Voices of Earlier English: Chidiock Tichborn Faces Death in Prose and Verse

The Catholic Chidiock Tichborn (/tʃɪdɪk tɪtʃbɔɹn/) was free to practice his religion for part of his early life after the succession of Elizabeth I. But in 1570, the Queen was excommunicated by the Pope, and she in turn took it out on Catholics. Catholicism was criminalized once again England. In 1583, Tichborn and his father were arrested and questioned about the "popish relics"  Tichborn had brought back from abroad without informing the authorities. Though released without charge this time, three years later accusations of "popish practices" were again laid against the family. That same year, Tichborn joined the Babington plot to to assassinate Elizabeth and replace her with the Catholic Mary, Queen of Scots. When the plot was foiled, most of the other conspirators fled on foot, but Tichborn had an injured leg and was forced to remain in London. On August 14th he was arrested, and later tried and sentenced to death in Westminster Hall. While in custody in the Tower on Sept 19th, Tichborn wrote a letter to his wife Agnes, containing his most famous poem. The following day Tichborn was executed with six other conspirators. On a specially erected scaffold in St. Giles’ Field, he was hanged to the point of near-death and then disemboweled alive. 

In a speech delivered from the scaffold, Tichborn claimed to have been a pawn, a low-level patsy who fell in with the wrong crowd and got in over his head. This is not entirely unbelievable, since the conspiracy itself went to the highest levels, with encrypted messages passed between Sir Anthony Babington and Mary, Queen of Scots, which were intercepted by by Robert Poley, a double agent working for the Elizabeth's secretary and spy-handler Francis Walsingham. 

 Tichborn was likely no older than 23 years old at the time, and possibly a good deal younger. 

Chidiock Tychbornes Elegie, written with his owne hand in the Tower before his execution

My prime of youth is but a frost of cares,
My feast of joy is but a dish of paine,
My Crop of corne is but a field of tares,
And al my good is but vaine hope of gaine.
The day is past, and yet I saw no sunne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

My tale was heard, and yet it was not told,
My fruite is falne, & yet my leaves are greene:
My youth is spent, and yet I am not old,
I saw the world, and yet I was not seene.
My thred is cut, and yet it is not spunne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

I sought my death, and found it in my wombe,
I lookt for life, and saw it was a shade:
I trod the earth, and knew it was my Tombe,
And now I die, and now I was but made.
My glasse is full, and now my glasse is runne,
And now I live, and now my life is done.

2 dish] a meal
3 tares] weeds
4 good] wealth, holdings
7 told] i.e. told to completion
8 womb] here meaning "guts" a reference to the manner of his execution. (Cf. Nicolas Grimald "so plaines Prometh his womb no time to faile", Spenser "in his wombe might lurke some hidden nest of many dragonettes, his fruitful feed.) Also perhaps a reference to his birth as a Catholic.

Tichborn's speech from the scaffold:

Countrymen and my dear Friends, you expect I should speak something; I am a bad Orator, and my text is worse: It were in vain to enter into the discourse of the whole matter for which I am brought hither, for that it hath been revealed heretofore, and is well known to the most of this company; let me be a warning to all young gentlemen, especially generosis adolescentulis. I had a friend, and a dear friend, of whom I made no small account, whose friendship hath brought me to this; he told me the whole matter, I cannot deny, as they had laid it down to be done; but I always thought it impious, and denied to be a dealer in it; but the regard of my friend caused me to be a man in whom the old proverb was verified; I was silent, and so consented. Before this thing chanced, we lived together in most flourishing estate; of whom went report in the Strand, Fleet street, and elsewhere about London,
but of Babington and Titchbone? No threshold was of force to brave our entry. Thus we lived, and wanted nothing we could wish for; and God knows, what less in my head than matters of State? Now give me leave to declare the miseries I sustained after I was acquainted with the action, wherein I may justly compare my estate to that of Adam’s, who could not abstain one thing forbidden, to enjoy all other things the world could afford; the terror of conscience awaited me.
After I consider’d the dangers whereinto I was fallen, I went to Sir John Peters, in Essex, and appointed my horses should meet me at London, intending to go down into the country. I came to London, and there heard that all was bewrayed; whereupon, like Adam, we fled into the woods to hide ourselves, and there were apprehended. My dear countrymen, my sorrows may be your joy, yet mix your smiles with tears, and pity my case.

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