Ridolfi plot
The Ridolfi plot was a plot in 1570 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I of England
Elizabeth I was queen regnant of England and Ireland from 17 November 1558 until her death. Sometimes called The Virgin Queen, Gloriana, or Good Queen Bess, Elizabeth was the fifth and last monarch of the Tudor dynasty...

 and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots. The plot was hatched and planned by Roberto di Ridolfi
Roberto di Ridolfi
Roberto Ridolfi was an Italian and Florentine nobleman and conspirator.Ridolfi belonged to a famous family of Florence, where he was born...

, an international banker who was able to travel between Brussels
Brussels , officially the Brussels Region or Brussels-Capital Region , is the capital of Belgium and the de facto capital of the European Union...

, Rome
Rome is the capital of Italy and the country's largest and most populated city and comune, with over 2.7 million residents in . The city is located in the central-western portion of the Italian Peninsula, on the Tiber River within the Lazio region of Italy.Rome's history spans two and a half...

 and Madrid
Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. The population of the city is roughly 3.3 million and the entire population of the Madrid metropolitan area is calculated to be 6.271 million. It is the third largest city in the European Union, after London and Berlin, and its metropolitan...

 to gather support without attracting too much suspicion.


The Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, KG, Earl Marshal was an English nobleman.Norfolk was the son of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. He was taught as a child by John Foxe, the Protestant martyrologist, who remained a lifelong recipient of Norfolk's patronage...

, a cousin to the Queen and the wealthiest landowner in the country, had been proposed as a possible husband for Mary since her imprisonment in 1568. This suited Norfolk, who had ambitions and felt Elizabeth persistently undervalued him. In pursuit of his goals, he agreed to support the Northern Rebellion, though he quickly lost his nerve and tried to call it off. As the rebellion was not under his control, it progressed, with the Northern earls trying to foment rebellion among their Catholic subjects to prepare for a Catholic Spanish invasion by the Duke of Alba
Fernando Álvarez de Toledo, 3rd Duke of Alba
Don Fernando Álvarez de Toledo y Pimentel, 3rd Duke of Alba was a Spanish general and governor of the Spanish Netherlands , nicknamed "the Iron Duke" in the Low Countries because of his harsh and cruel rule there and his role in the execution of his political opponents and the massacre of several...

, governor of the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a constituent country of the Kingdom of the Netherlands, located mainly in North-West Europe and with several islands in the Caribbean. Mainland Netherlands borders the North Sea to the north and west, Belgium to the south, and Germany to the east, and shares maritime borders...


After the rebellion failed, the leaders were executed and a purge of Catholic sympathisers in the priesthood carried out. Norfolk was imprisoned in the Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 for nine months and only freed under house arrest when he confessed all and begged for mercy. Pope Pius V issued Regnans in Excelsis
Regnans in Excelsis
Regnans in Excelsis was a papal bull issued on 25 February 1570 by Pope Pius V declaring "Elizabeth, the pretended Queen of England and the servant of crime" to be a heretic and releasing all her subjects from any allegiance to her and excommunicating any that obeyed her orders.The bull, written in...

, a papal bull
Papal bull
A Papal bull is a particular type of letters patent or charter issued by a Pope of the Catholic Church. It is named after the bulla that was appended to the end in order to authenticate it....

 excommunicating Elizabeth, shortly afterward, which commanded all faithful Catholics to do all they could to depose her. The majority of English Catholics ignored the bull. In response, Elizabeth became much harsher to Catholics and their sympathisers.


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
John Lesley
John Lesley was a Scottish Roman Catholic bishop and historian. His father was Gavin Lesley, rector of Kingussie, Badenoch.-Early career:...

, the Bishop of Ross
Bishop of Ross
The Bishop of Ross was the ecclesiastical head of the Diocese of Ross, one of Scotland's 13 medieval bishoprics. The first recorded bishop appears in the late 7th century as a witness to Adomnán of Iona's Cáin Adomnáin. The bishopric was based at the settlement of Rosemarkie until the mid-13th...

, 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
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk
Thomas Howard, 4th Duke of Norfolk, KG, Earl Marshal was an English nobleman.Norfolk was the son of the poet Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey. He was taught as a child by John Foxe, the Protestant martyrologist, who remained a lifelong recipient of Norfolk's patronage...

. 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
John Foxe
John Foxe was an English historian and martyrologist, the author of what is popularly known as Foxe's Book of Martyrs, , an account of Christian martyrs throughout Western history but emphasizing the sufferings of English Protestants and proto-Protestants from the fourteenth century through the...

, 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.

While desiring the restoration of Catholic rule in England, the Duke of Alba feared the accession of Mary, Queen of Scots, to the throne of England. As her mother was a member of the prominent Guise
House of Guise
The House of Guise was a French ducal family, partly responsible for the French Wars of Religion.The Guises were Catholic, and Henry Guise wanted to end growing Calvinist influence...

 family in France, he feared the alliance of England and France by Mary.


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
John Hawkins
Admiral Sir John Hawkins was an English shipbuilder, naval administrator and commander, merchant, navigator, and slave trader. As treasurer and controller of the Royal Navy, he rebuilt older ships and helped design the faster ships that withstood the Spanish Armada in 1588...

 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
Cosimo I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany
Cosimo I de' Medici was Duke of Florence from 1537 to 1574, reigning as the first Grand Duke of Tuscany from 1569.-Biography:...

, who had learned of the plot against her. Charles Baillie, Ridolfi's messenger, was arrested at Dover for carrying compromising letters, and under torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 revealed the plot. The Duke of Norfolk was arrested on September 7, 1571 and sent to the Tower. Guerau de Spes
Guerau de Espés
Guerau de Espés del Valle was a Spanish nobleman and diplomat. He served as Philip II of Spain's ambassador to Elizabeth I of England from 1568 to 1571 during one of the tensest moments in Anglo-Spanish relations and was expelled after being accused of complicity of the Ridolfi plot. He was a...

, 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
Divine Right of Kings
The divine right of kings or divine-right theory of kingship is a political and religious doctrine of royal and political legitimacy. It asserts that a monarch is subject to no earthly authority, deriving his right to rule directly from the will of God...

 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
Babington Plot
The Babington Plot was a Catholic plot in 1586 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant, and put Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic, on the English throne. It led to the execution of Mary. The long-term goal was an invasion by the Spanish forces of King Philip II and the Catholic league in...

 plot, eventually led to her conviction of treason and execution on February 8, 1587.

Media representations

The Ridolfi Plot was covered in Mary Queen of Scots
Mary, Queen of Scots (film)
Mary, Queen of Scots is a 1971 Universal Pictures biographical film based on the life of Mary, Queen of Scots. Leading an all-star cast are Vanessa Redgrave as the titular character and Glenda Jackson as Elizabeth I. In the same year, Jackson played the part of Elizabeth in the TV drama Elizabeth...

(1971), starring Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave
Vanessa Redgrave, CBE is an English actress of stage, screen and television, as well as a political activist.She rose to prominence in 1961 playing Rosalind in As You Like It with the Royal Shakespeare Company and has since made more than 35 appearances on London's West End and Broadway, winning...

 as Mary and Glenda Jackson
Glenda Jackson
Glenda May Jackson, CBE is a British Labour Party politician and former actress. She has been a Member of Parliament since 1992, and currently represents Hampstead and Kilburn. She previously served as MP for Hampstead and Highgate...

 as Elizabeth.

An altered and fictionalised version of the Ridolfi Plot was featured in the 1998 film Elizabeth
Elizabeth (film)
Elizabeth is a 1998 biographical film written by Michael Hirst, directed by Shekhar Kapur, and starring Cate Blanchett in the title role of Queen Elizabeth I of England, alongside Geoffrey Rush, Christopher Eccleston, Joseph Fiennes, Sir John Gielgud, Fanny Ardant and Richard Attenborough...

, starring Cate Blanchett
Cate Blanchett
Catherine Élise "Cate" Blanchett is an Australian actress. She came to international attention for her role as Elizabeth I of England in the 1998 biopic film Elizabeth, for which she won British Academy of Film and Television Arts and Golden Globe Awards, and earned her first Academy Award...

 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
Stephen Gardiner
Stephen Gardiner was an English Roman Catholic bishop and politician during the English Reformation period who served as Lord Chancellor during the reign of Queen Mary I of England.-Early life:...

 (a counter-reformer who had died in 1555 before Elizabeth's accession) and John Ballard
John Ballard
John Ballard was an English Jesuit priest executed for being involved in an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I of England in the Babington Plot.John Ballard was the son of William Ballard of Wratting, Suffolk...

, who was in fact a Babington Plotter
Babington Plot
The Babington Plot was a Catholic plot in 1586 to assassinate Queen Elizabeth, a Protestant, and put Mary, Queen of Scots, a Catholic, on the English throne. It led to the execution of Mary. The long-term goal was an invasion by the Spanish forces of King Philip II and the Catholic league in...


External links

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