The Ridolfi Plot

(1571)

Pope Pious V

In 1571 a plot was discovered involving Felipe II of Spain, Pope Pious V and the Duke of Norfolk, as well as Mary, Queen of Scotís advisor, Leslie, Bishop of Ross, and Mary herself.

The conspirators were led by Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker based in London, who, posing as an international banker, was able to travel between Brussels, Rome and Madrid without attracting too much suspicion. Ridolfi had been questioned by English authorities after the Northern Rising two years before. He had discussed his plans with the Duke of Alba in the Netherlands and traveled to Rome and Madrid to raise support for an invasion of eastern England and an uprising of Catholics, which would be followed by the marriage of Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk to Mary, Queen of Scots, who would seize the English throne. Ridolfi called for Spain to intervene with troops to support the marriage and put Mary on the throne.

The Spanish were at first doubtful as to the value of the plan; there were obstacles; King Felipe disliked the idea of assassinating Queen Elizabeth; a stable England was needed as a counterweight to France; there was no guarantee that the English population or its nobility were as Catholic in sentiment as the success of the plot demanded.

However, the activities of Sir John Hawkins and the detention in England of Spanish ships carrying large sums of money destined for their armies in the Netherlands caused a worsening of relations between England and Spain, and the Spanish, encouraged by petitions from English Catholics for deliverance, went ahead.

When Charles Baillie, a Scot favourable to Mary's party, was arrested at Dover, incriminating  letters from Ridolfi to Bishop Leslie were seized. Baillie revealed the existence of the plot under torture. Leslie, under the threat of torture, lay all the blame on Mary and Norfolk Norfolk was arrested, tried for high treason, found guilty and executed on Tower Hill on 2 Jun 1572. Ridolfi was abroad when the plot was uncovered and escaped this fate. Mary admitted giving Ridolfi a financial commission but strongly denied any other part in the scheme. Elizabeth was reluctant to authorise the execution of a fellow queen, but Mary was kept under ever-tighter surveillance.

Although unsuccessful, the plot concentrated the minds of the English government on assassination attempts on Elizabeth, and, more importantly, exacerbated the Puritan demand that Mary be executed in order to safeguard the English church and state.

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