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A Conspiracy By The Papists For The Destruction Of James I The Royal Family And Both Houses Of Parliament; Commonly Known By The Name Of The Gunpowder Plot








The papists (of which there were great numbers in England at the time of
the intended Spanish invasion) were so irritated at the failure of that
expedition, that they were determined, if possible, to project a scheme
at home, that might answer the purposes, to some degree, of their
blood-thirsty competitors. The vigorous administration of Elizabeth,
however, prevented their carrying any of their iniquitous designs into
execution, although they made many attempts with that view. The
commencement of the reign of her successor was destined to be the era of
a plot, the barbarity of which transcends every thing related in ancient
or modern history.

In order to crush popery in the most effectual manner in this kingdom,
James soon after his succession, took proper measures for eclipsing the
power of the Roman Catholics, by enforcing those laws which had been
made against them by his predecessors. This enraged the papists to such
a degree, that a conspiracy was formed, by some of the principal
leaders, of the most daring and impious nature; namely, to blow up the
king, royal family, and both houses of parliament, while in full
session, and thus to involve the nation in utter and inevitable ruin.

The cabal who formed the resolution of putting in practice this horrid
scheme, consisted of the following persons:--Henry Garnet, an
Englishman, who, about the year 1586, had been sent to England as
superior of the English Jesuits; Catesby, an English gentleman; Tesmond,
a Jesuit; Thomas Wright; two gentlemen of the name of Winter; Thomas
Percy, a near relation of the earl of Northumberland; Guido Fawkes, a
bold and enterprising soldier of fortune; Sir Edward Digby; John Grant,
Esq.; Francis Tresham, Esq.; Robert Keyes and Thomas Bates, gentlemen.

Most of these were men both of birth and fortune; and Catesby, who had a
large estate, had already expended two thousand pounds in several
voyages to the court of Spain, in order to introduce an army of
Spaniards into England, for overturning the protestant government, and
restoring the Roman Catholic religion; but, being disappointed in this
project of an invasion, he took an opportunity of disclosing to Percy
(who was his intimate friend, and who, in a sudden fit of passion, had
hinted a design of assassinating the king) a nobler and more extensive
plan of treason, such as would include a sure execution of vengeance,
and, at one blow, consign over to destruction all their enemies.

Percy assented to the project proposed by Catesby, and they resolved to
impart the matter to a few more, and, by degrees, to all the rest of
their cabal, every man being bound by an oath, and taking the sacrament
(the most sacred rite of their religion), not to disclose the least
syllable of the matter, or to withdraw from the association, without the
consent of all persons concerned.

These consultations were held in the spring and summer of the year 1604,
and it was towards the close of that year that they began their
operations; the manner of which, and the discovery, we shall relate with
as much brevity as is consistent with perspicuity.

It had been agreed that a few of the conspirators should run a mine
below the hall in which the parliament was to assemble, and that they
should choose the very moment when the king should deliver his speech to
both houses, for springing the mine, and thus, by one blow cut off the
king, the royal family, lords, commons, and all the other enemies of the
catholic religion in that very spot where that religion has been most
oppressed. For this purpose, Percy, who was at that time a
gentleman-pensioner undertook to hire a house adjoining to the upper
house of parliament with all diligence. This was accordingly done, and
the conspirators expecting the parliament would meet on the 17th of
February following, began, on the 11th of December, to dig in the
cellar, through the wall of partition, which was three yards thick.
There was seven in number joined in this labour: they went in by night,
and never after appeared in sight, for, having supplied themselves with
all necessary provisions, they had no occasion to go out. In case of
discovery, they had provided themselves with powder, shot, and fire
arms, and formed a resolution rather to die than be taken.

On Candlemas-day, 1605, they had dug so far through the wall as to be
able to hear a noise on the other side: upon which unexpected event,
fearing a discovery, Guido Fawkes, (who personated Percy's footman,) was
despatched to know the occasion, and returned with the favourable
report, that the place from whence the noise came was a large cellar
under the upper house of parliament, full of sea-coal which was then on
sale, and the cellar offered to be let.

On this information, Percy immediately hired the cellar, and bought the
remainder of the coals: he then sent for thirty barrels of gunpowder
from Holland, and landing them at Lambeth, conveyed them gradually by
night to this cellar, where they were covered with stones, iron bars, a
thousand billets, and five hundred fagots; all which they did at their
leisure, the parliament being prorogued to the 5th of November.

This being done, the conspirators next consulted how they should secure
the duke of York,[B] who was too young to be expected at the parliament
house, and his sister, the Princess Elizabeth, educated at Lord
Harrington's, in Warwickshire. It was resolved, that Percy and another
should enter into the duke's chamber, and a dozen more, properly
disposed at several doors, with two or three on horseback at the
court-gate to receive him, should carry him safe away as soon as the
parliament-house was blown up; or, if that could not be effected, that
they should kill him, and declare the princess Elizabeth queen, having
secured her, under pretence of a hunting-match, that day.

Several of the conspirators proposed obtaining foreign aid previous to
the execution of their design; but this was over-ruled, and it was
agreed only to apply to France, Spain, and other powers for assistance
after the plot had taken effect; they also resolved to proclaim the
princess Elizabeth queen, and to spread a report, after the blow was
given, that the puritans were the perpetrators of so inhuman an action.

All matters being now prepared by the conspirators, they, without the
least remorse of conscience, and with the utmost impatience, expected
the 5th of November. But all their counsels were blasted by a happy and
providential circumstance. One of the conspirators, having a desire to
save William Parker, Lord Monteagle, sent him the following letter:


"My Lord,

"Out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I
have a care for your preservation; therefore I
advise you, as you tender your life, to devise you
some excuse to shift off your attendance at this
parliament; for God and man have concurred to
punish the wickedness of this time: and think not
slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself
into the country, where you may expect the event
with safety, for though there be no appearance of
any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible
blow, this parliament, and yet they shall not see
who hurts them. This counsel is not to be
contemned, because it may do you good, and can do
you no harm; for the danger is past so soon (or as
quickly) as you burn this letter; and I hope God
will give you the grace to make good use of it, to
whose holy protection I commend you."

The Lord Monteagle was, for some time, at a loss what judgment to form
of this letter, and unresolved whether he should slight the
advertisement or not; and fancying it a trick of his enemies to frighten
him into an absence from parliament, would have determined on the
former, had his own safety been only in question: but apprehending the
king's life might be in danger, he took the letter at midnight to the
earl of Salisbury, who was equally puzzled about the meaning of it; and
though he was inclined to think it merely a wild and waggish contrivance
to alarm Monteagle, yet he thought proper to consult about it with the
earl of Suffolk, lord chamberlain. The expression, "that the blow should
come, without knowing who hurt them," made them imagine that it would
not be more proper than the time of parliament, nor by any other way
likely to be attempted than by gunpowder, while the king was sitting to
that assembly: the lord chamberlain thought this the more probable,
because there was a great cellar under the parliament-chamber, (as
already mentioned,) never used for any thing but wood or coal, belonging
to Wineyard, the keeper of the palace; and having communicated the
letter to the earls of Nottingham, Worcester, and Northampton, they
proceeded no farther till the king came from Royston, on the 1st of
November.

His majesty being shown the letter by the earls, who, at the same time
acquainted him with their suspicions, was of opinion that either nothing
should be done, or else enough to prevent the danger: and that a search
should be made on the day preceding that designed for this execution of
the diabolical enterprise.

Accordingly, on Monday, the 4th of November, in the afternoon, the lord
chamberlain, whose office it was to see all things put in readiness for
the king's coming, accompanied by Monteagle, went to visit all places
about the parliament-house, and taking a slight occasion to see the
cellar, observed only piles of billets and fagots, but in greater number
than he thought Wineyard could want for his own use. On his asking who
owned the wood, and being told it belonged to one Mr. Percy, he began to
have some suspicions, knowing him to be a rigid papist, and so seldom
there, that he had no occasion for such a quantity of fuel; and
Monteagle confirmed him therein, by observing that Percy had made him
great professions of friendship.

Though there was no other materials visible, yet Suffolk thought it was
necessary to make a further search; and, upon his return to the king, a
resolution was taken that it should be made in such a manner as should
be effectual, without scandalizing any body, or giving any alarm.

Sir Thomas Knevet, steward of Westminster, was accordingly ordered,
under the pretext of searching for stolen tapestry hangings in that
place, and other houses thereabouts, to remove the wood, and see if
anything was concealed underneath. This gentleman going at midnight,
with several attendants, to the cellar, met Fawkes, just coming out of
it, booted and spurred, with a tinder-box and three matches in his
pockets, and seizing him without any ceremony, or asking him any
questions, as soon as the removal of the wood discovered the barrels of
gunpowder, he caused him to be bound, and properly secured.

Fawkes, who was a hardened and intrepid villain, made no hesitation of
avowing the design, and that it was to have been executed on the morrow.
He made the same acknowledgment at his examination before a committee of
the council; and though he did not deny having some associates in this
conspiracy, yet no threats of torture could make him discover any of
them, he declaring that "he was ready to die, and had rather suffer ten
thousand deaths, than willingly accuse his master, or any other."

By repeated examinations, however, and assurances of his master's being
apprehended, he at length acknowledged, "that whilst he was abroad,
Percy had kept the keys of the cellar, had been in it since the powder
had been laid there, and, in effect, that he was one of the principal
actors in the intended tragedy."

In the mean time it was found out, that Percy had come post out of the
north on Saturday night, the 2d of November, and had dined on Monday at
Sion-house, with the earl of Northumberland; that Fawkes had met him on
the road, and that, after the lord chamberlain had been that evening in
the cellar, he went, about six o'clock, to his master, who had fled
immediately, apprehending the plot was detected.

The news of the discovery immediately spreading, the conspirators fled
different ways, but chiefly into Warwickshire, where Sir Everard Digby
had appointed a hunting-match, near Dunchurch, to get a number of
recusants together, sufficient to seize the princess Elizabeth; but this
design was prevented by her taking refuge in Coventry; and their whole
party, making about one hundred, retired to Holbeach, the seat of Sir
Stephen Littleton, on the borders of Staffordshire, having broken open
stables, and taken horses from different people in the adjoining
counties.

Sir Richard Walsh, high sheriff of Worcestershire, pursued them to
Holbeach, where he invested them, and summoned them to surrender. In
preparing for their defence, they put some moist powder before a fire to
dry, and a spark from the coals setting it on fire, some of the
conspirators were so burned in their faces, thighs, and arms, that they
were scarcely able to handle their weapons. Their case was desperate,
and no means of escape appearing, unless by forcing their way through
the assailants, they made a furious sally for that purpose. Catesby (who
first proposed the manner of the plot) and Percy were both killed.
Thomas Winter, Grant, Digby, Rockwood, and Bates, were taken and carried
to London, were the first made a full discovery of the conspiracy.
Tresham, lurking about the city, and frequently shifting his quarters,
was apprehended soon after, and having confessed the whole matter, died
of the strangury, in the Tower. The earl of Northumberland, suspected on
account of his being related to Thomas Percy, was, by way of precaution,
committed to the custody of the archbishop of Canterbury, at Lambeth;
and was afterwards fined thirty thousand pounds, and sent to the Tower,
for admitting Percy into the band of gentlemen pensioners, without
tending him the oath of supremacy.

Some escaped to Calais, and arriving there with others, who fled to
avoid a persecution which they apprehended on this occasion, were kindly
received by the governor; but one of them declaring before him, that he
was not so much concerned at his exile, as that the powder plot did not
take effect, the governor was so much incensed at his glorying in such
an execrable piece of iniquity, that, in a sudden impulse of
indignation, he endeavoured to throw him into the sea.

On the 27th of January, 1606, eight of the conspirators were tried and
convicted, among whom was Sir Everard Digby, the only one that pleaded
guilty to the indictment, though all the rest had confessed their guilt
before. Digby was executed on the 30th of the same month, with Robert
Winter, Grant, and Bates, at the west end of St. Paul's churchyard;
Thomas Winter, Keyes, Rockwood, and Fawkes, were executed the following
day in Old Palace yard.

Garnet was tried on the 28th of March, "for his knowledge and
concealment of the conspiracy; for administering an oath of secrecy to
the conspirators, for persuading them of the lawfulness of the treason,
and for praying for the success of the great action in hand at the
beginning of the parliament." Being found guilty,[C] he received
sentence of death, but was not executed till the 3d of May, when,
confessing his own guilt, and the iniquity of the enterprise, he
exhorted all Roman Catholics to abstain from the like treasonable
practices in future. Gerard and Hall, two Jesuits, got abroad; and
Littleton, with several others, were executed in the country.

The Lord Monteagle had a grant of two hundred pounds a year in land, and
a pension of five hundred pounds for life, as a reward for discovering
the letter which gave the first hint of the conspiracy; and the
anniversary of this providential deliverance was ordered to be for ever
commemorated by prayer and thanksgiving.

Thus was this diabolical scheme happily rendered abortive, and the
authors of it brought to that condign punishment which their wickedness
merited. In this affair Providence manifestly interposed in behalf of
the protestants, and saved them from that destruction which must have
taken place had the scheme succeeded according to the wishes of a
bigoted, superstitious, and blood-thirsty faction.





Next: Rise And Progress Of The Protestant Religion In Ireland; With An Account Of The Barbarous Massacre Of 1641

Previous: The Spanish Armada



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