Elizabeth Tudor and Mary Stuart


Elizabeth I and the Mary, Queen of Scots Problem

Mary Stuart was the daughter of Mary of Guise and James V of Scotland. Born in 1542, she became Queen of Scotland at one week old due to the sudden death of her father. Mary of Guise acted as Regent on her behalf and married Mary to the French Dauphin, Francis. Mary was sent to live in France at age 5 and became Queen of France in 1559. She retuned to Scotland in 1561 following the death of her husband and was a Catholic Queen in a Protestant country. Although Elizabeth suggested she marry Robert Dudley, whom she made the Earl of Leicester especially so he could marry Mary, she chose instead to marry Henry, Lord Darnley. 

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Why was Mary a major problem for Elizabeth?

Why was she a major problem for Elizabeth? 

- Mary had a tentative claim to the English throne. She was the granddaughter of the sister of Henry VIII and, although Henry's Act of Succession had excluded his sister's descendents from ascending the English throne, Mary was considered the next in line to the throne.
- Mary was a staunch Catholic, many Catholics would rather have her on the throne than the Protestant Elizabeth
- By marrying Henry, Lord Darnley, Mary stated her intent to be proclaimed the heir of England. Henry also had royal blood and a claim to the English throne.
- Mary, whilst in France, announced herself Queen of France, Scotland and England. This was worrying for Elizabeth.

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Key Events 1560- Treaty of Edinburgh

1560- Treaty of Edinburgh

In the Treaty of Edinburgh it was agreed between France and England that they would withdraw from Scotland and that Mary and Francis II should not use the arms and signs of England and Ireland in their heraldry.  However the treaty was not ratified by Mary, Queen of Scots, the reigning monarch at the time, despite considerable pressure upon her to do so over the period until 1587. Even so, it had the intended effect of the withdrawal of French and English troops from Scotland. Mary did not ratify the treaty because it officially declared Elizabeth the monarch of England, a position she desired for herself.

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Key Events 1568- Arrival in England

1568- Arrival in England

It soon became clear that Henry, Lord Darnley was an unsuitable husband for Mary. After the Rizzio affair, in which Henry murdered Mary's secretary in front of her, Henry retired to his home in order to recover from Smallpox. Whilst there here was murdered and his home blown up. The Chief suspect was James, Earl of Bothwell, although he was acquitted of the crime. However, when Mary married Bothwell soon after, suspicions flared up again and Mary was forced to abdicate in 1567 and was imprisoned in Loch Levin castle. However, she managed to escape and fled to England. Mary apparently expected Elizabeth to help her regain her throne. Elizabeth was cautious, and ordered an inquiry into the conduct of the confederate lords and the question of whether Mary was guilty of the murder of Darnley. Mary was moved by the English authorities to Bolton Castle in mid-July 1568, because it was further from the Scottish border but not too close to London. A commission of inquiry was held in York to determine her guilt. 

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Key Events 1568- The York Conference

1568- The York Conference

Elizabeth decided, in effect, to sit in judgment on the case. A commission met at York in the summer of 1568 and terminated its proceedings at Hampton Court early the following year. Mary refused to acknowledge the power of any court to try her, since she was an anointed queen, and refused to attend the inquiry at York personally. At this conference the 'Casket Letters' were presented to the court but the validity of these are much disputed. Elizabeth did not allow the commission to make a definite judgement Mary's guilt or lack of, but two results emerged from the hearing: the rebel government of Moray in Scotland was for the present to remain undisturbed, and Mary was to remain in England.


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Key Events 1569-1570 The Northern Rising

1569-1570 The Northern Rising

 The aim of this movement was to re-establish the religion of their ancestors, to release the Mary from her unjust imprisonment, and to restore the Duke of Norfolk and other peers to their liberty and to the Queen's favour. The rebellion was led by Earl of Westmoreland and the Earl of Northumberland, who in November 1569 occupied Durham and celebrated Mass in Durham Cathedral. Such public Catholic worship had been prohibited by the Protestant Queen Elizabeth. Westmorland's wife played an active part in the rebellion, hoping to arrange a marriage between her brother the Duke of Norfolk and Mary Stuart.

From Durham, the rebels marched south while Elizabeth struggled to raise forces sufficient to confront them. But, hearing of a large force being raised by the Earl of Sussex the rebels abandoned plans to besiege York, and captured Barnard Castle instead. 

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Key Events 1569-1570 The Northern Rising 2

They proceeded to Clifford Moor, but found little popular support. Sussex marched out from York on December 13, 1569 with 7,000 men against the rebels' 4,600, and was followed by 12,000 men under Baron Clinton The rebel earls retreated northward and finally dispersed their forces, fleeing into Scotland. Pope Pius V had tried to aid the rebellion by excommunicating Elizabeth and declaring her deposed in the bull, Regnans in Excelsis, but the document did not arrive until the rebellion had been suppressed. 

Northumberland was captured by the Earl of Morton and turned over to Elizabeth in 1572, who had him beheaded at York. Westmorland escaped to Flanders where he died impoverished. His wife also fled to the Continent. She lived the rest of her life under house arrest. Her brother, the Duke of Norfolk, was first imprisoned, then pardoned. He was imprisoned again following the Ridolfi Plot in 1570 and finally executed in 1572. Altogether, 600 supporters of Mary were executed, while many others fled into exile.

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Key Events 1571- The Ridolfi Plot

1571- The Ridolfi Plot

The Ridolfi plot was a plot in 1570 to assassinate Elizabeth I and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The plot was  planned by Roberto Ridolfi, an international banker who was able to travel to gather support without attracting too much suspicion.

Ridolfi had been involved in the planning of the Northern rebellion, and had been plotting to overthrow Elizabeth as early as 1569. With the failure of the rebellion, he concluded that foreign intervention was needed to restore Catholicism and bring Mary to the English throne, and began to contact potential conspirators. The plan was to have the Duke of Alba invade from the Netherlands with 10,000 men, foment a rebellion of the northern English nobility, murder Elizabeth, and marry Mary to the Duke of Norfolk. Ridolfi optimistically estimated half of all English peers were Catholic, and could muster in excess of 39,000 men.  Both Mary and Norfolk agreed to the plot. With their blessing, Ridolfi set off to the Continent to gain Alba, Pius V and King Philip II's support.

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Key Events 1571- The Ridolfi Plot 2

In 1571, Elizabeth's intelligence network was sending her information about a plot against her life.  She was also sent a private warning by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who had learned of the plot against her. Charles Baillie, Ridolfi's messenger, was arrested at Dover for carrying compromising letters, and under torture revealed the plot. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested on September 7, 1571 and sent to the Tower.  Still abroad when the plot was discovered, Ridolfi never returned to England; he became a Florentine senator in 1600.

Mary admitted to having dealings with Ridolfi, but denied any involvement with the plot. Though she was clearly implicated by the evidence, Elizabeth refused to have her executed and vetoed a bill by Parliament that condemned Mary and removed her from the succession. She feared that by executing a monarch, she undermined her own position. She proceeded with the execution of the Duke of Norfolk for treason on June 2, 1572.

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Key Events 1582- Throckmorton Plot

1582- Throckmorton Plot

  • The aim of the plot was the assassination of Elizabeth I. The Roman Catholics wished to free Mary, Queen of Scots, who was under house arrest in England, and place her on the throne of England to legally restore their religion. This plan was designed to coincide with an invasion of England to be led by Henry I, Duke of Guise, financed by Spain and by the Pope, and a simultaneous revolt of English Roman Catholics. Throckmorton acted as a Spanish agent. The plot was unsuccessful. After discovering incriminating evidence in Francis Throckmorton's house, Walsingham ordered his arrest for acting as a go-between between Mary, Queen of Scots, and the ambassador of Philip II of Spain in London, and tortured Throckmorton into a confession. 
  • As a result, the government created the Bond of Association, Throckmorton was convicted of high treason and executed in 1584 and Mary, Queen of Scots was placed under strict confinement after the plot and was confined to Chartley Hall in Staffordshire. 
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Key Events 1584 - Bond of Association

1584 - Bond of Association

Created by William Cecil and Walsingham after the failure of the Throckmorton Plot, this document obliged all signatories to execute any person that:

  • attempted to usurp the throne
  • successfully usurped the throne
  • made an attempt on Elizabeth's life
  • successfully assassinated Elizabeth

The bond also stated that  anyone in a position to benefit from the death of the monarch could be put to death.  Elizabeth approved the document and it acted as a key legal precedent for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, in 1587. Walsingham discovered alleged evidence that Mary, in a letter to Anthony Babington, had given her approval to a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and by Right of Succession take English throne. Ironically, Mary herself was a signatory of the Bond.

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Key Events 1585- The Preservation of the Safety of

1585- The Preservation of the Safety of the Queen Act

This was an Act of Parliament which required a tribunal of at least 24 peers and privy councillors to investigate "any open invasion or rebellion" in England, any attempt to injure the Queen or any pretender to the throne. Any person found to be guilty was to be disabled from inheriting the throne, and was to be "pursued to death by all the Queen's subjects." Also any act "whereby the Queen's life shall be shortened" was made a capital offence. This was also a response to the Plot's on the Queen's life and was passed with ease due to the Parry Plot that occurred around the same time that the Act was being discussed. 

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Key Events 1585- The Parry Plot

1585- The Parry Plot 

William Parry, a welshman, applied to be employed as a spy abroad in order to elude creditors. He tried to ingratiate himself with the English Catholics abroad, to worm out of them their secrets which he could send on to Burghley. He returned home in 1577 and was constantly applying to Burghley for financial help. Pestered by creditors, Parry violently assaulted one of them, Hugh Hare, for which he was convicted and sentenced to death. 

Pardoned by the QueenParry in 1582 asked leave to travel abroad. He continued to pretend that he was searching out the secrets of exiled Catholics, but in fact he was beginning to take the Catholic side. He urged a more lenient policy towards them in England and he pleaded for a pardon for some of the best of the exiles. Then he fell in with Charles Paget and Thomas Morgan, Parisian agents of Mary Queen of Scots

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Key Events 1585- The Parry Plot 2

The Pope certainly believed that he was acting on Mary's behalf, as did her agent in Paris.

In Jan 1584 Parry was again in England. He went straight to Court and had an interview with Elizabeth. To her he confessed that he had had dealings with the Pope, Paget and Morgan to attempt 'somewhat' against her life, but he protested that he had done this only in order to 'discover the dangerous practices devised and attempted against her Majesty by her disloyal subjects and other malicious persons in foreign parts'. In March he received a letter from Cardinal Como which gave some colour to this story. This letter Parry showed to the Queen who pardoned his offences, rewarded him with a pension and provided him with a seat in Parliament (1584). He at once got into trouble for violently opposing an anti-Catholic bill and he was imprisoned for a few hours until released at the command of the Queen.


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Key Events 1585- The Parry Plot 3

  • Plagued by debt, he once again resorted to spying for the Government's. He sounded out an associate, his "cousin" Sir Edmund Neville, as to whether he would be willing to despatch the Queen possibly intending to gain kudos by denouncing the fellow if he expressed any interest in the project. As it turned out, however, it was Parry himself who was entrapped after his suspicious activities were reported. Neville denounced him, telling how the two of them had decided to surprise the Queen as she rode in her coach. They would ride alongside her, one on each side, and shoot at her head; she would be an easy target, either out of doors or in the palace, where Parry as a trusted royal servant could assault her during the course of a private audience.
  • The attempt provoked outrage, and the govemment were in no mood to give Parry the benefit of the doubt. When Parry was examined by Walsingham he passionately protested that he had never mentioned such a matter to anybody since his return from France. He spent the night at Walsingham's house: next morning he asked for an interview and told him that he now remembered that he had mentioned to a kinsman of his a statement he had read in a book about the lawfulness of killing princes for the sake of religion.. Confronted with Neville, he denied again that he had talked of murdering the Queen. Examined a third time, Parry made a full confession, wrote it out and confirmed it ina a letter toElizabeth. Though at his trial he fiercely proclaimed his innocence, Parry was convicted and executed on 2 Mar 1585, hanged at Westminster. Parliament passed a new law ordering all seminary priests to leave England within forty days or suffer the penalty for high treason. 
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Key Events 1585- The Babington Plot

1585- The Babington Plot

  • The plot grew out of two originally separate plans. The first involved a Spanish invasion of England with the purpose of deposing Elizabeth and replacing her with Mary; the second was a plot by English Catholics to assassinate Elizabeth. However, both plots were hatched under the guidance of two of Mary's chief agents in Europe, Charles Paget and Thomas Morgan, the latter being Mary's chief cipher clerk for all her French correspondence.  Ever since the issuance of the papal bull Regnans in Excelsis, Philip II was prepared to assist English Catholics who plotted to overthrow the English queen. It was thus with the support of the papacy and Spain that Morgan and Paget sought to find those in England who would be prepared to meet this objective.
  • In December 1585, Gilbert Clifford was arrested in Sussex. While being interviewed, Clifford confessed that he had been involved in a Catholic plot to overthrow Elizabeth I. Walsingham offered to release Clifford if he was willing to work as a double-agent. Clifford agreed and went to his contact in the French embassy telling him that he knew how to smuggle letters to and from Mary Stuart. He explained that every week a barrel of beer was sent from Burton to where Mary was imprisoned. Clifford arranged to have letters placed in a waterproof package inside the stopper of the barrel.
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Key Events 1585- The Babington Plot 2

  • Another double-agent, Thomas Philips, who was inside the prison, told Mary how she would be receiving letters in her beer barrel. However, before they were placed inside the beer barrel, they were read by Walsingham who was also able to read the letters that Mary sent to her Catholic friends in France and Spain. In these letters Mary explained how she wanted France and Spain to help her become queen by invading England.
  • Walsingham allowed the letters to continue to be sent because he wanted to discover who else was involved in this plot to overthrow Elizabeth. Eventually, on 25 June 1586, Mary wrote a letter to Anthony Babington. In his reply, Babington told Mary that he and a group of six friends were planning to murder Elizabeth.
  • Walsingham was now ready to act. Babington was arrested and his home was searched for documents that would provide evidence against him. When interviewed, Babington made a confession in which he admitted that Mary had written a letter supporting the plot.
  • Anthony Babington and six others were executed for high treason on 18 September, 1586.  Walsingham and Parliament insisted that Mary should die for her part in the plot. On 8 February, 1587 Mary was beheaded. 
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1587- Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots

1587- Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots 

  • In September 1586 Mary was taken to Fotheringhay Castle in Northamptonshire where she was tried by 36 commissioners under the Act of Association, for her involvement with a treasonable plot against Elizabeth. The letters which she had written and the testimony of members of her household and the Babington conspirators (obtained under questioning or torture) were used against her.Mary defended herself ably and though she could not deny the letters her defence was that she had sought only her freedom and the restoration of Catholicism, rather than the overthrow of the Queen. Nevertheless the verdict was never in doubt and on 25th October she was found guilty of the charges against her.
  • The result proved a grave dilemma for Elizabeth, who initially refused to sign the warrant for Mary’s execution. She had asked Parliament to find an alternative way of protecting her throne but this was not done. Whether there was a genuine reluctance to harm her cousin (after all a fellow queen) or whether she didn’t wish to be condemned throughout Europe as a regicide, the verdict proved a real problem for her.
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1587- Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots 2

  • After much consideration, Elizabeth finally signed Mary’s death warrant on 1 February 1587, over three months after the verdict had been pronounced. Mary was informed on the evening of 7th February 1587 that she was to be executed the following morning. She spent the evening setting her affairs in order and on the 8th February she was beheaded in the great hall at Fotheringhay, still professing her Catholic faith. It took two blows of the axe before her head was removed.
  • The execution removed one of the main claimants to Elizabeth’s throne without bringing any lasting political damage. Although Mary’s son James protested, he was too aware of the fact that his own best chance of the English throne would come with time - and relied on not antagonising Elizabeth. But the execution tarnished Elizabeth’s reputation and, as she may well have feared, made Mary both a heroine and a martyr.
  • Mary was buried at Fotheringhay but was later reinterred by James VI and I in Westminster Abbey, where her tomb can still be seen. The reburial may have been a last gesture to try and assuage his guilt at his failure to support, and perhaps save the life of, his mother. But it was to be the descendants of the Stuarts, not the Tudors, who eventually went on to occupy the throne of a United Kingdom.


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