- Babington Plot
The Babington Plot was the event which most directly led to the execution of
Mary I of Scotland(Mary Queen of Scots). This was a second major plot against Elizabeth I of Englandafter the Ridolfi plot.
In January 1586,
Mary Queen of Scotsfound herself in the strictest confinement she had experienced in the eighteen years she had been imprisoned by the English as a result of an increasing number of plots surrounding her.Lopsided|date=September 2008 She was confined to Chartley Hallin Staffordshire, placed under strict observation, under the control of Sir Amyas Paulet, biased against Mary.Fact|date=May 2008 He made her life even more miserable.Fact|date=May 2008 Having been instructed to watch the comings and goings of servants and visitors to Mary, he stopped all open correspondence.
Because of increasing concern surrounding Queen Elizabeth's safety, Parliament passed the
Bond of Association, which provided for the execution of anyone who would benefit from the death of the Queen if a plot against her were discovered. Whilst Mary had escaped formal reprimand as she had not actively participated in a plot, now she could be executed if a plot was initiated that would lead to her acceding to the throne of England.
Although Elizabeth was reluctant to act against Mary, some within the English government feared her status as a figurehead for English Catholics.Who|date=May 2008Fact|date=May 2008 Sir
Francis Walsingham, Elizabeth I's Secretary of State and a strict Protestant, realized that if she could be implicated in a plot to assassinate Elizabeth, then Mary could be executed and the Catholic threat diminished.Fact|date=May 2008 He infiltrated much of Mary's correspondence network. Taking advantage of Mary's lack of communication, he instituted a system for secret messages to be passed to the Queen.
A plot was concocted by English agents determined to root out any remaining "papist" influence in England.Lopsided|date=September 2008 As the evidence shows, the English spies, led by Walsingham, planted evidence in preparation for an event that would discredit Catholics and drive successful Jesuit missionaries from England.Who|date=May 2008Fact|date=May 2008 It is named after the chief conspirator
Anthony Babington(1561–1586), a young Catholic nobleman from Derbyshire. John Ballard, a Jesuit priest and Catholic agent, persuaded Babington to become involved in a plot to overthrow and/or murder Queen Elizabeth I of England, replacing her on the throne with the Catholic former Queen of Scotland.
In December 1585, Walsingham arrested
Gilbert Gifford, a confidant of the plotters who had been trained as a Catholic priest. After the arrest Gifford agreed to operate as a double agent. While working for Walsingham, Gifford carried messages between Mary and her followers thereby allowing the messages to be intercepted.
In July 1586, Gifford delivered his first message from Mary to
Anthony Babington. Babington was recruited by Charles Paget and Thomas Morgan, a confidant of Mary and member of the Scottish embassy to France. Morgan composed and deciphered Babington's coded letters to and from Mary. Gifford of course provided copies of all letters to Walsingham.
The first letter from the imprisoned queen said that there were reported supporters of her in Paris. Babington replied that he had a hundred followers to assist in delivering Mary from Elizabeth, including six personal friends.Babington, a Catholic, betrayed his feelings about Elizabeth: he described her as an usurper, claiming that he was free from obedience to Elizabeth as a result of her excommunication.Citequote|date=September 2008 Elizabeth had been excommunicated by
Pope Pius Vin 1570, and many Catholics in England believed they were released from duty to the excommunicated Queen of England as a result.
The messages between Mary and Babington were encoded using symbols for some words and phrases and letter substitutions (23 symbols for letter substitutions and 36 characters for words and phrases). The messages were smuggled in and out in beer barrel stoppers. A nearby brewer delivered and picked up the barrels. Queen Mary's servants would retrieve the messages from the beer barrels and place messages back into the hollow of the beer barrel stopper.
Walsingham already had the conspiracy identified and was seeking the identities of the six conspirators who formed the inner circle of the plot. Each message between Mary and Babington was first read by Walsingham, copied by Walsingham's spy school, and sent to its destination intact. Walsingham's spy school decoded each message by trial and error by starting with letter substitutions and using the frequency of common characters (see
frequency analysis) until a readable text was found, and then the rest was guessed at by the message context from what was decoded until the entire cipher was understood. After the cipher was broken, the messages were read the same day they were copied. Each message was returned in good enough condition that it was not evident that it had been read and copied.
The correspondence between Mary and Babington was about the conspiracy. Without the endorsement of Queen Mary the plot would fail, since the supporters would have no future crown to support. In July 1586, Babington proposed to Mary that Elizabeth be assassinated, and he referred to an invasion by Spain — King Philip II had promised to send a military expedition to England when Queen Elizabeth was no longer in power, and had a plan for Mary's release from her imprisonment. The July 1586 letter also described plots to kill Walsingham and Lord Burghley, Elizabeth's chief minister. Sir Francis Walsingham thus had the evidence he needed, but he needed the identities of the six conspirators.
In Mary's last letter to Babington, in which Mary acknowledged Babington's enterprise, Walsingham had
Thomas Phelippes, a cipher and language expert in his employ, forge a postscript asking for the identity of the six conspirators. Babington received the forged postscript and message, but he never replied with the names of the conspirators, as he was arrested while seeking a passport in order to see King Philip of Spain. The identities of the six conspirators were nevertheless discovered, and they were taken prisoner by August 15, 1586.
The Babington plot was one of the four most important known plots against Elizabeth, the four being:
* The Babington Plot.
Arrests and Executions
The conspirators were sentenced to death for
treasonand conspiracy against the crown, and were sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. This first group included Babington, Ballard, Chidiock Tichborne, Thomas Salisbury, Robert Barnewell, John Savage and Henry Donn. A further seven men, Edward Habington, Charles Tilney, Edward Jones, John Charnock, John Travers, Jerome Bellamy, and Robert Gage, were tried and convicted shortly afterward. Ballard and Babington were executed on September 20along with the other men who had been tried with them. Such was the horror of their execution that the Queen ordered the second group to be allowed to hang until dead before being disembowelled.
Queen Mary herself went to trial at
FotheringhayCastle in Northamptonshireand denied her part in the plot, but her correspondence was the evidence; therefore, Mary was sentenced to death, on the grounds she had written support and encouraged Babington to do the deed.Fact|date=May 2008 Elizabeth signed her cousin's death warrant, and on February 8 1587, in front of 300 witnesses, Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed. Sir Francis Walsingham, the Queen's spymaster, had saved England from invasion, and saved Queen Elizabeth I from supposed assassination. This may have ended the Babington Plot, but it set a dangerous precedent for the future.Or|date=May 2008 For years, Elizabeth had deliberately dragged her feet about ending Mary's life, much to the chagrin of her advisors, who were too concerned about the threats to her life to consider the wider issues that Elizabeth was all too aware of. Elizabeth's reluctance to execute her cousin was well founded; while Mary's involvement in the plot was well established, Walsingham had clearly established her guilt through entrapment, forcing Elizabeth to commit regicide, which was both distasteful and dangerous.Dubious|date=May 2008Lopsided|date=September 2008 She realized that once a sovereign became answerable for the common man's crimes, the belief that a king's or queen's actions were accountable only to God would be undercut and ultimately challenge the structure upon which "her own" authority was founded.Or|date=May 2008Fact|date=May 2008Lopsided|date=September 2008 After Mary's execution, Elizabeth briefly dismissed Walsingham, though it is disputed whether she did so out of genuine anger at his duplicity, or merely for appearances.
The story of the Babington Plot is dramatised in the novel "
Conies in the Hay" by Jane Lane. (ISBN 0-7551-0835-3). One episode of " Elizabeth R" is devoted to the Babington Plot, and the Movie "" deals substantially with the Plot as well.
History of cryptography
*Military Heritage did a feature of Mary, Queen of Scots and the Babington conspiracy (David Alan Johnson, Military Heritage, August 2005, Volume 7, No. 1, p. 20, p. 22, and p. 23), ISSN 1524-8666.
*The sequel to 1998's film Elizabeth, called , involved the Babington Plot.
* [http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/online/spies/ciphers/mary/ma2.htm Babington Plot at UK National Archives]
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