After Mary, Queen of Scots, the Catholic claimant to the throne of England, came into the custody of her cousin, Elizabeth I, a year after her abdication from the throne of Scotland in 1567, she became the focus of numerous plots and intrigues to restore England to the Catholic fold. Because of this threat, she was imprisoned for eighteen years in the charge of a succession of jailers, principally the Earl of Shrewsbury. In 1580 she was transferred to the control of Sir Amias Paulet.
Because of increasing concern surrounding Queen Elizabeth's safety, in 1584 Elizabeth's Privy Council signed a "Bond of Association" which stated that anyone within the line of succession to the throne on whose behalf anyone plotted against the queen, even if the claimant were ignorant of the plot, would be excluded from the line and executed. This was agreed upon by hundreds of Englishmen, who likewise signed the Bond. As if to allay the Queen's suspicions, Mary likewise signed. The following year, Parliament passed the Act of Association, which provided for the execution of anyone who would benefit from the death of the Queen if a plot against her was discovered. Whilst Mary had escaped formal reprimand as she had not actively participated in a plot, now she could be executed if a plot was initiated that could lead to her accession to the throne of England.
However, in the aftermath of the Throckmorton plot, in January 1586, Mary found herself in the strictest confinement she had experienced in her eighteen years' imprisonment by the English. She was confined to Chartley Hall in Staffordshire, placed under strict observation, under the control of Sir Amias Paulet. Paulet was a Puritan and, although Mary had been able to win over her previous jailers, Paulet resisted her charms and kept her in extremely strict conditions. Having been instructed to watch the comings and goings of Mary's servants and visitors, he stopped all open correspondence.
Although Elizabeth was reluctant to act against Mary, some within the English government feared her status as a figurehead for English Catholics. Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's Secretary of State and spymaster, together with William Cecil, Elizabeth's chief advisor, realised that if Mary could be implicated in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, she could be executed and the Catholic threat diminished. As he wrote to the Earl of Leicester: "So long as that devilish woman lives, neither Her Majesty must make account to continue in quiet possession of her crown, nor her faithful servants assure themselves of safety of their lives."
Walsingham's opportunity came when, in 1585, a Catholic exile named Gilbert Gifford (1560–1590) was arrested in Rye in Sussex. While being interrogated, he confessed to having been involved in a Catholic plot against Elizabeth. Walsingham then offered to release Gifford if he was willing to work as a double agent, to which Gifford agreed.
Read more about this topic: Babington Plot
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