November 16 – Conspirator William Stafford and an alleged plot against Elizabeth I

Nov16,2022 #William Stafford

On this day in history, 16th November 1612, William Stafford died.

The date of his death may be out of the Tudor period, but he was an alleged Elizabethan conspirator and he was the second son of William Stafford, widower of Mary Boleyn, and the grandson of Ursula Pole, daughter of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and so had Plantagenet blood.

He was only imprisoned for a short time for the Stafford Plot, a plot to assassinate Elizabeth I, and lived the rest of his life quietly in Norfolk.

So how did he escape serious punishment and what did spymaster Sir Francis Walsingham have to do with it?


On this day in history, 16th November 1612, Elizabethan conspirator, William Stafford, died. It is not known where he died or where he was laid to rest.

Let me tell you a little about this man and the plot he was involved in.

William Stafford was the second son of William Stafford, widower of Mary Boleyn, and his second wife, Dorothy, who, in turn, was the daughter of Henry Stafford, 10th Baron Stafford, and Ursula Pole. Our William Stafford had royal blood, being of the Plantagenet line through his maternal grandmother, Ursula, who was the daughter of Margaret Pole, Countess of Salisbury, and granddaughter of George, Duke of Clarence, brother of Kings Edward IV and Richard III.

When William was just one year-old, his family fled England under the rule of Catholic Queen Mary I and went into exile on the Continent. During their time there, in Geneva and then Basel, the family knew John Calvin and John Knox. They returned to Essex in 1559, after Elizabeth I’s accession.

William was educated at Winchester College and then New College, Oxford, where he was a fellow from 1573 to 1575. After that, he spent some time at court in London before fighting on the side of the Dutch rebels against the Spanish and then living in Paris for a time with his brother, Edward, who was an ambassador there.

Let’s fast forward to January 1587 and the so-called Stafford Plot. It was claimed that William Stafford had plotted with Baron de Châteauneuf, the French ambassador, and the ambassador’s secretary, Des Trappes, to kill Elizabeth I. Also involved in the plot was Michael Moody, William’s brother Edward’s servant, who apparently came up with the idea of assassinating the queen in her bedchamber by way of a trail of gunpowder. The idea changed to stabbing or poisoning, perhaps the use of a poisoned saddle or gown, when the French pointed out that Stafford’s mother, Dorothy, who served in the queen’s bedchamber, would probably be killed in such an explosion.

While the plot was ongoing, William Stafford reported the plan to Sir Francis Walsingham, Queen Elizabeth I’s spymaster and principal secretary. Des Trappes was then arrested and Chateauneuf questioned. He threw the blame on Stafford, but could not explain why he himself had not reported the plot if he’d known about it. Stafford was imprisoned in the Tower but then released without charge in August 1588. How and why did he escape punishment if he’d plotted to kill his queen?

Well, it’s believed that the plot was actually orchestrated by Walsingham and William Cicil, the queen’s chief advisor, to show Queen Elizabeth I that her life was in danger, and to persuade her to act against Mary, Queen of Scots. So, Stafford was simply acting as an “agent provocateur” and spy. Another theory is that the plot was used to put Chateauneuf under house arrest at the time of the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots, to stop any French protests about it.

In 1593, William Stafford married Anne Gryme and the couple settled in Norfolk and had two children: Dorothy and William. Their son became an author and pamphleteer.

Stafford die a natural death on this day in 1612 and it seems to have been a quiet end for a man who worked for a queen’s spymaster and who ended up being imprisoned in the Tower as a result.

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