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The Somerville Plot and the end of Arden
In the heightened paranoia of 1583, even a careless word uttered within earshot of a State employee could have dire consequences.
On October 25th, John Somerville from the village of Edstone, near Stratford, and son-in-law to Edward Arden, head of the old Catholic Arden family is arrested for allegedly waving a gun about, calling Elizabeth a heretic and demanding her death. Somerville was thought to be mentally ill, but for Arden's enemies including Robert Dudley, now Earl of Leicester - this very public indiscretion is all the excuse they need to destroy him and his Catholic allies.
Francis Throgmorton is accused of plotting on behalf of Mary Queen of Scots and placed in a torture chamber. Soon Arden's wife Mary and their daughter Margaret will join Somerville and Throgmorten's brother in the Tower.
Both Arden and Throgmorton are repeatedly tortured, Throgmorton eventually being executed in 1584.
These would be frightening times for the Shakespeares. Mary, Will's mother, is a kinsmen of Edward Arden's and even the outer reaches of a family were treasured back then. Arden's persecution by the State would impact deeply on the young poet.
Despite not finding evidence of a plot, Arden, his wife Mary and Somerville are tried and sentenced to death. Mary is reprieved, escaping being hanged and then burned at the stake.
Somerville dies in mysterious circumstances, seeming to have strangled himself in his cell the night before his execution. On December 20th Arden - still protesting that his only crime is to be a Catholic - is hanged, drawn and quartered.
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