20 September 1586 – Anthony Babington
The Derbyshire gent headed up a seditious plot to overthrow the then Queen of England in favour of his Catholic benefactor, Mary Stuart.
We are of course talking about Elizabeth I and her cousin Mary Queen of Scots, of whom the former was wary throughout her ‘glorious’ reign.
But it was not glorious for some – namely the Catholics, who’d be ousted in favour of the newly formed Church of England.
During the period known as the English Reformation, the Catholics were left out in the cold. Despite a valiant attempt to reinstate the Pope as the head of all things ecclesiastical by Lizzie’s sister, Mary I had singularly failed, earning herself instead the title of Bloody Mary, which served only to heighten people’s distrust of Catholicism.
So the beleaguered Catholics turned to Mary Queen of Scots as their one hope for the Pope’s restitution, headed up by the ever-so ballsy Babington.
The fact that he was seriously loaded helped and the plotters were well connected, in so far as they were even able to entice the French Embassy to become embroiled in the too-ing and fro-ing of correspondence.
But it was this very correspondence that was to wind up being a serious chink in an otherwise iron-clad plan. You see, a bloke got caught and the letters were intercepted.
Elizabeth didn’t become a great leader just by sitting idly by and letting them try to do her in. Nope, she surrounded herself with some dead loyal subjects.
Take Walsingham for example – Sir Frank headed up her law-enforcement arm. He was the MI6 of the day and with those kinds of skills, it’s no wonder he was soon on the case as Babington brewed up trouble.
With the letters intercepted, the would-be plotter who’d been caught was persuaded to turn double agent in return for his life.
The snitch’s name was Gilbert Gifford and he was a known insurgent. Well, they got him firmly by the short and very curlies and he wound up feeding the crown juicily damning titbits as the plot unfolded, all in return for his life.
How much of this plot was engineered to dispose of one of Elizabeth’s most serious of challengers to the throne, or merely a well…erm… executed bid to overthrow Elizabeth, is the subject of much conjecture. Whatever the story, Walsingham was not to be messed with.
As soon as they’d amassed enough incriminating evidence against the posse of plotters, Walsingham’s men pounced and trounced any vestige of treasonous activity.
Babington, along with other sympathisers, such as Tichborne and John Ballard were tried by the authorities.
Cashed and burned
No-one fancied their chances much, least of all the men themselves. Of course, that’s where Babington’s stash of cash should have come in handy. Facing a certain death by hanging, drawing and quartering, Babs hoped to see himself right by buying his way to freedom, offering to stump up £1,000 to bail himself out.
Well, that would never do – examples had to made of these desperados and the Tudors were not adverse to a bit of quartering to pacify the punters. So, just two days after they were hauled in under arrest, the unfortunates were dragged from the Tower to their place of execution at St Giles.
The men were then strung up until barely conscious, cut down before being rudely relieved of key nether region equipment, which was then thrust onto a fire and burned before their very eyes.
Innards and dangly bits despatched, the beleaguered men would have possibly still be conscious when their heads were cut off and the remaining corpses quartered.
However, the Queen got wind of the semi-conscious bowel extraction and ordered the remaining conspirators, who were due to be done the following day, to be hanged until dead before the quartering took place.
As for Babs et al, their bits were then carted off round the country to be exhibited as a lesson to all would-be insurgents.
Cuz, I can
You may be wondering what happened to Mary in all this. Well her threat was confirmed, if ever Elizabeth had had any doubts.
The fact that this plot could have so nearly been successful meant Liz had no choice but to have her cousin’s head on the block, so her execution took place at Fotheringhay Castle the following year. If you’re wondering what the deal was there, check out Mary Queen of Scots’ story on 8 February 1587.