The Tudor Society

20 September – Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot

On this day in Tudor history, 20th September 1586, Anthony Babington, John Ballard, John Savage, Chidiock Tichborne and three other conspirators were executed near St Giles-in-the-Fields in London.

They suffered full traitors' deaths, being hanged, drawn and quartered, after being found guilty of treason for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I in the famous Babington Plot, which sought to replace Elizabeth with Mary, Queen of Scots.

Find out more about Anthony Babington, the Babington Plot, the men involved, how it was discovered, and how it led to Mary, Queen of Scots' execution, in today's talk.

Also on this day in Tudor history, 20th September 1486, Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales, the first son of Henry VII and Elizabeth of York, was born at Winchester. There were high hopes for this boy named after the legendary King Arthur, and King Henry VII believed that son would be a powerful king who would bring a golden age to the country. Of course, things wouldn't go according to plan.
Find out more about Arthur Tudor, who was, of course, Catherine of Aragon's first husband, in last year’s video:

Also on this day in history:

  • 1554 – Death of Sir William Paston, courtier and landowner, at Paston. He was buried there. Paston served Henry VIII as a Sheriff and Commissioner, and was also chosen to welcome Anne of Cleves to court in January 1540.
  • 1596 – Death of William Day, Bishop of Winchester.


On this day in Tudor history, 20th September 1586, Anthony Babington, John Ballard, John Savage, Chidiock Tichborne and three other conspirators were executed near St Giles-in-the-Fields in London.

They were hanged, drawn and quartered for plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I in the famous Babington Plot in support of Mary, Queen of Scots. A further seven were executed the following day.

But what was the Babington Plot?

The man who gave his name to the plot was Anthony Babington, a Derbyshire man who’d been brought up as a Catholic. As a boy, he served as a page in the household of the Earl of Shrewsbury, who was acting as gaoler to Mary, Queen of Scots, at the time, and appears to have become devoted to the Scottish queen from that point. In 1580, while in Paris, he met Mary’s ambassador to France, James Beaton, Archbishop of Glasgow, and Thomas Morgan, who acted as a confidant and spy for Mary. On his return to England a few years later, Babington carried letters from Morgan to Mary.

In May 1586, twenty-five year-old Babington received a visit from Catholic priest John Ballard who had met with the Spanish ambassador Bernardino de Mendoza in Paris and was able to tell Babington that the pope had appointed the Catholic Dukes of Guise and Mayenne to lead an invasion of England to depose Queen Elizabeth I. When Babington pointed out that the dukes were unlikely to be successful, Ballard told him that a man named John Savage would assassinate the queen. Savage was put in touch with Babington, who was able to rally fellow Catholic young men to the cause, including Thomas Salisbury, Chidiock Tichborne, Edward Abington, Charles Tilney, Edward Windsor, Robert Barnewell, Edward Jones, Henry Donne, Jerome Bellamy, Robert Gage, John Travers, John Charnock, and Gilbert Gifford.

The conspirators met to discuss the plot on 7th June 1586 and on 6th July Babington wrote to Mary, Queen of Scots, in code, telling him that he with ten gentlemen and 100 followers would release Mary from her prison and dispatch the usurper, i.e. Elizabeth. He wrote that six men, his “private friends”, would be in charge of “that tragical execution”. Mary replied on 17th July, including the phrase “set the six gentlemen to work”, thus giving her support to Elizabeth’s assassination. Of course, she did not know that her letters were being intercepted and the code broken by Elizabeth I’s spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham and his agents, and Babington was unaware that a man he’d confided in, named Robert Poley was in fact one of Walsingham’s agents, as was Gilbert Gifford who received the letters and passed them on to Thomas Phelippes, Walsingham’s code-breaker. Copies of the letters were made before they were passed on.

On 4th August 1586, Babington was arrested. He’d fled and hidden at the family home of Jerome Bellamy, when realising he was dining with one of Walsingham’s agents who had orders to arrest him, but was soon apprehended and the city of London celebrated the uncovering of the plot against their queen with the ringing of bells, the burning of bonfires and the singing of psalms.
Babington and his fellow conspirators were interrogated and all of them confessed. It is thought that John Ballard was tortured for information. Babington, Ballard, Tichborne, Salisbury, Donne, Barnewell and Savage were the first group tried and were arraigned on 13th and 14th September, with the remaining seven – Abington, Tilney, Bellamy, Charnock, Jones, Gage and Travers – being tried on 15th. All of the men were found guilty of high treason.

On this day in history, 20th September 1586, Babington and six of his fellow conspirators were executed near St Giles-in-the-Fields, where there plotting had taken place. They suffered full traitors’ death, i.e. they were hanged, drawn and quartered. William Camden recorded their executions in his Annales of Elizabeth I’s reign, writing:

“The 20th of the same month, a gallows and a scaffold being set up for the purpose in St. Giles his fieldes where they were wont to meet, the first 7 were hanged thereon, cut down, their privities cut off, bowelled alive and seeing, and quartered, not without some note of cruelty. Ballard the Arch-plotter of this treason craved pardon of God and of the Queen with a condition if he had sinned against her. Babington (who undauntedly beheld Ballard’s execution, while the rest turning away their faces, fell to prayers upon their knees) ingenuously acknowledged his offences; being taken down from the gallows, and ready to be cut up, he cried aloud in Latin sundry times, Parce mihi Domine Iesu, that is, Spare me Lord Jesus. Savage brake the rope and fell down from the gallows, and was presently seized on by the executioner, his privities cut off, and he bowelled alive.

Barnwell extenuated his crime under colour of Religion and Conscience. Tichburne with all humility acknowledged his fault, and moved great pity among the multitude towards him. As in like manner did Tilney, a man of a modest spirit and goodly personage. Abbington, being a man of a turbulent spirit, cast forth threats and terrors of blood to be spilt ere long in England. The next day the other seven were drawn to the same place, and suffered the same kind of death; but more favourably by the Queen’s commandment, who detested the former cruelty; for they all hung till they were quite dead before they were cut down and bowelled. Salisbury was the first, who being very penitent, warned the Catholics not to attempt to restore Religion by force and arms. In like manner did Donn, who followed him. Jones protested that he had dissuaded Salisburie from the attempt, and had utterly condemned Babington’s proud and head-strong mind, and the purpose of invasion. Charnock and Travers, having their minds wholly fixed on prayer, commended themselves to God and the Saints. Gage extolling the Queen’s great bounty to his father, detested his own perfidious ingratitude towards his Princess to whom he was so deeply bound. Jerome Bellamy, who had hidden Babington after he was openly proclaimed traitor (whose brother being guilty of the same crime, strangled himself in prison), with confusion and silence closed up the number.”

Of course, it was this plot that was Mary Queen of Scots’ undoing, for Walsingham now had proof that she was plotting against Elizabeth I. Mary was tried in October 1586 and convicted of treason, and was executed on 8th February 1587 at Fotheringhay.

Only 1 comment so far Go To Comment

  1. M

    i just found out that my ancestor was Salisbury, I am so fascinated with this part of history. I have read several books on it and watched several shows/movies.

Leave a Reply

20 September – Anthony Babington and the Babington Plot