardrobe.

Walsingham died in Aug 1630, between making his will on the 5 and its proof on the 25. Most of his lands were bequeathed to his son Thomas, whom he advised to lessen his household. He left 20 marks to the poor of Chislehurst, money to his servants, and a 1,000 dowry to his grand-daughter Catherine. His funeral expenses amounted to 300 and his debts to over 3,000. Thomas Walsingham was buried on 19 Aug 1630 in Chislehurst church. An epitaph by his son was inscribed on the tomb. His widow was buried beside him on Apr 24 the next year.

He was succeeded by his son, Thomas Walsingham, who was knighted on 26 Nov 1613.

Calvin Hoffman thinks that "there is reason to believe that [the Marlowe- Walsingham intimacy] existed while Kit was a student at Cambridge [and] continued for a least a quarter of century, perhaps until a few years before the publication of the First Folio in 1623" (The Murder of the Man who was Shakespeare, 44). Hoffman argues that because of their "unnaturally strong" tie, the imposture of Marlowe's death and literary rebirth was made possible.

Walsingham died with a large amount of debt which is still a very common problem today. In our time many people are conflicted whether to save for retirement or pay off their debt. Some people consider withdrawing funds from their Roth IRA of self directed IRA to pay off debt, but that is not recommended since early IRA withdrawals result in large tax penalties.


A. Webb, G. W. Miller and J. Beckwith, Hist. Chislehurst

J. L. Hotson, Death of Christopher Marlowe

M. E. Murray, Const. Hist. Cinque Ports
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