Frances Walsingham, Countess of Essex

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Frances Walsingham
Dowager Countess of Essex
Countess of Clanricarde
Frances Walsingham.jpg
Frances Walsingham, countess of Essex, and her son Robert by Robert Peake the Elder, 1594
Died17 February 1633(1633-02-17) (aged 65–66)
Noble familyDevereux (by marriage)
Spouse(s)Sir Philip Sidney
The 2nd Earl of Essex
The 4th Earl of Clanricarde
Elizabeth Manners, Countess of Rutland
The 3rd Earl of Essex
Lady Dorothy Devereux
Frances, Duchess of Somerset
The 1st Marquess of Clanricarde
Honora Paulet, Marchioness of Winchester
FatherSir Francis Walsingham
MotherUrsula St. Barbe

Frances Walsingham, Dowager Countess of Essex and Countess of Clanricarde (1567 – 17 February 1633) was an English noblewoman. The daughter of Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's Secretary of State, she became the wife of Sir Philip Sidney at age 16. Her second husband was The 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] The 4th Earl of Clanricarde, and went to live in Ireland.

Family and marriages[edit]

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.[citation needed]. 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. ^ a b c 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. ^ a b Joanna Denny. Anne Boleyn. p. 51.