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Study notes

The Throckmorton Plot (1583)

  • Levels: GCSE
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas, WJEC

The Throckmorton Plot involved a plan to encourage a popular uprising amongst English Catholic nobles in the north of England. Like the Ridolfi Plot in 1571, this too was thwarted.

What was the plot?

The plot involved:

  • Francis Throckmorton
  • The Spanish ambassador (Mendoza)
  • The French ambassador
  • Mary Queen of Scots

Francis Throckmorton was a young English Catholic who acted as a go-between or messenger between Mary Queen of Scots and the Catholic noble plotters and the Spanish ambassador and French ambassador. Throckmorton therefore liaised between the two groups.

The aim of the plot was the overthrow of Elizabeth and the restoration of Mary Queen of Scots to the throne.

This was to be achieved through the invasion of a French army, with financial support from France, Philip II of Spain and the Pope.

How was the plot foiled?

The Throckmorton plot was essentially foiled by intelligence and surveillance.

Throckmorton's activities, particularly regular meetings with the Spanish ambassador Mendoza, arose the suspicion of Sir Francis Wolsingham (Elizabeth's "spymaster").

Wolsingham found out about the plot, but initially did nothing other than keep Throckmorton under surveillance.

Following his arrest, a search of Throckmorton's house found incriminating papers that implicated both Throckmorton and other Catholic plotters. The papers contained details of the planned French invasion.

Under torture, Throckmorton confessed to his role in a plot to overthrow Elizabeth and replace her with Mary Queen of Scots. He claimed that the plot was not well advanced, mainly because Philip II had not yet provided the finance for the proposed invasion.

Although Throckmorton subsequently withdrew his confession (claiming it has been obtained through torture) Throckmorton was convicted of high treason and beheaded in 1584.

What were the consequences of the plot?

One important feature of the Throckmorton plot was that both France and Spain were involved - these two countries had long been enemies.

Mendoza - the Spanish ambassador - was expelled from England. This suggested that the relationships between England and Spain were worsening.

The Throckmorton plot further increased the feeling amongst English people that Catholics were becoming the "enemy within". Wolsingham intensified his surveillance activities of Catholics.

The Throckmorton plot was one of the reasons the symbolic Bond of Association was devised in 1584 to protect Elizabeth’s life against all threats from enemies within the realm and without.

The Bond of Association was aimed at deterring further plots. All nobles had to sign the Bond of Association which determined that anyone plotting against Elizabeth in the future would be executed.

Again, as happened following the Ridolfi plot, Parliament and Council believed Mary Queen of Scots should be executed. Once again, Elizabeth refused to admit that Mary had been plotting against her.

Wolsingham, of course, would have to wait a little longer before he could find the evidence he sought that Mary Queen of Scots was plotting against Elizabeth.

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