A history of the gunpowder plot/Chapter 14
HOW THE JESUITS WERE CAPTURED AT HENDLIP
THE position of Father Garnet after the capture of the rebels at Holbeach, and the flight of his colleague, Oswald Greenway, became one of great peril, for he knew full well that the Government would strain every nerve to seize him, and, if possible, convict him as an accessory, either before or after the fact, to the Plot. For some time he remained concealed at Coughton, but on December 6, removed by night to Hendlip, nearly four miles north-east of Worcester, where his friend, Father Oldcorne, alias Hall, lay concealed. He removed thither in company with his faithful and devoted penitent, Anne Vaux, whose intimacy with him caused considerable scandal at the time of his trial, although there can be little doubt but that this connection was an innocent one, and such as often exists between fanatical, superstitious women and their presuming 'directors.' Before leaving Coughton, he sent a letter to Cecil, protesting his innocence of Catesby's proceedings both in regard to the plot at Westminster and the operations in the Midlands. He would have done far better had he left the neighbourhood altogether, with the idea of eventually following Greenway's example, and escaping to the Continent. Probably, however, a sense of duty induced him to remain, for the benefit of those few who were wont to receive the Sacraments from him.
Hendlip Hall, the property of Thomas Abington, was a most remarkable house, though comparatively new, the whole of it having been erected since 1570. It was filled with priests'-holes, most of which had been cunningly contrived by the Jesuit lay-brother, the famous Nicholas Owen, who, acting as servant to Garnet, now came to reside with him, once more, at Hendlip. Of Owen, Father Gerard, in his 'Narrative,' furnishes a very interesting account.
'… One Nicholas Owen, commonly called, and most known by the name of Little John. By which name he was so famous and so much esteemed by all Catholics, especially those of the better sort, that few in England, either priests or others, were of more credit … his chief employment was in making of secret places to hide priests and church-stuff in from the fury of searches; in which kind he was so skilful both to devise and frame the places in the best manner, and his help therein desired in so many places that verily I think no man can be said to have done more good of all those that laboured in the English Vineyard. For, first, he was the immediate occasion of saving the lives  of many hundreds of persons, both ecclesiastical and secular, and of the estates also of these seculars, which had been lost and forfeited many times over if the priests had been taken in their houses; of which some have escaped, not once but many times, in several searches that have come to the same house, and sometimes five or six priests together at the same time. Myself have been one of the seven that have escaped the danger at one time in a secret place of his making. . . . One reason that made him so much desired by Catholics of account, who might have had other workmen enough to make conveyances in their houses, was a known and tried care he had of secrecy, not only from such as would of malice be inquisitive, but from all others to whom it belonged not to know; in which he was so careful that you should never hear him speak of any houses or places where he had made such hides. . . .'
Owen is also said to have planned Father Gerard's extraordinary escape from the Tower of London in 1597.
Thomas Abington, the owner of Hendlip, was, like his guest Owen, a very remarkable person. He had been for over five years imprisoned in the Tower after the failure of Babington's conspiracy in favour of the Queen of Scots. On his release, he retired to Hendlip, where he devoted himself to archaeology, taking great interest in antiquarian lore connected with Worcestershire and Staffordshire. But, notwithstanding his love of learning, his zeal for religion still moved him to commit imprudent but generous acts, and many a hunted priest found a safe refuge in one of the numerous 'holes' at Hendlip. Moreover, he maintained, at the time of the Plot, so dangerous a person in his service as the Jesuit Oldcorne, who acted as his chaplain, and who invited Garnet to come, with Owen and another lay-brother, to Hendlip, after Coughton had become too dangerous a retreat for Garnet to stay at much longer. The invitation was probably due to the intercession of Abington's wife, a devout Romanist, and sister to Lord Mounteagle, whose relationship to Abington was the means of saving the latter's life, and that on probably more than one occasion.
For about six weeks, Father Garnet remained hidden in peace at his new headquarters, before being perturbed by the pressing attentions of his enemies. On Sunday, January 19, 1606, however, Sir Henry Bromley, a magistrate, appeared before Hendlip, early in the morning, 'accompanied with above a hundred men, armed with guns and all kinds of weapons, more fit for an army than an orderly search.' He came, acting under the direct instructions of Salisbury, but it is a disputed point whether he expected to find Garnet concealed in the house. That he fully expected to find Oldcorne is an established fact, but I rather incline, to the idea that the other, and more important quarry, for whom he had come in search, was Greenway, and not Garnet. Hendlip, standing on high ground, afforded good opportunities for those on the watch, to observe the approach of an enemy, so that by the time Bromley battered at the door, all four Jesuits had been hidden away: Fathers Garnet and Oldcorne together in one 'hole,' Brothers Chambers and Owen together in another. Mr. Abington was not at home when Bromley arrived, but his wife gave over to Bromley all the keys of her mysterious house, Mr. Abington not returning till the following night.
Under Bromley's supervision, the most rigorous and drastic inspection was made of the house. 'He began,' writes Gerard, 'after the accustomed manner to go through all the rooms of the house, which were many and very large; he had with him Argus' eyes, many watchful and subtle companions, that would spy out the least advantage or cause of suspicion; and yet they searched and sounded every corner in that great house till they were all weary, and found no likelihood of discovering that they came for, though they continued the daily search, and that with double diligence all the week following. But upon Saturday, two laymen that did usual attend upon the two priests, and were hid in a place by themselves, being almost starved to death, came out of their own accord.' But Gerard is not, as is often the case, strictly accurate here, for the 'two laymen,' Brothers Owen and Chambers, came out of their hole on Thursday morning, January 23. Had they succeeded in fighting their cold, hunger, and confinement a little longer by remaining huddled up in their 'hole,' it is possible that the lives of all four might have been saved, for Bromley was getting very tired of his search, which he was quite willing to abandon, at any rate for a time, if not altogether.
Father Gerard goes on to make the absurdly unwise statement that Owen and Chambers only gave themselves up because they thought the searchers might take them for priests, and, being satisfied with their capture, then leave the house, and thus enable Garnet and Oldcorne to escape. The very opposite of this was, of course, the case. The appearance of the lay-brothers only induced Bromley to continue the search; for if, he argued, two men could be forced by hunger to appear from places where he thought it was impossible for a human being to lie hid, why should not there be other men concealed in some equally strange hiding-place, and likewise be starved into revealing themselves? Moreover, Gerard confesses that Owen and Chambers had 'but one apple between them.' His attempt, therefore, to make them act the part of martyrs, sacrificing their lives to save those of their masters', is merely a fable of his own invention.
Writing to Lord Salisbury, on Thursday evening, Bromley says—
'two are come forth for hunger and cold that give themselves other names; but surely one of them, I trust, will prove Greenway, and I think the other be Hall. I have yet presumption that there is yet one or two more in the house; wherefore I have resolved to continue the guard yet a day or two.'
But hardly had this letter reached Salisbury, than fresh and unexpected information reached Bromley, who had by this time discovered that he had not captured the two priests, as he surmised. This information was sent to him from Worcester, and was to the effect that Humphrey Lyttleton had stated, in prison, 'that he believed Oldcorne to be at Hendlip.' On receiving this information, therefore, Bromley and his brother set to work again with renewed hope and energy.
According to Gerard, after 'five or six days ... it pleased God to deliver them (the Priests) into their hands by permitting the searchers at last to light upon the very place itself.' This statement of Gerard is, nevertheless, untrue. Bromley never hit upon the hiding-place, for the two priests surrendered themselves voluntarily, as had their servants. The two fathers had, it appeared, suffered so much from cramp and want of air that they could hold out no longer, and were obliged to give in. Garnet, writing, when a prisoner in the Tower, on March 2, to Anne Vaux, thus tells the story in his own words, and his account flatly contradicts Gerard's version as reported above, viz.—
'I purpose, by God's grace, to set down here briefly, what hath passed since my apprehension, lest evil reports, or untrue, may do myself or others injury.
'After we had been in the hole 7 days and 7 nights, and some odd hours, every man may well think we were wearied; and indeed so it was, for we continually sat, save that some times we could half stretch ourselves, the place being not high enough; and we had our legs so straightened, that we could not sitting find place for them, so that we both were in continual pain of our legs, and both our legs, especially mine, were much swollen, and mine continued so till I came to the Tower.
'If we had had but one half day's liberty to come forth, we had so eased the place from the books and furniture that, having with us a close-stool, we could have abidden a quarter of a year. . . . We were very merry and content within, and heard the searchers every day most curious over us, which made me, indeed, think the place would be found. And if I had known in time of the proclamation against me, I would have come forth and offered myself to Mr. Abington, whether he would or no to have been his prisoner.
'When we came forth we appeared like 2 ghosts; yet I the stronger, though my weakness lasted longest. The fellow that found us ran away for fear, thinking we would have shot a pistol at him; but there came needless company to assist him, and we bad them be quiet, and we would come forth. So they helped us out very charitably; and we could not go; but desired to be led to a house of office. So I was, and found a board taken up, where there was a great down-fall, that one should have broken his neck if he had come thither in the dark, which seemed intended of purpose. We had escaped, if the two first hidden soldiers had not come out so soon, for when they had found them they were curious to find their place. The search at Hendlip was not for me but for Mr. Hall, as an abettor of Robert Wintour. Then came a second charge to search for Mr. Gerard. Of me never no expectation.'
From this account, it is plain that Garnet and Oldcorne (Hall) gave themselves up, without any discovery being made of their 'hole,' which, if it had not been so much filled up with 'books and furniture,' might have afforded them a safe refuge till Bromley had departed. Garnet is evidently in error as to the 'second charge to search' being 'for Mr. Gerard,' for we know that this further charge was the result of Lyttleton's implicating Oldcorne. Garnet's theory that 'we had escaped,' but for the 'hidden soldiers,' is curious, but hardly tenable when we consider how weak he and his comrade must have been. It is, however, a fact that Owen and Chambers were actually within an ace of escaping, when they quietly emerged from their hiding-place. According to Gerard (who here completely contradicts his own story of their voluntary surrender), 'They, perceiving, that some of the searchers did continually by turns watch and walk up and down the room where they were hidden, which was a long gallery foursquare going round the house, watched their time when the searchers were furthest off, and came out so secretly and quietly and shut the place again so finely, that they were not heard or perceived when or where they came out, and so they walked in the gallery towards the door, which they thought belike to have found open. But the searchers being turned back in their walk, and perceiving two strange men to be there, whom they had not seen before, presently ran unto them and asked what they were? They answered that they were men that were in the house, and would be content to depart if it pleased them. . . . Then being asked where they had been all the while, they answered they had hid themselves, being Catholics, to avoid taking.'
Father Garnet, after having been identified by Bromley—but not without much difficulty, various persons being summoned to look at him—was taken up to London, in company with his fellow prisoners. The story of this journey is best told in Garnet's own words (Dom. S.P. James I., vol. xix.)—
'We were carred to Worcester in his coach, where he had promised to place us in some bailey's, or other citizen's house; but when we came there he said he could not do as he wished, but must send us to the gaol.
'I said, "In God's name, but I hope you will provide we have not irons, for we are lame already and shall not be able to ride after to London."
'"Well," said he, "I will think of it," and set me to rest in a private chamber, with one to look to me, because he would avoid the people's gazing. When he had despatched his business, he sent for me, and told me we should go with him to his house. So we did in the coach, and were exceedingly well used, and dined and supped with him and his every day.
'On Candlemas day, he made a great dinner to end Christmas; and in the midst of dinner he sent for wine to drink health to the King, and we were all bare. . . . All the way to London, I was passing well used at the King's charge, and that by express orders from Lord Salisbury. I had always the best horse in the company. . . . I had some bickering with Ministers by the way. Two very good scholars and courteous, Mr. Abbott and Mr. Barlow, met us at an inn; but two other rude fellows met us on the way, whose discourtesy I rewarded with plain words, and so adieu! They were discharged by authority.'
Garnet's arrival in London created a great sensation, for a Jesuit Provincial was a captive out of the ordinary, and the common herd flocked to see him as if expecting to find some new species of wild beast. After examination at Whitehall, Garnet was sent to the Tower. He says in his own words—
'On St. Valentine's day I came to the Tower, where I have a very fine chamber; but was very sick the two first nights with ill lodging. I am allowed every meal a good draught of excellent claret wine, and I am liberal with myself and neighbours for good respects, to allow also of my own purse some sack.'
Finally, before closing this account of Garnet's capture and progress to London, it is worth quoting the following interesting, but not quite correct, reference to his capture made by the Venetian Ambassador in a letter, dated February 24, to the Doge of Venice—
'They have, at last, captured the two Jesuits, who had already been proclaimed as guilty of conspiracy; they had taken shelter in a cave in the country, and were besieged there, and finally driven out by the hunger and suffering which they had endured. One of them is the Provincial of the Jesuits in England, and it is thought that in putting him to death with cruel torments they will wreak all their hatred of his religion and of himself. But he will not be executed in public, for he is a man of moving eloquence and vast learning, and they are afraid that his constancy, and the power of his speech, may produce just the reverse of what they desire.'
- Most writers (Jardine included) state that he did not reach Hendlip till a fortnight later; but my authority is Garnet's own statement, made when examined in the Tower.
- Now pulled down, and a modern mansion erected on the old site.
- He may perhaps have saved the life of King Charles II., who (after the flight from Worcester) may have found safety from his pursuers in a priests'-hole, attributed to Owen's skill for its construction, for both at Boscobel and at Trent House, where Charles hid, were 'holes' contrived by Owen.
- George Chambers.
- By many writers she is considered to have been the author of the famous warning letter. But this theory cannot be entertained, for she was brought to bed of a child shortly after the receipt of the letter by the King.
- Vide letter from Bromley to Salisbury: 'Mr. Abington . . . was gone to Mr. Talbot's, and came home on Monday night.'
- As a matter of fact, Bromley had gone home when the lay-brothers appeared, his (Bromley's) brother being left in charge of the searchers, pro tern.
- Gerard's error has been blindly copied by nearly all the writers who have told the story of Garnet's apprehension.
- The fact that neither of the two holes was discovered by Bromley shows with what marvellous skill they had been devised and located by Owen.
- The original MS. is dated 'Shrovetuesday,' and addressed by Garnet 'For Mrs. Vaux or one of our's. Keep all discreetly secret.'
- 'Marmalade and other sweetmeats were found lying by them; but their better maintenance had been by a quill or reed, through a little hole in a chimney that backed another chimney into a gentlewoman's chimney, and by that passage cawdle, broths, and warm drinks had been conveyed to them.'
- Probably, Prayer-books and articles used when saying Mass, or even vestments.
- Owen and Chambers.
- Oldcorne was identified at once.
- Abington, Oldcorne, Owen, Chambers, and two servants. Mrs. Abington and Anne Vaux started for London about three weeks later.
- This attestation of Garnet, concerning the kind treatment he received by direction of the Government is, of course, never admitted by Jesuit writers. In a letter to Salisbury, dated February 5, Bromley mentions that 'Mr. Garnet is but a weak and wearisome traveller.'
- During the whole time he was in the Tower, Garnet indulged freely in wine, and is reported to have been overcome by the effects of his potations on more than one occasion. The Jesuit story that this is mere Protestant calumny is controverted by the fact that an agent was sent from Rome to England by Father Parsons to inquire into Garnet's conduct, owing to the reports which had reached head-quarters of his drunkenness and immorality.