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Queen Mary's Presence Chamber
Beneath the noble roof of Westminster Hall, with the morning sun
streaming in high aloft, at seven in the morning of the 14th of
September, the Court met for the trial of Antony Babington and his
confederates. The Talbot name and recommendation obtained ready
admission, and Lord Talbot, Richard, and his son formed one small party
together with William Cavendish, who had his tablets, on which to take
notes for the use of his superior, Walsingham, who was, however, one of
There they sat, those supreme judges, the three Chief-Justices in their
scarlet robes of office forming the centre of the group, which also
numbered Lords Cobham and Buckhurst, Sir Francis Knollys, Sir
Christopher Hatton, and most of the chief law officers of the Crown.
"Is Mr. Secretary Walsingham one of the judges here?" asked Diccon.
"Methought he had been in the place of the accuser."
"Peace, boy, and listen," said his father; "these things pass my
Nevertheless Richard had determined that if the course of the trial
should offer the least opportunity, he would come forward and plead his
former knowledge of young Babington as a rash and weak-headed youth,
easily played upon by designing persons, but likely to take to heart
such a lesson as this, and become a true and loyal subject. If he
could obtain any sort of mitigation for the poor youth, it would be
worth the risk.
The seven conspirators were brought in, and Richard could hardly keep a
rush of tears from his eyes at the sight of those fine, high-spirited
young men, especially Antony Babington, the playfellow of his own
Antony was carefully dressed in his favourite colour, dark green, his
hair and beard trimmed, and his demeanour calm and resigned. The fire
was gone from his blue eye, and his bright complexion had faded, but
there was an air of dignity about him such as he had never worn before.
His eyes, as he took his place, wandered round the vast assembly, and
rested at length on Mr. Talbot, as though deriving encouragement and
support from the look that met his. Next to him was another young man
with the same look of birth and breeding, namely Chidiock Tichborne;
but John Savage, an older man, had the reckless bearing of the
brutalised soldiery of the Netherlandish wars. Robert Barnwell, with
his red, shaggy brows and Irish physiognomy, was at once recognised by
Diccon. Donne and Salisbury followed; and the seventh conspirator,
John Ballard, was carried in a chair. Even Diccon's quick eye could
hardly have detected the ruffling, swaggering, richly-clad Captain
Fortescue in this tonsured man in priestly garb, deadly pale, and
unable to stand, from the effects of torture, yet with undaunted,
penetrating eyes, all unsubdued.
After the proclamation, Oyez, Oyez, and the command to keep silence,
Sandys, the Clerk of the Crown, began the proceedings. "John Ballard,
Antony Babington, John Savage, Robert Barnwell, Chidiock Tichborne,
Henry Donne, Thomas Salisbury, hold up your hands and answer." The
indictment was then read at great length, charging them with conspiring
to slay the Queen, to deliver Mary, Queen of Scots, from custody, to
stir up rebellion, to bring the Spaniards to invade England, and to
change the religion of the country. The question was first put to
Ballard, Was he guilty of these treasons or not guilty?
Ballard's reply was, "That I procured the delivery of the Queen of
Scots, I am guilty; and that I went about to alter the religion, I am
guilty; but that I intended to slay her Majesty, I am not guilty."
"Not with his own hand," muttered Cavendish, "but for the rest--"
"Pity that what is so bravely spoken should be false," thought Richard,
"yet it may be to leave the way open to defence."
Sandys, however, insisted that he must plead to the whole indictment,
and Anderson, the Chief-Justice of Common Pleas, declared that he must
deny the whole generally, or confess it generally; while Hatton put in,
"Ballard, under thine own hand are all things confessed, therefore now
it is much vanity to stand vaingloriously in denying it."
"Then, sir, I confess I am guilty," he said, with great calmness,
though it was the resignation of all hope.
The same question was then put to Babington. He, with "a mild
countenance, sober gesture," and all his natural grace, stood up and
spoke, saying "that the time for concealment was past, and that he was
ready to avow how from his earliest infancy he had believed England to
have fallen from the true religion, and had trusted to see it restored
thereto. Moreover, he had ever a deep love and compassion for the
Queen of Scots. Some," he said, "who are yet at large, and who are yet
as deep in the matter as I--"
"Gifford, Morgan, and another," whispered Cavendish significantly.
"Have they escaped?" asked Diccon.
"So 'tis said."
"The decoy ducks," thought Richard.
Babington was explaining that these men had proposed to him a great
enterprise for the rescue and restoration of the Queen of Scots, and
the re-establishment of the Catholic religion in England by the sword
of the Prince of Parma. A body of gentlemen were to attack Chartley,
free Mary, and proclaim her Queen, and at the same time Queen Elizabeth
was to be put to death by some speedy and skilful method.
"My Lords," he said, "I swear that all that was in me cried out against
the wickedness of thus privily slaying her Majesty."
Some muttered, "The villain! he lies," but the kindly Richard sighed
inaudibly, "True, poor lad! Thou must have given thy conscience over
to strange keepers to be thus led astray."
And Babington went on to say that they had brought this gentleman,
Father Ballard, who had wrought with him to prove that his scruples
were weak, carnal, and ungodly, and that it would be a meritorious deed
in the sight of Heaven thus to remove the heretic usurper.
Here the judges sternly bade him not to blaspheme, and he replied, with
that "soberness and good grace" which seems to have struck all the
beholders, that he craved patience and pardon, meaning only to explain
how he had been led to the madness which he now repented, understanding
himself to have been in grievous error, though not for the sake of any
temporal reward; but being blinded to the guilt, and assured that the
deed was both lawful and meritorious. He thus had been brought to
destruction through the persuasions of this Ballard.
"A very fit author for so bad a fact," responded Hatton.
"Very true, sir," said Babington; "for from so bad a ground never
proceed any better fruits. He it was who persuaded me to kill the
Queen, and to commit the other treasons, whereof I confess myself
Savage pleaded guilty at once, with the reckless hardihood of a soldier
accustomed to look on death as the fortune of war.
Barnwell denied any intention of killing the Queen (much to Diccon's
surprise), but pleaded guilty to the rest. Donne said that on being
told of the plot he had prayed that whatever was most to the honour and
glory of Heaven might be done, and being pushed hard by Hatton, turned
this into a confession of being guilty. Salisbury declared that he had
always protested against killing the Queen, and that he would not have
done so for a kingdom, but of the rest he was guilty. Tichborne showed
that but for an accidental lameness he would have been at his home in
Hampshire, but he could not deny his knowledge of the treason.
All having pleaded guilty, no trial was permitted, such as would have
brought out the different degrees of guilt, which varied in all the
A long speech was, however, made by the counsel for the Crown,
detailing the plot as it had been arranged for the public knowledge,
and reading aloud a letter from Babington to Queen Mary, describing his
plans both for her rescue and the assassination, saying, "he had
appointed six noble gentlemen for the despatch of the wicked
Richard caught a look of astonishment on the unhappy young man's face,
but it passed into hopeless despondency, and the speech went on to
describe the picture of the conspirators and its strange motto,
concluding with an accusation that they meant to sack London, burn the
ships, and "cloy the ordnance."
A shudder of horror went through the assembly, and perhaps few except
Richard Talbot felt that the examination of the prisoners ought to have
been public. The form, however, was gone through of asking whether
they had cause to render wherefore they should not be condemned to die.
The first to speak was Ballard. His eyes glanced round with an
indomitable expression of scorn and indignation, which, as Diccon
whispered, he could have felt to his very backbone. It was like that
of a trapped and maimed lion, as the man sat in his chair with crushed
and racked limbs, but with a spirit untamed in its defiance.
"Cause, my Lords?" he replied. "The cause I have to render will not
avail here, but it may avail before another Judgment-seat, where the
question will be, who used the weapons of treason, not merely against
whom they were employed. Inquiry hath not been made here who suborned
the priest, Dr. Gifford, to fetch me over from Paris, that we might
together overcome the scruples of these young men, and lead them
forward in a scheme for the promotion of the true religion and the
right and lawful succession. No question hath here been put in open
court, who framed the conspiracy, nor for what purpose. No, my Lords;
it would baffle the end you would bring about, yea, and blot the
reputation of some who stand in high places, if it came to light that
the plot was devised, not by the Catholics who were to be the
instruments thereof, nor by the Lady in whose favour all was to be
done,--not by these, the mere victims, but by him who by a triumph of
policy thus sent forth his tempters to enclose them all within his
net--above all the persecuted Lady whom all true Catholics own as the
only lawful sovereign within these realms. Such schemes, when they
succeed, are termed policy. My Lords, I confess that by the justice of
England we have been guilty of treason against Queen Elizabeth; but by
the eternal law of the justice of God, we have suffered treachery far
exceeding that for which we are about to die."
"I marvel that they let the fellow speak so far," was Cavendish's
"Nay, but is it so?" asked Diccon with startled eyes.
"Hush! you have yet to learn statecraft," returned his friend.
His father's monitory hand only just saved the boy from bursting out
with something that would have rather astonished Westminster Hall, and
caused him to be taken out by the ushers. It is not wonderful that no
report of the priest's speech has been preserved.
The name of Antony Babington was then called. Probably he had been too
much absorbed in the misery of his position to pay attention to the
preceding speech, for his reply was quite independent of it. He prayed
the Lords to believe, and to represent to her Majesty, that he had
received with horror the suggestion of compassing her death, and had
only been brought to believe it a terrible necessity by the persuasions
of this Ballard.
On this Hatton broke forth in indignant compassion,--"O Ballard!
Ballard! what hast thou done? A sort of brave youth, otherwise endowed
with good gifts, by thy inducement hast thou brought to their utter
destruction and confusion!"
This apparently gave some hope to Babington, for he answered--"Yes, I
protest that, before I met this Ballard, I never meant nor intended for
to kill the Queen; but by his persuasions I was induced to believe that
she being excommunicate it was lawful to murder her."
For the first time Ballard betrayed any pain. "Yes, Mr. Babington," he
said, "lay all the blame upon me; but I wish the shedding of my blood
might be the saving of your life. Howbeit, say what you will, I will
say no more."
"He is the bravest of them all!" was Diccon's comment.
"Wot you that he was once our spy?" returned Cavendish with a sneer;
while Sir Christopher, with the satisfaction of a little nature in
uttering reproaches, returned--"Nay, Ballard, you must say more and
shall say more, for you must not commit treasons and then huddle them
up. Is this your Religio Catholica? Nay, rather it is Diabolica."
Ballard scorned to answer this, and the Clerk passed on to Savage, who
retained his soldierly fatalism, and only shook his head. Barnwell
again denied any purpose of injuring the Queen, and when Hatton spoke
of his appearance in Richmond Park, he said all had been for conscience
sake. So said Henry Donne, but with far more piety and dignity,
adding, "fiat voluntas Dei;" and Thomas Salisbury was the only one who
made any entreaty for pardon.
Speeches followed from the Attorney-General, and from Sir Christopher
Hatton, and then the Lord Chief Justice Anderson pronounced the
Richard Talbot sat with his head bowed between his hands. His son had
begun listening with wide-stretched eyes and mouth, as boyhood hearkens
to the dreadful, and with the hardness of an unmerciful time, too apt
to confound pity with weakness; but when his eye fell on the man he had
followed about as an elder playmate, and realised all it conveyed, his
cheek blanched, his jaw fell, and he hardly knew how his father got him
out of the court.
There was clearly no hope. The form of the trial was such as to leave
no chance of escape from the utmost penalty. No witnesses had been
examined, no degrees of guilt acknowledged, no palliations admitted.
Perhaps men who would have brought the Spanish havoc on their native
country, and have murdered their sovereign, were beyond the pale of
compassion. All London clearly thought so; and yet, as Richard Talbot
dwelt on their tones and looks, and remembered how they had been
deluded and tempted, and made to believe their deed meritorious, he
could not but feel exceeding pity for the four younger men. Ballard,
Savage, and Barnwell might be justly doomed; even Babington had, by his
own admission, entertained a fearfully evil design; but the other three
had evidently dipped far less deeply into the plot, and Tichborne had
only concealed it out of friendship. Yet the ruthless judgment
condemned all alike! And why? To justify a yet more cruel blow! No
wonder honest Richard Talbot felt sick at heart.
Next: In The Tower