Unknown to history a st.., p.32

Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland, page 32


Unknown to History: A Story of the Captivity of Mary of Scotland

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  Beneath the noble roof of Westminster Hall, with the morning sunstreaming in high aloft, at seven in the morning of the 14th ofSeptember, the Court met for the trial of Antony Babington and hisconfederates. The Talbot name and recommendation obtained readyadmission, and Lord Talbot, Richard, and his son formed one small partytogether with William Cavendish, who had his tablets, on which to takenotes for the use of his superior, Walsingham, who was, however, one ofthe Commissioners.

  There they sat, those supreme judges, the three Chief-Justices in theirscarlet robes of office forming the centre of the group, which alsonumbered Lords Cobham and Buckhurst, Sir Francis Knollys, SirChristopher 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 mycomprehension."

  Nevertheless Richard had determined that if the course of the trialshould offer the least opportunity, he would come forward and plead hisformer knowledge of young Babington as a rash and weak-headed youth,easily played upon by designing persons, but likely to take to heartsuch a lesson as this, and become a true and loyal subject. If hecould obtain any sort of mitigation for the poor youth, it would beworth the risk.

  The seven conspirators were brought in, and Richard could hardly keep arush of tears from his eyes at the sight of those fine, high-spiritedyoung men, especially Antony Babington, the playfellow of his ownchildren.

  Antony was carefully dressed in his favourite colour, dark green, hishair and beard trimmed, and his demeanour calm and resigned. The firewas gone from his blue eye, and his bright complexion had faded, butthere 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, andrested at length on Mr. Talbot, as though deriving encouragement andsupport from the look that met his. Next to him was another young manwith the same look of birth and breeding, namely Chidiock Tichborne;but John Savage, an older man, had the reckless bearing of thebrutalised soldiery of the Netherlandish wars. Robert Barnwell, withhis red, shaggy brows and Irish physiognomy, was at once recognised byDiccon. Donne and Salisbury followed; and the seventh conspirator,John Ballard, was carried in a chair. Even Diccon's quick eye couldhardly have detected the ruffling, swaggering, richly-clad CaptainFortescue in this tonsured man in priestly garb, deadly pale, andunable 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." Theindictment was then read at great length, charging them with conspiringto slay the Queen, to deliver Mary, Queen of Scots, from custody, tostir up rebellion, to bring the Spaniards to invade England, and tochange the religion of the country. The question was first put toBallard, Was he guilty of these treasons or not guilty?

  Ballard's reply was, "That I procured the delivery of the Queen ofScots, I am guilty; and that I went about to alter the religion, I amguilty; 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 mustdeny the whole generally, or confess it generally; while Hatton put in,"Ballard, under thine own hand are all things confessed, therefore nowit 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 mildcountenance, sober gesture," and all his natural grace, stood up andspoke, saying "that the time for concealment was past, and that he wasready to avow how from his earliest infancy he had believed England tohave fallen from the true religion, and had trusted to see it restoredthereto. Moreover, he had ever a deep love and compassion for theQueen of Scots. Some," he said, "who are yet at large, and who are yetas 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 greatenterprise for the rescue and restoration of the Queen of Scots, andthe re-establishment of the Catholic religion in England by the swordof the Prince of Parma. A body of gentlemen were to attack Chartley,free Mary, and proclaim her Queen, and at the same time Queen Elizabethwas 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 againstthe wickedness of thus privily slaying her Majesty."

  Some muttered, "The villain! he lies," but the kindly Richard sighedinaudibly, "True, poor lad! Thou must have given thy conscience overto 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 scrupleswere weak, carnal, and ungodly, and that it would be a meritorious deedin the sight of Heaven thus to remove the heretic usurper.

  Here the judges sternly bade him not to blaspheme, and he replied, withthat "soberness and good grace" which seems to have struck all thebeholders, that he craved patience and pardon, meaning only to explainhow he had been led to the madness which he now repented, understandinghimself to have been in grievous error, though not for the sake of anytemporal reward; but being blinded to the guilt, and assured that thedeed was both lawful and meritorious. He thus had been brought todestruction 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 neverproceed any better fruits. He it was who persuaded me to kill theQueen, and to commit the other treasons, whereof I confess myselfguilty."

  Savage pleaded guilty at once, with the reckless hardihood of a soldieraccustomed to look on death as the fortune of war.

  Barnwell denied any intention of killing the Queen (much to Diccon'ssurprise), but pleaded guilty to the rest. Donne said that on beingtold of the plot he had prayed that whatever was most to the honour andglory of Heaven might be done, and being pushed hard by Hatton, turnedthis into a confession of being guilty. Salisbury declared that he hadalways protested against killing the Queen, and that he would not havedone so for a kingdom, but of the rest he was guilty. Tichborne showedthat but for an accidental lameness he would have been at his home inHampshire, but he could not deny his knowledge of the treason.

  All having pleaded guilty, no trial was permitted, such as would havebrought out the different degrees of guilt, which varied in all theseven.

  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 hisplans both for her rescue and the assassination, saying, "he hadappointed six noble gentlemen for the despatch of the wickedcompetitor."

  Richard caught a look of astonishment on the unhappy young man's face,but it passed into hopeless despondency, and the speech went on todescribe the picture of the conspirators and its strange motto,concluding with an accusation that they meant to sack London, burn theships, and "cloy the ordnance."

  A shudder of horror went through the assembly, and perhaps few exceptRichard Talbot felt that the examination of the prisoners ought to havebeen public. The form, however, was gone through of asking whetherthey had cause to render wherefor
e they should not be condemned to die.

  The first to speak was Ballard. His eyes glanced round with anindomitable expression of scorn and indignation, which, as Dicconwhispered, he could have felt to his very backbone. It was like thatof a trapped and maimed lion, as the man sat in his chair with crushedand racked limbs, but with a spirit untamed in its defiance.

  "Cause, my Lords?" he replied. "The cause I have to render will notavail here, but it may avail before another Judgment-seat, where thequestion will be, who used the weapons of treason, not merely againstwhom they were employed. Inquiry hath not been made here who subornedthe priest, Dr. Gifford, to fetch me over from Paris, that we mighttogether overcome the scruples of these young men, and lead themforward in a scheme for the promotion of the true religion and theright and lawful succession. No question hath here been put in opencourt, who framed the conspiracy, nor for what purpose. No, my Lords;it would baffle the end you would bring about, yea, and blot thereputation of some who stand in high places, if it came to light thatthe plot was devised, not by the Catholics who were to be theinstruments thereof, nor by the Lady in whose favour all was to bedone,--not by these, the mere victims, but by him who by a triumph ofpolicy thus sent forth his tempters to enclose them all within hisnet--above all the persecuted Lady whom all true Catholics own as theonly lawful sovereign within these realms. Such schemes, when theysucceed, are termed policy. My Lords, I confess that by the justice ofEngland we have been guilty of treason against Queen Elizabeth; but bythe eternal law of the justice of God, we have suffered treachery farexceeding that for which we are about to die."

  "I marvel that they let the fellow speak so far," was Cavendish'scomment.

  "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 outwith something that would have rather astonished Westminster Hall, andcaused him to be taken out by the ushers. It is not wonderful that noreport of the priest's speech has been preserved.

  The name of Antony Babington was then called. Probably he had been toomuch absorbed in the misery of his position to pay attention to thepreceding speech, for his reply was quite independent of it. He prayedthe Lords to believe, and to represent to her Majesty, that he hadreceived with horror the suggestion of compassing her death, and hadonly been brought to believe it a terrible necessity by the persuasionsof this Ballard.

  On this Hatton broke forth in indignant compassion,--"O Ballard!Ballard! what hast thou done? A sort of brave youth, otherwise endowedwith good gifts, by thy inducement hast thou brought to their utterdestruction and confusion!"

  This apparently gave some hope to Babington, for he answered--"Yes, Iprotest that, before I met this Ballard, I never meant nor intended forto kill the Queen; but by his persuasions I was induced to believe thatshe being excommunicate it was lawful to murder her."

  For the first time Ballard betrayed any pain. "Yes, Mr. Babington," hesaid, "lay all the blame upon me; but I wish the shedding of my bloodmight be the saving of your life. Howbeit, say what you will, I willsay 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 inuttering reproaches, returned--"Nay, Ballard, you must say more andshall say more, for you must not commit treasons and then huddle themup. Is this your Religio Catholica? Nay, rather it is Diabolica."

  Ballard scorned to answer this, and the Clerk passed on to Savage, whoretained his soldierly fatalism, and only shook his head. Barnwellagain denied any purpose of injuring the Queen, and when Hatton spokeof his appearance in Richmond Park, he said all had been for consciencesake. So said Henry Donne, but with far more piety and dignity,adding, "fiat voluntas Dei;" and Thomas Salisbury was the only one whomade any entreaty for pardon.

  Speeches followed from the Attorney-General, and from Sir ChristopherHatton, and then the Lord Chief Justice Anderson pronounced theterrible sentence.

  Richard Talbot sat with his head bowed between his hands. His son hadbegun listening with wide-stretched eyes and mouth, as boyhood hearkensto the dreadful, and with the hardness of an unmerciful time, too aptto confound pity with weakness; but when his eye fell on the man he hadfollowed about as an elder playmate, and realised all it conveyed, hischeek blanched, his jaw fell, and he hardly knew how his father got himout of the court.

  There was clearly no hope. The form of the trial was such as to leaveno chance of escape from the utmost penalty. No witnesses had beenexamined, no degrees of guilt acknowledged, no palliations admitted.Perhaps men who would have brought the Spanish havoc on their nativecountry, and have murdered their sovereign, were beyond the pale ofcompassion. All London clearly thought so; and yet, as Richard Talbotdwelt on their tones and looks, and remembered how they had beendeluded and tempted, and made to believe their deed meritorious, hecould not but feel exceeding pity for the four younger men. Ballard,Savage, and Barnwell might be justly doomed; even Babington had, by hisown admission, entertained a fearfully evil design; but the other threehad evidently dipped far less deeply into the plot, and Tichborne hadonly concealed it out of friendship. Yet the ruthless judgmentcondemned all alike! And why? To justify a yet more cruel blow! Nowonder honest Richard Talbot felt sick at heart.

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