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ALTHOUGH, as I have more than once hinted above, Robert Winter was probably the least important of the Gunpowder conspirators, the original account[1] of his escape from Holbeach, and his subsequent adventures before falling into the hands of his enemies, is so interesting, and savours so much of a romance, that a précis of the 'true historicall Declaration' of his 'Flight and Escape' is well worth notice here.

The two fugitives, Robert Winter and Stephen Lyttleton, left Holbeach immediately after the explosion of the gunpowder. That they must have exercised considerable ingenuity in getting away there can be little doubt; but, perhaps, during the confusion caused by the disaster, their retreat was rendered easier. Robert Catesby, luckily for them, was hors de combat; had this not been the case, he would certainly have handled both delinquents very roughly, for he was not the man to tolerate so flagrant a case of desertion from his little force at the eleventh hour.

The deserters left the house separately, but met in a wood about half a mile or more away, and after being first at their wits' end to know where to go, decided to make for Hagley, the beautiful residence of Muriel Lyttleton. To do this, they had not only to make a considerable détour in order to avoid the forces of the sheriffs, but had also to cross the river Stour, much swollen by the recent rain. Proceeding towards Rowley Regis, in Staffordshire, they besought refuge from one Pelborough, a farmer, and tenant of the Lyttletons. Notwithstanding the risk, he willingly agreed to put them up, and provided them with food and clothing. Here they continued for over a week, hidden in a loft over one of the farmer's barns. From this farm they removed at night to that of another tenant of the Lyttletons, rented by a man named Perkes, whose house was close to Hagley Park. Here they lay hidden in a barn for about seven weeks. At the end of this time, suspecting that their retreat was, or would soon be, known, they went, at the invitation of Humphrey Lyttleton, to lodge in Hagley House itself.

Arriving at Hagley in the middle of the night, Humphrey Lyttleton—elected in order to obtain food the more easily for the fugitives—to acquaint John Fynwood, his cook, with the news of their presence. The cook promised faithfully not to betray his master's guests, and agreed to supply them secretly with food, whenever necessary, unknown to the rest of his fellow-servants. On the first available opportunity,[2] however, he sent news to the nearest magistrate of their presence in the house; for which act of treachery he was officially rewarded with an annuity, or the promise of an annuity, of forty marks. The result of his giving information was that Stephen Lyttleton and Robert Winter were quickly captured, and sent to the Tower; whilst Perkes and Humphrey Lyttleton were arrested, and taken to Worcester.

This act of the wily cook also conduced to more important results than the seizure of the fugitives, for it led directly to the capture of the Jesuit Fathers, Garnet and Oldcorne, whom the Government looked upon as a more important prize than any one of the individuals directly concerned in the plot.

Tried at Worcester, Humphrey Lyttleton was found guilty, and sentenced to death. He offered, however, if his life were spared, to give the Government valuable information as to the whereabouts of some of the Jesuits, especially in regard to 'Mr. Hall' (Father Oldcorne, S.J.). This offer was accepted, provided that he made good his promise. He, thereupon, not only gave an account of some conversations he had had with Oldcorne, but also stated that he had every reason to believe that this Jesuit was lying concealed at Hendlip Hall. This news was sent to the searchers at Hendlip, near Worcester, and after a long quest, not only was Oldcorne captured there, but Father Garnet[3] also, who surrendered himself into the hands of Sir Henry Bromley, a local magistrate.

Thus, owing to the cupidity of a menial, was effected, by a most extraordinary series of accidents, the capture of Father Henry Garnet, the Superior of the English Jesuits, who was put on his trial for treason, and hanged in St. Paul's Churchyard.

Humphrey Lyttleton's life was not spared, after all, and he suffered the same fate [4] as the priests he had betrayed.

Stephen Lyttleton was eventually executed at Stafford.

The adventures of Robert Winter and Stephen Lyttleton during the period (nearly two months) which intervened between their escape from Holbeach and their capture at Hagley were of so exciting and romantic a nature as to bear some resemblance to those of Charles II. after the Battle of Worcester. Both Charles and the plotters were saved more than once from capture by farmers, and the first series of their adventures commenced in the same part of England. The anxiety which the fugitives from Holbeach were a prey to baffles description, for over and over again they fancied, when hiding beneath some hay in the barns, that they heard the footsteps of men coming to arrest them; and when, at last, they thought themselves safe, for a time, at Hagley Hall, they were betrayed by a servant in whom they had placed implicit trust.

  1. Vide Harl. MSS. 360, pp. 103-108.
  2. January 9, 1606. From a further account, which I shall quote later on, it seems that another servant participated in the betrayal.
  3. Hallam makes a curious error when he says, in his Constitutional History, that Garnet was 'taken at Henlip along with the other conspirators.'
  4. In defence of the Government, it has been asserted that Humphrey Lyttleton was merely offered a reprieve; but this seems absurd, for no man would betray his best friends, unless he received some very strong inducement to do so.