All substantial threats to Elizabeth’s position as Queen were symptoms of the tension between Catholicism and Protestantism. The threats posed by Mary Queen of Scots, as well as those of the Spanish Armada of 1588 and the war with Spain (which dominated the last twenty years of Elizabeth’s reign), were consequences of a Catholic desire to gain supremacy in England. However, the extent to which the Catholic threat was centred on Mary Queen of Scots is debateable.
Whilst she was undoubtedly a figurehead for Catholic opposition to Elizabeth’s rule and was the monarchical figure around whom several treasonous plots were designed, there is much evidence for the view that Mary became a focal point for a Catholic threat that would have existed even if she had been absent. The extent to which the structure given to the Catholic cause by Mary’s presence strengthened the Catholic threat is also debateable.
There were others who could have become the rallying point for Catholic opposition (as Philip II of Spain did after Mary’s death), although none had as good a claim to the throne as Mary. A great threat was presented by Catholic opposition to Elizabeth’s rule, but Mary’s influence over this, and therefore the threat that she posed as an individual, may be called into question. One way in which Mary was central to the Catholic threat was through her part in various plots to overthrow Elizabeth. The Rebellion of the Northern Earls in 1569 was the first of these to present an overt challenge to Elizabeth’s authority.
There were three main threats to the throne of Elizabeth I; The Spanish Armada in 1588, The Northern Rebellion in 1569 and Mary Queen of Scots. These threats can be seen as both very serious and not so serious. Whilst Elizabeth was Queen, she faced many threats as a result of all the religious tension at the time. All three of these threats involved the removal of Mary’s throne and so can be seen ...
The Earls’ aim was to see Mary married to a Catholic and recognised as the heir to the throne of England. Several courtiers suggested the Duke of Norfolk (who was formally a protestant but may well have had Catholic sympathies) marry Mary. When Elizabeth learnt of this she summoned Norfolk to Court and ordered that he lodge in the Tower. The Earl of Westmorland (who was married to Norfolk’s sister, Jane; she urged her husband to act) and the Earl of Northumberland were among the Catholic supporters of the marriage.
When they were also summoned to Court they refused to go, and instead summoned their tenants to arms. They had a force of 4000 foot soldiers and 1500 horses and managed to march as far South as Selby in Yorkshire unimpeded. The fact that military action was taken on this scale to bring Mary to the throne suggests that her presence in England posed a great threat to Elizabeth. Because Mary made clear her devotion to Catholicism, English Catholics who wished to restore a Catholic monarch to the throne had a clearer course of action.
An overthrow of Elizabeth was far more likely to result in the rise to power of a Catholic monarch (Mary).
It must be noted that, particularly in the context of this plot, Mary’s status as a woman was important. As was reflected in society’s attitudes towards women overall (and its view that women were intellectually inferior to men, and were therefore better at making decisions if accompanied by a man), it was felt that Mary’s claim to the throne would be stronger than Elizabeth’s if she were married.
The occurrence of the Northern Rising suggests that if Mary had married, her claim to the throne would have become greater and therefore the level of threat that she posed to Elizabeth’s reign would have increased. One of the most serious consequences of the Northern Rising was the Papal response to it. Pope Pius V had lost all hope of Elizabeth’s return to the Catholic faith. When he received an appeal from the Northern Earls in February 1570 (the appeal had been dispatched in November 1569), he decided to put Papal authority behind the Rebellion.
Elizabeth I was born in Greenwhich on September 7, 1533, the daughter of Henry VIII and his second wife, Anne Boleyn. Her early life was full of uncertainties, and her chances of succeeding to the throne seemed very slim when her half-brother Edward was born. She was then the third in line behind her half-sister, Princess Mary. Elizabeth succeeded to the throne at the age of twenty-five after her ...
At the end of February 1570, Pius V signed the Papal Bull Regnans in Excelsis. The Bull contained a savage attack on Elizabeth, ‘the pretended Queen of England, the Servant of Wickedness’, accusing her of reducing ‘the Said Kingdom into a miserable and ruinous condition’. The Bull concluded by stating that the Nobility, People, and Subjects of England were not to obey Elizabeth in her ‘Orders, Mandates and Laws’. This was extremely significant and posed a great threat to Elizabeth’s rule because it dictated that people could not both be loyal to the Pope and to the Queen.
It might be argued that Mary played a part in initiating this threat to Elizabeth by being at the centre of a plot that triggered it. However, as Mary played no direct role in the Northern Rising or the encouragement of the issuing of a Papal Bull, it must be concluded that the Papacy was responsible for perhaps the most damning and dangerous threat to Elizabeth’s position. The Babington Plot was also centred on Mary and brought about Elizabeth’s decision to execute her.
In July 1586, Anthony Babington (a Catholic gentleman with connections at the French embassy) suggested to Mary another conspiracy to place her on the throne. Babington claimed to have six Catholic friends ‘who for the zeal they bear unto the Catholic cause and your Majesty’s service will undertake that tragical execution’. Fatally, Mary replied to the suggestion, writing, ‘Then shall it be time to set the six gentlemen to work, taking order upon the accomplishment of their design…
’ Walsingham was able to tap any communications between Mary and the French embassy (every letter from and to Mary was concealed in beer barrels to which Walsingham’s men had access) and by August 1586 had obtained enough information to incriminate Mary. Subsequent to Walsingham making known Mary’s intentions, Mary was tried at Fotheringhay Castle before thirty six commissioners. She denied all knowledge of the plot, but the evidence of the Babington correspondence was supported by her two secretaries, Claude Nau and Gilbert Curle.
Mary was found guilty but her demeanour and resolution in her defence made a lasting impact, causing Elizabeth to summon Parliament on 29th October 1586 to lend weight to the verdict. Parliament gave its approval and added an eager plea for Mary’s execution. Elizabeth reserved the right to impose sentence and after four months of delay (which may partly be explained by Elizabeth’s apprehensiveness towards ordering the killing of a fellow monarch and partly by her wish to gauge foreign reaction) and on 1st February 1587, she signed the death warrant.
Elizabeth I was born in 1533 to Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn. Although she entertained many marriage proposals and flirted incessantly, she never married or had children. Elizabeth, the last of the Tudors, died at seventy years of age after a very successful forty-four year reign. Elizabeth inherited a tattered realm: dissension between Catholics and Protestants tore at the very foundation of ...
Mary’s involvement in the Babington Plot proved that she alone was a threat to Elizabeth’s rule. Whereas other plots (such as the one that aimed to see her married to a Catholic sympathiser) appear to feature Mary as an inactive figurehead of the Catholic cause, Mary’s part in the Babington plot was quite clearly proactive and she was directly involved. It is for this reason that it was felt to be safe to try Mary. International relations could not be too severely damaged by England’s decision to sentence a woman who had clearly been complicit in a treason plot.
Mary’s role in the Babington Plot suggests that she, as an individual, posed a substantial threat to Elizabeth’s rule. However, there is much evidence for the view that the threat presented by Mary Queen of Scots has been overstated. The extent to which she really was a focal point for Catholic opposition may be called into question. Mary’s succession of marriages in the past, as well as her suspected complicity in Henry Darnley’s murder, dictated that many Catholics did not believe her to be a credible Catholic Queen.
Most had not forgotten that Mary, as the Queen of Scotland, had been forced to resign (by both Catholics and Protestant nobles).
This may well have caused Catholics in England to favour a more credible and reliable Catholic leader (such as Philip II of Spain).
The fact that the persecution of Catholics did not cease with Mary’s death may also suggest that she was not as great a threat to Elizabeth as general Catholic opposition was. Catholic Priests continued to be hunted down and those aiding them were also at risk. Some 88 Catholics were put to death between 1590 and 1603.
Of these, 53 were priests and 35 were lay people. This ongoing persecution suggests that Mary had not been the cause of Catholic aggression, rather, she had merely been a symbolic point of Catholic interest, and therefore (as Catholic antagonism did not end with Mary’s death) the English government recognised the need to continue to be aggressive towards the Catholicism. The threat posed by Mary was not the cause of the vast Catholic threat. Rather, her popularity amongst Catholic plotters was a symptom of it and the Catholic threat persisted despite Mary’s absence.
In 1554, Queen Mary I attempted to restore Catholicism as a single faith in England. Under Mary's reign, Protestants were either executed or they fled abroad. Despite the fact that Elizabeth had supported Mary's accession and attended Catholic services, Mary believed Elizabeth was leading Protestant conspiracies to take the power. Before her death, Mary tried to convince Elizabeth to defend the ...
In conclusion, although Mary Queen of Scots did pose a threat to Elizabeth’s rule, the extent to which Mary’s presence in England affected Catholics, and the danger to Elizabeth presented by Mary is questionable. Mary was a threat because she was a Catholic figurehead who had a good claim to the throne during a period in which there was great tension between the ruling Protestants and Catholicism. However, there is extensive evidence to support the view that the much greater threat to Elizabeth, the general Catholic threat and the threat of an opposing Pope, would have existed whether Mary had been present or no