Thomas Randolph (ambassador)

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Thomas Randolph (1523–1590) was an English ambassador serving Elizabeth I of England. Most of his professional life he spent in Scotland at the courts of Mary, Queen of Scots, and her son James VI. While in Scotland, he was embroiled in marriage projects and several upheavals. In 1568-1569 he was sent on a special embassy to Russia, visiting the court of Ivan the Terrible.

Elizabeth I of England Queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until 1603

Elizabeth I was Queen of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death on 24 March 1603. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the last of the five monarchs of the House of Tudor.

Scotland country in Northwest Europe, part of the United Kingdom

Scotland is a country that is part of the United Kingdom. Sharing a border with England to the southeast, Scotland is otherwise surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean to the north and west, by the North Sea to the northeast and by the Irish Sea to the south. In addition to the mainland, situated on the northern third of the island of Great Britain, Scotland has over 790 islands, including the Northern Isles and the Hebrides.

Mary, Queen of Scots 16th-century Scottish ruler and queen consort of France

Mary, Queen of Scots, also known as Mary Stuart or Mary I of Scotland, reigned over Scotland from 14 December 1542 to 24 July 1567.


Randolph was also a Member of Parliament: for New Romney in 1558, Maidstone 1584, 1586 and 1589, Grantham 1559 and St Ives 1558 and 1572. [1]

New Romney was a parliamentary constituency in Kent, which elected two Members of Parliament (MPs) to the House of Commons from 1371 until 1832, when it was abolished by the Great Reform Act.

Maidstone (UK Parliament constituency) Parliamentary constituency in the United Kingdom

Maidstone was a parliamentary constituency represented in the House of Commons of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.

Grantham was a Parliamentary constituency in Lincolnshire, England.

Exile in France

Thomas Randolph was born in 1523, the son of Avery Randolph of Badlesmere, Kent. [2] He entered Christ Church, Oxford at the time of its foundation, and graduated B.A. in October 1545, and B.C.L. in 1548. Shortly afterwards he became a public notary; and in 1549 he was made principal of Broadgates Hall (now Pembroke College), Oxford. He continued there until 1553, when the Protestant persecutions under Queen Mary compelled him to resign and retire to France. Sir James Melville refers to Randolph's indebtedness to him "during his banishment in France"; Randolph seems to have mainly resided in Paris, where he was still living as a scholar in April 1557. It was probably during his stay in Paris that he came under the influence of George Buchanan, to whom, in a letter to Peter Young, tutor of James VI, he refers in very eulogistic terms as his 'master'. Among his fellow-students and intimates in Paris was Sir William Kirkcaldy of Grange.

Badlesmere, Kent village in the United Kingdom

Badlesmere is a village and civil parish in the Swale district of Kent, England, and about five miles south of Faversham.

Christ Church, Oxford constituent college of the University of Oxford in England

Christ Church is a constituent college of the University of Oxford in England. Christ Church is a joint foundation of the college and the cathedral of the Oxford diocese, which serves as the college chapel and whose dean is ex officio the college head.

A Bachelor of Arts is a bachelor's degree awarded for an undergraduate course or program in either the liberal arts, sciences, or both. Bachelor of Arts programs generally take three to four years depending on the country, institution, and specific specializations, majors, or minors. The word baccalaureus should not be confused with baccalaureatus, which refers to the one- to two-year postgraduate Bachelor of Arts with Honors degree in some countries.

In the service of Elizabeth I

Soon after the accession of Elizabeth, in 1558, Randolph was acting as an agent of the English government in Germany, but in a few months returned to England; and, probably soon afterwards, bought a farm in Kent"the house where he was born". Doubtless his acquaintance with the Scottish Protestants in Paris suggested to Elizabeth the employment of Randolph in the task of bringing the Earl of Arran, who had been compelled to flee from France, from Geneva to England.

James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran Scottish nobleman

James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran was a Scottish nobleman and soldier who opposed the French-dominated regency during the Scottish Reformation. He was the eldest son of James Hamilton, 2nd Earl of Arran, sometime Regent of Scotland. He was of royal descent, and at times was third or fourth in succession to the Scottish crown; several royal marriages were proposed for him. He went to France with Mary, Queen of Scots, and commanded the Scots Guards. After returning to Scotland, he became a leader of the Protestant party against Mary and her French supporters, but went insane in 1562 and was confined in seclusion for the rest of his life.

In Scotland

Under the name of Barnabie, and using the codename Pamphilus he was also sent in the autumn of 1559 to secretly conduct James Hamilton, 3rd Earl of Arran into Scotland. [3] He left for London on 25 November, but was again sent to Scotland in March 1560, where his representations had considerable influence in encouraging the Protestants against the queen-regent, and in effecting an understanding between them and Elizabeth. The success of his mission suggested his continuance in Scotland as the confidential agent of Elizabeth; but being an ardent Protestant, he was as well a representative of William Cecil, Elizabeth's secretary of state, as of the Queen. Although by no means a match for Maitland of Lethington as a diplomatist, the fact that he possessed the confidence of the Protestant party enabled him to exercise no small influence in Scottish politics. His numerous letters are among the most valuable sources of information for this period; they abound in interesting details regarding the Queen of Scots and her court, and the political plots and social intrigues. [4]

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley English statesman

William Cecil, 1st Baron Burghley, was an English statesman, the chief advisor of Queen Elizabeth I for most of her reign, twice Secretary of State and Lord High Treasurer from 1572. Albert Pollard says, "From 1558 for forty years the biography of Cecil is almost indistinguishable from that of Elizabeth and from the history of England."

The title secretary of state or state secretary is commonly used for senior or mid-level posts in governments around the world. The role varies between countries, and in some cases there are multiple secretaries of state in the government.

William Maitland of Lethington Scottish politician

William Maitland of Lethington was a Scottish politician and reformer, and the eldest son of poet Richard Maitland.

In the autumn of 1562 Randolph accompanied the Queen of Scots, who meanwhile professed for him a warm friendship, in the expedition to the north of Scotland which resulted in the defeat and death of George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly; and he even took part in the campaign, "being ashamed to sit still where so many were occupied".

George Gordon, 4th Earl of Huntly was a Scottish nobleman.

Mary, Queen of Scots, c.1558-1560 Mary Queen of Scots French School c 1558-60.jpg
Mary, Queen of Scots, c.1558-1560

Marriage negotiations with Mary, Queen of Scots

In June 1563 he obtained license to go to England on private business; but on 20 April 1563 he was again sent to Scotland with the special aim of entangling the Scottish queen in negotiations for an English marriage: In 1563, Elizabeth suggested Lord Robert Dudley, her own favourite, as a consort to Mary, whom she thus hoped to neutralise by a marriage to an Englishman. Ambassador Randolph tried his best to further the project, which was strongly advocated by Cecil, many of whose instructions to Randolph survive. At first Mary was not enthusiastic; however, when it became clear, that Elizabeth would declare Mary her official heir on condition that she marry Dudley, the proposal was taken very seriously on the Scottish part. In September 1564 Elizabeth bestowed on Dudley the earldom of Leicester to make him more acceptable to Mary. In the beginning of 1565, Mary accepted the proposal at last. [5] To the amazement of Randfolph, however, Leicester was not to be moved to comply with the proposal:

But a man of that nature I never found any...he whom I go about to make as happy as ever was any, to put him in possession of a kingdom, to make him Prince of a mighty people, to lay in his naked arms a most fair and worthy lady...nothing regardeth the good that shall ensue unto him thereby...but so uncertainly dealeth that I know not where to find him. [6]

Dudley indeed had made it clear to the Scots at the beginning of the affair, that he was not a candidate for Mary's hand, and forthwith had behaved with passive resistance. This Randolph had repeatedly tried to overcome by his letters. [7] Elizabeth herself now had second thoughts regarding declarations concerning the succession. But as Henry Stuart, Lord Darnley became a serious candidate for Mary's marriage, Elizabeth wanted to prevent it. Randolph again received instructions to press for a marriage "with the Earl of Leicester or some other; and if he find it so far passed as it cannot be revoked, then he shall...declare, how much it shall miscontent her Majesty". [8]

Randolph, to his utter chagrin, [9] could not prevent the marriage of Mary to Lord Darnley, yet after the marriage, he declined to recognise Darnley's authority. His representations and promises were mainly responsible for the rebellion of James Stewart, 1st Earl of Moray. On 14 February 1566 Randolph wrote to the Earl of Leicester that he was unable and unwilling to commit his opinions on Mary's actions on paper for fear of appearing "malicieus foolyshe and unadvised". [10] In February 1566 he was accused by Mary of having assisted Moray and her rebellious subjects with a gift of three thousand crowns, and was required to quit the country within six days. Ultimately he retired to Berwick upon Tweed, and while there he was, after the murder of Riccio, accused by Mary of having written a book against her, called Mr. Randolph's Phantasy.

Embassy to Russia

He was recalled to England about June 1566, and apparently it was shortly after his return that he was appointed "Master of the King's Post," a position that later became postmaster general. On 2 November 1567 he obtained from Robert Constable an assignment of the office of constable or keeper of the Queenborough Castle and steward of the lordship or manor of Middleton and Merden in the county of Kent.

In June 1568, he was sent on a special embassy to Russia in behalf of the English merchants trading in that country; and he succeeded in obtaining from Ivan IV a grant of certain privileges to the merchant adventurers, which led to the formation of the Muscovy Company. He returned from Russia in the autumn of 1569; and early in 1570 he was again sent to Scotland, where he remained about a year. Towards the close of 1571, he married Anne Walsingham, sister of Francis Walsingham, and daughter of Thomas Walsingham of Chiselhurst. Before the marriage he received, on 1 October 1571, an assignment from Thomas Walsingham and William Crowner of letters patent of the custody of the manor and hundred of Middleton and Merden, at the rent of 100 pounds per annum, to be paid to his intended wife.

In 1572 he obtained the position of Chamberlain of the Exchequer for life.

Again in France and Scotland

In October 1573 and April 1576 he went on special embassies to France. He was sent to Scotland in February 1578, but too late to prevent the fall of James Douglas, 4th Earl of Morton. After the imprisonment of Morton in 1580 he returned to Scotland to conduct negotiations on his behalf. At a convention of the estates, held on 20 February 1581, besides presenting a paper declaring the "Intention of the Queen's Majesty and her Offers to the King of Scotland', he, in a speech of two hours" duration, denounced Esme Stewart, created by the king Duke of Lennox, as an agent of Rome. If anything, however, his bold intervention only helped to seal Morton's fate. Having failed to thwart the purposes of Lennox by a public accusation, he now attempted, with Elizabeth's sanction, to concoct a plot for the seizure of him and the young king; but, the plot having been betrayed, he fled to Berwick, after he had narrowly escaped death from a shot fired into the room he occupied in the provost's house at Edinburgh. Randolph was sent on his last mission to Scotland in January 1586 with instructions for the negotiation of a treaty between the two kingdoms, to which he succeeded in obtaining the signature of James VI.

He held the joint offices of Chamberlain of the Exchequer and Master of the Post till his death, which took place in his house in St. Peter's Hill, near Thames Street, London, on 8 June 1590, when he was in his sixty-seventh year. He was buried in the church of St. Peter's, Paul's Wharf. Randolph, during his embassies, was kept very short of money, and had frequent difficulty in paying his expenses. Nor, important as had been his services, did he receive any reward beyond the not very remunerative offices above mentioned. The statement of Wood that he was knighted in 1571 is not supported by any evidence. Randolph is supposed to have been the author of the original short Latin Life of George Buchanan, but this must be regarded as at least doubtful. He took a special interest in the progress of Buchanan's History, and offered his aid with money if necessary towards its completion.


By Anne Walsingham, Randolph had a son, Thomas, who succeeded him. He had also another son, Ambrose, and a daughter, Frances, who married Thomas Fitzgerald. He is said to have married, probably as second wife, Ursula Copinger. His old friend the bachelor George Buchanan teased him about his second marriage in 1572;

If you had been in your right wit, you being once escaped the tempestous storms and naufrage (shipwreck) of marriage, had never entered again the same dangers, for I cannot take you for a Stoic philosopher, having one head inexpugnable (not to be captured) with the frenetic tortures of jealousy, or a careless heart sceptic that takes cuckoldry as thing indifferent. [11]

Political offices
Preceded by
John Mason
Master of the King's Posts
Succeeded by
John Stanhope


  1. "RANDOLPH, Thomas (1522/23-90), of St. Peter's Hill, London and Milton, Kent. - History of Parliament Online".
  2. Hasted, Edward (1800). "Parishes". The History and Topographical Survey of the County of Kent. Institute of Historical Research. 6: 467–481. Retrieved 8 February 2014.
  3. 'Zurich Letters', (1842), 5657 citings Forbes, 'Full View', ii,(1740)
  4. Calendar State Papers Scotland, vol. 5, (1907), 375, sums up his Scottish career.
  5. Chamberlin pp. 151152
  6. Chamberlin p. 158
  7. Chamberlin pp. 143144, 151152, 158
  8. Chamberlin p. 158159
  9. Chamberlin pp. 445447
  10. V. Smith, 'Perspectives on Female Monarchy', in J. Daybell & S. Norrhem, Gender and Political Culture in Early Modern Europe (Abingdon, 2017), 152.
  11. Ellis, Henry, ed., Original Letters illustrative of English History, 3rd series, vol.3 (1846) p.373-375, Buchanan to Randolph,6 Aug. 1572

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Wikisource-logo.svg  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain :  "Randolph, Thomas (1523-1590)"  . Dictionary of National Biography . London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.