Elizabeth I: Life Story

Chapter 11 : Norfolk's Plans

Meanwhile, some of Elizabeth’s northern nobles were restless – resenting Cecil’s influence, as their fathers and grandfathers had resented Wolsey and Cromwell. They were also unhappy with religion. The religious settlement mentioned above was perhaps more Protestant than Elizabeth had first intended. The further away from London, the more Catholic the population tended to be and the great nobles of the north, the earls of Northumberland and Westmorland, clung to the old faith, as well as to dreams of the power of their feudal ancestors. Thomas Percy, 7th Earl of Northumberland, called in secret on de Spes, with the idea that a marriage between Mary of Scotland and Philip of Spain might be a way to turn England back to Rome. De Spes was doubtful. The English had not much liked Philip as the husband of Mary I, and they were even less likely to fancy him as king of England as the husband of Mary, Queen of Scots.

However, another possibility was soon being canvassed – the previously mooted idea that a marriage between Mary and the Duke of Norfolk might be a good idea. This had the backing of the Earl of Arundel, who unlike Norfolk, a Catholic, and was disaffected by the influence of Cecil and Leicester. Norfolk and Cecil had previously been in harmony over policy, but they were now diverging, and Norfolk realised that, despite being the premier noble in the realm, with revenues that exceeded those of James VI of Scotland, he was not accorded the influence he felt he should be.

Norfolk, Arundel, and the latter’s son-in-law, Lord Lumley, informed de Spes that they sought to unseat Cecil from his pre-eminence. To help them, Philip should maintain embargoes on Anglo-Netherlandish trade, as the resulting pain would be blamed on Cecil. Norfolk made up his long-standing differences with Leicester (or so Leicester allowed him to believe) and with Leicester now of Norfolk’s party, his friend, Pembroke, followed suit.

Elizabeth became aware that the other councillors were combining against her secretary. However much she might have cared personally for Leicester, she never wavered in her support for Cecil. She publicly rebuked Leicester, and he and Cecil had words directly, with Cecil pointing out that Leicester had been just as responsible for the decision to seize the Spanish payships as he had. The anti-Cecil faction agreed that they would arrest the secretary at a council meeting, but none of them had the nerve to see it through and Elizabeth’s support for Cecil remained strong.

She did, however, attempt to mollify opposition to her handling of Mary and the Anglo-Spanish relationship, suggesting that she would move to restore Mary to the Scottish throne, which, conveniently, would improve relations with France, as well. Norfolk now reverted to his plan of marrying Mary. The idea was known far and wide, and supported by many of his fellow-councillors, but he did not tell Elizabeth. She was, of course, aware of the idea, and it became a test of his loyalty for him to inform her. She even taxed him with it in December of 1568, but he denied it – exclaiming that he would not marry a woman who might murder him. Leicester, Arundel, Pembroke, and Sir Nicholas Throckmorton were all in favour of the plan – although it is hard to avoid the suspicion that Leicester was merely luring a man whom he saw as a block to his own designs to marry Elizabeth, to his fate.

Mary herself, approached secretly, was pleased with the notion, and said she would indeed marry Norfolk, if Elizabeth would consent to the match. The two exchanged letters and love tokens. Cecil was informed, and said nothing against the idea, and Norfolk also shared it with his northern kin – the Countess of Westmoreland was his sister, although, unlike him, she had converted to Catholicism (the siblings had been tutored by the Protestant martyrologist, John Foxe). Northumberland and Lord Dacres preferred the prospect of Mary enthroned with Spanish help, but, since Mary herself liked the Norfolk plan, they accepted it.

Still no-one officially communicated the plan to Elizabeth. Norfolk tried to persuade Moray to do it, on the basis that when Elizabeth restored Mary, as she had now decided to do, Moray would be protected from Mary’s wrath by Norfolk as her consort. But Moray did not do as Norfolk hoped. Instead, he informed Elizabeth that there was no possibility that Mary would be accepted north of the border. Elizabeth made short work of him by letter, but Moray’s mind was as slippery as Elizabeth’s – he banked on her never actually taking steps on Mary’s behalf.

Leicester now agreed that, since the majority of the council approved the idea, he would beard Elizabeth in her den, and inform her of it, as soon as the time was ripe. However, it seemed the time was never ripe, and Leicester said nothing. Norfolk was worried – the plan was the gossip of the court, but he would not grasp the nettle himself. Elizabeth again gave him an opportunity to tell her, but he again failed to do so, instead, leaving court without permission.

Whilst the idea had the backing of much of the council, and it does not seem that Norfolk had any treasonable intent, his lack of honesty naturally made Elizabeth nervous of his long-term intentions. Elizabeth, whose temper was notorious, was angry with everyone, snapping at Leicester and Cecil and accusing them of plotting on Mary’s behalf. Leicester now pulled off his coup. Having worried Elizabeth by taking to his sickbed, he confessed all to her, saying he had thought the marriage would be in her best interests. Always lenient to Leicester, whom she sincerely cared for, Elizabeth accepted his apologies, but made it plain that such a marriage would never gain her approval.

Norfolk was summoned to the royal presence and a confession dragged out of him. He was ordered to abandon any pretensions to matrimony with the Queen of Scots forever. In disgrace with Elizabeth, Norfolk’s new-found allies now deserted him, and he left the court without permission.