CHAPTER XXII. ELIZABETH (vii), 1583-87 - THE END OF QUEEN MARY

[1583 The Throgmorton Conspiracy]

The collapse of Alençon was the precursor of a comprehensive conspiracy. Before the Raid of Ruthven (August 1582), the Guise faction in France had contemplated a descent on Scotland in conjunction with Lennox's friends there, with a view of course to raising England in favour of Mary. Alençon's relations with Elizabeth had not made the French King or his mother, neither of whom loved the Guises, particularly favourable to the scheme. The Raid destroyed the prospects of the definitely Catholic party in Scotland; on the other hand, the failure of Alençon affected, though only slightly, the objections on the part of King Henry. But any enterprise against England would have to take a somewhat different form. In May, Guise was planning a fresh scheme of assassination and invasion; [Footnote: State Papers, Spanish, iii., pp. 464, 479.] while as against the Guise intrigues still going on in Scotland, Elizabeth at the suggestion of the French ambassador was again proposing diplomatically to release Mary [Footnote: Ibid., p. 465.] - on terms.

[Sanguine Catholic forecast]

The English refugees and the Seminarists suffered from the same sanguine conviction that two-thirds of the country was thirsting to throw off the hated yoke of the existing Government, by which Jacobite agents were eternally possessed in the first half of the eighteenth century; and with a good deal less reason. For whereas the House of Hanover had no enthusiastic adherents, while the House of Stuart had many, and the Whig politicians were for the most part ready to transfer themselves to the other side if the other side should look like winning: at this time, the most energetic portion of the population, gentry and commons, including practically all who had practised the art of war by land or sea, in the Low Countries, in Ireland, on the Spanish Main and in Spanish waters, were fierily Protestant, and the Ministers, nearly all irrevocably bound to the Queen, were singularly prompt and alert men of action. Enthusiasts there were on the other side, but they were few. Yet in their prolific imaginations, the enthusiasts multiplied their own numbers pathetically, and believed passionately in phantom hosts only waiting for the word to draw the sword, or at least the dagger, in the sacred cause.

Neither the Spaniards nor the Guises appear ever to have allowed themselves to accept unreservedly the Churchmen's estimate of the state of feeling in England; but the Spanish Ambassadors, one after another, and Mendoza certainly not the least, gave more credence to these impressions than they deserved, placing far too high a value on the assurances of a very small number of the nobility. It is probable also that the Jesuits greatly exaggerated the exciting effect of the martyrdom of Campian and his associates; for these bore no sort of comparison with the burnings of Mary's reign, of which every man nearing forty years of age was old enough to have a tolerably vivid personal recollection. At any rate the advices of Mendoza went far to confirm the declarations of Allen that a determined Catholic rising might be relied on, in case of an invasion which should have for its object the substitution of Mary for Elizabeth and the restoration of the old Religion.

[Divided Counsels]

The counsels however of the plotters were divided. The priests would have kept the French out of the affair altogether. Philip was as reluctant as ever to take an English war upon his shoulders until he had completed the subjugation of the Netherlands. Mendoza, recognising that Guise was not France - for now as always, Spain could not afford to let France dominate England - was willing enough that Guise should head an expedition in which Frenchmen should otherwise play no more than an equal part; on the hypothesis that, when the revolution was accomplished, circumstances would compel the new regime to dependence on Spain. All the parties - Guise, Philip, Allen - were prepared to yield unofficial sanction to the simplification of the problem by assassination. Even when the different interests in the scheme had been compromised, prompt action was obviously essential if the English Government, with its vast network of spies and secret agents, was not to get wind of the plot. Promptitude however was the one thing of which Philip was constitutionally incapable, and Guise was obliged to consent to wait till the following spring.

[The plot discovered]

As a natural result, an active member of the conspiracy, Francis Throgmorton, was suddenly pounced upon in his house in London. He succeeded in conveying sundry important documents to Mendoza, but lists of the English conspirators and other conclusively incriminating documents were found. The rack did the rest. The unhappy man endured through the first application: the second conquered him. He told the whole story - possibly more than the truth, though that is hardly probable; but of course the persons incriminated denied complicity, and there was in some cases no other evidence against them, while the confessions of a victim under torture are - biased.