Monday 26th June. 4.00 PM – ‘B’ Stage, Shepperton Studios. This part of the palace set has been dressed as Bess Throckmorton’s bedchamber and we find her here at night, asleep. But her dreams are troubled.
Many members of the court had reason to fear the turbulent politics of Elizabeth’s day. In an era when many powerful families were related by marriage, scandal (or worse) in one area of a family could have profound ramifications for the rest.
Bess Throckmorton was no exception. Her father had been one of Elizabeth’s most able ambassadors but he landed up imprisoned by Elizabeth in Windsor on suspicion of having taken part in Norfolk’s Plot. This was unproved and never came to trial but he never regained Elizabeth’s favour. He died on February 12th 1571 at the age of roughly 54. Bess was just 5 years old.
But it was her cousin Francis Throckmorton who really cast a shadow over the family. Francis’ side of the family had very pro-Catholic leanings, indeed his father was probably dismissed from his job as Chief Justice of Chester for that very reason (although it may have been because he was a touch corrupt). Either way Francis was brought up with strong Catholic views and developed a growing loathing for the Protestant Reformation and Elizabeth. He traveled to France and Spain in 1580 where he met numerous pro-Catholic English malcontents and further developed his radical views. Back in England in 1583 he acted as a go-between between the Spanish Ambassador and Mary Queen of Scots (who by this time was under house arrest in England). This of course brought him into the gaze of Francis Walsingham.
In October Walsingham arrested Francis and searched his house. Evidence of his dealing between Mary and Spain were found which suggested he was planning a coup by which Henry I Duke of Guise would invade England supported by a native Catholic uprising. He admitted to this after a little racking. Despite then withdrawing his confession he was found guilty of High Treason and executed in 1584.
With a family like this, it was not easy for Bess to sleep easy.