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


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


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.