Open main menu

CHAPTER XI
THE TRAITORS IN THE TOWER

GUY FAUKES was the first of the plotters to be incarcerated in the Tower, which he actually reached not long after the time fixed for consummating his terrible scheme. As he had refused to incriminate his friends, he was speedily put to the torture, being by the King's direction subjected to the 'gentler' torments first, and then gradually to the more severe. His stubborn courage and strong frame were not proof against the series of torments under which he was placed, and he was compelled to confess.[1] But, in his confession, or confessions, he only told the Government what was practically known to them before; and in the delirium of pain he never fulfilled the desire of Salisbury's heart, namely, to denounce Father Henry Garnet. Even in admitting that he and his confederates had received the Sacrament at the hands of Father John Gerard, S.J., he denied that Gerard knew anything of the plot; but this most important statement was deliberately omitted by the counsel for the Crown at his trial, so that the spectators in Court went away under the impression that Gerard was an accessory to the crime. But, before dealing with the admissions wrung from the tortured Faukes, it will be best to notice the case of Francis Tresham, whose earthly career was now nearing its end.

It is a significant fact that Tresham's name was omitted from the proclamation quoted above. Probably, Lord Mounteagle did his best to screen his relative so long as he could, and it was not until more than a week after Guy Faukes's arrest that Tresham shared the same fate. In the Tower he soon became ill, and died on December 23.[2] The cause of his death has been, and is still, the subject of much debate. Both Lord Salisbury and Sir William Waad (the Lieutenant of the Tower) declared that Tresham died of an internal complaint, from which he had a long time been suffering, and that he was a dying man when he entered the Tower of London.

Rumour, however, attributed his end to poison. That his death was extremely opportune, so far as Mounteagle's position was concerned, need not be disputed. It is clear that Tresham not only 'knew too much' to suit both Salisbury and Mounteagle; and of his possession of this knowledge he foolishly made no secret. Against the theory of his being poisoned must, however, be stated the fact that his wife and servant were allowed free access to him, and used to nurse him. It is, at the same time, remarkable that, if Tresham was so ill before he entered the Tower, we should have heard nothing of this illness beforehand. Up to November 12, he led a most healthy life, without being in any way prevented from taking active exercise; and yet, not six weeks later, we read of his being dead of a slow and wasting disease.

Francis Tresham was taken to the Tower on November 12, 1605, and on the same day, without being put to the torture, confessed that he had had many interviews of late with Robert Catesby, and with Fathers Gerard, Greenway, and Garnet, but declined to say what had occurred on these occasions. On the following day he was more communicative, and stated that Catesby revealed the plot to him, four weeks back; but that he had done everything in his power to induce Catesby and his confederates to desist from their purpose. On November 29, he was again examined, but on this occasion chiefly with reference to the Jesuits' missions to Spain; and stated that, in Elizabeth's reign, Thomas Winter had gone to Spain, to obtain military aid from the Spaniards, under the direct approval and advice of Catesby, Garnet, and Mounteagle—but the latter's name was obliterated from the paper on which the prisoner's deposition was reported. Soon after this he appears to have become too ill to be frequently examined; but before dying he committed (in order to help Father Garnet) one of the most astounding acts of perjury on record, for he swore 'upon his salvation' that what he had previously said about Garnet and the Spanish treason was untrue, and that he had not seen Father Garnet for sixteen years.

This impudent perjury, instead of helping Garnet, only tended to hurt him, for Cecil had ample proofs that, so far from Tresham not having met Garnet for sixteen years,[3] he had actually met him often during the last sixteen months, and even weeks. In the form of an official rejoinder to this death-bed declaration was produced a copy of a 'Treatise of Equivocation,' found in Tresham's lodgings, in which notes of approval of the doctrine of 'mental reservation' were written in Garnet's own handwriting.[4] It was thus clear to all that Tresham was an able pupil of that past-master in the art of equivocation and dissimulation, Father Henry Garnet, S.J.

Let us now return to Guy Faukes, who had been all this time lodged in the Tower[5] in very much less comfortable quarters than Tresham; for instead of occupying a room large enough to admit of the presence of cheerful companions, he was locked up in a narrow and unlighted cell, beneath the surface of the ground, in immediate proximity to the place of torture. At first the Government were considerably baffled to discover the prisoner's real name; for, owing to his having spent his life (until burrowing like a mole in Percy's cellar) either in Yorkshire or abroad, his face was not known to Salisbury's spies. This circumstance reflects credit on the cleverness of Catesby, who had calculated on this from the first, and had specially selected Faukes in consequence for the task of remaining to the last moment at Westminster. On November 7, his name was discovered by means of a letter found upon his person, and he admitted that he was Guy Faukes, of York.

On November 6, he was examined, but refused to mention any names of his friends. 'The giving warning to one,' he pertinently remarked, in defence of this attitude, 'overthrew us all.'

On November 7, he was (after torture) more communicative. He confessed that the conspiracy had been contrived a year and half ago; that it was at first only manipulated by five persons; that the Princess Elizabeth was to be placed on the throne, and, as soon as possible, to be married to an English Roman Catholic nobleman.

On November 8, Sir William Waad writes to Cecil in a state of great disappointment. On the night previous he had found Faukes in a pliant mood, and expected that he would reveal everything on the morrow. In the morning, however, he found that Faukes 'hath changed his mind, and is sullen and obstinate' On the same day, nevertheless (probably after torture) Faukes again changed his mind, and revealed much. He repeated his previous story as to the seizure of the Princess Elizabeth, and stated that Thomas Winter was the man who had induced him to join the plot. He also freely 'gave away' the names of Percy, Digby, Tresham, Keyes, Grant, Rookewood, and the Wrights.

On November 9, Faukes promised to make further revelations, provided that he might disclose them, unwritten, to Salisbury in private. Waad advised Salisbury to see the prisoner, but there is no record of his having done so. On the same day Faukes disclosed full details of the meeting at the house near St. Clement's Inn, where Gerard gave them the Sacrament, and of the subsequent proceedings of the conspirators.[6]

This last deposition was not formally attested and signed till November 17, and so weak was the shattered frame of the tortured man that he only scrawled the word 'Guido,' and then, after making two faint dashes, swooned away.

On November 16, Guy Faukes had declared that Catesby had tried to warn Lord Montague against being present on the fifth; that Lord Mordaunt would, in any event, have not been present; that Lord Stourton was to be detained by an artifice; that Tresham wished to warn Lord Mounteagle, as did all the conspirators the Earl of Arundel.

On December 8, it was ascertained that Faukes's mother was alive, and that he had been at school with Greenway (the Jesuit) and the Wrights. On January 9, 1606, Faukes gave an account of how Catesby sent Sir Edward Baynham to Rome to complain of the way the English Catholics were persecuted.

On January 25, a conversation was reported, in which Guy Faukes was overheard to have discussed with Robert Winter their forthcoming trial; and to have said that Lord Mounteagle had asked the King to save some of their confederates' lives.[7]

Let us now turn our attention to Thomas Winter, who, since Catesby was dead, in point of seniority, ranked as the chief of the conspirators.

On November 12, Winter was examined for the first time. He admitted that Robert Catesby was the chief spokesman at the first meeting of the conspirators. He denied that they had the assistance of any priest, and that he had ever sworn an oath of secrecy.

On November 23 (?), he made his famous confession, already referred to above, and which will later be dealt with in detail. On the 25th, he incriminated both Tresham and Mounteagle, but the latter's name was partly obliterated in the deposition.

On December 5, he confessed that he had tried to obtain Mr. Talbot of Grafton's assistance; but that the latter had refused to help him or his.

On January 9, 1606, he confessed that the conspirators had received the Sacrament from Father Gerard, who was ignorant of the plot. On January 17, he mentioned his visit to Rome (1599-1600), and said that Sir Edward Baynham was to have informed the Pope, had the explosion taken place.

Sir Everard Digby seems to have made no effort to conceal anything from his interrogators, and was treated by them less roughly than Faukes or Winter. On November 19, under examination, he stated that he had gone into Warwickshire, and lived at Coughton, at Catesby's advice. Catesby, in order to induce him to take the field after the failure of the Plot, had prevaricated, and told him the King and Cecil were dead. Confronted with Faukes, he admitted his knowledge of the plot.

On November 23, he wrote to Cecil, stating that he wished to reveal everything, but really knew little more than he had previously mentioned. On December 2, he stated that Catesby revealed the plot to him in October; that Garnet was frequently with him at Coughton; that Catesby had agreed to warn the Romanist Peers. On December 10, he repeated his story as to Catesby having announced the King's death. On January 9, he said that Catesby had administered the oath to him, but he did not receive the Sacrament after it.

In the examinations of Robert Winter,[8] Grant, Keyes, and Rookewood there is nothing very remarkable to be noticed, but those of Bates are worth comment. On December 4,[9] he revealed how Catesby, his master, had induced him to join the plot; how he had spoken of the plot in confession to Father Greenway, who had approved of it; how that, terrified by the explosion, he went away from Holbeach; that from Holbeach a message had been sent to Talbot of Grafton. On January 13, he gave an account of his being sent from Norbrook with a letter from Sir Everard Digby to 'Mr. Farmer' (Father Garnet) at Coughton. Garnet and Greenway both read the letter, and the latter returned with him to see Catesby at Huddington. Garnet, according to Bates, said to Greenway, on reading the letter, that 'they (the conspirators) would have blown up the Parliament House, and were discovered, and were all utterly undone.' After leaving Huddington, Father Greenway left for Mr. Abington's house (Hendlip), to raise recruits for Catesby's force.

The importance of this last confession was great in the extreme, for it not only proved Greenway to be guilty of treason, but also tended to show that Greenway had seen the conspirators at Huddington with the approval and permission of his superior, Garnet. That Bates was speaking the truth, however, has been denied by Jesuit writers, who urge that Greenway subsequently denied that Bates ever mentioned the subject of the plot to him in the confessional; and that Garnet, whilst questioning the accuracy of Bates's version of the Coughton story, complained that he was being condemned on the evidence of a dead man. But notwithstanding the denials of these priests, it is probable that Bates's story, although extracted from him under terror of torture, was in the main part true; and both Greenway and Garnet were such notorious prevaricators that no reliance can be placed on any of their statements, unless corroborated by indisputable evidence forthcoming from other sources.

Finally, in concluding this chronological record of the conspirators' confessions, it will be well to reproduce from the version in King James's Book on the Plot the important deposition of Guy Faukes, as signed by him on November 17, and witnessed by Sir William Waad, Sir Edward Coke, Sir John Popham, and the Lords Dunbar, Mar, Salisbury, Nottingham, Suffolk, Worcester, Devonshire, Northampton.

'I confess that a practice in general was first broken unto me, against his Majesty, for relief of the Catholick cause, and not invented or propounded by myself. And this was first propounded unto me by about Easter last was twelvemonth beyond the seas, in the low-countries, of the arch-duke's obeisance, by Thomas Wynter, who came thereupon with me into England, and there we imparted our purpose to three other gentlemen more, namely, Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, and John Wright, who, all five, consulting together, of the means how to execute the same; and taking a vow, among ourselves, for secrecy, Catesby propounded to have it performed by gunpowder, and by making a mine under the upper house of Parliament; which place we made choice of, the rather, because, religion have been unjustly suppressed there, it was fittest that justice and punishment should be executed there.

'This being resolved amongst us, Thomas Percy hired an house at Westminster for that purpose, near adjoining to the Parliament House, and there we began to make our mine about December 11, 1604. The five that first entered into the work were Thomas Percy, Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, John Wright, and myself, and soon after we took another unto us, Christopher Wright, having sworn him also, and taken the Sacrament for secrecy. When we came to the very foundation of the wall of the house, which was about three yards thick, and found it a matter of great difficulty, we took unto us another gentleman, Robert Winter, in like manner, with the Oath and Sacrament as aforesaid. It was about Christmas, when we brought our mine unto the wall, and about Candlemas, we had wrought the wall half through; and, whilst they were in working I stood as a sentinel, to descry any man that came near, whereof I gave warning, and so they ceased, until I gave notice again to proceed. All we seven lay in the house, and had shot and powder, being resolved to die in that place, before we should yield or be taken. As they were working upon the wall, they heard a rushing in a cellar, of removing of coals; whereupon we feared we had been discovered, and they sent me to go to the cellar, who finding that the coles were a selling, and that the cellar was to let, viewing the commodity thereof for our purpose, Percy went and hired the same for yearly rent. We had before this provided and brought into the house twenty barrels of powder, which we removed into the cellar, and covered the same with billets and faggots, which we provided for that purpose.

'About Easter, the Parliament being prorogued till October next, we dispersed ourselves, and I retired into the Low- Countries, by advice and direction of the rest, as well to acquaint Owen[10] with the particulars of the plot, as also lest by my longer stay I might have grown suspicious, and so have come in question. In the meantime, Percy, having the key of the cellar, laid in more powder and wood into it. I returned about the beginning of September next, and, then, receiving the key again of Percy, we brought in more powder and billets to cover the same again, and so I went for a time into the country, till October 30.

'It was further resolved amongst us that the same day that this action should have been performed, some other of our confederates should have surprised the person of the Lady Elizabeth, the King's eldest daughter, who was kept in Warwickshire, at the Lord Harrington's house, and presently have proclaimed her for Queen, having a project of a proclamation ready for the purpose; wherein we made no mention of altering of religion, nor would have avowed the deed to be ours until we should have had power enough to make our party good, and then we would have avowed both.

'Concerning Duke Charles, the King's second son, we had sundry consultations how to seize on his person, but because we found no means how to compass it, the duke being kept near London, where we had not forces enough, we resolved to serve our turn with the Lady Elizabeth.

'The Names of other principal persons that were made privy afterwards to this horrible conspiracy.[11]

—Everard Digby Knight,
—Ambrose Rookewood,
—Francis Tresham,
—John Grant,
—Robert Keyes.'


  1. He confessed 'when told he must come to it againe and againe, from daye to daye, till he should have delivered his whole knowledge' (Dom. S.P. James I. vol. xvi.).
  2. At about two o'clock a.m. The date of his death has been wrongly given as the 22nd.
  3. Garnet, at his trial, acknowledged that Tresham probably 'meant to equivocate.'
  4. So late as December 9, Tresham actually denied all knowledge of the contents of this book, although it was found amongst his effects.
  5. He was placed in a subterranean cell under the White Tower, and afterwards in 'Little Ease.'
  6. A freshly worded, and more concise précis of this confession was made before this deed was signed on November 17 by Faukes. The conspirators at Holbeach had, of course, by then been taken, and if Faukes knew this, he may have felt little scruple in mentioning their names, now common property.
  7. On January 26, Faukes was examined as to this conversation. On the 27th, he was put on his trial. On the 20th, Faukes had reaffirmed what he had said on November 16, about warning certain noblemen.
  8. On January 17 (1606), R. Winter gave the account of how the conspirators had been absolved by Father Hart, alias Hammond, S.J., who knew of the plot having failed.
  9. In this confession his name is written 'Bate.'
  10. Captain Hugh Owen, a Jesuit agent, whom the Government much wished to prove guilty of being accessory to the plot.
  11. The name of Bates is omitted.