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Study notes

The Babington Plot (1586)

  • Levels: GCSE
  • Exam boards: AQA, Edexcel, OCR, Eduqas

The Babington Plot of 1686 was the third key plot against the life of Elizabeth I (following the Ridolfi Plot in 1571 and the Throckmorton Plot in 1583). The Babington Plot ultimately resulted in not just the execution of Anthony Babington and his conspirators, but also Mary, Queen of Scots.

What was the plot?

The plot had basically the same aims as the Ridolfi Plot and Throckmorton Plot - to replace Elizabeth with Mary Queen of Scots through the use of an invading army. In this case the plan was the use of an invading French army financed by Philip II of Spain.

The plot involved:

  • Anthony Babington (a 25 year-old Catholic)
  • John Ballard (a Jesuit priest)
  • Mary Queen of Scots

Other individuals involved in the Babington plot were:

  • Robert Poley, Gilbert Gifford and Thomas Phelippes - agents and double-agents working for Sir Francis Wolsingham

How was the plot foiled?

Babington wrote a letter to Mary Queen of Scots outlining six steps that needed to be taken in order to free Mary and replace Elizabeth.

Steps 5 and 6 of the letter were crucial.

  • Step 5 involved the freeing of Mary Queen of Scots from her imprisonment.
  • Step 6 identified the need to kill Elizabeth

Mary Queen of Scots replied to the letter essentially consenting to the plan.

Mary's letter was intercepted by Wolsingham's intelligence agents and de-coded.

This gave Sir Francis Wolsingham the evidence he felt he needed to prove that Mary Queen of Scots was plotting to overthrow Elizabeth.

What were the consequences of the plot?

Babington and his conspirators were arrested, convicted of treason and executed.

The most important consequence of the Babington Plot was the subsequent execution of Mary Queen of Scots - a hugely significant event since it involved the execution of a monarch.

The plot also resulted in an increase in action by Elizabeth against Catholics. Hundreds were arrested, with dozens of Catholic priests executed.

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