Ballard, John (d.1586) (DNB00)


BALLARD, JOHN (d. 1586), Roman catholic priest, owes his fame solely to his connection with the Babington conspiracy, of which a general account is given under Anthony Babington. He was apparently educated at Rheims, and first sent upon a mission to England in 1581 (Archives of English College at Rome, in Foley's Records, iii. 44). He passed under various aliases, first Turner, then Thompson, but later on always under that of Foscue or Fortescue. It has been doubted whether his real name was not Thompson. The object of his coming was to ‘reconcile’ doubting or recalcitrant catholics to the church of Rome, and doubtless to sound their political dispositions. He was well furnished with money, was commonly called captain, and seems to have been fond of fine clothes and fine company (Tyrrell's Confession). Among the persons whose acquaintance he made was Anthony Tyrrell, the jesuit, whose confession, could it be accepted as trustworthy, would give us most of the facts of Ballard's career. But Tyrrell's confession was retracted, reaffirmed, and then again retracted, and is at least as much open to suspicion as the testimony of any other informer. Tyrrell made Ballard's acquaintance at the Gatehouse, Westminster, where they were both temporarily confined in 1581. In 1584 these two travelled to Rouen, and afterwards to Rheims, where they held a conference with Cardinal Allen, and from Rheims they proceeded to Rome, where they arrived on 7 Sept. 1584 (Pilgrims' Register at Rome, and Tyrrell). It was then that Tyrrell, in his confession, represents them as having an interview with Alfonso Agazzari, rector of the English college, in which they inquired as to the lawfulness of attempting the assassination of Elizabeth, and received assurances in the affirmative, and subsequently the blessing of Gregory XIII upon their enterprise. This account, although accepted as an undoubted fact by some historians, rests on no better authority than the confession of Tyrrell. They left Rome in October and journeyed homeward through France. In the late months of 1585 Ballard, disguised as a military officer and passing under the name of Captain Fortescue, travelled through almost every county of England and visited every catholic or semi-catholic family. In May 1586 Ballard went to Paris, where he informed Charles Paget, the adherent of Mary Queen of Scots, and the Spanish minister Mendoza, that the catholic gentry in England were willing, with the help of Spain, to rise in insurrection against Elizabeth and her counsellors. Mauvissière, the French ambassador in London, refused to countenance the scheme (Tyrrell's Conf.) Chateauneuf, another French envoy to England, believed Ballard to have been at one time a spy of Walsingham (Mémoire de Chateauneuf ap. Labanoff, vi. 275 seq.). But Paget and Mendoza trusted him, and on his return to England, at the end of May 1586, he instigated Anthony Babington to organise without delay his famous conspiracy. He came to England, bearing a letter of introduction from Charles Paget to Mary Queen of Scots (dated 29 May 1586, ap. Murdin, p. 531). He reported to her the condition of the country, and she sent him again to France to hasten the active co-operation of the King of Spain and of the pope (Mary to Paget, 17 July, Labanoff). Meantime Ballard imagined he had found a useful ally in his negotiations abroad and at home in Gilbert Gifford, a catholic, and to him many details of the plot were communicated; but Gifford had since 1585 been in Walsingham's secret service, and reported to the English government the progress of the conspiracy. Owing mainly to the revelations of Gifford, whom Ballard suspected too late, Ballard was suddenly arrested in London on 4 Aug., on a warrant drawn up early in July. He was committed to the Tower and severely racked, but without the government being able to extort from him more than a general confession of his guilt. Before the close of August all the leaders of the conspiracy had shared Ballard's fortune. The trial of Ballard, with Babington and five other conspirators, took place on 13 and 14 Sept., and they were all convicted. At the trial Babington charged Ballard with having brought him into his perilous situation, and Ballard acknowledged the justice of the rebuke. Ballard was executed on 20 Sept. The full penalty of the law, which involved the disembowelling of the criminal before life was extinct, was carried out with all its cruelty. Ballard, who was the first of the conspirators to be executed, is reported to have borne his sufferings with remarkable fortitude.

[MSS. Mary Queen of Scots, xix. 67, 68 (Confession of Tyrrell); cf. also Morris's Troubles of our Catholic Forefathers, second series; Teulet's Relations de la France et de l'Espagne avec l'Ecosse; Labanoff's Lettres de Marie Stuart; Murdin's State Papers; Howell's State Trials; Foley's Records of the English Province of the Society of Jesus; Froude's Hist. of England, xii. 126–36, 155, 170–4; see also under Anthony Babington.]

C. F. K.