The Throckmorton Plot of 1583 was named after Sir Francis Throckmorton. He was the cousin of Bess Throckmorton, a lady-in-waiting who married Sir Walter Raleigh, demonstrating that families can arrive at very different religious viewpoints. Francis’ father John Throckmorton was a prominent Catholic during the reign of Queen Mary. It should be noted though that John conformed outwardly to the change in faith after Mary’s death even though his sons were raised as Catholics. Bess Throckmorton’s father Nicholas was raised in the household of Catherine Parr and had leanings towards the reformation as a consequence. He was also part of Edward VI’s circle as well as a friend of Elizabeth from her childhood.
It was planned that the Spanish would back a French invasion led by the Duke of Guise. Having subdued the heretic protestants and killed Elizabeth the plan was to put Mary Queen of Scots on the throne. Guise was not popular in Protestant Europe. He played a leading role in the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre of 1572 – which Sir Francis Walsingham (pictured at the start of the post) witnesses as he was in Paris at the time.
In 1579 Nicholas Throckmorton was suspended from the office of Chief Justice of Chester and fined. His beliefs had become a problem. He died the following year. But Francis now began to be involved in Catholic conspiracies against Elizabeth when he journeyed to France in 1580 with his brother Thomas and were recruited by the Catholic exiles Charles Paget and Thomas Morgan.
The latter was the Earl of Shrewsbury’s secretary and had made contact with Mary Queen of Scots who was in the earl’s custody. Morgan acted as the Scottish queen’s go between until 1572 when he was sent to the Tower for three years before going to France. He continued to correspond secretly with the queen. Throckmorton was not the only English Catholic that Morgan was involved with. He would be involved with the Babington plot in 1585.
When Francis returned to London from Paris he carried messages to Mary and to Bernadino Mendoza, Philip II’s ambassador in London. All the messages passed through the French embassy which was headed by Michelle de Castelnau.
One of Walsingham’s spies in the French embassy alerted him to Throckmorton’s involvement. Francis was arrested in November 1583 along with a list of Mary’s Catholic supporters and a letter to Mary that he was in the process of encoding. Nor was he alone in the Tower. Another man, George More, was also arrested but he arrived at an agreement with Walsingham and was released. Throckmorton, who wasn’t really a key player, was racked until he provided names and admitted that Mary was involved.
Mendoza could not be arrested because he had diplomatic immunity but in January 1584 he was invited to leave England. There would be no more Spanish Ambassadors in England during Elizabeth’s reign. Throckmorton was put on trial in May and execution on 10 July 1584. He was the only one of the plotters to be executed. His brother Thomas who was also involved managed to escape.
In many respects the plot was as inept as the earlier plans to topple Elizabeth and restore Catholicism. However, the 1571 Treason Act made it illegal to deny that Elizabeth was queen of England and since the 1570s trained Jesuit priests had been arriving in England encouraging the Catholic population to hold firm to their beliefs. In 1581 it had become more difficult for Catholics not to attend church on a Sunday. If they persisted the recusants, as they were called, could be fined £20 per month and imprisoned.
Mary’s imprisonment became ever more restrictive. She was sent to Chartley in Staffordshire. Walsingham and William Cecil drew up the Bond of Association. All its signatories agreed that if anyone attempt to usurp the throne or to assassinate the queen that they should be executed as should anyone who benefitted from the queen’s death i.e. Mary Queen of Scots. Mary signed the bond even though it was effectively her own death warrant.
Francis Throckmorton’s execution on 10 July 1584 coincided with the murder of William of Orange, the leader of the Dutch Protestants. He was assassinated by a Catholic. In part the Bond of Association was a response to the murder of the Dutch leader.
Elizabeth had stated that she did not wish ‘to make windows into men’s souls’. Her way had been a middle way but the Catholic plots and threats to her life and realm which had gradually escalated meant that men like Walsingham were increasingly convinced that Mary had to die.