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OF the vast importance of the Gunpowder Treason, considered as an historical event, there can be no doubt. The consequences of its conception and failure are felt by English Roman Catholics even to this day. It determined for ever the question whether they could possibly recover the ground they had lost since the death of Queen Mary. The complete exposure of the conspirators' schemes was the one thing needed by the Protestant Government[1] to serve as an excuse to crush, not a section only, but the whole of the Romanist party in England. Loyal Romanists, and disloyal, one and all had to suffer for the sins of a desperate gang of fanatics belonging to the Jesuit section; and the terror excited by the revelation of Catesby's plans lived on so forcibly in the public mind that when Titus Gates appeared, in the reign of James' grandson, with his improbable story, the fear that what had been attempted in the autumn of 1605 was being attempted again in London in the autumn of 1678, under the direction of the Jesuits, drove half the population of London off their heads. As a result a number of completely innocent people were butchered on the scaffold for no other reason than they were members of the same religion as had been Thomas Percy, Robert Catesby, Guy Faukes, Oswald Greenway, and Henry Garnet.

The hardships undergone by the English Romanists during the seventeenth century, from the date of the meeting of the adjourned Parliament (which Faukes strove to destroy), are manifest when we read of the fresh laws passed against all the avowed members, rich or poor, of the old religion. The following were some only of the schemes that came into operation for placing the 'Recusants' under the iron rule of the Government:—

1. They (Roman Catholics) were forbidden to appear at Court;

2. They were forbidden to dwell within ten miles of London;[2]

3. They were not allowed to remove five miles from their homes, without permission of the neighbouring magistrates;

4. They were not allowed to become doctors, clerks, lawyers, or members of corporations;

5. They were inhibited from presenting to Livings;

6. They were forbidden to act as executors or trustees;

7. Married Roman Catholics, unless they had been united by a Protestant clergyman, held no legal right to property accruing to either party by marriage;

8. Every Roman Catholic, educated on the Continent, became ipso facto an outlaw;

9. The houses of Roman Catholics might be broken open and searched,[3] on the order of a single magistrate, at any time, and under any pretext, however shallow;

10. Every Protestant, entertaining a Roman Catholic visitor, or employing a Roman Catholic servant, was liable to a heavy fine;

11. Any Roman Catholic refusing to deny his or her belief in the Deposing Power of the Holy See became liable to perpetual imprisonment.

Soon after the death of Garnet, James offered some considerable relief to those Roman Catholics who refused to acknowledge the Deposing Power of the Roman Pontiffs, and many agreed to accept the proposal made to them. But the authorities at Rome, backed up by the Society of Jesus—the everlasting curse of English Roman Catholicism—were determined to prevent the King's offer of relief being accepted by Romanists willing to take the oath of allegiance to James as King. Blackwell, the Arch-priest, was actually removed from his position[4] because he recommended his co-religionists to take this oath of allegiance, and a new Arch-priest, George Birkhead, was appointed in his stead, with instructions to endeavour to intimidate all Roman Catholics into denying the regal prerogative of James I. This senseless action on the part of the Pope (Paul V.) was the forerunner of fresh disasters for the wretched Roman Catholics in England, for it produced a schism amongst them, divided as they now were into two parties—the one ready to acknowledge James and abjure the Deposing Power of the Pope; the other refusing to acknowledge James, and ready to exalt the doctrine of the Deposing Power into the position of an obligatory Article of Faith. For the loyal English Roman Catholic gentry, therefore, there was no hope of peace. They were attacked on both sides—from Canterbury and from Rome. If they did not profess an outward belief in Protestantism by attending at their parish church, they were ruined with fines; if they acknowledged James as their King, they were condemned by the Head of that very Faith for which they had sacrificed so much. Meanwhile, that eventful date, the fifth of November, was not allowed to be forgotten by the public. A special service of thanks to Heaven for the failure of Faukes' plan was added to the Book of Common Prayer, and every successive anniversary of the fifth[5] was celebrated as a feast-day, or rather, if we can coin such a word, feast-night, in every town and village throughout England.

Finally, in order that readers may be able to judge for themselves as to the nature of the terms of the relief offered to the 'Recusants' by the Government of James concerning the vexed question of the Temporal Power, I reproduce below the text of the oath which each responsible Roman Catholic was asked to swear:—

'I ... do truly and sincerely acknowledge, profess, testify, and declare in my conscience before God and the world, that Our Sovereign Lord King James is lawful and rightful King of this Realm and all other His Majesty's Dominions and Countries ; and that the Pope, neither of himself, nor by any authority of the Church or See of Rome, or by any other means with any other, hath any power or authority to depose the King or to dispose of any of His Majesty's Kingdoms or Dominions, or to authorize any foreign Princes to invade or annoy him or his Countries; or to discharge any of his subjects of their allegiance and obedience to His Majesty; or to give licence or leave to any of them to bear arms, raise tumults, or to offer any violence or hurt to His Majesty's Person, State, or Government, or to any of His Majesty's subjects within His Majesty's Dominions.

'Also, I swear from my heart that, notwithstanding any declaration or sentence of excommunication or deprivation made or granted, or to be made or granted by the Pope or his successors, or by any authority derived, or pretended to be derived from him or his See against the said King, his Heirs or Successors, or any absolution of the said subjects from their obedience, I will bear faith and true allegiance to His Majesty, his Heirs and Successors, and Him and Them I will defend to the uttermost of my power against all conspiracies and attempts whatsoever which shall be made against Him or their Persons, their Crown and Dignity, by reason or colour of any such sentence or declaration or otherwise, and will do my best endeavour to disclose and make known unto His Majesty, his Heirs and Successors, all treasons and traitorous conspiracies, which I shall know or hear of to be against Him or any of them.

'And I do further swear that I do from my heart abhor, detest, and abjure as impious and heretical this damnable doctrine and position That Princes, which may be excommunicated or deprived by the Pope, may be deposed or murdered by their subjects, or any other, whatsoever.

'And I do believe, and in my conscience am resolved that neither the Pope nor any person whatsoever hath power to absolve me of this oath or any part thereof, which I acknowledge by good and lawful authority to be lawfully ministered unto me; and do renounce all pardon and dispensations to the contrary.

'And these things I do plainly and sincerely acknowledge and swear, according to these express words by me spoken, and according to the plain and common sense and understanding of the same words; without any equivocation, or mental evasion, or secret reservation[6] whatsoever. And I do make this recognition and acknowledgment heartily, willingly, and truly, upon the true faith of a Christian. So help me God.'

That the Holy See (and its Jesuit agents) acted with supreme folly in striving to prevent the English Romanists from taking such an oath as this is indisputable. There was nothing in the text of the oath which attacked any Article of Faith contained in the Catholic creed. The sole but slight objection that could be made to it was the rather strong, but very true, terms in which the Deposing Power claimed by the Popes was mentioned.[7] It was, indeed, characteristic of the Society of Jesus that its members should have exerted themselves to prevent their co-religionists in England from becoming peaceful and patriotic citizens. Father Blackwell, the Arch-priest, plainly recognized this, for after being inclined at first to withstand the operation of the oath, he had the sense eventually to see how just was the position opened up to Romanists by the Government, and defying (his former allies) the Jesuits and the tyrannical Pontiff, he died soon after, imploring his co-religionists to subscribe to the terms laid before them.[8] In this appeal he was supported, it should be mentioned, by the King of France, who (Roman Catholic though he was) solemnly warned the Pope against driving the British Government to desperation. But, unfortunately, this good advice produced no effect in changing the fatuous policy of the Vatican.

  1. It fixed the timid and wavering mind of the King in his adherence to the Protestant party' (Jardine).
  2. Unless employed in one of the very few professions open to them.
  3. 'Every corner of the house was diligently searched. Even the bedrooms of the females were not spared. . . . The terror occasioned by these nocturnal visitations is not to be described' (Jardine).
  4. On his death-bed he again advised his friends to take the oath.
  5. The fifth of November was to become doubly a great date in Protestant annals when, eighty-three years later, William of Orange arrived in Torbay.
  6. The propounders of this oath had not forgotten Father Garnet's methods of equivocation.
  7. 'This damnable doctrine and position,' etc.
  8. The casual reader must be warned against the references to the text of the oath supplied by the Jesuit writer, Foley. He dared not quote the actual text.