1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Babington, Anthony

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BABINGTON, ANTHONY (1561-1586), English conspirator, son of Henry Babington of Dethick in Derbyshire, and of Mary, daughter of George, Lord Darcy, was born in October 1561, and was brought up secretly a Roman Catholic. As a youth he served at Sheffield as page to Mary queen of Scots, for whom he early felt an ardent devotion. In 1580 he came to London, attended the court of Elizabeth, and joined the secret society formed that year supporting the Jesuit missionaries. In 1582 after the execution of Father Campion he withdrew to Dethick, and attaining his majority occupied himself for a short time with the management of his estates. Later he went abroad and became associated at Paris with Mary's supporters who were planning her release with the help of Spain, and on his return he was entrusted with letters for her. In April 1586 he became, with the priest John Ballard, leader of a plot to murder Elizabeth and her ministers, and organize a general Roman Catholic rising in England and liberate Mary. The conspiracy was regarded by Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador, one of its chief instigators, and also by Walsingham, as the most dangerous of recent years; it included, in its general purpose of destroying the government, a large number of Roman Catholics, and had ramifications all over the country. Philip II. of Spain, who ardently desired the success of an enterprise “so Christian, just and advantageous to the holy Catholic faith,”[1] promised to assist with an expedition directly the assassination of the queen was effected. Babington's conduct was marked by open folly and vanity. Desirous of some token of appreciation from Mary for his services, he entered into a long correspondence with her, which was intercepted by the spies of Walsingham. On the 4th of August Ballard was seized and betrayed his comrades, probably under torture. Babington then applied for a passport abroad, for the ostensible purpose of spying upon the refugees, but in reality to organize the foreign expedition and secure his own safety. The passport being delayed, he offered to reveal to Walsingham a dangerous conspiracy, but the latter sent no reply, and meanwhile the ports were closed and none allowed to leave the kingdom for some days. He was still allowed his liberty, but one night while supping with Walsingham's servant he observed a memorandum of the minister's concerning himself, fled to St John's Wood, where he was joined by some of his companions, and after disguising himself succeeded in reaching Harrow, where he was sheltered by a recent convert to Romanism. Towards the end of August he was discovered and imprisoned in the Tower. On the 13th and 14th of September he was tried with Ballard and five others by a special commission, when he confessed his guilt, but strove to place all the blame upon Ballard. All were condemned to death for high treason. On the 19th he wrote to Elizabeth praying for mercy, and the same day offered £1000 for procuring his pardon; and on the 20th, having disclosed the cipher used in the correspondence between himself and Mary, he was executed with the usual barbarities in Lincoln's Inn Fields. The detection of the plot led to Mary's own destruction. There is no positive documentary proof in Mary's own hand that she had knowledge of the intended assassination of Elizabeth, but her circumstances, together with the tenour of her correspondence with Babington, place her complicity beyond all reasonable doubt.


  1. Cata. of State Papers Simancas, iii. 606, Mendoza to Philip.