On 11 August 1843, a visitor to Chatsworth set out from an interesting house. His name was John Laxton Esquire (he abbreviated his name to Jno when signing the visitors’ book) and his home was Mansion House, Crich, in Derbyshire. This building had connections with an Elizabethan called Anthony Babington, and he in turn was pivotal in the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.
Antony Babington (1561-1586) was a Roman Catholic who plotted to kill Queen Elizabeth I and install his fellow Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots as monarch. Readers may already know that Mary was held prisoner by George Talbot, 6th Earl of Shrewsbury and his wife Bess of Hardwick, and as a result the Queen spent long periods at Chatsworth. Shrewsbury had another seat at Wingfield Manor, now in ruins and owned by English Heritage. A local legend arose that Babington tried to dig a tunnel from Crich Mansion (or Manor) House to Wingfield and burrow into the Queen’s prison, then lead her to Crich via his tunnel.
It’s a good story but there is not much hard evidence to back it up. In the 1950s some people thought that evidence had been found. Sadly Crich Mansion was being demolished. Workmen on that job found what they thought was a tunnel, and it pointed towards Wingfield. It turned out to be a large drain. Later the workmen found steps leading downstairs into a passage. That passage was blocked by a rockfall and its exit has never been located. It started from a room called ‘The Queen’s Room.’ It has been speculated that it was intended to receive Mary, Queen of Scots. The second possible passage may have been an escape route should Mary be smuggled into the house and Shrewsbury’s men learn where she was. However, this is just speculation.
What can’t be doubted is that Babington’s inner circle was infiltrated by spies loyal to Elizabeth I. As a result he was arrested for treason, found guilty and executed in 1586. His beloved Queen of Scots died by the axe soon afterwards, largely because Babington’s plot had been discovered. Her former jailor, the Earl of Shrewsbury, was made to watch her being executed.