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These desperate projects had not escaped the vigilance of Elizabeth's council, particularly of Walsingham, secretary of state. That artful minister had engaged Maud, a Catholic priest, whom he retained in pay, to attend Ballard in his journey to France, and had thereby got a hint of the designs entertained by the fugitives. Polly, another of his spies, had found means to insinuate himself among the conspirators in England; and though not entirely trusted, had obtained some insight into their dangerous secrets. But the bottom of the conspiracy was never fully known till Gifford, a seminary priest, came over, and made a tender of his services to Walsingham. By his means the discovery became of the utmost importance, and involved the fate of Mary, as well as of those zealous partisans of that princess.
Babington and his associates, having laid such a plan as they thought promised infallible success, were impatient to communicate the design to the Queen of Scots, and to obtain her approbation and concurrence. For this service they employed Gifford, who immediately applied to Walsingham, that the interest of that minister might forward his secret correspondence with Mary. Walsingham proposed the matter to Paulet, and desired him to connive at Gifford's corrupting one of his servants; but Paulet, averse to the introducing of such a pernicious precedent into his family, desired that they would rather think of some other expedient. Gifford found a brewer, who supplied the family with ale, and bribed him to convey letters to the captive queen. The letters, by Paulet's contrivance, were thrust through a chink in the wall; and answers were returned by the same con
Ballard and Babington were at first diffident of Gifford's fidelity; and to make trial of him, they gave him only blank papers made up like letters: but finding by the answers that these had been faithfully delivered, they laid aside all farther scruple, and conveyed by his hands the most criminal and dangerous parts of their conspiracy. Babington informed Mary of the design laid for a foreign invasion, the plan of an insurrection at home, the scheme for her deliverance, and the conspiracy for assassinating the usurper, by six noble gentlemen, as he
termed them, all of them his private friends; who, from CHAP. the zeal which they bore to the catholic cause, and her majesty's service, would undertake the tragical 1586. execution. Mary replied, that she approved highly of Mary asthe design; that the gentlemen might expect all the sents to the rewards which it should ever be in her power to confer; and that the death of Elizabeth was a necessary circumstance, before any attempts were made, either for her own deliverance or an insurrection". These letters, with others to Mendoza, Charles Paget, the Archbishop of Glasgow, and Sir Francis Inglefield, were carried by Gifford to secretary Walsingham, were deciphered by the art of Philips, his clerk, and copies taken of them. Walsingham employed another artifice in order to obtain full insight into the plot: he subjoined to a letter of Mary's a postscript in the same cipher, in which he made her desire Babington to inform her of the names of the conspirators. The indiscretion of Babington furnished Walsingham with still another means of detection, as well as of defence. That gentleman had caused a picture to be drawn, where he himself was represented standing amidst the six assassins: and a motto was subjoined, expressing that their common perils were the band of their confederacy. A copy of this picture was brought to Elizabeth, that she might know the assassins, and guard herself against their approach to her person.
Meanwhile, Babington, anxious to ensure and hasten the foreign succours, resolved to despatch Ballard into France; and he procured for him, under a feigned name, a licence to travel. In order to remove from himself all suspicion, he applied to Walsingham, pretended great zeal for the queen's service, offered to go abroad, and professed his intentions of employing the confidence which he had gained among the Catholics to the detection and disappointment of their conspiracies. Walsingham commended his loyal purposes; and promising his own counsel and assistance in the execution of them, still fed him with hopes, and maintained a close correspondence with him. A warrant, meanwhile, was issued for seizing Ballard; and this incident, joined to the consciousness of guilt, begat in all the conspirators the utmost anxiety 8 State Trials, vol. i. p. 135. Camden, p. 515. VOL. IV.
CHAP. and concern. Some advised that they should immediately make their escape: others proposed that Savage and Charnoc should without delay execute their purpose against Elizabeth; and Babington, in prosecution of this scheme, furnished Savage with money, that he might buy good clothes, and thereby have more easy access to the queen's person. Next day they began to apprehend that they had taken the alarm too hastily; and Babington, having renewed his correspondence with Walsingham, was persuaded by that subtle minister, that the seizure of Ballard had proceeded entirely from the usual diligence of informers in the detection of popish and seminary priests. He even consented to take lodgings secretly in Walsingham's house, that they might have more frequent conferences together, before his intended departure for France; but observing that he was watched and guarded, he made his escape, and gave the alarm to the other conspirators. They all took to flight, covered themselves with several disguises, and lay concealed in woods or barns; but were soon discovered and thrown into prison. In their examinations they contradicted each other; and the leaders were obliged to make a full executed. confession of the truth. Fourteen were condemned and executed; of whom seven acknowledged the crime on their trial; the rest were convicted by evidence.
The conspirators seized and
The lesser conspirators being despatched, measures were taken for the trial and conviction of the Queen of Scots, on whose account and with whose concurrence these attempts had been made against the life of the queen and the tranquillity of the kingdom. Some of Elizabeth's counsellors were averse to this procedure; and thought that the close confinement of a woman who was become very sickly, and who would probably put a speedy period to their anxiety by her natural death, might give sufficient security to the government, without attempting a measure of which there scarcely remains any example in history. Leicester advised that Mary should be secretly despatched by poison, and he sent a divine to convince Walsingham of the lawfulness of that action; but Walsingham declared his abhorrence of it, and still insisted, in conjunction with the majority of the counsellors, for the open trial of the Queen of Scots.
The situation of England, and of the English ministers, CHAP. had, indeed, been hitherto not a little dangerous. No XLII. successor of the crown was declared; but the heir of blood, to whom the people in general were likely to adhere, was, by education, an enemy to the national religion; was, from multiplied provocations, an enemy to the ministers and principal nobility; and their personal safety, as well as the safety of the public, seemed to depend alone on the queen's life, who was now somewhat advanced in years. No wonder, therefore, that Elizabeth's counsellors, knowing themselves to be so obnoxious to the Queen of Scots, endeavoured to push every measure to extremities against her, and were even more anxious than the queen herself to prevent her from ever mounting the throne of England.
Though all England was acquainted with the detection of Babington's conspiracy, every avenue to the Queen of Scots had been so strictly guarded, that she remained in utter ignorance of the matter; and it was a great surprise to her, when Sir Thomas Gorges, by Elizabeth's orders, informed her, that all her accomplices were discovered and arrested. He chose the time for giving her this intelligence when she was mounted on horseback to go a hunting; and she was not permitted to return to her former place of abode, but was conducted from one gentleman's house to another, till she was lodged in Fotheringay castle, in the county of Northampton, which it was determined to make the last stage of her trial and sufferings. Her two secretaries, Nau, a Frenchman, and Curle, a Scot, were immediately arrested: all her papers were seized, and sent up to the council: above sixty different keys to ciphers were discovered: there were also found many letters from persons beyond sea, and several too from English noblemen, containing expressions of respect and attachment. The queen took no notice of this latter discovery; but the persons themselves, knowing their correspondence to be detected, thought that they had no other means of making atonement for their imprudence, than by declaring themselves thenceforth the most inveterate enemies of the Queen of Scots".
It was resolved to try Mary, not by the common Resolution
to try the
h Camden, p. 518.
CHAP. statute of treasons, but by the act which had passed the former year with a view to this very event; and the queen, in terms of that act, appointed a commission, consisting of forty noblemen and privy-counsellors, and empowered them to examine and pass sentence on Mary, whom she denominated the late Queen of Scots, and heir to James V. of Scotland. The commissioners came to Fotheringay castle, and sent to her Sir Walter Mildmay, Sir Amias Paulet, and Edward Barker, who delivered her a letter from Elizabeth, informing her of the commission, and of the approaching trial. Mary received the intelligence without emotion or astonishment. She said, however, that it seemed strange to her, that the queen should command her, as a subject, to submit to a trial and examination before subjects: that she was an absolute independent princess, and would yield to nothing which might derogate either from her royal majesty, from the state of sovereign princes, or from the dignity and rank of her son: that however oppressed by misfortunes, she was not yet so much broken in spirit as her enemies flattered themselves; nor would she, on any account, be accessary to her own degradation and dishonour: that she was ignorant of the laws and statutes of England; was utterly destitute of counsel; and could not conceive who were entitled to be called her peers, or could legally sit as judges on her trial: that though she had lived in England for many years, she had lived in captivity; and not having received the protection of the laws, she could not, merely by her involuntary residence in the country, be supposed to have subjected herself to their jurisdiction that, notwithstanding the superiority of her rank, she was willing to give an account of her conduct before an English Parliament; but could not view these commissioners in any other light than as men appointed to justify, by some colour of legal proceeding, her condemnation and execution: and that she warned them to look to their conscience and their character in trying an innocent person; and to reflect, that these transactions would somewhere be subject to revisal, and that the theatre of the whole world was much wider than the kingdom of England.
In return, the commissioners sent a new deputation,