Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Babington, Anthony
BABINGTON, ANTHONY (1561–1586), leader of a catholic conspiracy against Queen Elizabeth, was descended from a family of great antiquity. John de Babington, who traced his ancestry to the Norman era, was, in the reign of Henry III, the owner of the district round Mickle and Little Babington, or Babington, in Northumberland. By the marriage, early in the fifteenth century, of Thomas Babington, the fifth in descent from John, with the heiress of Robert Dethick, of Dethick, the main branch of the family became identified with Derbyshire, and by a series of intermarriages with neighbouring heiresses acquired additional property in adjoining counties. A northern branch of the family continued to flourish till the eighteenth century, and offshoots of the Derbyshire branch settled in Leicestershire and Oxfordshire. Lord Macaulay was named after his father's brother-in-law, Thomas Babington, of the Leicestershire branch, in whose house at Rothley Temple he was born.
Anthony was born at Dethick in October 1561. He was the third child and eldest son of Henry Babington, of Dethick, by his second wife, Mary, daughter of George, Lord Darcy, of Darcy, and granddaughter of Thomas, Lord Darcy, who was beheaded in 1538 as a principal actor in the Pilgrimage of Grace. Anthony's father is said to have been 'inclined to papistrie,' and to have 'had a brother that was a doctor of divinitie' of the same religious profession. He died in 1571, at the age of forty-one, and left Anthony his infant heir. To his three guardians—his mother, the descendant of a catholic rebel, to her second husband, Henry Foljambe, and to Philip Draycot, of Paynsley, Staffordshire—Anthony was indebted for his education. Although all the three outwardly conformed to protestantism, they were undoubtedly secret adherents of the Roman catholic faith, and in that belief Anthony was brought up. He apparently remained at Dethick till about 1577, only diversifying his life with occasional visits to Draycot's house at Paynsley, where his Roman catholic predilections were sedulously encouraged. There, too, he made the acquaintance of Margery, Draycot's daughter, whom he seems to have married about 1579, when barely eighteen. For a short time, probably before his marriage, he served as page to Queen Mary of Scotland, when she was imprisoned at Sheffield under the care of the Earl of Shrewsbury, and he then became passionately devoted to her and her cause. In 1580 Babington came to London, with the avowed intention of studying law, and he is stated to have entered as a student at Lincoln's Inn. But he soon abandoned all prospects at the bar for fashionable town life. His wealth, his cultivated intelligence,, his charm of manner, his handsome features,, secured for him a good reception at court, and he met there many young men of his own creed, infatuated admirers of Queen Mary, whom Jesuit conspirators from the Continent were drawing into treasonable practices. Early in 1580, on the arrival of Edmund Campion and Parsons, the Jesuits,. in disguise in England, Babington joined a number of youths of good family in the formation of a secret society for the protection and maintenance of Jesuit missionaries in England. To the conversion of 'heretics' (i.e. protestants) all the members swore to devote their persons and abilities and wealth. On 14 April 1580 Pope Gregory XIII sent them a message blessing the enterprise (cf. Simpson's Edmund Campion, p. 157). Babington and his friends—Lady Babington, of Whitefriars, London, and Lady Foljambe, of Walton, Derbyshire—did all in their power to advance the society's cause, and frequently invited Fathers Campion and Parsons to lodge in their houses on their secret tours through England in 1580 and 1581. Early in 1582, after the capture and execution of Campion, Babington withdrew to Dethick. In the same year he came of age, and assumed the management of his vast landed property. He acknowledged the disinterested care with which his stepfather Foljambe had administered his estates during his minority by settling upon him an annuity of one hundred marks. At the same date the names of Babington and of his wife appeared in a list of Derbyshire recusants (Cal. State Papers. 1581-90, p. 88). Subsequently Anthony travelled in France and made the acquaintance of Charles Paget and Thomas Morgan, Mary Stuart's emissaries at Paris, who were vigorously plotting with Spain in their mistress's behalf. According to a passage in Leti's Vita di Sisto V (iii. 103, ed. 1821), Babington extended his journey to Rome, and was accompanied by many fellow-members of the Roman catholic secret society. Queen Mary's friends abroad evidently marked Babington out, while on the continent, as a fitting leader of a catholic insurrection in England. After his return, in 1585, they sent him letters to be delivered to the imprisoned queen. But it was not until April 1586 that he was induced to take the leading part in the task of organising the famous conspiracy called after him, which aimed at II general rising of the catholics in England, the murder of Elizabeth and her chief advisers, and the release of Mary Stuart. John Ballard, a catholic priest of Rheims, had, in 1585, paid many secret visits to England at the instigation of the queen's supporters in France, and had secured promises of aid from the catholic gentry throughout the country towards a vigorous attack on the existing order of things. To him Babington chiefly looked for guidance. Ballard represented that the plot had already received the approval of the Spanish ambassador at Paris, and was to be supplemented by a foreign invasion. Babington eagerly consented to charge himself with the murder of Elizabeth and the release of Mary, and selected as his assistants a number of young catholic gentlemen, all members of the secret society formed in 1580. On 12 May 1586 Don Bernardino de Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador in Paris, who placed the fullest reliance in Babington, wrote to his government that news of the death of Elizabeth might be soon expected (Papiers d'Etat, Bannatyne Club, iii. 411). Throughout June 1586 the conspirators met in city taverns or in St. Giles's Fields almost nightly. To six of them was delegated the task of assassinating Elizabeth; for Babington, who also talked vaguely of sacking London, was reserved the duty of liberating Mary from the custody of Sir Amias Paulet at Chartley. Before the close of July all was finally determined. Babington was very sanguine of success, frequently entertained his associates at supper in London inns and at his house in Barbican, and had his portrait drawn, surrounded by his friends, and subscribed with the verse —
Hi mihi sunt comites, quos ipsa pericula ducunt,
a motto that was afterwards prudently changed to the enigmatic 'Quorsum haec alio properantibus?' The conspirators appear to have heard mass regularly at a house in Fetter Lane, and to have been generally known among catholics at home and abroad as 'the pope's white sons for divers pieces of services, which they do to Rome against this realm' (Foley, Records, i. 205).
Babington's conduct was throughout marked by much 'foolish vanity.' From the first he was desirous that Mary should be informed of his plans, and was anxious to receive from her special marks of favour. As early as 29 April 1586 Morgan wrote to her from Paris that Babington was jealous of another person, whose services she had preferred to his, and that it would be expedient for her to send him an expression of gratitude by letter. On 28 June Mary sent Babington a friendly note. On 12 July the young conspirator forwarded to the Scottish queen a long reply, describing all the means to be taken for the murder of Elizabeth, and for her own deliverance. Five days later Mary wrote in answer a favourable criticism of the plot, and demanded further information. On 3 Aug. Babington informed her that a servant of Ballard had turned traitor, but, begging her not to falter, promised to carry out the enterprise or die in the attempt. Meanwhile, Mendoza was watching from Paris all the movements of Babington and his associates with the utmost anxiety, and he forwarded to Philip II on 13 Aug. a long account of their methods and of their hopes and fears. They had, he wrote, supporters throughout the country; they wanted a definite assurance that help would reach them from the Low Countries and Spain without delay; they relied on no foreign prince except Philip. The arrangements were so perfected that as soon as the queen was assassinated, the ships in the Thames were to be seized, and Cecil, Walsingham, Hunsdon, and Knollys to be captured or killed. Mendoza finally pointed out that this was the most serious of all catholic plots as yet attempted, but that all depended on the successful accomplishment of the murder of the queen. The original of this interesting letter is preserved among the Simancas archives, and its margin is scored with notes in the autograph of Philip himself. In reply the king dwelt with admiration on Babington's courage, and announced his resolve that the holy enterprise (' tan santa empresa ') should not fail for lack of his assistance in money and troops (Papiers d'Etat, iii. 433-54).
But Babington was throughout in fear of treachery, and in this he was fully justified. Almost from the first Walsingham's spies had known of the conspiracy: by means of Gifford, one of Ballard's adherents won over to the service of the government, every action of Babington and his associates was reported to the government during the months of June and July, and all their letters, which were always in cipher and in French, intercepted and deciphered before they were delivered. In July warrants against Ballard and Babington were prepared; but Walsingham was in no hurry to arrest the conspirators, and awaited further revelations from his spies. The letters that finally passed between Babington and Queen Mary proved to him that further delay was unnecessary, and on 4 Aug. Ballard was suddenly seized, after a meeting of the conspirators in London. No hint was given at the time that the government had information against any other member of the band, but Babington had been for some days previously thoroughly alarmed, and had already applied to Walsingham for a passport to France, where he promised to act as a spy upon Elizabeth's enemies. He had told his friends at the same time that his visit to France was necessary to supervise the final arrangements for a foreign invasion. But no passport was given him, and with unpardonable cowardice he subsequently sent word to Walsingham that he could reveal, if he chose, a dangerous conspiracy. Still Walsingham made no sign, but his servants were ordered to keep a careful watch upon Babington. One night the young man was invited to sup with them, but while in their company he caught sight of a memorandum concerning himself in Walsingham's handwriting. He hurried from the room on a trivial pretence, changed clothes with a friend who lived at Westminster,and hid himself in the thickest part of St. John's Wood. There he was joined by some of his associates. Babington disguised himself by cutting off his hair and staining his skin with walnut-juice, and travelled to Harrow, where he was sheltered by one Jerome Bellamy, a recent convert to Catholicism. But before the end of August he was discovered and taken to the Tower. All the other conspirators were captured a few days later. On 13 and 14 Sept. Babington, Ballard, and five other yonng men (Chidiock Titchbourne, Thomas Salisbury, Robert Barnewell, John Savage, and Henry Donn) were tried before a special commission. Babington did not attempt to conceal his guilt: he declared all 'with a mild countenance, sober gesture, and a wonderful good grace;' but he laid the blame on Ballard. Ballard acknowledged the justice of the rebuke, and told Babington, before the court, that he wished the shedding of his blood could save his young companion's life. Two days later, seven more of the conspirators (Edward Abington or Habington, Charles Tilney, Edward Jones, John Charnock, John Travers, Jerome Bellamy, and Robert Gage) were tried. Sentences of hanging and quartering were passed on all the band. On 19 Sept. Babington wrote to Elizabeth, imploring her to work upon him 'a miracle of mercy,' if not for his own sake for that of his distressed family. To a friend he offered, on the same day, 1,000l. if his release could be procured. The next morning—on the day appointed for his execution—he explained the cipher which had been used in the letters to and from Mary.
Babington's prayers for pardon were not entertained, and on Tuesday 20 Sept. he and Ballard, with five of their companions, were drawn on hurdles 'from Tower Hill, through the cittie of London, unto a fielde at the upper end of Holborne, hard by the high way side to S. Giles, where was erected a scaffolde convenient for the execution' (The Censure of a Loyall Subiect, 1587). A great crowd collected to see the conspirators die. Babington declared from the scaffold that no private ends had influenced him, but that he honestly believed himself engaged in 'a deed lawful and meritorious.' Ballard suffered first, and Babington witnessed his barbarous death. According to an eye-witness he showed to the last 'a signe of his former pride' by standing, instead of praying on his knees, 'with his hat on his head as if he had been but a beholder of the execution' (The Censure). He himself followed Ballard, and underwent diabolical tortures. He was still alive when taken down from the gallows, and exclaimed, 'Parce mihi, Domine Jesu,' while the executioner was using the knife upon him (cf. Mendoza's account sent to Philip II 20 Oct. in Papiers d'Etat, iii. 481). When Elizabeth was informed of the revolting cruelty of his death, she directed that the other conspirators, who were to be executed on the following day, should hang till they were dead.
Babington expressed anxiety on the scaffold as to the fortunes of his property. By law the crown confiscated it all; but the entailed estates of Dethick, Derbyshire, and Kingston, Nottinghamshire, his largest manors, were allowed to pass to his brothers Francis and George. Some of his lands, and almost all his personal property, were granted by Elizabeth to Sir Walter Raleigh. Elizabeth herself took a valuable clock. At Dethick were found many books on theological controversies, and 'papers of prophecies' foretelling Elizabeth's downfall. According to the evidence of some of his tenants, examined previous to his death, Babington had been a hard landlord, and had systematically raised his rents. Shortly before his arrest he sold a large house in Derby, called Babington Hall, which was pulled down about 1822. Its site is still marked by Babington Lane. A cenotaph in Kingston Church, Nottinghamshire, among the tombs of other members of Babington's family, bears no inscription, and is locally believed on doubtful evidence to have been erected to the conspirator's memory (Gent. Mag. new ser. vii. 287). By his wife Margery, Babington had an only daughter, who died at the age of eight, in all probability before her father (Harl. MS. 1537, f. 115 b). The discovery and death of Babington formed the subject of many contemporary ballads (cf. Notes and Queries, 1st ser. v. 572). One of them, full of valuable biographical details, entitled 'The Complainte of Anthonie Babington,' by Richard Williams, is among the Arundel MSS. (418, art. 3) at the British Museum. Another, entitled 'A proper new ballad, breefely declaring the Death and Execution of fourteen most wicked Traitors,' which bitterly vituperates 'proud young Babington,' has been reprinted in J. P. Collier's 'Broadside Ballads' (1868), pp. 36-41. A third poetical tract is entitled 'A short discourse; expressing the substance of all the late pretended treasons against the Queenes Maiestie;' and a fourth, by William Kempe, who is to be distinguished from the actor of the same name, bears the title 'A dutiful invective against the moste haynous treasons of Ballard and Babington,' 1587. A full description of the execution is found in 'The Censure of a Loyall Subiect,' by G[eorge] W[hetstone], 1587. Dr. George Carleton gives an account of the conspiracy in his 'Thankfull Remembrance' (1609), and reproduces there the picture of Babington and his confederates drawn in 1586. A Dutch translation of the correspondence between Babington and Queen Mary was circulated in Holland and the Low Countries in 1587.
The historical importance of the conspiracy lies in Mary Stuart's complicity. The discovery of the letter sent by her to Babington approving of the murder of Elizabeth in July 1586 brought her to the scaffold. Apologists for Mary in vain deny the genuineness of this letter, and represent it to have been a forgery of Walsingham. Babington never doubted its authenticity, and, as we have seen, on the day of his death fully explained the cipher in which it was written. And Mendoza, the Spanish ambassador at Paris, writing to Philip II on 10 Sept., states that Mary had written him a letter which left no doubt in his mind that she was fully acquainted with the whole business (Papiers d'Etat, iii. 458). In the presence of evidence of this kind, it is impossible to attach any weight to Mary's indignant denial at Fotheringay of all knowledge of Babington and his conspiracy (State Trials, i. 1182). But it is unnecessary, on the other hand, to credit the rumour circulated, as it was said, on the authority of Cecil, that Queen Mary had resolved to marry Babington.
[Collectanea Topog. and Genealog. viii. 313 et seq; W. D. Cooper's Notices of Anthony Babington, reprinted from the Reliquary for April 1862; State Trials, i. 1127 et seq.; Thorpe's Cal. Scottish Papers; Cal. State Papers, 1581-90, and Addenda, 1580-1625, p. 202; Turnbull's Letters of Mary Stuart, pp. 344 et seq.; Froude's Hist. vol. xii.; Papiers d'Etat relatifs a l'histoire de l'Ecosse au xvi Siecle (ed. A. Teulet), pub. by Bannatyne Club, vol. iii.; Camden's Annals; Simpson's Edmund Campion.