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(above) Catalogue reference: SP 12/193/54; Babington postscript, 1586. (below) Catalogue reference: SP 53/18/55; Babington cipher, 1586 (link to an enlarged view)
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The Babington postscript and cipher, 1586
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(Catalogue reference: SP 12/193/54 and SP 53/18/55) transcript
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‘There be many means in hand to remove the beast that troubles the world’
(Thomas Morgan to Gilbert Curle, referring to Elizabeth I)

Encouraged by her supporters abroad (Gifford, Paget, Mendoza, Morgan and Ballard), Anthony Babington wrote a long letter to Mary, Queen of Scots on 6 July 1586. This letter revealed the details of what has become known as the Babington Plot. Babington asked for Mary’s approval and advice to ensure ‘the dispatch of the usurping Competitor’ - the assassination of Elizabeth I.

Mary’s reply on 17 July sealed her fate. It fell into the hands of Thomas Phelippes, who copied the letter, added the gallows sign, and forged a short postscript asking Babington for the names of those involved. This is the postscript and cipher kept by Walsingham and used as evidence against the conspirators and the Queen of Scots.

Within days Babington and his colleagues were arrested and taken to the Tower. Mary’s secretaries were interrogated and her belongings were seized and searched. Seven of the conspirators were dragged to St. Giles’ Fields and brutally executed on 20 September 1586.

Mary was taken to Fotheringay Castle and put on trial in October. Throughout the proceedings she protested her innocence and denied all knowledge of the plot, but the letters were produced as evidence of her guilt. After months of delays Elizabeth signed Mary’s death warrant on 1 February 1587. Seven days later Mary was beheaded in the Great Hall at Fotheringay. Bonfires were lit and bells were rung throughout the country in celebration.

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