From her arrival in 1568, Mary Stuart posed a major threat to the security of Elizabeth and her government
Mary’s arrival in England triggered the discontent among some Catholic sympathisers to become prevalent, as Mary provided a clear leader to focus their religious dissatisfactions with the moderately Protestant settlement imposed by Elizabeth. This is why religious motivations behind some of the laity were the most dangerous threat from Mary. Political advantages from individuals supporting Mary are contributory factors to threaten Elizabeth, without the laity’s religious motivations however they cannot amount to a crucial significance.
International implications from Mary’s presence were potentially huge but were never anything more than potential. All these factors revolving around Mary that threatened Elizabeth were compounded by the way Elizabeth mismanaged situations. Mary can be seen as the reaction pathway in the threat towards Elizabeth, she does not do much herself to endanger Elizabeth, however she provided the discontented with the motivation to threaten Elizabeth because she was the next Catholic heir. Those who felt discontented about Elizabeth’s moderate Protestant settlement now had a clear leader to focus their ambitions of a Catholic England.
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The Northern Rebellion is a prime example of this religious discontent of many of the laity being focused on releasing Mary to restore Catholicism to England (5600/6000 were individuals not tenants of the landowners who would have been forced into fighting). The reason why this is the paramount threat to Elizabeth is because of the number of people who had grievances against the religion and saw Mary Stuart as the way to gain their religion back.
Tied into this is the political danger of those Nobles who also had Catholic sympathies but were also in a position to challenge Elizabeth i. e. he Duke of Norfolk who was under demands from Mary Stuart to gain her release from prison by force if needed. Mary was always going to be the main centre of Catholic plots against Elizabeth because she was the heir to the throne. Catholic dissatisfactions were already present before her arrival but were compounded and given direction with her arrival. Therefore Mary can be seen as the instigator behind the Catholic threat to Elizabeth. This is shown by the fact that until 1568 Elizabeth was relatively free from Catholic threats, however with the arrival of Mary Stuart the question of Elizabeth’s successor arisen and the Catholic plots began.
Moreover with a Catholic heir to the throne available to the Catholics in England then Elizabeth’s life was under increased threat. This is because the extreme Catholics were undoubtedly prepared to kill Elizabeth, their Queen, to gain their religion. After all their route to heaven or hell was controlled by Elizabeth and if she got it wrong then they would not gain salvation. This personal threat to Elizabeth is shown by the St Bartholomew’s Day massacre, where French Catholics killed their Protestant King in the name of their religion.
This threat is also emphasised by the assassination of William of Orange by Dutch Catholics. Mary behaves like a catalyst in the Catholic threat to Elizabeth, without her the plots that surrounded her would have no meaning because there is nobody to restore Catholicism for them. However as Mary was in England then repeats of what had happened in France and Spain to Protestant leaders similar to Elizabeth could also happen. Politically Mary Stuart provides an alternative for those Nobles who were not content with their position under Elizabeth.
Nobles who were isolated from power under Elizabeth may see supporting Mary Stuart as a way to gain power in court or getting back positions that they had deprived under Elizabeth. Example of these nobles includes the Earl of Northumberland who under Elizabeth had his wardship of the Middlemarch deprived. This plan by Elizabeth to decrease the power of the magnates in the North had loosened the allegiance between Elizabeth and nobles such as Northumberland to such an extent that they saw taking a risk on Mary Stuart as being more advantageous than serving under Elizabeth an having their power and prestige slowly eaten away.
Once again Mary has not done anything herself to threaten Elizabeth but inversely her position as heir to the throne has attracted supporters who are willing to threaten Elizabeth, therefore Mary is the main pathway for Catholic threats. Tied in with the threats from isolated Nobles were the threats from within Elizabeth’s court involving Mary Stuart, which were also very dangerous to Elizabeth. The main court intrigue was the proposed marriage between the Duke of Norfolk and Mary Stuart. This faction came to be mainly because of the fact that they wanted Elizabeth to name Mary as her heir.
However this faction contained many powerful Nobles, who it seemed were plotting against Elizabeth around Mary. International threats revolving around Mary Stuart were potentially huge, especially from Spain who at that time were the major Catholic leaders in Europe. In theory it would be thought that Spain would want to support Mary Stuart onto the English throne because of her Catholicism. However because Mary Stuart was in the Guise family who controlled France and Scotland, then Spain would rather not have France effectively controlling England as well.
Despite the disadvantages of Spain supporting Mary Stuart there are still examples of how Mary Stuart’s presence in England gave rise to danger to the security of Elizabeth’s throne from Spainish involvement, nor could Elizabeth ignore this potentially massive threat. For example the Ridolfi Plot which once again aimed to secure Mary’s release and position on the English throne also included military assistance from Spain, however the plot was discovered and the troops did not come.
Although the military did not come form Spain, Mary Stuart’s qualities as a ruler i. e. she is Catholic, once again means that these international threats are going to see her as a means to weaken Elizabeth if not to replace her altogether. Foreign involvement centring around Elizabeth also came from France, after all Mary was half-French and therefore a clear motivation for France can be seen to control England as well. This is shown by the Throckmorton plot were the Duke of Guise was planning to lead an army to depose Elizabeth and place Mary on the throne.
Although it failed it shows that Mary was the link between almost all the people who felt unhappy with Elizabeth’s reign from the English laity in the North to some of the French Catholics. She united people who felt frustrated with Elizabeth’s reign and those who saw advantages from supporting Mary. The security of Elizabeth’s throne is definitely challenged here, although it does not go ahead, it is warning of what can happen, and foreign involvement from the leading two Catholic powers in Europe, i. e. Spain and France in supporting Mary Stuart cannot be taken lightly.
Elizabeth’s mismanagement of situations that may have deflated the threats aimed towards her centring around Mary Stuart made them worse. Politically Elizabeth tried to reduce the power of the magnates in the North by setting up councils. This alienated Nobles such as Northumberland from power and therefore distanced the Noble’s allegiance to Elizabeth. This is a major factor in why the Revolt of the Northern Earls took place. This would not have been such a problem if not for the fact that Mary Stuart was present in England. She gave the isolated Nobles a chance to avenge their disfavour from Elizabeth.
Elizabeth can also be identified in mismanaging the religious settlement to make some Catholics discontented enough to support Mary, a French women, over their own English Queen. To drive 5400 individuals to a point where they felt they had to rebel in the Northern Rebellion must have been down to something Elizabeth did. For example Elizabeth introduced the use of the Protestant prayer Book. Therefore Elizabeth created support for Mary Stuart with her own actions. This increases Mary’s threat and shows that the security of Elizabeth’s throne was intensified by some actions taken by Elizabeth.
Elizabeth also hampered the security of her own throne by not taking the opportunities to subdue the threat from Mary. This could have easily been done by naming Mary Stuart as her heir, this would have pleased a lot of people and had a lot to commend itself. Including the fact that the Catholic threat, the main threat centring around Mary, would have decreased significantly because they would have been most likely been content with knowing that the next Monarch of England was going to restore Catholicism. However instead Elizabeth hesitated and refused to make her decision by ignoring the subject.
For example during the court intrigue she refused to name her heir under significant pressure from her court. Once again Elizabeth has intensified the threat orbiting around Mary, not taking the opportunities to relieve the pressure that Mary is placing on the security of Elizabeth’s throne. Mary Stuart’s threat to Elizabeth not only came from the fact that she was the Catholic heir but she did have tremendous political skill and personal magnetism. This is clear to see from the way she manipulated the Duke of Norfolk into trying to secure her release.
For example before the Northern Rebellion when Mary met Norfolk and she old him to get her released by force if necessary and Norfolk undoubtedly did what he was told and was involved in a number of plots to release Mary. Cecil knew about Mary’s personal danger an tried to persuade Elizabeth to have her executed much earlier than she was, however Elizabeth refused, this is another example of how Elizabeth’s indecision over crucial matters failed to remove the danger of Mary Stuart and is clearly linked to her mismanagement of matters as shown above.
Mary Stuart’s arrival in England was the instigator in many of the plots against Elizabeth. She was the turning point in the security of Elizabeth’s throne, from being relatively calm pre 1568, to continuous strain on Elizabeth’s throne after 1568. Mary herself was not the actual threat to Elizabeth, but she was the motivation for them. Most significantly religious threats orbiting around the fact that Mary was Catholic and placing Mary on the throne were paramount compared to all other motivations.
Political factors were contributory to religion and international threats were conceivable but never got off the ground. However Mary’s overall threat could have been reduced by Elizabeth but of her mismanagement. Nobody troubled Elizabeth more than Mary Stuart in her reign due to the fact that she was the Catholic heir and therefore Catholics who felt religiously dissatisfied were prompted to threaten Elizabeth.