Friday, January 20, 2012

Ridolfi plot

The Ridolfi plot was a plot in 1570 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Roberto Ridolfi, a Florentine banker and ardent Catholic, had been involved in the planning of

the Northern rebellion, and had been plotting to overthrow Elizabeth as early as 1569.With the failure of the rebellion, he concluded that foreign intervention was needed to restore Catholicism and bring Mary to the English throne, and began to contact potential conspirators. Mary's advisor, John Lesley, the Bishop of Ross, gave his assent to the plot as the way to free Mary. The plan was to have the Duke of Alba invade from the Netherlands with 10,000 men, foment a rebellion of the northern English nobility, murder Elizabeth, and marry Mary to Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk. Ridolfi optimistically estimated half of all English peers were Catholic, and could muster in excess of 39,000 men. Norfolk gave verbal assurances to Ridolfi that he was Catholic, though as a pupil of John Foxe, he remained a Protestant all his life. Both Mary and Norfolk, desperate to remedy their respective situations, agreed to the plot. With their blessing, Ridolfi set off to the Continent to gain Alba, Pius V and King Philip II's support.


In 1571, Elizabeth's intelligence network was sending her information about a plot against her life. By gaining the confidence of Spain's ambassador to England, John Hawkins learned the details of the conspiracy and notified the government so to arrest the plotters. She was also sent a private warning by the Grand Duke of Tuscany, who had learned of the plot against her. Charles Baillie, Ridolfi's messenger, was arrested at Dover for carrying compromising letters, and under torture revealed the plot. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested on September 7, 1571 and sent to the Tower. Guerau de Spes, the Spanish ambassador, was expelled from the country in January 1571. Still abroad when the plot was discovered, Ridolfi never returned to England; he became a Florentine senator in 1600.

Mary, when questioned, admitted to having dealings with Ridolfi, but denied any involvement with the plot. Though she was clearly implicated by the evidence, Elizabeth refused to have her executed and vetoed a bill by Parliament that condemned Mary and removed her from the succession. She feared that by executing a divinely appointed monarch, she undermined her own  position. She proceeded with the execution of the Duke of Norfolk for treason on June 2, 1572. Mary's status in England was transformed from honoured guest to treasonous pariah, and she was universally condemned by the governing elite. Her continued conspiring, especially in the Babington plot, eventually led to her conviction of treason and execution on February 8, 1587.

In Fiction

The Ridolfi Plot was covered in Mary Queen of Scots (1971), starring Vanessa Redgrave as Mary and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth.

An altered and fictionalised version of the Ridolfi Plot was featured in the 1998 film Elizabeth, starring Cate Blanchett as Elizabeth. The film portrayed Thomas Howard, Duke of Norfolk, as the chief conspirator and omitted the involvement of Ridolfi. It portrayed the plot as having included  Bishop Stephen Gardiner (a counter-reformer who had died in 1555 before Elizabeth's accession) and John Ballard, who was in fact a Babington Plotter.


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