FAUNT, Nicholas (c.1554-1608), of Mdx.

Published in The History of Parliament: the House of Commons 1558-1603, ed. P.W. Hasler, 1981
Available from Boydell and Brewer



Family and Education

s. of John Faunt of Canterbury. educ. Canterbury sch.; Gonville and Caius, Camb. scholar 1572, BA Corpus Christi 1576. m. (1) 1584/5, Miss Archer, da. of a London merchant; (2) by 1594, Abigail, da. and h. of Roger Kelke, vice-chancellor of Camb. univ. 3s. 3da.

Offices Held

Confidential sec. to and agent for Sir Francis Walsingham c.1578; clerk of the signet Dec. 1595.1


Faunt’s background is obscure. He has been described as a native of Norfolk, but it is not clear on what grounds. He is said to have been in Paris during the massacre of Saint Bartholomew in August 1572, and to have been among the first to bring over the news of this event, but here, however, there may be confusion with a William Faunt, since Nicholas was then a student. It is of course possible that he went to France during the summer of that year, but this is not corroborated. Faunt was an extreme puritan, which may have recommended him to Walsingham, whose service he entered as foreign agent by about 1578 when, together with Baptista Spinola, he was sent on a mission to William Davison, ambassador in the Netherlands. In August 1580 Walsingham sent him on mission to the English ambassador in Paris, where he first met his close and lifelong friend Anthony Bacon. Later, he also came to know Francis and their mother, Lady Bacon, who liked and trusted him. From Paris Faunt visited other parts of Europe, spending three and a half months in Germany, where he saw the courts of the Duke of Bavaria, the Archduke Ferdinand and the elector palatine. Thence he went to Italy and spent three months in Padua. He also saw Venice—which he declared was more secure for all strangers than any part of France—and Pisa, Siena, and parts of Tuscany. In November 1581 he passed through Geneva, and in the following February was back in Paris, where he said that the ambassador, Sir Henry Cobham, cared little for him ‘and such as belong to my master’. What, precisely, Faunt had been doing for his master during these months, we do not know. But he was disappointed when, in March 1582, Walsingham suddenly commanded him to return with all speed.

In England he waited upon Francis and Lady Bacon, and complained in a letter to Anthony that his situation at court under Walsingham was ‘by no means agreeable to himself’. In August the same year, he apologized for not writing more frequently, because ‘such search is made of ordinary letters upon the least suspicion, and how much such a mishap might prejudice me in the place that I am in, I leave to your good discretion to judge’. Much as he had evidently enjoyed being abroad, he declared that ‘home yieldeth me more experience than all my travel hath done ... [because] where abroad I enjoyed all outward sights and observations, here I see into the inward course of things and very cabinets of secrecies, indeed not common to many’. His letters, both then and later, show him to have been uncommonly well informed as to what was taking place all over the continent. He told Bacon that he was ‘a continual courtier’, but dissatisfied with the disorders of that court, ‘which has been generally supposed eminent above all others for strictness of manners and just regard for religion and piety. The only discontent I have’, he said, ‘is to live where is so little godliness and exercise of religion, so dissolute manners and corrupt conversation generally, which I find to be worse than when I knew the place first’. This, he claimed, was ‘daily a torment unto me’. For the sake of quietness of mind, he even considered leaving court and settling in some private place, ‘as carrying no ambitious mind, or building upon that hope which I see to fail many that have spent twice my years in attendance’. In the summer of 1583 he spent three weeks in Norfolk, and was seriously ill upon his return to London ‘To tell you the truth’, he wrote to Anthony Bacon on 6 Aug. 1583, ‘I find this a more sweet life, thus in mercy to be afflicted by the Lord, where I receive other, spiritual consolations, than to lead that life I have done in court’, where ‘sin reigneth in the highest degree’. Possibly he was less disillusioned or more ambitious than he cared to admit: he remained at court for the greater part of his life.

It is reasonable to assume that if Faunt stood for Parliament in 1584 it was because Walsingham wanted him there, and therefore it was presumably Walsingham who exerted pressure on the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster to obtain his return for Boroughbridge. He is not known to have played any part in Commons proceedings.

In 1588 Faunt was sent ‘upon a sudden occasion’ to Paris, to Paris, probably to probe for information in that time of crisis. Walsingham’s death in 1590 apparently had little effect upon his career. In a letter to Bacon in August 1592 he said that the prolonged illness of his wife had detained him in London, away from court, where, by implication, he ought to have been at work. Towards the end of November he went to Hertfordshire and Suffolk, and early in December rejoined the court to spend ‘some good time’ there. It appears from a letter of the Earl of Essex to Anthony Bacon that Faunt entered Burghley’s service, and in December 1595 he was made a clerk of the signet. It appears that Faunt may also have served the Earl of Essex during the years in which Essex and Burghley disputed the management of the Queen’s affairs. He was ‘in attendance upon his office at court’ in August 1596 when Essex returned from his Cadiz expedition, and refrained from sending Bacon news of the expedition, being certain that he had been informed from the ‘fountain head’. Overworked at this time, he wrote ‘I have found of late being here how hard this service is like to be for such as have no better means than I yet have to bear the same out’, and added that he was ‘daily in that kind of business ... as I have neither leisure nor opportunity to get that which is worth the writing’.

Little is known about the rest of Faunt’s career. As a clerk of the signet office, he later worked closely with Sir Robert Cecil, and was, for example, involved in investigating the Gunpowder Plot. In March 1606 a suggestion that he should succeed Winwood as ambassador at The Hague came to nothing, but rewards for long service came to him in 1594 and 1607 in the form of a grant of crown lands in Yorkshire, and the lease in reversion of Fulbrook park in Warwickshire.

Faunt is now principally remembered as the author of a ‘Discourse touching the office of Principal Secretary’ which he wrote in 1592. Few were then better qualified than he to write about this subject and his paper is of the greatest interest. He was no doubt describing his own position in relation to his dead master Walsingham, when he said that in the interests of secrecy and dispatch a secretary must rely on a small staff and particularly upon a confidential clerk. This latter, he said, ‘must come to his place being called thereunto of a conscience to do good and not to serve his own turn’. Nor ought he to aspire to some higher employment, because ‘the duty of a servant in this kind must proceed from a special love and affection he beareth towards his master, the same being grounded likewise upon some testimony of his master’s love borne unto him’.2

Ref Volumes: 1558-1603

Author: N.M.S.


  • 1. Al. Cant. ii. 125; DNB; Vis. Surr. (Harl. Soc. xliii), 193; Mdx. Peds. (Harl. Soc. lxv), 76; Murdin, State Pprs. 808.
  • 2. APC, x. 323; Birch, Mems. Eliz. i. 21, 23-6, 39, 92, 102; Add. 4110, f. 77; 4120, ff. 182-4; HMC Hatfield, xvii. 540-1; Winwood, Mems. i. 198; CSP Dom. 1603-10, p. 371; EHR, xx. 499 seq.