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A Historical Perspective - Plots and Rebellions

The turbulent period that engulfed most of the reign of Elizabeth I lasted more than 30 years. The period saw a great variety of treachery, committed by a broad cross-section of her subjects, but most were opposed to her religious persuasion. Catholics still saw Elizabeth as the bastard that her father Henry VIII had effectively disbarred from the right of succession, and therefore saw Mary, Queen of Scots, grand-daughter to Henry's sister Margaret as the rightful heir to the throne. During Elizabeth's reign, Mary became a focal point of the rebellious machinations of those who would depose Elizabeth. Fueled by Elizabeth's strong anti-Catholic legislation and persecution, it became increasingly evident that as long as Mary lived, she would continue to be seen as the Catholic figurehead.

Since 1571, and the abortive Ridolfi Plot, English Catholics had courted Spain to aid them in the overthrow of Elizabeth. The Spanish threat only disappeared in 1604 with the signing of the Treaty of London, but it had gradually become weaker after Spain received a series of political and crippling financial setbacks including the defeat of the Armada in 1588, fighting wars on two fronts in the Low Countries and France, the election of Clement VIII as Pope in 1592 and the death of King Phillip in 1598.

As the troubles in Europe spread quickly through Spain, France, Italy and the Netherlands, England remained isolated, yet with the uncovering of more and more sedition, and plots to assassinate Elizabeth, an overwhelming, yet justified, sense of paranoia enveloped England. By the 1580's, English Catholics had become a small and uncertain minority, and the country as a whole was becoming increasingly Protestant in temper. The threat in England therefore was more likely to come from the blade or pistol of a lone assassin or small group of murderers rather than the uprising of the Catholic community en masse. Killing Elizabeth would have plunged the country into a succession crisis, a crisis that the Catholic extremists saw as the opportunity to place Mary on the throne. The development of Walsingham's intricate spy network can be seen as the ministers and nobility attempting to safeguard their Queen, whose desperately vulnerable life was the only thing that stood between them and the perils of civil strife and Spanish and Catholic domination.

This was all the justification they needed to utilise every means at their disposal. If they had to lure conspirators into the open, lay bait for unsuspecting hot-heads, or craft their own sedition to achieve their aims, then this is what they did.

Perhaps this paranoia was indeed well-founded. Upon Elizabeth's death in 1603, James VI of Scotland ascended the English throne, and was immediately embroiled in a plot against him to put his cousin Arabella Stuart, a Catholic, on the throne. Two years later, James faced perhaps the most daring plot of all, the Gunpowder Plot. This section provides details on many of the plots and conspiracies uncovered during the reigns of both Elizabeth and James.

[1] The Northern Rebellion - 1569
[2] The Ridolfi Plot - 1571
[3] The Throckmorton Plot - 1583
[4] The Babington Plot - 1586
[5] The Lopez Plot
[6] The Stafford Plot - 1586
[7] The Somerville Plot
[8] Edward Squire and the Poisoned Pommel Affair
[9] The Essex Rebellion - 1601
[10] The Bye and Main Plots - 1603
All material copyrightę The Gunpowder Plot Society