COLUMN: A big history for a small village

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Dethick is a small place, but it has a big place in history – connected with the attempted downfall of the Queen of England.

The early 13th century church there was built as a private chapel to Dethick Manor. A daughter of this family married into the Babington family and by the 15th century the Babingtons had inherited the manor and chapel.

One of the farms there now is said to have the original fireplace and kitchen from this earlier manor house. It was the birthplace, in October 1561, of Anthony Babington, involved in the later named ‘Babington Plot’, which was an attempt to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I and install her imprisoned sister Mary Queen of Scots, on the English throne.

The Babingtons were secret Roman Catholics and thought that Catholic Mary was the rightful monarch, not Protestant Elizabeth.

The young lad – an ardent admirer of Mary – became associated with other sympathisers working on getting rid of Elizabeth, inclding John Ballard, a Catholic priest who also wanted Mary on the throne.

The plotters began writing letters to Mary to let her know their progress and plans. The letters between the two were encoded, but easily cracked when they were intercepted by the spies of Elizabeth’s secretary Sir Francis Walsingham. The originals were then resealed and sent on so the plotters would be none the wiser.

In one letter, Babington asked for Mary’s permission to assassinate Elizabeth. Mary responded in agreement but didn’t exactly endorse things. When the intercepted letter was deciphered and copied however, it had gained a postscript that did – probably a forged addition from Walsingham, also asking for the names of the plotters. This was the proof Walsingham needed to pounce.

In August 1586, Ballard was arrested and tortured and gave away Babington’s part in the plot. Babington tried to escape but was caught and sent to the Tower of London. He was tried with the other plotters and condemned to death for high treason.

So on September 20, Anthony Babington from the quiet little village in Derbyshire, met a very public and gruesome end in London being hung, drawn and quartered.