The Ridolfi Plot, the Babington Plot, and the Execution of Mary Stuart

Herdman, Robert Inerarity; Execution of Mary, Queen of Scots; Glasgow Museums;

For day six of Elizabethan Intrigue week I have chosen to discuss the plots to remove Elizabeth from the throne, and replace her with Mary Stuart!   The Ridolfi Plot was hatched by Roberto Ridolfi in 1571 with the intent of assassinating the Protestant Elizabeth to put her Catholic cousin on the throne.   The Babington Plot was hatched by Anthony Babington and John Ballard in 1586.    Yet again, this plot sought to assassinate the queen to place Mary Stuart on the throne instead!  

The Ridolfi Plot involved Ridolfi contacting one of Mary’s advisors, John Lesley, to get him involved in the conspiracy.    Ridolfi was a Florentine, and ardent Catholic that did not want to see a Protestant queen on the throne of England.    Mary Stuart, the Catholic queen of Scotland borne of Tudor blood, proved an ideal solution for those who would seek to oust Elizabeth!    Mary would have been married off to Thomas Howard for this plot to succeed, and both parties apparently agreed to this.    Ridolfi travelled to Spain in an attempt to get Phillip II’s support on this plot as well (which he got, as the king did not want Elizabeth on the throne either).   The plot was also predicated on the assumption that half of English peers were Catholic, and would not rise against them if the plot succeeded.    Of course, this plot was discovered by Elizabeth’s spy network, who foiled the plot, and executed top English players.   Elizabeth chose not to execute her cousin in this particular plot, and this would be something that led to the next plot occurring.

The Babington Plot was also supported by the Spanish, as it would have utilized Spanish forces to invade England.    The causes of this plot closely mirror the earlier one, as it is also, a case of the desire to put a Catholic queen on the throne in place of the Protestant one that resided there!   Walsingham chose to place a double agent and a decoder in the castle where Mary was currently residing when suspicion of there being a plot mounted.   When the only Babington letter sent to Mary was decoded by Elizabeth’s spies it became clear what was going on.   Mary had responded to the letter with one ordering the assassination of Elizabeth, because of her desire to “be rescued.”   

Elizabeth had held Mary prisoner for nineteen years, and did not take regicide lightly (certainly not after losing her own mother to it).    The Babington Plot put into focus how dangerous keeping Mary in England under house arrest had become, and Elizabeth signed the death warrant.    After the execution had taken place Elizabeth claimed that she was tricked into signing the warrant by her advisors (who had mixed it in with other paperwork she was signing).     We will never know the truth as to whether Elizabeth was tricked into signing the warrant, or simply said so out of guilt!    Some scholars also claim we may never know how involved Mary actually was in either plot, or whether it was others working on her behalf.    What we do know is that Mary had grown desperate, and desperation can lead to horrible decisions.   

Thus ended the life of Mary Queen of Scots, who was executed on February 8, 1587.   She wore red, the color of Catholic martyrs, as this is what she felt she was.   Her life, and death, were ones of great Elizabethan intrigue!    

I hope you have enjoyed this post on the plots to replace Elizabeth with Mary.   Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Note on Image: The image at the top of the post is The Execution of Mary Queen of Scots by Robert Inerarity Herdman.   I found the image on

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