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Preview of ‘The Spy Who Brought Down Mary Queen of Scots’


This new Channel 5 documentary focuses on how, over a eight-week period in 1586, Queen Elizabeth I’s infamous ‘spymaster’, Sir Francis Walsingham, conducted a Catholic conspiracy to murder the Queen of England and purposely enthralled the support of Mary, Queen of Scots, within these plans in order to highlight the danger she posed to Elizabeth and engineer her execution.

By using his techniques of espionage, a wide network of double-agents and secret coding and letters, Walsingham was successful in exposing Elizabeth I’s main rival to the throne and, owing to this, has been hailed as one of England’s greatest spies. Walsingham was able to create an exceptional trap that Mary fell into and he notoriously tracked and intercepted every letter that Mary wrote, decoding all of her correspondence which could threaten Elizabeth’s position of authority. This documentary focuses on both how and why Walsingham became so dedicated to Elizabeth I and the protection of England’s security.

By exposing Mary as a key motivator against the English Crown, Walsingham was able to use this evidence to slowly persuade Elizabeth to act against her Catholic cousin, which eventually led to her execution in 1587 at Fotheringhay Castle.

This documentary uses both dramatised scenes and interviews with leading historians in order to guide audiences through the pivotal events of 1586. X-ray and dating analysis has also been used on one of the most famous paintings of Walsingham to reveal a ‘lost’ image of the mastermind. The documentary also focuses on Anthony Babington and his role in writing the decisive coded letter which was intercepted by Walsingham’s network of men and became key evidence towards Mary’s downfall.

The Spy Who Brought Down Mary Queen of Scots will be first broadcast on Channel 5 at 8pm on Thursday 29th May. It will then be available to watch online on Demand 5 soon after. The programme was directed and produced by Mark Fielder.

Photo credit: Lisby via photopin cc

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