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Study Notes

The Ridolfi Plot (1571)

AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

Last updated 27 Oct 2018

The Ridolfi plot of 1571 involved an Italian banker called Roberto Ridolfi who carried messages from Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Pius V and Philip II of Spain encouraging the use of a Spanish army to invade England.

What was the plot?

The plot involved:

  • King Philip II of Spain
  • Pope Pius V
  • Robert Ridolfi
  • Duke of Norfolk
  • Mary Queen of Scots

Ridolfi had played a minor part in the Revolt of the Northern Earls two years earlier.

The plot involved Ridolfi taking messages from Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Pius V, Philip II and Spanish forces commanded by the Duke of Alva based in the Netherlands.

Ridolfi left England to to meet the Duke of Alva in the Netherlands (who led the Spanish army based there) carrying letters writing in code. Ridolfi then travelled to meet with the Pope and Philip II.

The letters argued for an invasion of England, with the aim of overthrowing Elizabeth and replacing her with Mary (who would marry the Duke of Norfolk), leading to the restoration of Catholicism in England.

Philip wrote to the Duke of Alva telling him to prepare an army of 10,000 men.

Mary gave her consent to the plot in March 1571.

How was the plot foiled?

Elizabeth's intelligence network (in particular William Cecil) was soon aware of the plot to overthrown and assassinate her, including intelligence from Spain.

One of Rodolfi's messengers was intercepted and through torture provided deciphered messages about the plot. Two of the Duke of Norfolk's secretaries were also arrested and forced to provide information about the plot.

The Duke of Norfolk (who remember had been imprisoned for a while after the Revolt of the Northern Earls) initially denied involvement, but subsequently admitted to a role in the plot. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London, convicted of treason 1572 and then executed.

What were the consequences of the plot?

Whilst the Duke of Norfolk was executed, Elizabeth decided not to execute Mary Queen of Scots for her involvement in the plot.

Ridolfi managed to avoid the fate of the Duke of Norfolk since he remained in Italy.

In retaliation at Spanish involvement, Elizabeth expelled the Spanish ambassador. The plot intensified the feeling amongst Elizabeth's court that Spain was becoming a growing threat.

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