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The 1650s
Victoria L. King examines a decade of civil unrest and enlightenment in Europe.

Birth of the Boardwalk: A Sandy History
Russell Roberts looks at the illustrious beginning of the "walk of boards".

David A. Norris looks at the plastic of the Victorian Age.

The Battle of Cannae
Nicky Nielsen tells the story of the ancient battle between Hannibal Barcas and his sworn enemy, Rome..

Barter and Trade in Colonial America
Joanne Liu looks at the early history of Colonial America where currency as we know it was scarce.

Chroniclers & Scribes — Medieval Historical Writers
William Stroock chronicles some of the great medieval documents that have survived.

The Pedigree of Platinum
Steve Voynick relates the fascinating history of the "other" precious metal.

Pyramids and the Occult — Fact or Fiction?
Pamela D. Toller chronicles the search for the magical meaningn of the pyramids.

The Early Days of Radio
From the book With Amusement For All: A History Of American Popular Culture Since 1930, author LeRoy Ashby looks at the early programs that made radio so popular.

"The Storm": Killer Hurricane Devastates Galveston, Texas
Joanna Bostwick Backman tells the story of a killer hurricane.

Fire Below! The Devastating Reality of Coal Bunker Fires
Patrick McSherry chronicles the dirty and dangerous history of coal bunker fires and the men that fought them.

The Timeless Appeal of Clocks
Phill Jones chronicles the history of timekeeping and its impact on history.

Lizzie Borden and the Fall River Axe Murders
Daniel M. Hoenig describes the enduring interest in this case of murder most foul.

The Babington Plot

Mary, Queen of Scots, was executed after the discovery of the Babington Plot.

DURING THE CAPTIVITY of Mary, Queen of Scots, in England, several attempts were made to place her on the English throne. The most significant of these was the Babington Plot, which ultimately led to Mary's trial and execution in 1587.

The person for whom the plot was named was Anthony Babington. Raised in England as a Catholic, Babington devoted his life to returning England to Catholicism. As a child, Babington served as a page to Mary's jailer, the Earl of Shrewsbury. This is when his devotion to Mary began. As a young adult, Babington conspired with other Catholic Englishmen and the Catholic king of Spain, Philip II, to rescue Mary and reestablish Catholicism in England. This plot failed and numerous of its conspirators were arrested, but Babington convinced Elizabeth that he was a devoted Protestant and was accepted into her court.

In 1586, Babington met John Ballard, a Catholic priest who also wanted Mary on the throne of England. Ballard placed Babington in charge of English Catholics organized to remove Elizabeth from the throne. Babington began to write his own letters to Mary. Written in cipher, Babington's letters explained his plans to rescue her and reestablish Catholicism in England. But the plot did not only include Babington and Ballard. Catholics all over Europe wanted to rescue Mary and remove Elizabeth. Philip II promised to send troops when the assassination of Elizabeth had taken place.

What Babington and Mary did not realize, however, was that their letters were being intercepted by Elizabeth's spies. Elizabeth knew of plots to place Mary on the English throne. Elizabeth's secretary, Sir Francis Walsingham, had been aware of the Babington plot for quite some time. Walsingham tried to convince Elizabeth that the throne and her life were in danger and it would be necessary to have Mary executed. Elizabeth had always refused to have Mary assassinated. Walsingham was convinced that if evidence existed that Mary was plotting Elizabeth's assassination, Elizabeth would then order the execution of Mary. Walsingham found such an opportunity with the Babington Plot.

Walsingham hired Gilbert Gifford, an exiled English Catholic, as a double agent. Gifford was to reestablish contact with Mary. Letters between Mary and her supporters, including Babington's letters, were sent via a beer keg supplied by a brewer. By using Gifford, correspondence could be maintained and intercepted without raising suspicions amongst Mary's supporters. While in his possession, Walsingham had the letters deciphered and copied. In 1586, Babington wrote a letter outlining the details of the plot to rescue Mary. In the letter, Babington asked for Mary's permission to assassinate Elizabeth.

Mary responded and agreed with the plans, but did not authorized the assassination. That did not matter however, because Walsingham's spies intercepted the letter. The letter was deciphered and copied but this time a postscript was added. According to the new letter, Mary authorized the assassination. Walsingham had his proof.

In August 1586, Ballard, the Catholic priest, was arrested and tortured. He named Babington in the plot. Babington, who begged Elizabeth for mercy, was tried and executed in 1586. Mary was tried on the basis of the forged evidence and executed in February 1587.

This article originally appeared as part of a larger piece on the 1580s in our October/November 2001 issue.

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