The Cruel Dilemma at The Heart of Holy Spy

Rory on Holy Spy

Rory Clements has written for us about the dilemma faced by the characters in his latest novel HOLY SPY.

Posted on October 7, 2015 in Guest Author, Uncategorized
Tags: Historical Crime

If your best friend or a beloved member of your family confided in you that they were engaged in a criminal endeavour, would you go to the police? No? What if the crime they were about to commit was treason? Or assassination? Perhaps you would try to dissuade them from their path, tell them not to be so foolish, insist that what they were planning was morally wrong and would likely destroy their life.

This was the dilemma facing several members of the Babington Conspiracy in the year 1586. Their good friend and co-religionist Anthony Babington had sounded them out about a plan to free Mary Queen of Scots, kill Queen Elizabeth and facilitate a Spanish invasion of England. His motive? He wanted to destroy protestantism and return the country to Roman Catholicism, which he saw as the true faith.

The problem for those he tried to recruit – all fervent Catholics – was that once they had been approached, they were immediately implicated. Unless they reported what they knew to the authorities, they were as guilty of the conspiracy as Babington and his more committed comrades. But to report what they knew would be to condemn good friends to a horrible death. This predicament is at the heart of my new novel Holy Spy, which involves a murder mystery and the complex Babington conspiracy, which ended with the beheading of Mary Queen of Scots.

One of those sucked into the plot against his will and executed was the Oxford graduate Edward Abingdon, who said at his trial: ‘That brainless youth Babingon, whose proud stomach and ambitious mind incensed him to commit most abominable treasons, hath been the cause to shed the blood of others guiltless of his actions.’

Another who paid the ultimate price for friendship was Edward Jones, whose pal Thomas Salisbury dragged him into the conspiracy. At his trial, Jones explained his awful dilemma: he said he had the alternatives of betraying Salisbury, who he loved as himself, or of breaking his allegiance to his sovereign. He chose friendship – and died for it.

Over three hundred years later, in 1951, the novelist E M Forster wrote: ‘If I had to choose between betraying my country and betraying my friend, I hope I should have the guts to betray my country.’ But I can’t help wondering whether a true friend would ever place you in such a position in the first place.

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