10 AM ‘J’ Stage – Shepperton Studios. Back to day shooting – this time scenes with the Babington conspirators. The Babington Plot arose from a series of other conspiracies against Elizabeth which followed on from the publication by Pope Pius V of the 1570 bull Regnans in Excelsis in which he declared Elizabeth a heretic and all her followers excommunicated.
This didn’t just mean that the Pope wouldn’t grant her communion, it effectively laid the path open to her death. What the bull, and a verbal clarification a little later, made clear was the Pope would pardon anyone who deposed and/or killed Elizabeth – in fact it was the duty of every Catholic to try to do this. Overnight this made every Catholic in England (most of whom were perfectly nice people) into potential assassins, at least in the eyes of the government. As the government still contained crypto-catholics (who profess allegiance to the crown but secretly held mass) this was doubly alarming.
At the centre of Elizabeth’s spymaster Walsingham’s concern was Mary Queen of Scots, a Catholic monarch who was under effective house arrest in England. Not only was Mary a Catholic, she also had a good claim on the English throne as her grandmother was Margaret Tudor, the daughter of Henry VII and sister of Henry VIII. As Catholics considered Henry VIII’s marriage to Anne Boleyn illegal, this meant Elizabeth was, in their eyes, illegitimate and hence Mary was the rightful heir. As such she was the natural focus of any plot against Elizabeth.
Of course the great unanswered question about the Babington and other plots is the degree of Mary’s complicity in them. Walsingham undoubtedly wanted her dead to remove the threat and his spies may have helped engineer rather than simply report on Catholic plots. Certainly Babington’s plot was thoroughly compromised and the secret correspondence between her and the plotters was all intercepted and read by him. Whether he simply read and passed on the letters or forged their contents is, however, unknown. In July 1586 the warrant for Babington’s arrest was drawn up but Walsingham was in no particular hurry to execute it, preferring to leave the plot to develop and implicate the conspirators more fully. By the time Babington was taken Walsingham had the ammunition he needed for the arrest, trial and execution of Mary – ciphered letters in her hand implicating her in the plot. Mary was executed on 8th February 1587.
So what of our version of the plot? Our key aim is to simplify a number of complex plots – the Spanish invasion plan, the Savage Plot, the Throckmorton Plot and the Babington Plot to explains why Mary was considered a threat to Elizabeth, how Walsingham compromised the plots and what the death of Mary meant to Elizabeth. For this we have combined elements of all these plots, particularly the Throckmorton and Babbington plots, as bringing in Throckmorton allows us to explore another element of the story – the interconnectedness of the court circle. Francis Throckmorton was of course the cousin of Bess Throckmorton, one of Elizabeth’s ladies-in-waiting and the future husband of Walter Raleigh – another major element in out story. The conspirators of the Elizabethan age were not faceless figures in a foreign country, but people you knew and were often related to.