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The Elizabethan era saw many plots against Queen Elizabeth I. Sir Anthony Babington, who originated from Dethic in Derbyshire, was a leading English conspirator of a plot to assassinate Elizabeth and put the former Scottish Queen, Mary Stuart on the throne of England, thus re-establishing the Catholic faith. This was to be co-ordinated with an invasion of Catholic troops. While he seems to have been somewhat of a Walter Mitty character. Babington was a charismatic young man who drew around him a group of young men, who like him, had a chivalrous desire to serve Mary Queen of Scots (Mary Stuart). It proved to be pivatol in ending the plots that occurred right throughout the Elazabethan era.
Although this plot bears Babington’s name, it is likely that others such as Charles Paget, Thomas Morgan and John Ballard were the prime movers. Thomas Morgan,a leading catholic conspirator during the Elizabethan era, had fled England to live in France. He became Mary Stuart’s agent and cipher clerk and a major contributor to the Throckmorton, Parry and Babington plots. Tghroughout the Elizabethan era, he stayed in France and was never brought to trial. Charles Paget, leader of the ‘Seculars’ in France, was involved in both the Throckmorton and Babington plots, while John Ballard, alias Fortescue, educated at Cambridge, was an ordained priest at the seminary at Rheims, and came to England where he became involved in the Babington plot.
The discovery of the plot in 1586, by Sir Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth’s spy catcher, lead to a convoluted scenario of plot and counter-plot, until it was difficult to decide where one ended and the other began. Mary sent a letter to Babington which was the key to her downfall. Babington’s reply detailing the plot and Mary’s reply, taken together with Babington’s full confession were the prosecutions case against Mary and led directly to the trial for treason of Mary Stuart and her subsequent execution. Babington made his confession in the hope he would be pardoned. He even offered a very large sum of money to the Queen to allow him to go into permanent exile. After being found guilty, he and his fellow plotters were hung, but lowered before they were dead and then drawn and quartered whilst still alive. A particularly barbarous end, which led Elizabeth to forbid any of the other convicted conspirators from suffering a similar fate.
Much has been written about the legality of putting a sovereign Queen on trial. Elizabeth herself had many doubts and refused to allow it for a long time. Only fear for her own safety after the plots to assassinate her came to light and extended pressure from Parliament and the Privy Council, caused her to change her mind.
As Walsinghamwrote in a letter to Lord Burghley. ‘I have no wish to trample on the grave of an undoubtedly very charming, attractive and unfortunate woman, but we ought not to forget why she was executed. She was perhaps in herself, the greatest menace that ever threatened the safety and welfare of England during my Queen’s reign. The English can breathe more freely now she has gone.’