In 1586, 25 year old, Anthony Babington of Dethick in Derbyshire and a jesuit priest, John Ballard, plotted to remove Elizabeth I from her throne and replace her with Mary, Queen of Scots – restoring Catholicism to England in the process. The plot when it came to Sir Francis Walsingham’s attention resulted in letters sent to Mary being monitored and her eventual execution when one of the letters was used to entrap her.
It was the third plot against Elizabeth since the Rudolf Plot of 1571 and the Throckmorton Plot of 1583. The Elizabethan world was full of agents and plots. Robert Poley and Gilbert Giffard were double agents working for Walsingham who wanted to have Mary executed because of the danger she represented while she still lived. Anthony Babington was drawn into the conspiracy by Thomas Morgan who asked him to carry letters to Mary. Morgan worked for Mary’s official agent in Paris, James Beaton, but it is likely that Morgan also worked for Sir Francis Walsingham. Robert Poley ensured that the young man did not back out when he got cold feet.
On 7 July 1585, Babington sent a letter to Mary at Chartley Castle in code. The letters were sent to Mary inside beer barrels – but it was Walsingham who masterminded the method. Babington was watched every step of the way. It was intercepted and decoded by Thomas Phelippes who also decoded Mary’s reply which indicated her desire to be rescued from her imprisonment which began in 1569. Since 1585 she had been under the supervision of Sir Amias Paulet, a Puritan who had torn down her cloth of state and restricted her movements even more than they were in the past. It was essential that it could be proved that Mary was plotting to overthrow Elizabeth, otherwise the English queen would not have her cousin put on trial or executed.
The Babington Plot advocated a Spanish invasion of England to ensure that the Protestants were deposed from power and to ensure that Mary became queen. It was essential that Elizabeth was assinated. Ultimately it was agreed that the Spanish would finance a French army to invade England.
Babington’s letter identified six stages for the plot to succeed . Step 5 was to free Mary and step 6 was to kill Elizabeth. Mary’s letter, written on 17 July 1586, affirming her desire to escape assented to the plan and did not forbid the murder of her cousin. She was guilty by association. The Bond of Association devised in 1584, and signed by Mary Queen of Scots, after the failure of the Throckmorton Plot in 1583 clearly stated that not only were plotters to be executed but anyone in whose interest the plot was made – i.e. Mary.
When Phelippes translated the letter he drew a gallows to signify that Mary had incriminated her self and the Bond of Association would bring an end to her life.
The end result was not only the execution of Mary but also of Anthony Babington who may have made Mary’s acquaintance when he was a ward of the Earl of Shrewsbury who was Mary’s long term gaoler.