Saturday, May 09, 2009

Question from Zoe - Group portrait of Babington plotters

I have been reading about the Babington Plot and how Anthony Babington had commissioned a group portrait of the plotters to celebrate their mission to free Mary Queen of Scots.
Does anyone know if the portrait still exists and if so, where it can be seen?
I've tried searching Google Images but no luck.
Thanks in advance


PhD Historian said...

I am very curious, Zoe, where you read that. Can you tell me your source? Non-family group portraits were exceedingly rare, so it would have been an amazingly odd thing for Babington to propose. If you can give me the source, I might be able to use it to develop leads to track it down.

Diane said...

I found two images of the conspirators and one of Babington which I believe are woodcuts, but no portrait.

Anthony Babington image:

Conspirators image:
html (the character before the 205 may be a lower case letter L or a number 1)

Conspirators execution image:

These images don't mention where the images came from.

Marilyn R said...

Could your source possibly have meant

‘A Thankful Remembrance of Gods Mercie - Babington with his complices in St Giles Field’ George Garleton - pub. 1630

which is to be found on Google images?

Zoe said...

Hi, thanks for your reply. I've just checked and it was from a footnote in Antonia Fraser's 'Mary Queen of Scots' in the chapter headed The Babington Plot.
She says that Babington was portrayed at the centre of the group and above their heads was the motto 'hi mihi sunt comites, quos ipsa pericula dicunt.'
I've no idea what that means in English.
There's no mention of where Fraser found this info but it's intriguing to think that the portrait might still exist somewhere!

PhD Historian said...

"Hi[c] mihi sunt comites, quos ipsa pericula dicunt."

"Here my companions are, who speak of the same danger."

The motto banner that Fraser described appears in the woodcut at the Wesleyan website cited by Diane.

The woodcut is not what I would call a "portrait." It would more accurately be described as an "illustration," since it was apparently made specifically for a pamphlet published in 1630, long after the events described and long after the participants were dead. It seems to me exceedingly unlikely that Babington would have or could have commissioned the woodcut himself since it was clearly done after the events were over and the perpetrators had been punished (note the hanging gallows in the background).

A corrected link to the image:

Marilyn R said...

Zoe - it's the George Garleton image I mentioned above, published in 1630.

Marilyn R said...

Zoe - if you type in BBC Sheffield Manor Lodge you come up with an article on Mary Queen of Scots as a prisoner of Bess of Hardwick, & you'll find the Babington image on there.

Notice how all the plotters look the same. It is similar to, but not as well executed (no pun intended!) as the better-known engraving of Guy Fawkes and his fellow Gunpowder Plotters.

Zoe said...

Thanks everyone for your replies and the links. The woodcut is interesting but Fraser refers to Anthony Babington actually commissioning a group portrait. I googled 'Babington Plotters portrait' to see what references came up - not many - but it has been referred to on a couple of other websites which makes me think it might be true.
To commission a portrait just before attempting treason would seem to be in keeping with what we know about Babington's reckless character. Then again, it could just be too attractive an idea to be true. I'll try and remember which other historians have mentioned this.

Tudorrose said...

When you said a group portrait of The Babington plotters I thought you were getting confused with the portrait of The guy fawkes plotters.I have never seen a group portrait of Babington and his co-conspirators before.!I have never even seen the sketch of Babington until now.I wonder if there is any other pictures of babington around.It would be good to see a portrait.But because he wasnt born of royal or noble birth I suppose there wouldn't be would there.

Diane said...

In the episode of "Elizabeth R" entitled "Horrible Conspiracies" Francis Walsingham mentions that Babington had a portrait done. This of course proves nothing but it led me to do a little research on Walsingham and I found this quote:

"A story tells that Elizabeth, walking through Richmond Park, encountered one of the Babington conspirators. She recognized him from a portrait shown to her by Walsingham. Elizabeth approached the man and said, "Am I not well guarded today, with no man near me who wears a sword at his side?" The man fled and nothing came of the incident."

(This quotation is from: or by just Googling Elizabeth's question).

If this story is true then perhaps the portrait Zoe is looking for was in Walsingham's possession and might be found or at least accounted for in the evidence Walsingham collected to use against Mary Queen of Scots.

Tracey said...

Zoe...Alison Weir mentions the Babington portrait in her work "The Life of Elizabeth I" which I am currently re-reading.

Fraser and Weir are the only two writers whom I have ever read who mention this portrait. Nothing by Anne Somerset (who, IMO, wrote the definitive bio of Bessie One) or John Guy in his book on Mary Stuart.

Marilyn R said...

I shall be seeing Alison Weir on 23rd May - can you quote the reference & I'll ask her about it.

Zoe said...

Thanks so much everyone for the input.
The story about Elizabeth recognising Babington from his portrait is very interesting. If the story is true, I wonder how she became aware of its existence, considering its treasonous origins?
It would seem plausible that if the portrait existed it would have been passed to Walsingham after the executions.
Marilyn, it would be wonderful if you could ask Alison Weir about this. She might be able to clear it up for us.

Tracey said...

Marilyn R...

The reference to the portrait is on page 365 in the hardback edition of "The Life of Elizabeth I". This edition was the one released to the U.S. public.

"Babington had also commissioned a group portrait of himself and the future regicides 'as a memorial of so worthy an act'".

Marilyn R said...

Zoe & Tracey - if I get any information I'll reply to this post, even if it has fallen off the bottom of this month's page by then.


Diane said...

I found the reference to the meeting of Elizabeth and the Babington conspirator, Barnwall, in "The life of Queen Elizabeth" by Agnes Strickland. She cites Camden and State trials as her references. The story can be seen at Google Books, "Life of Queen Elizabeth," pages 459 and 460.

Agnes Strickland says it was a picture, not a portrait, that Babington had done. So I'm guessing that the woodcuts I found were copies made for publishing.

Diane said...

Here is the cite that Agnes Strickland used about the Queen and the conspirator's meeting:

"Annales Rerum Gestorum Angliae et Hiberniae Regnante Elizabetha" (1615 and 1625) by William Camden. It is in the 33rd entry of the year 1586. It can be found at:

Marilyn R said...

Back from the Alison Weir lecture at Gainsborough Old Hall. I was able to ask the question about the Babington portrait and she says it definitely did exist but is now lost; it was one portrait as a group, not separate ones of the various plotters. She said it’s 12 years since she researched the book and without notes can’t remember the source, which is fair enough.
Looks as though the Strickland/Camden source is all there is.

Zoe said...

How exciting that there was an actual group portrait of the Babington plotters! It's a shame it's lost.
Thanks for asking Alison Weir about it, Marilyn. And thanks Diane for the link to Camden, that was really interesting.

TDS said...

There is a tapestry at the Rothley Court Hotel in Leicestershire that has Walsingham showing Anthony Babington's copy letter to Queen Elizabeth, who is seated in front of the portrait of the plotters. Presumably Walsingham is showing the portrait to the Queen so she can spot any of the plotters that might intrude into her presence.

pagreen1966 said...

The original portrait was destroyed, possibly on Elizabeth's orders, so that no catholic martyr relic was left for posterity.

However, portraits do exist. An eyewitness drew likenesses of the conspirators at their execution and was even allowed time with their heads in order that they could be printed on propoganda leaflets:

Likewise, a portrait was in the Babington family collection during the 17th century and it was believed to be Anthony Babington himself. Certainly the clothes the young man was wearing dates to the early 1580s:

pagreen1966 said...


The text to the ballad can be found here: