The Catholic threat undoubtedly revolved around Elizabeth’s cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots. She had become Queen of Scotland when her father, James V, was killed in battle against the English in 1542.
In 1561, Mary’s first husband (Francis II of France) died, so she returned to Scotland.
In 1565, she married Henry Stuart (Lord Darnley), but the marriage was unhappy. Darnley turned out to be a drunken lout who was involved in the murder of Mary’s secretary, David Rizzio.
In 1567, Darnley was himself murdered, and the finger of suspicion pointed at Mary, forcing her eventual abdication, and then exile from Scotland, in favour of her infant son, James.
Mary’s arrival in England posed a great problem for Elizabeth. It was mainly because of her claim to the throne, because some Catholics viewed Elizabeth as illegitimate, being the product of Henry’s second marriage.
When Mary arrived in England seeking refuge in 1568, none of Elizabeth’s options had a particularly favourable outcome.
In the end Elizabeth decided to allow Mary to remain in England, but as royal prisoner in ‘honourable captivity’. She was kept in custody but treated with the respect due to a queen.
As has been previously described, Mary became the focal point, intentionally or otherwise, of Catholic plotting against Elizabeth.
It was her proven involvement in the Babington Plot of 1586 that would lead to her downfall. The evidence provided by Walsingham now seemed to be enough to convict Mary of plotting Elizabeth’s death.
At trial, Mary defended herself strongly, whilst refusing to accept the court’s authority. However, Elizabeth reluctantly agreed to sign her death warrant and Mary was executed in February 1587.
When Elizabeth heard of her death she was very upset and William Davison, a junior Secretary of State, was imprisoned for misunderstanding her orders.
However, there is little doubt that a major threat to Elizabeth had been removed.
Surprisingly, as it turned out, the consequences of Mary’s execution were not as serious as Elizabeth may have feared.