When the Earls of Westmorland and Northumberland seized control of Durham in November 1569 it was the first time that a Catholic Mass had been celebrated for a decade. So many people attended the Mass held in Durham Cathedral that it was almost impossible to get through the throng.
When the earls rallied their men at Durham they also marched under the banner of the Firve Wounds of Christ. More importantly at home, many people set about overturning communion tables and destroying protestant prayer books in their parish churches. At Sedgefield they made a bonfire from the Protestant prayer books. The churchwarden, who had attended services regularly, fanned the flames! It was also an opportunity to have babies baptised and to get married the old way. This demonstrates that the majority of people in the north accepted official changes even if they did fully adopt those changes in their minds.
For Queen Elizabeth the Northern Rebellion was part of the testing times dating from the arrival of her cousin Mary in 1568. Pope Pius V’s excommunicated Elizabeth in 1570. The crisis extended to 1572 when the Duke of Norfolk was finally executed because of his implication in the Ridolfi Plot which also sought to put Mary on the throne and which is usually regarded as the first of the major plots against Elizabeth.
When the pope excommunicated the queen, Parliament responded to the Papal Bull with a new Treason Act. It became treason to say that Elizabeth wasn’t the rightful queen and illegal tp publish the papal bull. Some Catholics left the country. Parliament gave them a year to return home or else their lands would be confiscated by the states.
The key plotters in 1572 were Roberto Ridolfi, an Italian banker, The Spansih Ambadassador, de Spes and the Duke of Norfolk who was released from custody but still fancied being king of England. He was descended from George Duke of Clarence so had his own claim to the throne. In addition Mary was becoming increasingly desperate to escape custody so she was more willing to be involved as was her priest, Bishop Leslie.
Ridolfi had taken a very minor part in the northern uprising but his role as messanger carried him deeper into the new intrigue. He visted the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands carrying letters in coder with the aim of encouraging the Spanish army to invade England. A Spanish army, it was argued, would topple Elizabeth from power and place Mary on the throne, restoring Catholicsm to England. Mary agreed to the plan in May 1571.
From the Low Countries, Ridolfi carried messages from Queen Mary to Pope Pious V and to Phiip II of Spain in Madrid. He was able to travel as a banker without attracting too much attention.
King Philip was not keen on the idea of assassinating Elizabeth but he was fed up of English privateers attacking Spanish ships carrying gold destined for the Netherlands to pay the army under the command of the Duke of Alva.
Fortunately for Elizabeth one of Queen Mary’s messengers, Charles Baillie, carrying a message to Ridolfi was intercepted by William Cecil’s agents at Dover. He eventually revealed the plot under torture. Bishop Leslie was arreseted and so were two of Norfolk’s secretaries were also arrested. They provided helpful information. Leslie blamed Mary.
Norfolk who was already in trouble with Elizabeth was returned to the Tower and convicted of treason. He was executed on 2 June 1572.
Ridolfi had the common good sense to remain in Italy (He died in France in 1612). Mary acknowledged that she sought financial advice from Ridolfi. She had dower lands in France.However, she absolutely denied trying to topple Elizabeth from power. Elizabeth did not want to execute her cousin so Mary was kept in closer confinement. There were also diplomatic repercussions. The Spanish ambassador was expelled from England.
In England the crisis was a test of Elizabeth’s political and religious settlement. It also saw a hardening of attitudes – religious identities became more polarised with the passage of time. As the treason laws tightened, Catholics who had the money to do so went abroad or had to practise their faith in secret.