Visit Your Local PBS Station PBS Home PBS Home Programs A-Z TV Schedules Watch Video Donate Shop PBS Search PBS
  playwright game the show for educators
dossier players locations evidence glossary works In Search of Shakespeare - Home
« back     Full Timeline     Fribbling Reports


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.

Arden has close family links with the Throgmorton family - another great Catholic family, headed by Francis Throgmorton who Walsingham's spies suspect of being complicit in a plot against the State.

interior of The Tower of London
Interior of The Tower of London
For the State it is too good an opportunity to miss. On October 31st an armed raid is conducted on Arden's home. Somerville is taken directly to the Tower of London, while Arden is indicted at Warwick. Raids continue throughout Warwickshire on notable Catholic families in an attempt to unearth evidence of a wider plot or at least an incriminating evidential connection between Somerville, Arden and Throgmorton. Arden's priest, disguised as his gardener, is also arrested.

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.


Mary Queen of Scots portraitMary Queen of Scots

portrait not availableRobert Dudley, The Earl of Leicester

Sir Francis Walsingham portraitSir Francis Walsingham

portrait not availableEdward Arden


exterior of The Tower of LondonThe Tower of London

Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-AvonStratford upon Avon, Warwickshire

« back  
©MayaVision International, 2003 (site credits) (site feedback)