Frances Walsingham

Frances Walsingham
Countess of Essex
Countess of Clanricarde

Frances Walsingham, countess of Essex, and her son Robert by Robert Peake the Elder, 1594
Spouse(s) Sir Philip Sidney
Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex
Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde


Elizabeth Manners, Countess of Rutland
Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex
Lady Dorothy Devereux
Frances Seymour, Duchess of Somerset
Ulick Burke, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde
Honora Paulet, Marchioness of Winchester
Noble family Devereux (by marriage)
Father Sir Francis Walsingham
Mother Ursula St. Barbe
Born 1567
Died 17 February 1633
Religion Anglican

Frances Walsingham, Countess of Essex and Countess of Clanricarde (1567 17 February 1633) was an English noblewoman. The daughter of Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's Secretary of State, she became the wife of Sir Philip Sidney at age 16. Her second husband was Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, Queen Elizabeth's favourite, with whom she had five children. Shortly after his execution in 1601 she married her lover,[1] Richard Burke, 4th Earl of Clanricarde, and went to live in Ireland.

Family and marriages

She was the only surviving child of Sir Francis Walsingham, Secretary of State for Queen Elizabeth I, and Ursula St. Barbe. A lady-in-waiting to Queen Elizabeth, she married Philip Sidney in 1583, who died three years later in 1586. In 1590 Frances' father also died, leaving her with an annuity of £300. She had one surviving child by Sidney: a daughter born in 1585 named Elizabeth after the Queen, who was one of the godparents. Elizabeth Sidney married Roger Manners, 5th Earl of Rutland, in March 1599 and died without issue in 1614.[2]

In 1590 Frances married again, to Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, to whom she had been committed by Philip at his death fighting overseas. This match caused great displeasure to the Queen, partly because Essex was the stepson of her lifelong favorite, Robert Dudley, 1st Earl of Leicester.. Essex was also the great-grandson of two of Henry VIII's mistresses, Mary Boleyn, the sister of Queen Anne Boleyn, and Anne Stafford, Countess of Huntingdon.[3] Some historians believe that Catherine Carey, the daughter of Mary Boleyn and the grandmother of Essex, was fathered by Henry VIII.[3] This would make Frances' children Henry VIII's great-great-grandchildren.

Robert was executed in 1601 after participating in an attempted coup against the Queen. Frances had three children who survived infancy with her second husband, these were named Frances, Robert and Dorothy. Robert became the third Earl of Essex.[2]

In 1603, she married her third husband Richard De Burgh (or Burke), Earl of St Albans and Clanricarde. They had one son, Ulick Burke, 1st Marquess of Clanricarde, and a daughter, Honora, who became the second wife of John Paulet, 5th Marquess of Winchester.[2]


  1. John Morrill: "Devereux, Robert, third earl of Essex (1591–1646)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Sept 2004; online edn, Jan 2008 (subscription required) Retrieved 2010-04-07
  2. 1 2 3 Hutchinson, Robert (2007) Elizabeth's Spy Master: Francis Walsingham and the Secret War that Saved England. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 978-0-297-84613-0, pages 266–267
  3. 1 2 Joanna Denny. Anne Boleyn. p. 51.
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