The Babington Plot
Evidences of cryptography, as a vital tool in political conspiracies, date back to as early as the 1500s. The most intriguing of these historical events, is the Babington Plot. Queen Elizabeth I, a staunch supporter of Protestantism, set up an autocratic government which laid emphasis on anti-catholic sentiments.
It is said that, along with the help of Sir Francis Walsingham, her Secretary of State, she set up a school which was to train its students in espionage with the aim of spying on Catholics throughout Europe. They even went to the extent of banning mass, extorting money and sometimes even punishing those who refused to attend the Church of England. This provoked resentment from enemies, both within the state as well as abroad. But the most drastic efforts to overthrow her were made by her own cousin, Mary, Queen of Scots, who sought exile in England in 1568. Mary is known to have plotted with Anthony Babington, for her release from the House of Chartley and the assassination of Queen Elizabeth, to re-establish a Catholic government.
She used mono-alphabetic substitution ciphers for her communication with Babington, and all was going seamlessly, till her reply to the details of the assassination sent by Babington on 6'th July 1586, sent on July 17th fell into the hands of Thomas Phelippes, who decrypted it by forging a short postscript getting the names of the conspirers from none other than Babington himself. Elizabeth, shocked at this discovery, imprisoned Mary in the Fotheringay Castle, but was reluctant to execute her even on strong persuasion. Babington and his allies were barbarically tortured till death. Mary was brought on trial in October, and even though she pleaded 'not guilty', evidence spoke otherwise. She was held prisoner at Chartley, under the custody of Sir Amias Paulet, and any letters she sent out during that time (encrypted by Gilbert Curle, her cipher secretary) were intercepted by Gilbert Gifford, who played the role of a inside agent.
These letters, which were interposed with nulls and symbols, were intercepted, deciphered and then resealed and sent to their intended recipients. After months of delay, Elizabeth signed the death warrant for Mary on 1 February 1587 on persuasion from her judges following which she was beheaded in 7 days.
- Cryptography History: 1587 Mary Queen of Scots, Ambiron trust wave
- Mary, Queen of Scots
- Mary, Queen of Scots, codes and ciphers - The National Archives
- Mary Queen of Scots - Image source (public domain image):
- Mary, Queen of Scots