It is remarkable that Cecil himself had intimated to some of his colleagues, before the king's return from Royston, that the letter must refer to an explosion of gunpowder: the very same suspicion also crossed the mind of the earl of Suffolk, the lord chamberlain. This suspicion, however, was concealed from the king by the two statesmen. His majesty instantly took the same view of the letter, though he was totally unacquainted with the opinions of his two councillors. Popish authors have laboured to prove, that the treason was either planned by, or at least known to, the court, because the king so readily referred the letter to an explosion by gunpowder. Cecil and Suffolk had conceived the same opinion, though it does not appear that they thought of gunpowder secreted under the House of Lords. But what proof does this circumstance furnish of any previous knowledge even, on the part of the court, much less of contrivance? Was it strange that they should thus interpret such a mysterious letter? Cecil and Suffolk were fully aware of the plots which had been devised against Elizabeth; they knew that on more than one occasion, the traitors had contemplated the death of the queen by means of gunpowder. With these facts fresh in their recollection, it was perfectly natural to interpret the letter to signify some attempt of the same kind. In short, no other interpretation could have reasonably been put upon it. That the king himself should have suspected some attempt by means of gunpowder was also to be expected. He was well aware of the practices of the church of Rome; and it is probable that, on this occasion, he recollected the fate of his father, King Henry, whose death was accomplished by an explosion of gunpowder. To King James, therefore, really belongs the honour of discovering the gunpowder treason; for, though Cecil and Suffolk had conceived the same idea, yet they do not appear to have entertained the notion of a mine under the House of Lords. Besides, the two lords did not communicate their suspicions to the king. The remarkable part of the business, therefore, is the fact, that the three individuals should have so readily struck upon the same idea. It must, however, be stated that the interpretation put by the king upon the clause relative to the burning of the letter was not the true one: for it is pretty clear, that the writer wished Monteagle to absent himself from the parliament, and to burn the letter to avoid suspicion of being privy to the plot. But, though we may admit, that the king's interpretation of the clause was not that, which the writer intended, yet we must acknowledge, that his majesty's suggestion was most providential, and sufficient to justify the strong language used in the Act of Parliament for the observance of the Fifth of November. Let it be remembered that timidity was one of James's infirmities; and fear is usually very quick-sighted.
At this first interview with the king, no plan was adopted for their further course. The king suggested a search; but Cecil did not give his sanction. It appears to have been his aim to delay the search a little longer; and, therefore, he quitted the royal presence with a jest. What his motives were for not complying with the king's suggestion, cannot be ascertained. In all probability he was anxious to consult his colleagues, or he may have thought that the king's apprehensions relative to the concealment of gunpowder under the House of Lords were groundless. He did not, however, think lightly of the matter, though he jested with his majesty; for he immediately laid the whole case before the lords, with whom he had previously consulted, telling them what the king had said and suggested. It was agreed that Cecil should wait on the king the next day. The next day, accordingly, being Saturday, he introduced the subject again to the notice of his majesty. At this interview the lord chancellor was also present. It was now determined, that the lord chamberlain, by virtue of his office, should examine all the parts contiguous to the House of Lords, and especially the lower offices, in order that he might judge, from the appearances, which might present themselves, whether there was a probability of any such danger. To prevent the circulation of idle rumours, as well as to allow the conspirators to carry their plans as near to completion as possible, the examination was deferred until the following Monday, November 4th, being the day preceding that fixed for the opening of the session.
It has never been satisfactorily ascertained who was the writer of the letter; but it is remarkable that the circumstance was made known to the conspirators within a very brief space after its delivery to Lord Monteagle. That one of the party penned it there can be no doubt; for they had proceeded with so much secresy, that no other person had any idea of such a design. By the interposition of Providence one, who was anxious to save an individual nobleman from death, brought destruction not only upon himself, but also upon all his associates. Neither the writer nor the bearer of the letter was ever known. It is probable that the writer himself was the bearer, as it is unlikely that the man who could pen it, and who felt so much anxiety about the life of Lord Monteagle, would commit it to the custody of another.
On Sunday evening, October 27th, the day after the delivery of the letter, a person called on Thomas Winter, and related the circumstance. This person was the servant of Monteagle, who had been called in to assist in deciphering the letter. Winter communicated the intelligence to Catesby, and recommended instant flight; but the latter was determined to ascertain the exact amount of information which had been communicated to Monteagle, which he hoped to discover by watching the movements of the government agents near the Parliament House. Winter, therefore, remained at White Webbs with Catesby, while Fawkes was sent to London to watch the proceedings of the court. Fawkes left them on Wednesday morning, October 30th, and returned in the evening, with the gratifying intelligence, that he found every thing in the cellar just as he had left it. They now hoped that the letter was disregarded, and that the danger of discovery was over. On the Thursday, Winter returned to London; and on Friday, he met Catesby and Tresham at Barnet. Tresham, who was related to Monteagle's wife, was suspected of being the writer of the letter, and was questioned on the subject by Catesby. He denied, however, that he had any knowledge of the matter; and it appears from Winter's confession that his denial was believed by the other conspirators. On Saturday, November 2nd, in the evening, Tresham and Winter met again in Lincoln's Inn Fields. On this occasion, Tresham related several particulars of the interviews between the king and Cecil. How he became acquainted with these particulars does not appear. Both Catesby and Winter deemed it necessary now to think of flight; but the former would not take that step without seeing Percy, who was not yet come up from the country. On Percy's arrival on the Sunday, he recommended that they should remain, and await the issue.
All the conspirators were now in great perplexity. On Monday, Nov. 4, Catesby went into the country, and Percy to the seat of the earl of Northumberland. Fawkes remained to fire the train, as had been previously arranged. At this time, therefore, they were uncertain whether they were discovered, or whether the treason was still unknown.
On Monday afternoon, agreeably to the previous arrangement, the lord chamberlain, accompanied by Lord Monteagle, and Whinyard, keeper of the wardrobe, proceeded to examine the rooms under the House of Lords. They came at last, to the vault or cellar, which had been taken by Percy. Here they saw the coals and wood which had been deposited there by the conspirators, to conceal the barrels of gunpowder. The cellar was at the disposal of Whinyard: and it appears to have been his privilege to let it for his own profit. On being questioned by the lord chamberlain, Whinyard replied, that he had let the cellar to Thomas Percy, with the adjoining house, and that the wood and coals were the property of that gentleman. At this stage of the examination, the lord chamberlain saw a man standing in a corner of the cellar, who stated that he was Percy's servant, and that he was left by his master in charge of the house and cellar. This individual was Guy Fawkes, who was appointed to fire the train. The lord chamberlain carelessly remarked to Fawkes, that his master was well provided, by his large stock of fuel, against the blasts of winter. On leaving the cellar, Lord Monteagle intimated his suspicion that Percy was the writer of the letter. This suspicion entered his mind as soon as Percy's name was mentioned, recollecting the friendship that had subsisted between them.
[Footnote 14: I quote the following passage from The Continuation of the History of England from Sir James Mackintosh, in Lardner's Cabinet Cyclopaedia, for the purpose of showing how unqualified the continuator is for the task which he has undertaken: "Search was accordingly made, and the powder was found concealed under billets of wood, and fagots: but all was left in the same state as before, to lull the conspirators into security." Such is the way in which this gentleman writes history. It will be seen from the narrative, that at the search to which this writer refers, the gunpowder was not discovered. The parties returned to the council, and having made their report, it was debated whether the search should be carried further. What dependance can be placed on the statements of a writer who confounds two circumstances with each other, or rather is not aware, of more than one search, or attempt at a search having been made!]
The lord chamberlain returned immediately to the king, to whom, with the council, he related all that he had seen, mentioning also the suspicion of Lord Monteagle respecting Percy. He expressed his surprise that so large a quantity of fuel should be deposited in the cellar, when it was well known, that the house was seldom occupied by Percy. It appears, too, that he did not consider that the appearance of Fawkes was much like that of a servant.
The king still insisted, that it was necessary to make a rigid search, and that the wood and coals must be removed. It occurred to him, that they were placed there to conceal the gunpowder, for it was his majesty's firm conviction, that some such attempt was alluded to by the writer of the letter. The members of the council who were then present, concurred also in the same opinion. Still, they were in doubt as to the mode in which the search should be conducted. They were, on the one hand, anxious for the safety of the king's person, and on the other, fearful lest, if nothing of the kind should be discovered, they might be exposed to ridicule for entertaining groundless fears, unbecoming in statesmen and the ministers of the crown. It was suggested, also, that if the search proved fruitless, the earl of Northumberland might feel himself aggrieved, in consequence of his relationship to Percy, the owner of the house. All the members of the council agreed in the necessity of instituting a search: but their opinions respecting the manner in which it should be effected, widely differed. James insisted, that they must necessarily adopt one of two courses; either search the cellar narrowly, or leave the matter altogether, and go to the House the next day, just as if no suspicion had ever existed.
It was therefore determined at length, that a search should be made; but to prevent any sinister report, supposing nothing was discovered, it was ordered that Whinyard, the keeper of the wardrobe, should search the cellar, under the pretence of having lost some of the hangings, which had been placed in his custody. The king also suggested that the search should be conducted under the direction of a magistrate. Accordingly, Sir Thomas Knivett, a magistrate for Westminster, proceeded with a small and chosen band, to the parliament house, at midnight; while the king and his councillors remained at Whitehall. At the entrance to the cellar, they discovered Fawkes standing with his cloak and boots on, as if about to take a journey. He had just made all his arrangements within, when the magistrate and his party approached. Knivett apprehended him immediately, and then the party proceeded to remove some of the wood and coals. They soon came to a barrel of gunpowder: and in a short space, the whole number, amounting to thirty-six, were discovered. The next step was to search the prisoner Fawkes. They found on his person matches, and all other things necessary for his purpose. A dark lanthorn was discovered in a corner of the cellar. Fawkes made great resistance, when the party attempted to search his person; but as soon as he was secured, he expressed his sorrow, that he had not been able to fire the train, which he asserted he would have done, if he had been within the cellar at the moment when he was taken, instead of being at the door.
Besides the lanthorn and the matches, there was found on the person of Fawkes, a pocket watch! At that time, such a thing was very uncommon. He had procured this watch in order that he might ascertain the exact hour for firing the train. Such little incidental notices serve to show the state of the arts and sciences at particular periods, with their subsequent progress, better than the most laboured treatises on the subject. At this time, we learn, that small watches for the pocket were very uncommon; for the fact, that such a watch was found on the person of Fawkes, is mentioned as a rare circumstance. What a contrast between that period and the present day! And yet, in many of the fine arts, the age of James I. and Charles I. vastly excelled our own. In the mechanical arts, however, it was greatly inferior.
Sir Thomas Knivett, having secured Fawkes, returned to Whitehall, about four o'clock on the morning of Tuesday, the Fifth of November, so that the discovery took place exactly twelve hours before the time, when the train would have been fired, if the parliament had assembled. The magistrate communicated everything to the lord chamberlain, who rushed without ceremony, into the king's chamber, exclaiming that all was discovered, that all was safe, and that the traitor was secured. All the members of the council, who were in London, were now summoned to attend. Within a short space, Fawkes was placed before them, in order that he might be examined respecting this unheard-of treason. The prisoner appeared before them undaunted. Neither the awful situation in which he stood, nor the numberless questions which were put to him by those who stood by, moved him in the least. He not only avowed his participation in the treason, but regretted that he had not been able to execute it. Alluding to the discovery, he remarked, that the devil, not God, was the author of that discovery. During the whole day, the council could extract nothing from him by their examinations. He took all the blame upon himself, refusing to name any of his accomplices, but acknowledging that he was induced to enter upon the treason, from religious motives alone. He denied that the king was his lawful sovereign, inasmuch as he was a heretic. At this time, he refused to disclose his true name, calling himself John Johnson, servant to Thomas Percy. In a few days, however, being in a prison, he made a full confession of his guilt. Thus was discovered, one of the darkest treasons with which our annals are stained. Divine Providence interposed, just at the moment when the conspirators believed that their expectations were about to be realized. The merit of the discovery must certainly be attributed to the king. For though it is clear that the letter evidently pointed to something of the sort; yet before the treason was discovered, most of those to whom it was submitted, were in much doubt as to its meaning. The king alone suggested, that the vaults under the House should be searched: and in such a case, who can deny, that the thought in the king's mind was suggested by a higher power? "Let King James," says Fuller, "by reading the letter, have the credit of discovering this plot to the world, and God the glory, for discovering it unto King James." Wilson's words are much to the same effect; "being discovered by a light from heaven, and a letter from one of the conspirators, when the fire was already in their hands, as well as raged in their hearts, to put to the train."
Half an hour before the time, when it was expected that the king would enter the house, Fawkes was to place a match in such a position, that after burning during that space, should fire the train. He was to set sail for Flanders, for the purpose of obtaining succours from foreign princes; and the rest of the conspirators were to manage matters at home. It is said that those Jesuits who were privy to the design, but who could not publicly appear, were appointed to meet on a certain spot, on Hampstead Hill, that they might behold the conflagration caused by the explosion. This spot is still designated Traitors' Hill.
There is, indeed, a story, which would lead to the belief, that Fawkes was to have been sacrificed by his brethren in crime. I give the story, as it is recorded in the histories of the period, without pledging myself to its truth. At Tickmarsh, in Northamptonshire, resided a Mr. Pickering, who had a horse remarkable for its speed; Keys, one of the conspirators, is said to have borrowed this horse, shortly before the period fixed for the opening of the session. Fawkes, after having fired the train, was to proceed to St. George's Fields, where he would find the horse in question, on which he was to make his escape. This was the impression on Fawkes's own mind. It was further arranged, that Mr. Pickering, who was a well known puritan, should that morning be murdered in his bed, and secretly conveyed away; and that Fawkes also should be murdered in St. George's Fields, and so mangled, as not to be recognized by any one. A report was then to be circulated, that the puritans had perpetrated the atrocious deed; and to give some colour to this report, the conspirators were to appeal to the fact, that Mr. Pickering, with his swift horse, was there ready to escape; but that some persons who saw him, in detestation of so horrible a deed, had killed him on the spot, and hewed his body to pieces. Thus the mangled body of Fawkes was to be taken for that of Mr. Pickering, it being supposed that no one would doubt the fact, from the circumstance of the horse being found near the spot. It is added, that Fawkes, when he was convinced that it was the intention of his companions to put him to death, confessed the whole plot, which he would not have done, but for this treachery on the part of his fellow-conspirators. Such is the story, but I cannot vouch for its truth.
[Footnote 15: In a work published shortly after the discovery, I find it positively stated, that Tresham was the writer of the letter to Monteagle. This merely shows what was the general belief at the time. See The Picture of a Papist. 4to. p. 124. 1606.]
The fact, that the vaults and cellars under the House of Lords were then let out to hire for such purposes, furnishes a singular view of the manners of the age when contrasted with those of our own times. It appears that the inferior officers of the House made the most of their privileges. At this stage of the discovery, the king and his ministers were ignorant of the mine, which had been carried along from Percy's residence, under the walls of the House of Lords. This was not known until some of the conspirators had made a discovery of all their proceedings. Great was the joy of the nation when it became known that such a treason had been brought to light, and great was their gratitude to that omniscient Being, by whose gracious interposition, the dark designs of the conspirators were frustrated.
THE PROCEEDINGS OF THE CONSPIRATORS ON THE DISCOVERY OF THE PLOT—THEIR CAPTURE AT HOLBEACH—THE MEETING OF PARLIAMENT.
It will now be necessary to look back a little on the movements of the other conspirators. Fawkes remained to fire the train and was secured, as is detailed in the last chapter. On Tuesday morning, November 5th, as early as five o'clock, one of the Wrights called on Thomas Winter, assuring him that the whole plot was discovered. Wright stated, that a nobleman had called on Lord Monteagle, bidding him rise to accompany him to the earl of Northumberland's, where it was probably expected that Percy would be found. This was only an hour after the return of the searching party to Whitehall. Some of the conspirators were on the watch in various parts of the town; and Wright chanced to obtain the important information, which he communicated to Winter. He heard the nobleman, who called up Lord Monteagle, say, The matter is discovered. At Winter's request, Wright went back to Essex gate to learn something further: in a short space he returned, adding, All is lost. He found a man on horseback at Essex door, who immediately rode at full gallop up Fleet Street. Winter was conscious that they were seeking for Percy; and he requested Wright to make him acquainted with all that had taken place, in order that he might effect his escape. Winter then quitted his lodging, being determined to ascertain the worst. He went first to the court gates, which were so guarded that no one could enter: he proceeded onward towards the parliament house, but was prevented from passing by the guard, which was posted in King Street. As he came back he heard a person in the street observe to another, that a treason was just discovered, in which the king and the lords were to have been blown up by gunpowder. Winter was now convinced that all was discovered, and therefore he rode off into the country. The two Wrights appear to have quitted London at the same time.
Catesby, the leader of the conspirators, had left London the preceding evening, in order that he might be prepared to execute their project relative to the Princess Elizabeth as soon as the blow should be struck. Percy also had departed from London that morning as early as four o'clock, probably from having received some information respecting the discovery. They made the best of their way into Warwickshire, where they had previously agreed to meet.
London was all in commotion as the day dawned: the streets were thronged with spectators, all eagerly inquiring what had taken place during the night. It was soon ascertained, that a conspiracy had been providentially discovered, and that one of the traitors was already in custody. The satisfaction of the people was great at the intelligence, that no danger now existed, and that the king and the parliament were safe.
Fawkes was kept strictly guarded; and in a few days made a confession of the principal circumstances of the conspiracy.
The conspirators who had quitted London, previous to the fifth of November, proceeded to the place of meeting in Warwickshire. On Wednesday morning Grant and certain others seized upon some horses, which had been placed under the care of a riding-master. These horses were to be used at the hunting match appointed by Digby. Their object was to assemble large numbers of people under the pretence of hunting, and then seize upon the Princess Elizabeth. Having the princess in their possession, they hoped to be able to succeed in effecting a complete change in the government of the country. Had the plot succeeded in London, most of the Papists would have joined them. On Wednesday evening the conspirators who resided in the country, as well as those who had quitted London before the discovery, met at Sir Everard Digby's according to their previous arrangement.
It was now known that the plot was discovered; for those who had left London on Tuesday morning brought with them the intelligence. The question now agitated related to their future movements; and it was determined to make an attempt at open rebellion. This attempt shows the desperate character of the men; for they could not reasonably indulge in the expectation of success. They accordingly mustered as many forces as they were able, intending to await the issue of an encounter with the civil power, and hoping, amid the confusion consequent upon the discovery of the treason, to induce many members of the church of Rome to join them. In one of the letters of Sir Everard Digby, referred to in a subsequent page, a clear and succinct account of their intended movements is given:—"If the design had taken place, there could have been no doubt of other success; for that night, before any other could have brought the news, we should have known it by Mr. Catesby, who should have proclaimed the heir apparent at Charing-cross as he came out of town: to which purpose there was a proclamation drawn: if the duke had not been in the House then, there was a certain way laid for the possessing him; but in regard of the assurance, they should have been there, therefore the greatest of our business stood in the possessing the Lady Elizabeth, who lying within eight miles of Dunchurch, we would have easily surprised before the knowledge of any doubt—this was the cause of my being there." They mustered to the number of eighty persons only. From Warwickshire they passed to the borders of Staffordshire. Sir Richard Verney, the high sheriff of Warwickshire, pursued them. As they rambled through the country, they seized upon such arms and ammunition as fell in their way. On Friday, the 8th of November, the conspirators reached the house of Stephen Littleton, at Holbeach, in Staffordshire. The sheriff of Worcestershire sent a trumpeter commanding them to surrender, thinking that they were merely guilty of an ordinary riot, for he had not yet heard of the conspiracy. In those days intelligence was not so rapidly communicated, from one part of the country to another, as in modern times. The discovery took place on Tuesday morning very early: and the assemblage at Littleton's house was on the Friday after; and yet the sheriff of Worcestershire had received no information respecting the discovery of the plot. The traitors, however, were not aware that the sheriff was ignorant of their proceedings in London: on the contrary, they imagined that he was sent after them by a special order from the court. They prepared, therefore, to defend themselves, being resolved to sell their lives as dearly as possible.
The sheriff promised to intercede with his majesty in their favour, on the condition of their surrendering themselves, being unacquainted with their treason. Several proclamations had been sent into the country after the conspirators, in which the necessity of preserving Percy alive was strongly urged. But in those days a hundred miles were not soon travelled over. It is stated by contemporary authorities that the roads were very bad at the time; while another reason assigned for the slow travelling of the messengers, who had carried the proclamations, is the shortness of the days. It appears that travelling by night at that time was never contemplated. Thus on the third day after the discovery of the treason—the day on which the conspirators met at Holbeach—the authorities in the counties, in which the traitors were assembled, had received no tidings even of the existence of a plot.
While they were occupied in making their preparations in the house, a spark of fire dropped on about two pounds of gunpowder, which had been laid on a plate near the chimney, for the purpose of being dried. One of the party chanced to throw a log of wood on the fire; this raised the sparks, one of which fell on the powder, causing an explosion, by which the roof of the house was blown off, and the persons of Catesby, Rookwood, and Grant blackened and scorched. It was remarkable that a bag of gunpowder, of considerable size, which was lying in the room at the time of the explosion, was blown into the court-yard without being ignited, or none of the conspirators could have survived, and thus the whole of the plot would have been for ever enveloped in mystery. Catesby, Rookwood, and Grant were partly disabled by the explosion, "so bearing in their bodies," says Fuller, "not [Greek: stigmata], the marks of the Lord Jesus Christ, but the print of their own impieties." As the house had caught fire it was deemed necessary to open the doors and attempt to escape; but when the bars of the outer gates were removed to permit the conspirators to rush forth, the sheriff's men rushed in, so that escape was impossible. The battle now raged in the court-yard of the house with great violence. Catesby and Percy placed themselves back to back, and fought, though the former had been partly disabled by the explosion, with desperate courage. One of the sheriff's men levelled his piece across a wall, taking deliberate aim at Catesby and Percy, both of whom fell by the same ball, the former dead on the spot, and the latter mortally wounded. The two Wrights also were slain, during the encounter in the court of Littleton's house; Rookwood and one of the Winters were wounded; and the rest were taken prisoners.
[Footnote 16: "Never," says Fuller, "were two bad men's deaths more generally lamented of all good men: only on this account, that they lived no longer to be forced to a further discovery of their secret associates."—Book x. 36.]
As soon as possible after the struggle, the conspirators were lodged by the sheriff in the county gaol. In a short space they were removed to London: and during the journey, and especially as they approached the metropolis, the people came in vast crowds to obtain a sight of men, who had concocted and almost executed so desperate a treason. Every one wished to see the faces of men, whose names and whose deeds were now resounded from one end of the country to the other.
Tresham remained in London during the commotion consequent upon the discovery of the plot. He was taken in a short time and lodged in prison. Robert Winter evaded the search that was made for him during a short space, but at length was apprehended. Sir Everard Digby was also taken. The actual conspirators were thirteen in number; four were slain in the conflict at Holbeach; the rest were all taken soon after the discovery of the plot. Tresham confessed in prison his share in the transaction. He died before the day appointed for their trial. Eight of them were brought to trial early in the next year, as will be noticed in a subsequent chapter.
On the 9th of November the parliament assembled. The king addressed them on the occasion in a lengthened speech, in which he dwelt on the proceedings of the traitors, and on the policy of the measures which had been enacted against recusants. James took a sort of review of all the dangers to which he had been exposed, alluding especially to the Gowry conspiracy. The speech abounds in good sense, and sensible and judicious remarks are scattered over all its parts. Alluding to the characters of the conspirators, he very wisely observes, that there was nothing to induce them to enter into this conspiracy, except a mistaken zeal for their religion. He tells the lords and commons, that as soon as the letter was shewn to him, he interpreted certain expressions, contrary to the ordinary laws of grammar, to refer to some explosion of gunpowder. Having heard the speech from the throne, the parliament was adjourned until the 21st of the ensuing January.
When the discovery of the plot was known on the Continent, several of the sovereigns sent to congratulate the king on his escape. In the case of some of these sovereigns, their congratulations were sincere; but in other cases the language of deceit must have been used. The king of Spain and the pope, were among the most forward to congratulate his majesty; and yet with great inconsistency they sheltered and protected some of those individuals who fled from their own country, and were privy to the conspiracy. Osborn assures us, however, that the pope could not refrain from laughing in the face of Cardinal D'Ossat, when he informed him, that the Spanish monarch had sent a special messenger to the English court for that express purpose. Indeed, all these congratulations were hollow and insincere; but they would have been exposed to censure as men and as sovereigns, if they had not so far acted the part of hypocrites as to pretend to rejoice at the escape of the English monarch.
That the pope and the king of Spain, and some other papal sovereigns, would have rejoiced at the success of the plot, can scarcely be doubted, since their subsequent actions, as will be noticed in another chapter, proved that they favoured those who were privy to the conspiracy. It can scarcely indeed be doubted that the Spanish sovereign, and his holiness, and perhaps some other sovereigns, were acquainted with the designs of the conspirators; at all events, if they were not aware of the particulars of the plot, they knew that some conspiracy was in agitation, which was intended to be executed during that winter. Many of the Romanists on the Continent knew that some great deed was to be attempted, though they did not know the particulars.
The parliament did not meet on the 5th of November; but the following entry stands on the journals of the House of Commons under that date:—"This last night the upper house of parliament was searched by Sir Thomas Knevett; and one Johnson, servant to Mr. Thomas Percye, was there apprehended, who had placed thirty-six barrels of gunpowder in the vault under the house, with a purpose to blow up the king and the whole company when they should there assemble. Afterwards, divers other gentlemen were discovered to be of the plot."
[Footnote 17: Parl. Hist. v. 125.]
On the 21st of January, the two houses assembled according to the previous arrangement, when a committee was formed "to consider the laws already in force, that tend to the preservation of religion—what defects are in the execution of them, or what new laws may be thought needful." The lord chancellor gave special directions to the clerk to notice the peers who should fail to attend in their places; for there was a suspicion that certain Roman Catholic lords were implicated in the treason. Some were in consequence imprisoned and fined. In the House of Commons the same subject was discussed the first day of the session. The minds of men indeed could dwell on nothing else; nor is it surprising that such was the case; for a most horrible plot had been discovered, and the traitors were already in prison awaiting the sentence of the law. At length a committee was appointed to decide upon some course to be taken against jesuits, seminaries, and other papal agents.
[Footnote 18: Ibid. v. 141.]
The conspirators were tried and convicted at common law, as will be related in the next chapter; but the parliament seemed anxious to award some new punishment, beyond that which was ordinarily inflicted on traitors, on such culprits, for the purpose of marking their sense of their crime. Accordingly a committee was appointed in the lords to consider what extraordinary punishments should be inflicted. While they were engaged in this business, it was reported to the house, that it was not convenient to delay longer the trial of the conspirators, and therefore the matter dropped. The commons were no less anxious on the subject than the lords. The question was debated at some length; but at last it was determined, that the conspirators should be left to the ordinary courts of justice. On the 25th of January, however, the commons framed and passed a bill, which was sent up to the lords, entitled, "An Act for Appointing a Thanksgiving to Almighty God every year on the Fifth of November." When the bill was carried to the lords, the messengers stated, "that the whole body of the commons having entered into consideration of the great blessing of God, in the happy preservation of his majesty and the state, from the late most dangerous treason intended to have been attempted by the instigation of jesuits, seminaries, and Romish priests, had framed and passed the said bill in their house, as the first fruits of their labours, in this session of parliament, which they did very earnestly recommend to their lordships." The lords read and passed the bill in three days, without even going into a committee. This act is, therefore, the first in the printed statutes of the session. Several bills were passed against recusants and as a protection to the Protestant religion. On the 27th of May the session was terminated.
[Footnote 19: During this session an Act was passed, by which every one was obliged to take the oath of allegiance—"a very moderate test," says Hume, "since it decided no controverted points between the two religions, and only engaged the persons who took it to abjure the pope's power of dethroning kings." Mr. Hallam's testimony is equally conclusive: "We cannot wonder that a parliament so narrowly rescued from personal destruction, endeavoured to draw the cord still tighter round these dangerous enemies. The statute passed on this occasion is by no means more harsh than might be expected."—Const. Hist. i. 554-5.]
It may be mentioned, that the ceremony of examining the vaults is performed at the commencement of every session. Whether indeed it has been continued since the destruction of the two houses by fire, I am unable to determine; but as the cellar must still remain, I should imagine that the ceremony is still repeated. At all events, such was the case prior to the fire. The cellar is still designated Guy Fawkes's Cellar.
TRIAL OF THE CONSPIRATORS.
The conspirators, who had been lodged in prison, were frequently examined respecting the plot in which they had been engaged. Fawkes, Thomas Winter, Tresham, and Sir Everard Digby, confessed that they were guilty of the treason charged against them; and several of the particulars, which I have detailed in the preceding chapters, were revealed in these confessions. Catesby and Percy were slain at Holbeach, or some other information respecting the origin of the plot might have been obtained. It is probable, too, that Percy might have been able to give some account of the mysterious letter. For though the conspirators did not suspect him as the writer, yet it is evident that such was the impression on the mind of Lord Monteagle. To this day the subject is involved in mystery. Several conjectures have been formed, but the matter has never been cleared up; and it is likely to continue to be involved in mystery, until that great day when all secrets shall be unravelled, and all difficulties removed.
Tresham, as before observed, died in prison, and was thus spared the ignominy of a public execution. The other conspirators, Robert Winter, Thomas Winter, Guy Fawkes, John Grant, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keys, and Thomas Bates, were arraigned and placed at the bar on the 27th of January, 1605-6. The names of Garnet, Tesmond, and Gerrard, all jesuits, were also specified in the indictment, though none of them were taken. Garnet was subsequently apprehended; but the other two jesuits evaded the pursuit of the officers of justice altogether. The jesuits are specially charged in the indictment with persuading the other conspirators to act, on the ground that the king was a heretic, and that all heretics were accursed and excommunicated; and that, consequently, it was lawful, nay even meritorious, to kill the king, for the advancement of the see of Rome. The seven individuals before mentioned are then charged with consenting, and with contriving the plot, in conjunction with the jesuits. It appears to have been arranged by the conspirators, not to mention at first anything concerning a change of religion in the event of the success of the plot: and further, it was agreed not to avow the treason, until they should have acquired sufficient power to secure the completion of their plans. When the usual questions were asked they all pleaded Not Guilty.
The indictment was opened by Sir Edward Philips, one of the king's sergeants-at-law. This gentleman stated the case to the jury in a speech partly political and partly theological. Treason was the subject, but, said he, "of such horror, and monstrous nature, that before now, the tongue of man never delivered, the ear of man never heard, the heart of man never conceited, nor the malice of hellish or earthly devil ever practised." In the course of his speech he further stated, that the object of the traitors was "to deprive the king of his crown; to murder the king, the queen, and the prince; to stir up rebellion and sedition in the kingdom; to bring a miserable destruction upon the subjects; to change, alter, and subvert the religion here established; to ruinate the state of the commonwealth, and to bring in strangers to invade it." That such were their objects there can be no doubt.
Sir Edward Coke, the attorney-general, followed in a long speech, in which he stated, and then animadverted on, all their proceedings, from the commencement of the plot until its discovery. "Surely," said Sir Edward, "of these things we may truly say, Nunquam ante dies nostros talia acciderunt, neither hath the eye of man seen, nor the ear of man heard, the like things to these."
The particulars recorded in the preceding chapters were many of them taken from the confessions of some of the conspirators; and the speech of the attorney-general was founded, in a great measure, on the same confessions. Many things, indeed, could not have been made known in any other way. Several days had been occupied in examining the parties in prison; so that the law officers of the crown came to the trial amply prepared with materials. In tracing the progress of the treason, Sir Edward remarked, "It had three roots, all planted and watered by jesuits and English Roman Catholics: the first root in England, in December and March; the second in Flanders, in June; the third in Spain, in July. In England it had two branches; one in December was twelve months before the death of the late queen of blessed memory; another in March, wherein she died." He then specifies some of the acts in which Garnet and others were concerned, previous to the accession of James, and which have already been detailed in a preceding chapter.
Some important particulars are stated in the speech of Sir Edward Coke, respecting the conduct of the government towards the papists, after James's accession. During the reign of Elizabeth, severe measures were never adopted against recusants, as Roman Catholics were then usually designated in acts of parliament, until their own conduct, or at all events, the conduct of some members of the church of Rome, rendered it absolutely necessary. The laws, respecting which so much has been said by Roman Catholic writers, were enacted in self-defence. Had there been no treasons no such laws would have been devised; but when the members of the church of Rome planned, and endeavoured to execute, treasons, and of such a nature that the existing laws did not meet them, it became necessary to devise such methods as should not permit the traitors to escape. The origin, therefore, of the penal laws against the Romanists, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, is to be found in their own treasonable practices; and the same remark will apply also to the reign of King James. Indeed, James was disposed to act with all possible leniency. Cruelty was foreign to his nature. Had the Romanists remained quiet, none would have been punished during his reign for their religious principles. Nay, so leniently did James act, even after the discovery of the gunpowder treason, that the puritans hesitated not to charge him with leaning towards popery.
The question relative to the penal laws is clearly and forcibly stated by Sir Edward Coke: "Concerning those laws, which they so calumniate as unjust, it shall in a few words plainly appear, that they were of the greatest, both of moderation and equity, that ever were any: for from the year I Eliz. unto XI. all papists came to our church and service without scruple. I myself have seen Cornewallis, Beddingfield, and others at church. So that then, for the space of ten years, they made no conscience nor doubt to communicate with us in prayer; but when once the bull of Pope Pius Quintus was come and published, wherein the queen was accursed and deposed, and her subjects discharged of their obedience and oath, yea, cursed if they did obey her: then did they all forthwith refrain from church, then would they have no more society with us in prayer. So that recusancy in them is not for religion, but in an acknowledgment of the pope's power, and a plain manifestation what their judgment is concerning the right of the prince in respect of regal power and place." This is the true state of the case respecting the laws against recusants. Sir Edward Coke specifies various treasons during the queen's reign, and then adds: "Anno XXIII. Eliz. after so many years sufferance, there were laws made against recusants and seditious books." He then alludes to the coming over of the seminary priests, who were Englishmen, educated and ordained on the Continent, and who came over into this country for the express purpose of stirring up rebellion, and to bring over the queen's subjects to the see of Rome. "Then," says he, "XXVII. Eliz. a law was made, that it should be treason for any, (not to be a priest and an Englishman, born the queen's natural subject,) but for any being so born her subject, and made a Romish priest, to come into her dominions, to infect any her loyal subjects with their treasonable practices; yet so, that it concerned only such as were made priests sithence her majesty came to the crown, and not before."
"Concerning the execution of these laws," he adds, "it is to be observed likewise, that whereas in the quinquencey of Queen Mary, there were cruelly put to death about three hundred persons for religion: in all her majesty's time, by the space of forty-four years and upwards, there were for treasonable practices executed in all not thirty priests, nor above five receivers and harbourers of them; and for religion not any one." He proceeds: "Now, against the usurped power of the see of Rome, we have of former times about thirteen several acts of parliament, so that the crown and king of England is no ways to be drawn under the government of any foreign power whatsoever." This is an important point. It was no new thing in England to enact laws against the papal jurisdiction. The words of King James himself are very strong: "I do constantly maintain, that no man, either in my time, or in the late queen's, ever died here for his conscience. For let him be never so devout a papist, nay, though he profess the same never so constantly, his life is in no danger by the law, if he break not out into some outward act expressly against the words of the law, or plot not some unlawful or dangerous practice or attempt; priests and popish churchmen only excepted, that receive orders beyond the seas; who for the manifold treasonable practices that they have kindled and plotted in this country, are discharged to come home again under pain of treason, after their receiving of the said orders abroad; and yet without some other guilt in them than bare homecoming, have none of them been ever put to death." The laws regarded not their religious opinions, but their practices. Will any papist assert that the priests and others did not endeavour to compass the death of Elizabeth, and to exclude King James from the throne?
[Footnote 20: King James's Works, fol. 336.]
It is remarked by Sir Edward Coke, in the address to the jury, that during the year and four months since James's accession, no penalty had been inflicted on any recusant. The conspirators could not, therefore, allege that they were driven to such a desperate course, by the harsh treatment which they had received. The plea of religion was, however, urged by these men: and that plea was especially grounded on the laws which had been enacted in the late reign against recusants. They appeared to exult in the fact, that the place in which the unjust laws, as they termed them, had been framed, would be the scene of vengeance.
When the attorney-general had finished his address to the jury, the confessions of the conspirators were read, and acknowledged by the parties. It was proved on the trial that Hammond, a jesuit, after the discovery of the treason, actually gave the conspirators absolution on Thursday, November the 7th. This act is conclusive as to the part taken by the jesuits in the plot.
A verdict of guilty was returned against the whole number who were arraigned at the bar. They were asked in the usual form why sentence of death should not be pronounced. Thomas Winter merely desired that his brother might be spared, because he was implicated in the treason by his persuasion. Fawkes objected to certain parts of the indictment, of which he said he was ignorant; when he was told that they were inserted as a matter of form. Bates supplicated for mercy, and did not deny his guilt. Robert Winter pursued the same course. Grant, after remaining silent some time, confessed that he was guilty of a conspiracy intended, but never executed. Rookwood at first attempted to justify himself, but at last acknowledged his offence, admitting that he justly deserved to undergo the penalty of the law; still he supplicated for mercy on the ground that he was neither the author of the plot nor an actor in it, but merely drawn into it by his affection for Catesby.
At this stage of the business a circumstance was mentioned to the court which had transpired in the prison. On Friday before the trial commenced Robert Winter and Fawkes were permitted to converse together in their cells. The former said that he and Catesby had sons, and that boys would be men, and he hoped that they would avenge the cause. They also expressed their sorrow that no one had set forth a defence or justification of the plot.
Sentence was not immediately pronounced; but Sir Everard Digby, who had been some time in custody, was arraigned at the bar on a separate indictment. He was charged with being privy to the plot,—with having taken the oath of secresy,—and also with open rebellion in the country with the rest of the conspirators, subsequent to the discovery. He had previously made a confession of his guilt, and, therefore, did not attempt to defend himself before the court. As he was preparing to address the court, he was informed that he must first plead either guilty or not guilty. He immediately confessed that he was guilty of the treason charged against him in the indictment. Sir Everard Digby evidently would not have been implicated in this conspiracy, but for his zeal in behalf of the church of Rome. So strong was his attachment to the papal creed, that he appears to have imagined that he should do God service by concurring with others in the destruction of heretics.
Having pleaded guilty to the charge of treason, he addressed the court respecting the motives that had induced him to enter upon such a course. He declared that neither ambition nor discontent induced him to unite with the other conspirators, but affection for Catesby the leader. He also confessed that he was influenced in his decision by religious considerations. Perceiving, as he said, that religion was in danger, he had resolved to hazard his property, and even his life, to preserve it, and to restore Romanism in this country. It appears that the Romanists were apprehensive of more severe laws being enacted under King James than those which had been carried by the late queen. There was no ground for such an apprehension, since King James was really anxious to treat his Roman Catholic subjects with great lenity. Sir Everard also requested that his wife and children might not suffer on his account. His last request was that he might be put to death by being beheaded, and not as an ordinary traitor.
The attorney-general replied to his address in a strain not unusual in that age, but which would not be adopted in the present day against the greatest criminal. Alluding to his very natural plea for his wife and children, Coke reminded him, in an insulting and sneering tone, of his attempt to kill the king and queen with the nobility of the country, asking where his piety and affection were when this scheme was devised?
When Coke charged him with justifying the fact he denied the charge, confessing that he deserved to suffer, but that he was a petitioner for his majesty's mercy. The attorney-general replied, that, having abandoned every principle of religion and honour, he could not expect to receive any favour from his majesty.
The earl of Northampton also addressed the prisoner, and in a strain somewhat milder than Coke. It would shock the feelings of the present age were the judge on the bench to revile the criminal at the bar, however notorious his guilt; but at that time such a practice was common. The earl of Northampton told him, that he had only himself and his evil councillors to thank. He also reminded him of his favour with Queen Elizabeth; and that King James was not ill disposed either towards him or the members of his church generally.
Judgment was now demanded by the king's sergeant on the seven prisoners mentioned in the first indictment, on the verdict of the jury; and on Sir Everard Digby, on his own confession.
The lord chief-justice proceeded to pronounce judgment. He first took a review of the laws which had been enacted in the reign of Elizabeth against recusants, priests, and the receivers of priests, specifying the causes which gave rise to those enactments, and demonstrating that they were necessary, mild, equal, moderate, and capable of being justified to the whole world. Sentence was then pronounced in the usual form.
Sir Everard Digby bowing to the lords who were seated on the bench, said, "If I may but hear any of your lordships say you forgive me, I shall go more cheerfully to the gallows." The lords instantly replied, "God forgive you, and we do."
On Thursday, January 30, 1605-6, Sir Everard Digby, Robert Winter, John Grant, and Thomas Bates, were executed at the west end of St. Paul's church; and on Friday, January 31st, the sentence of the law was carried into effect on Thomas Winter, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keys, and Guy Fawkes, in Old Palace-yard, Westminster, and at no great distance from the House of Lords, the scene of their recent treason.
Most of these wretched men evinced much penitence, both in prison and on the scaffold. It is remarkable that Fawkes, the most desperate of the whole number, appeared to be the most penitent at the time of his execution. They all declared their adherence to the church of Rome, dying, as they had lived, in her communion. They requested that the officers in attendance would communicate this their dying declaration to the world.
After the execution, their bodies, being quartered, were hung up in various parts of the city, as was the custom at that time with those who were put to death for treason. The heads of Catesby and Percy were fixed upon the House of Lords, where they remained some years after, when Osborne wrote his Memoirs of King James; unless, as he intimates, they had been removed, and others substituted in their room. It was reported when he wrote, that the heads then fixed on the House of Lords were not those of the two conspirators, but the heads of two other individuals procured, probably, from some church-yard, by the friends of Catesby and Percy, and fixed upon the poles for the purpose of preventing the discovery of the theft.
[Footnote 21: OSBORNE'S Works, p. 434.]
James acted with great lenity towards the families of the conspirators. By the statute respecting treason the property of the convicted traitor is forfeited to the crown; but in the cases of these individuals the children or heirs of those who were in possession of property were permitted to enjoy it. There was nothing vindictive in James's character; and he would have spared even these conspirators, if it had been possible.
Such was the fate of men who appear to have been guiltless of any other crime, and who would not have been implicated in this horrible treason, but for the influence of those principles which the church of Rome instilled into the minds of her deluded followers.
THE TRIAL AND EXECUTION OF GARNET, THE JESUIT—THE ALLEGED MIRACLE OF THE STRAW—IS DECLARED A MARTYR.
Some time elapsed before Garnet was taken. He concealed himself in various places during the few months immediately subsequent to the discovery of the plot; the strictest search, however, was made; rewards were offered for his apprehension; and at last he was taken with Hall, another jesuit, and his own servant, in the house of a Roman Catholic. The servant became his own executioner in the prison. The proclamation against Garnet and the other jesuits, is dated January 14, 1605-6; but he was not taken at the end of the month when the other conspirators were executed. He did not, however, long elude the pursuit which was instituted.
On Friday, March 26, 1605-6, he was brought to trial at the Guildhall, in the city of London, before the lord mayor, several members of the king's council, and certain of the judges. During his imprisonment he was treated with much leniency, as he himself confessed on his trial. In the indictment the various names of the prisoners were specified; from which document we gather that he was known under different designations according to circumstances. Wally, Darcy, Roberts, Farmer, Philips, were the names assumed by Garnet on different occasions for the purpose of concealment. The indictment charged the prisoner, with concurring with Catesby, and the other conspirators, in the plot against the king and the state. The jury were sworn, and the prisoner pleaded not guilty.
Sir Edward Coke, the attorney-general, proceeded to open the case: and as this trial reflects much light on the whole conspiracy, I shall notice all those parts which appear to me of the most importance.
The attorney-general stated in the outset, that this trial was but a latter act of that dismal tragedy, commonly called the Powder Treason, for which several had already suffered the extreme penalty of the law. Throughout the trial he treated Garnet with great respect. From Sir Edward Coke's speech we learn, that Garnet was examined for the first time February 13th, and that from that day to the 26th of March, when the last examination took place, he was examined before the council more than twenty times.
In speaking of the treason, Sir Edward remarks, "I will call it the jesuits' treason, as belonging to them, both ex congruo et condigno: they were the proprietaries, plotters, and procurers of it." He then enters on a description of some of the treasons, which were planned in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, in which also Garnet was concerned, as I have noticed in a preceding chapter. Garnet confessed several particulars respecting those transactions in which he had been engaged; and among other things he admitted that the Romanists in England, after the bull of excommunication had been issued against the queen, were permitted to render her obedience with certain cautions and limitations, namely, Rebus sic stantibus, and Donec publica bullae executio fieret posset. So that while things continued in their present state, and till such time as the bull could be executed, the Romanists might obey the queen. This was confessed by Garnet himself.
It appears that Garnet came over into England in the year 1586, two years before the sailing of the Spanish Armada. As early as the reign of Edward the First, the bringing in of a bull from Rome against any of the king's subjects, without permission, was adjudged to be treason; so that Garnet was a traitor by the ancient laws of the land, for the bulls against King James were committed to the keeping of that individual. The attorney-general had declared, when speaking of Elizabeth, that four years had never passed without a treason: and he adds, when he speaks of King James, "and now sithence the coming of great King James, there have not passed, I will not say four years, but not four, nay not two months, without some treason." In these treasons Garnet and other jesuits were implicated. The bulls which had been sent to Garnet before the death of Elizabeth, and which were intended to prevent the English Romanists from receiving any but a popish sovereign, were burnt by him, as already mentioned, when he perceived that King James's accession could not be prevented. There would have been danger in preserving them, therefore they were committed to the flames. The prisoner admitted that he had destroyed them.
It was shown on the trial that Garnet was privy to the plot in various ways. Though Catesby was the only layman with whom he would converse on the subject, yet he did not hesitate to confer with his brother jesuits respecting all the particulars. Greenwell pretended to confess himself to Garnet his superior. Confession is appointed by the church of Rome to be performed by the penitent in a kneeling posture; but it seems that, on this occasion, the two parties walked together; and during this walk Garnet heard all the particulars of the treason—how it was to be executed—and what was to take place subsequently. It was proved also that he had proposed writing to the pope on the subject, and that he met Catesby and some other of the conspirators in Warwickshire. It will be seen that he prayed for the success of the great action; and it is also a certain fact, that all the English Romanists prayed for the success of the plot, whatever it might be, which they knew was in agitation, though they were not acquainted with its precise nature.
On the morning of November the 6th, when the plot had failed, Catesby and some of the other conspirators sent Bates to Garnet, who was then in Warwickshire, to entreat his assistance in stirring up the people to open rebellion. Greenwell was at this time with Garnet. Warwickshire was appointed to be the place of meeting after the plot; and on this account the jesuits assembled in that county.
I have mentioned that Garnet admitted that he was acquainted with the plot, though he pretended that it was revealed to him in confession, and that consequently he was not at liberty to reveal it, a point which I shall notice in a subsequent page. The means adopted to procure his confession were curious, and perhaps not strictly justifiable. A trap was set for the prisoner into which he readily fell.
For some time he would confess nothing. In those days it was customary to extort confessions from prisoners, by means of torture, a mode long since abolished in this country; but the king and his ministers did not wish to render themselve obnoxious to the Romanists by resorting to the rack. Instead, therefore, of using torture, they employed craft; and though Garnet was an adept in the art of dissimilation, yet he was outwitted on this occasion. An individual was appointed as the keeper of the prisoner, who, by pretending to deplore the condition of the Romanists in England, as well as by complaints against the king and his ministers, at length succeeded in inducing Garnet to believe that he was well affected to the church of Rome. Two letters were written by Garnet, and entrusted to this man, the one addressed to a lady, the other to a priest. In the former letter he mentioned what things he had already admitted in his examinations; but the second letter was the more important. The letter was written on a sheet of paper, and appeared to contain matters only of an ordinary kind, such as any one might read. He had, however, left a very broad margin, which circumstance excited suspicion in the breasts of the council. Nor were these suspicions without foundation; for on examining the letter, by holding it to the fire, it was found that he had written on the margin with the juice of a lemon, beseeching his friends to deny the truth of those things which he had already confessed. He also expressed his hope, that he should escape from the powder plot from want of proof; yet he had confessed to the lords of the council, that he was guilty. It appears, however, that he did not really expect to escape; for in this same letter he applies the words of Caiaphas, who used them when speaking of the Saviour, to himself, Necesse est ut unus homo moriatur pro populo.
This letter, written with his own hand, was shown to him at the trial. It is still in existence. Some years ago it was discovered by Mr. Lemon in the State Paper Office, where it is still preserved, not only as a proof of Garnet's guilt, but also as evidence, that the principles of the church of Rome are not misrepresented by Protestant writers.
The man who had taken the charge of these letters conveyed them immediately to the lords of the council. The object was to have some public confession of his guilt on his trial. They were apprehensive that he might deny even what he had privately stated to the lords, which was much less than what he had admitted in these letters. The trap which had been set for him by the sage counsellors of his majesty was not set in vain.
But other evidence was soon produced. The individual to whom the letters were entrusted gained his entire confidence. Garnet told him that he was very anxious to see Hall, another jesuit, known also by the name of Oldcorn, who was then confined in the same prison. The keeper promised to arrange a meeting between them. For this purpose they were so placed, that they could converse together, while he, to avoid suspicion, took a position so as to be seen by both. At the same time two other individuals were secreted in the prison sufficiently near to hear all that passed between the prisoners. They conversed freely respecting their previous confessions and examinations—the excuses and evasions which they had prepared, and many other matters connected with the plot. During the conversation Garnet remarked to Hall, "They will charge me with my prayer for the good success of the great action, in the beginning of the parliament, and with the verses which I added at the end of my prayer." He added, that in his defence he should state, that the success for which he prayed related to the severe laws, which he apprehended would, during the session, be enacted against the Romanists. The verses alluded to were as follows:—
Gentem auferte perfidam Credentium de finibus, Ut Christo laudes debitas, Persolvamus alacriter.
The next day Garnet and Hall were examined separately, when they were charged with having held a private conference. Garnet denied the fact in the most decided terms. The parties who heard the conversation were then produced: nor could Garnet object anything against their statements.
Garnet said on his trial that he once thought of revealing the plot, but not the conspirators. Cecil asked who hindered him from making the discovery; to whom he replied, "You, yourself; for I knew you would have racked this poor body of mine to pieces, to make me confess." Fuller remarks on this assertion and in allusion to the interview with Hall, that "never any rack was used on Garnet, except a witrack, wherewith he was worsted, and this cunning archer outshot in his own bow. For being in prison with Father Oldcorn alias Hall, they were put into an equivocating room (as I may term it) which pretended nothing but privacy, yet had a reservation of some invisible persons within it, ear witnesses to all the passages betwixt them."
These confessions, denials, evasions, and palliations were defended by Garnet under the plea of lawful equivocation, a doctrine then at least taught very generally in the church of Rome. Under shelter of this plea the jesuits were prepared, not merely to conceal or to deny any fact, but also to aver what they knew to be false. It was urged, and in books too, that such a course might be adopted on the ground that the parties reserved in their own minds a secret and private sense. Thus any question might be eluded: and this practice was publicly defended in a treatise licensed by Garnet and Blackwall. Certain instances are given in the work as illustrations of the doctrine. The following is one of these cases. A man arrives at a certain place, and is examined on oath at the gate, whether he came from London, where the plague is supposed to be raging at the time. The man, knowing that the plague is not in London, or that he did no more than pass through that city, may swear that he did not come from London. It is argued, that such an answer would agree with their intention, who proposed the question simply with a view to ascertaining, whether their own city would be endangered by his entrance. Such was the doctrine of equivocation, under the plea of which Garnet sheltered himself when he denied many things which were proved against him, and which he had himself confessed. Even Sir Everard Digby resorted to this papal doctrine of equivocation, as will be seen from the following extracts from his letters discovered in 1675, and published by Bishop Barlow, in 1679:—"Yesterday I was before Mr. Attorney and my Lord Chief Justice, who asked me if I had taken the sacrament to keep secret the plot as others did. I said that I had not, because I would avoid the question of at whose hands it were."—"I have not as yet acknowledged the knowledge of any priest in particular, nor will not do to the hurt of any but myself, whatsoever betide me." Speaking of a particular priest, he says in another letter; "I have not been asked his name, which if I had, should have been such a one as I knew not of." Again; "If I be called to question for the priest, I purpose to name him Winscombe, unless I be advised otherwise." And, alluding to the same in a subsequent letter—"You forget to tell me whether Winscombe be a fit name. I like it, for I know none of it." In another letter—"As yet they have not got of me the affirming that I know any priest particularly, nor shall ever do to the hurt of any one but myself." It is evident that he deemed it lawful to deny anything calculated to bring reproach on his church; and that he did not scruple to give a false name on his examination. From the manner in which he speaks, there can be no doubt, that he believed he might lawfully equivocate. And from whom had he learned this monstrous doctrine? From the church and her authorized teachers!!
The earl of Salisbury alluded on the trial to his denial of the conversation with Hall, reminding him that he was not questioned as to the matter of their conferences, but simply as to the fact. Hall confessed the fact, and Garnet, though he had so strongly denied it, then admitted the whole. On being reminded of the matter by Cecil, he replied, that when a man is asked a question before a magistrate he is not bound to give an answer quia nemo tenetur prodere seipsum.
Tresham, who died in the Tower, accused Garnet of a previous treason in entering into a league with the king of Spain against England. Before his death he was permitted to see his wife, who was aware of his confession respecting Garnet. Under her influence he dictated to his servant, being too weak to use a pen himself, that he had not seen Garnet during the last sixteen years, and retracted his previous confession in which he admitted the contrary. Now it was proved, and acknowledged by Garnet, that they had met several times within the last two years. Garnet was asked to explain Tresham's conduct; and his reply was, "I think he meant to equivocate."
Tresham died within three hours after dictating this letter. Mrs. Vaux, however, confessed that she had seen Tresham with Garnet at her house three or four times since the accession of King James, and that they had dined together with her. Garnet also publicly acknowledged that he had seen Tresham. A second confession of Mrs Vaux's was also read in the court, in which she admits that she was with Garnet at Tresham's house in Northamptonshire not long since.
Garnet made a long defence at the bar; and on the question of equivocation he defended himself with much subtilty. He declared that the church of Rome condemned lying; but he justified equivocation, which, he said, was "to defend the use of certain propositions. For a man may be asked of one, who hath no authority to interrogate or examine, concerning something which belongeth not to his cognizance who asketh, as what a man thinketh, &c. So then no man may equivocate when he ought to tell the truth, otherwise he may." When he was reminded that he had denied that he had written to Tesmond alias Greenwell, or sent messages to him, he said he would not have denied his letters if he had known that the lords had seen them; but supposing that they had not been seen he did deny them, and that he might lawfully do so. This has been confirmed by the papers in the State Paper Office. There is amongst these papers an original letter, in Garnet's own hand, to Mrs. Vaux, in which he acknowledged that he was so pressed by the testimony of two witnesses who overheard the conversation between Hall and himself, that he was, at length, determined to confess all rather than stand the torture or trial by witnesses.
Garnet endeavoured to shelter himself from the guilt of the plot, under the plea, that the treason was revealed to him under the seal of confession. At first he endeavoured to deny that he was acquainted with any particulars; but being forced from this subterfuge, he admitted his knowledge, but contended that he was bound to conceal all that he knew. He acknowledged also that he had concealed the treason with Spain. "Only," says he, "I must needs confess, I did conceal it after the example of Christ, who commands us, when our brother offends to reprove him, for if he do amend we have gained him." With respect to the Powder Treason he acknowledged, that Greenwell came to him in great perplexity in consequence of what Catesby had intimated. He consented to hear it, provided the fact of his doing so should not be revealed to Catesby, or to any other person. Greenwell then revealed the whole plot. He confessed that he was greatly distressed on the subject, "and sometimes prayed to God that it should not take effect." On being questioned why he did not reveal the conspiracy he stated that, "he might not disclose it to any, because it was matter of secret confession, and would endanger the lives of divers men." Cecil said, "I pray you, Mr. Garnet, what encouraged Catesby that he might proceed, but your resolving him in the first proposition? What warranted Faukes, but Catesby's explication of Garnet's arguments? As appears infallibly by Winter's confession, and by Faukes, that they knew the point had been resolved to Mr. Catesby, by the best authority." It was evident, therefore, that he did not merely conceal the matter; but that he was an active instigator of the conspiracy.
[Footnote 22: Mr. Hallam observes; "The Catholic writers maintain that he had no knowledge of the conspiracy, except by having heard it in confession. But this rests altogether on his word; and the prevarication of which he has been proved to be guilty (not to mention the damning circumstance that he was taken at Hendlip in concealment along with the other conspirators), makes it difficult for a candid man to acquit him of a thorough participation in their guilt."—Const. Hist. i. 554-5.]
With respect to Garnet's knowledge of the conspiracy, it is perfectly clear that the matter was not merely revealed in confession, but that he was one of the actors therein. Nor was the plea of confession consistent with some of his own declarations during his examinations. He admitted, that the treason was mentioned to him in the way of consultation, as a thing not yet executed; and moreover Greenwell did not implicate himself; he merely told of others, and consequently the seal of confession would not have been broken, even if Garnet had revealed the whole to the government. He chose, however, on his trial, to adopt this line of defence, namely, that he was not at liberty to disclose anything which was revealed to him in sacramental confession. One of the lords asked him if a man should confess to-day, that he intended to kill the king to-morrow with a dagger, whether he must conceal the matter? Garnet replied that he must conceal it. Parsons, the jesuit, maintains the same opinion. Speaking of Garnet, he remarks, that nothing was proved, "but that the prisoner had received only a simple notice of that treason, by such a means as he could not utter and reveal again by the laws of Catholic doctrine, that is to say, in confession, and this but a very few days before the discovery, but yet never gave any consent, help, hearkening, approbation, or co-operation to the same; but contrariwise sought to dissuade, dehort, and hinder the designment by all the means he could. He, dying for the bare concealing of that, which, by God's, and the church's ecclesiastical laws, he could not disclose, and giving no consent or co-operation to the treason itself, should have been accounted rather a martyr than a traitor."—See an answer to Sir EDWARD COKE'S Reports, 4to. 1606.
It is remarkable that in a treatise published A.D. 1600, on auricular confession, a case is put to this effect; namely, whether if a confederate discover, in confession, that he or his companions have secretly deposited gunpowder under a particular house, and that the prince will be destroyed unless it is removed, the priest ought to reveal it. The writer replies in the negative, and fortifies his opinion by the authority of a bull of Clement VIII., against violating the seal of confession. This treatise was published at Louvain. Bishop Kennet remarks on this treatise, in his Sermon, November 5th, 1715, that it appeared "as if the writer had already looked into the cellar and had surveyed the powder, and had heard the confessions of the conspirators."
The proceedings were at length brought to a close; and judgment was demanded against the prisoner. When the clerk of the crown asked what he had to say why judgment should not be given, Garnet replied that "he could say nothing, but referred himself to the mercy of the king and God Almighty." Judgment was pronounced in the usual form, that the prisoner should be hanged, drawn, and quartered.
On the third of May 1606, the prisoner was executed on a scaffold erected at the west end of St. Paul's church-yard. Overal, dean of St. Paul's, with the dean of Winchester, exhorted him to make a plain confession to the world of the offence of which he had been convicted. Garnet desired them not to trouble him, as he came prepared to die, and was resolved what he should do. The recorder asked if he had anything to say to the people before his death, reminding him that it was not the time to dissemble, and that his treasons were manifest to the world. Garnet evidently had no wish to address the crowd; and without refusing the permission, he alleged that his voice was weak, his strength exhausted, and that the people would be unable to hear him, except in the immediate vicinity of the scaffold. To those who stood near, however, he said that the intention was wicked, and the fact would have been cruel, and that he entirely abhorred it. He was reminded that he had confessed his own participation in the plot. It was also stated, that he had acknowledged, under his own hand, that Greenway had asked him who should be protector? and that he had replied that the matter was to be deferred until the blow was actually struck. He confessed that he had erred in not revealing all that he knew of the plot; but he refused to make any further declaration on the scaffold.
He kneeled down at the foot of the ladder; but so distracted was he during his prayer, that he constantly paused and looked about him, as if in expectation of a pardon. He now expressed his sorrow in dissembling with the lords, but justified himself by saying, that he was not aware that they were in possession of such proofs against him. Then exhorting all Romanists to abstain from treasonable practices, he was launched into eternity.
Garnet was viewed as a martyr by his church after his death. Yet he had confessed himself guilty. When asked by some of the lords on his examination, if he approved that the church of Rome should one day declare him a martyr, he cried, Martyrem me, O qualem Martyrem. The church of Rome could not declare him a martyr however, unless they could allege that a miracle had been wrought at his death, or subsequent to it. A miracle therefore was feigned, in order to pave the way into the martyrology. This circumstance I will now relate.
While the body was quartered by the executioner, some drops of blood fell upon the straw with which the scaffold was strewed. A man of the name of Wilkinson, who was present, was anxious to preserve some relic of the deceased, and therefore carried home with him some of the straws sprinkled with Garnet's blood. These relics were committed to the care of a woman, who preserved them under a glass case. Wilkinson had come over from St. Omer's on purpose to be present at the execution. It was reported, that the straws which had been carried away by Wilkinson leaped up from the scaffold, or from the basket in which the dissevered head was deposited, upon his person. Some weeks after, on examining the straws, the parties pretended, that they discovered a likeness of Garnet on one of the husks which contained the grain. Wilkinson and several other persons asserted that they perceived a likeness. The matter was soon noised abroad, and the Romanists proclaimed that a miracle had been wrought. It was thought necessary to institute an examination into the matter; and accordingly several witnesses gave their evidence before the archbishop of Canterbury. Some persons had reported, that the head on the ear of corn was surrounded with glory, or with streaming rays; but Griffith, the husband of the woman who had preserved the straw, declared, before the archbishop, that he discovered nothing of the sort, and that the face was no more like Garnet's than that of any other man who had a beard. Another witness deposed, that he believed that a good artisan could have drawn a better likeness.
The matter, however, was not permitted to be forgotten; and at Rome a print of the straw was published and publicly exhibited. Some months afterwards Garnet was declared to be a martyr by the pope; in which light he is still regarded by Romanists. The miracle was undoubtedly intended to afford the pope an excuse for his beatification, which is the lowest degree of celestial dignity. "This he did," says Fuller, "to qualify the infamy of Garnet's death, and that the perfume of this new title might outscent the stench of his treason."
The Romanists of that day made the most of this miracle. In a work published soon after, entitled, The True Christian Catholic, it is boldly asserted that the sight of Garnet's straw caused at least five hundred persons to embrace the Roman Catholic faith. The miracle was published in all the Romanist states; but in England, it was said, that the man who had been educated at Rome, and commissioned to enter into a conspiracy against his native country, deserved to be pictured in blood.
It appears from Osborne, a contemporary writer, that more than one likeness was pretended. From his statement it seems, that it was circulated, that all the husks in the ears on the straws bore similar impressions of Garnet's features. Osborne says, that he had had some of these straws in his hand; but that he could discover no resemblance to a human face; "yet," says he, "these no doubt are sold and pass at this day for relics, as I know they did twenty years after, and he for a holy saint."
[Footnote 23: OSBORNE'S Works, p. 436.]
Many false reports were circulated on the Continent respecting his death. It was said that he evinced much readiness to die, whereas he manifested great fear. It was also reported that the people interposed and prevented the executioner from quartering him while he was alive, but this favour was granted by the command of the king; that the crowd nearly destroyed the hangman, whereas no violence of any sort was used; and that the people were perfectly silent when the head was held up on the scaffold, whereas that act was attended with loud acclamations. On the contrary, the people were with difficulty restrained from taking the law into their own hands, and inflicting summary punishment. The people also understood that Spain and the pope had been plotting with the traitors; and so high was their indignation, that it was necessary for the Spanish ambassador to apply to the government for a guard to protect him from the fury of the populace. These reports were intended to divert attention from his crime, and from the ignominy of his death. That Garnet was a traitor against his sovereign and his country, cannot be denied by any Romanists, without resorting to the usual arts and sophistry of the jesuits, who contrive to deny anything which it may be inconvenient to acknowledge. Yet Bellarmine has defended him on the ground that the treason was revealed in confession: "Why," says he, "was Henry Garnet, a man incomparable for learning in all kinds and holiness of life, put to death, but because he would not reveal that which he could not with a safe conscience?" Garnet, however, as has been shown, acknowledged that he ought to have revealed it; and besides, it was proved on the trial, that he was acquainted with the treason by other means than confession. He admitted that the plot was revealed to him as they were walking, and consequently not under the seal of confession.