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CHAPTER XXIII
THE MYSTERY OF THOMAS WARDE

TO my mind, there still exists one mystery, at any rate, connected with the Gunpowder Plot, which not only has yet to be cleared up, but which previous writers have practically made no attempt to solve. I allude to the connection of Lord Mounteagle's 'gentleman' Thomas Warde, with the conspirators. Was this Thomas Warde in their secrets, or was he not?

It is, as I have already pointed out, a most peculiar circumstance that this man, Warde, should never have been closely examined by the Privy Council as to his relations with Thomas Winter. In the latter's lengthy confession, he distinctly stated that 'one' came to him and told him that' a letter had been given to my Lord Mounteagle.' In other words, the Privy Council knew that Warde had committed misprision of treason by giving Winter[1] warning, intending thereby to save all the conspirators from capture, but yet made no attempt to punish him for this crime, the penalty for which was, if convicted, death!

Why, indeed, may we ask, in our perplexity, was Warde permitted to go unpunished? Why, too, was he not asked if he knew who it was that delivered the letter at his patron's house? Why was he never cross-examined as to his supposed intimacy with certain of the Jesuit priests? These are questions which seem to me to bear considerably upon the complicity of Lord Mounteagle in the plot, and his secret understanding with Lord Salisbury.

Thomas Warde was a Roman Catholic, a gentleman of good family, and no mere 'page' or 'domestic,' as he has been described by certain writers. He evidently was very well posted up in his patron's plans; for when Mounteagle suddenly resolved to have supper at his house at Hoxton, he specially took Warde with him, which there was no necessity to do. That Warde, before the receipt of the letter, was fully cognizant of Catesby's proceedings cannot be doubted, when we read of his conferences with Winter after the receipt of the letter. In all probability he must have known who wrote the letter, if he did not even write it himself. He was, as we have seen, talked of at the time as having been privy to the Plot, yet he was not arrested. Evidently, he must have known as much as Lord Mounteagle knew. One was just as much as the other responsible for staging the Hoxton comedy. The pair drew up, certainly with Tresham, and, as we shall see, probably with another party also, the contents of the celebrated letter. Some very powerful motive latent in the background must have saved him from punishment over the matter of his giving warning to Winter, and that motive must have originated from the Government's fear of 'showing up' Lord Mounteagle. Master and man had played their game together, and to punish Thomas Warde would be to ruin Lord Mounteagle. But that Warde was ever implicated so deeply in the Plot as to have taken the binding oath of secrecy as one of the conspirators is unlikely in the extreme. His tongue would, in that event, have been tied, so far as his communicating with Mounteagle was concerned; and had he taken the oath, and broken it, as Tresham did, then he would have at once been suspected by Catesby and Winter, and would not up to the last have remained on friendly terms with the latter. He must be included among that little list of people who, though not enrolled among the working conspirators, were aware of what was going on a list which included such persons as Garnet, Greenway, Baynham, Mounteagle, and (perhaps) Oldcorne.[2]

Warde, in giving warning to the conspirators, first of the letter's arrival at Hoxton, secondly, of its delivery to Lord Salisbury, and thirdly, of its inspection by the King, naturally calculated that the conspirators would take the 'tip' and seek safety in flight. He could never have conjectured that they would have rashly awaited hopeless ruin by staying on at their posts, as they did. Perhaps both he and Mounteagle were frightened at what Winter and Catesby might divulge, if caught; and, up to the date of Tresham's death, this astute pair must have spent many a mauvais quart d'heure. Tresham's boasts that, conspirator though he was, his neck was safe, must have borne reference to the fact that influential parties would suffer if he were injured, and those others must have included Mounteagle and Warde.

The identity of the nameless messenger who delivered the letter at Mounteagle's house is also an unsolved mystery. No effort seems to have been made to discover who he was. By whom was he sent? Whence did he come? What was he like? 'A tall man, wrapped in a cloak' is all we are told about him, and nothing more. He appears suddenly on the scene at night, presses a letter into the hands of Mounteagle's footman, and disappears again, and for ever, into the darkness! This individual may, of course, merely have been an illiterate man, simply hired to deliver a letter to Lord Mounteagle, and ignorant all the while of the letter's contents; or he may have been a trusted person in the service of Mounteagle, Warde, and Tresham. Had he been, however, a mere ordinary messenger, he would have come forward, after the discovery of the plot, and claimed a reward from the State for performing so great a service, in which case he would have had to divulge the source wherefrom he obtained the letter. It is more probable, therefore, that even this mysterious messenger was a member of Lord Mounteagle's talented company of players. The more, indeed, that one examines into the way in which this comedy at Hoxton was staged, the more one is amazed at the skill with which every item in the programme was carried out, down to the last detail. Tresham, Mounteagle, and Warde were no ordinary actors!

Some general idea that a Plot was being concocted seems to have been known to a good many Romanists besides those (like Mounteagle and Garnet) immediately in touch with the active conspirators themselves. Amongst those who must have had some inkling of what was going on was Garnet's too faithful friend, the infatuated Anne Vaux. Before the middle of October, 1605, she grew very anxious and uneasy as to the curious behaviour of some of her relatives and intimate friends. In the Tower, even Garnet went so far as to make the following admission in relation to her fears:—

'Mrs. Vaux came to him (Garnet), either to Harrowden, or to Sir Everard Digby's at Gothurst, and told this examinant that she feared that some trouble or disorder was towards, that some of the gentlewomen had demanded of her where they should bestow themselves till the "burst" was past in the beginning of the Parliament. And this examinant asking her who told her so, she said she durst not tell who told her so: she was choked with sorrow.'

This admission by Father Garnet certainly does not tend to lead us to accept as true the protestations of Roman Catholic writers that Anne Vaux knew nothing whatever of what was going on either in the Midlands or at Westminster. We may be sure that Garnet would not admit 'too much' about his friend's knowledge, and he probably could, if he chose, have revealed a great deal more. Again, what did Garnet mean by his strange prayer (uttered in the presence of Anne Vaux and many others) delivered at the memorable service at Coughton on All Saints' Day?[3] In it, he asked his congregation to pray for some great event,—which to the concern of the Catholic cause might happen at the opening of the coming Session. Anne Vaux must have joined in this prayer, and for whom, or for what purpose did she pray?

When examining into the relations existing between Anne Vaux and the Jesuits, we must remember that she was absolutely under their influence, and that, therefore, she being a disciple of tutors expert in equivocation, would have felt no scruple in telling a lie if the necessities of the Society of Jesus required her. That very close friendship existed between her and Father Garnet is proved by the nature of the correspondence which took place between the pair after Garnet's incarceration in the Tower. One of the first questions asked by him, in a letter, which Garnet hoped would be smuggled safely out of the Tower, was, 'Where is Mrs.[4] Anne? 'In reply to Garnet, she signs herself, 'Yours, and not my own.'

I have said above that Francis Tresham and Company, when arranging for the delivery of the anonymous letter at Hoxton, were probably helped by some other party whose name has not come down to us. This person, as I have hinted, may have been a Jesuit priest. But there may also have been a woman in the case. That Mrs. Abington could have materially helped in the matter, I cannot as I have already stated believe. That she wrote the letter is a theory unsupported by proof or probability, and seems to have originated with some silly story told by one of her Worcestershire neighbours, after her death. If there was a woman in the case, it is almost certain to have been none other than Anne Vaux. From the curiosity displayed by her a few weeks before the fatal Fifth, it is clear that she was anxious to know what was going on, and evidently did get eventually to know, for she arranged where to 'bestow herself till the burst was past in the beginning of the Parliament.'

This leads us back again to the question, Could Anne Vaux have written the letter to Lord Mounteagle? To this query I will now tack on another, Could she have written to Mounteagle with the knowledge, or the tacit approval of Father Garnet?

It is quite possible that Anne Vaux, terrified by her discovery of what was intended to be done at Westminster sought advice from Garnet. It is also most likely that she interviewed Tresham on the subject. Tresham may then have recommended her as a fitting person to write the epistle; for her handwriting, disguised, would not be familiar to the Lords of the Council. That there is something to be said in favour of the theory of her penmanship is forthcoming in the fact that hers is the only handwriting of which specimens are preserved in the Record Office, that can be claimed in any respect to resemble the caligraphy of Mounteagle's mysterious correspondent.

As to the further question whether Father Garnet advised her, sub rosâ, to communicate with Mounteagle, the supposition that he may have done so does not appear so improbable, when we consider the terrible position in which Garnet found himself during the six weeks prior to the date fixed for the explosion. To the difficulties of his position full justice has not been done by Protestant writers.

For him, the Superior of his Order in England, and the recipient of a most terrible secret, the outlook was by no means pleasant. If the Plot failed, he knew that the Jesuits would be the first persons to be suspected of having contrived it, and that the work of his Society in England would be ruined. If it succeeded, he had sense enough to see that its success could only be transitory, and that not only all the Protestants in England would rise up in arms against the conspirators, but even a great number of the English Romanists would refuse to join with men who had committed murder on such a terrible scale. Garnet's distress was acute in the extreme. As he himself has recorded, 'I remained in the greatest perplexity that ever I was in my life, and could not sleep at nights. . . . Good Lord, if this matter go forward, the Pope will send me to the galleys, for he will assuredly think I was privy to it.' This reference to the Pope proves how fearful he was lest, even in the case of the Plot's success, the whole business would be denounced and condemned by the Holy See. Moreover, some inkling of the fact that a plot was in process of manufacture seems even to have reached Rome, for during July, August, and September, 1605, Garnet received letters from Parsons, asking what was going on. During, so far as we can tell, the whole of September and October, 1605, Garnet remained near or in the company[5] of Anne Vaux, and we may be sure that she must have noticed his perplexity of mind.

I venture, therefore, to offer the following explanation of the proceedings that led up to the delivery of the letter at Hoxton. Garnet, recognizing that in any event, successful or unsuccessful, the Gunpowder Plot would bring forth the most disastrous consequences upon the Jesuit mission in England, the reputation of the whole of the English Roman Catholics, and the position of the Holy See itself, determined finally to prevent the Plot taking place. In arranging his plans to stop the Plot, he knew that he had no power to get such men as Catesby, Faukes, and Winter to withdraw. They would not listen to him, and if suspected by Catesby of being likely to betray the Plot, Garnet's very life might be in danger. He was dealing with desperate men, who would hesitate at nothing, when the safety of their scheme was concerned. Moreover, in the event of his giving warning to the Government, he would be at once accused of having been in the Plot itself; and, not only that,—what was (to him) far worse—he would be regarded by Roman Catholics throughout Europe as one who had not merely betrayed his friends, but as one who had broken the seal of confession.

His only chance, consequently, lay in contriving some scheme which would frighten the conspirators into abandoning their plan and taking refuge in flight. The scheme selected, i.e. that of sending an anonymous letter, was admirable, as was its sequel, i.e. the opportunity given to Warde to warn Winter and advise him to escape, for all was discovered.

To arrange for the writing of the letter, Garnet needed an agent on whom he could thoroughly rely. He had one, and one only, close at hand, in the person of a woman, who was not only devoted to him personally, but who was to all intents and purposes, by virtue of her vow of obedience, a Jesuit herself. This person was Anne Vaux. Afraid to trust, in the first instance, the weak and crafty Tresham, Garnet probably sent Anne Vaux to Mounteagle and Warde, with the deliberate aim of devising means to stop the Plot. When I say that Garnet 'sent' Anne Vaux, he may have done it in such a way as not even to let her think that he was willingly betraying the conspiracy. She went to him for information as to what was going on, and he in return probably expressed himself shocked at hearing the rumours which she repeated to him, and advised her secretly to get certain of her friends to try and interfere. These friends must have been Mounteagle, Tresham, and Warde. With Mounteagle, Garnet was, possibly, in communication. They understood one another. Mounteagle comprehended the difficulties of Garnet's position, and what his views on the subject of the conspiracy really were. Garnet knew that Mounteagle was a traitor, who was also longing to stop the Plot, if he could find some way of doing so without incurring the anger of their co-religionists for delivering Catesby and his little band of Roman Catholic gentlemen into the hands of the heretics.

But, supposing that Garnet was either directly or indirectly the cause of getting written the famous letter to Mounteagle, we have to ask ourselves the question Why was his life not spared? Why, also, did he afterwards pray at Coughton (November 1, 1605), for the success of something which was to happen at the opening of the Parliament?

The answer to these queries is not so difficult to seek. His life was not spared, because he dared not, in the Tower, reveal his share in giving warning for the reasons already mentioned, namely, he would then be accused by the Privy Council, since he had known so much, of having been a conspirator himself; and he would then be regarded as a traitor and as a sacrilegious priest by his fellow-Papists. With regard to his prayer at Coughton, I take it that this prayer was a cry of despair. He invoked the aid of Heaven to save the Roman Catholic cause in England. The plotters foolishly had not fled, the Parliament House might or might not be blown up, and he and his helpless friends were left face to face with a most serious crisis. His anxiety, when in the Tower, to communicate with Anne Vaux strengthens the theory that there was something secret between them, upon which it was necessary for them to consult. He was afraid lest Anne should incriminate him in any way, or lower him in the eyes of their co-religionists. Concerning Lord Mounteagle, by keeping silent as to his knowledge of Mounteagle's treasons and treachery, Garnet thought that his lordship might intercede with Salisbury to save his life. That Mounteagle did intercede it is generally believed, but his intercession was of no use. Father Garnet was too valuable a prize to spare.

Garnet, in common with Tresham, Mounteagle, and Warde, evidently conjectured that so soon as the conspirators learnt that the letter delivered at Hoxton was in the hands of the Privy Council they would find refuge in flight to the Continent. The terrible disaster of the explosion would thereby be avoided, and the Papist cause in England left in statu quo. Garnet and the others must also have conjectured that the conspirators would be forced to escape, not merely because they knew that their secret was out, but because Cecil would also immediately announce the discovery of the Plot to the whole word, and consequently compel them to try to escape without delay. Instead of this, Cecil upset all calculations by displaying no sign that he held them in the hollow of his hand, and thus lulled them into a false security.

Father Garnet's behaviour during his imprisonment and trial directly favours the supposition that he had played an important part in the delivery of the letter. All the time that he was fighting the inquisitors he seems (to the very last) to have been buoyed up with some strange hope that he would not be put to death. All the time he seems to have been labouring like a man who possessed some great secret, which, if he could only divulge it, would demonstrate to the world that he was not quite so guilty as external evidences tended to indicate.

If Garnet induced Anne Vaux to communicate with Mounteagle and Tresham, we may be sure that he went about his work with sufficient craft to cover up his tracks, so that he could never be suspected by his co-religionists of having had a hand in the business. As soon as he discovered that Anne Vaux had obtained an insight into what was going on, he had wit enough to discern that, woman-like, she could not keep the secret to herself, and that, terrified at what she had heard, she would do her best to prevent the explosion, if only in order to save the innocent Roman Catholic peers in Parliament, such as the Lords Stourton, Mordaunt, Mounteagle, and Montague. That they were to be prevented from going to the Parliament by the conspirators she did not, of course, know, the final deliberations of the plotters to that end having only been taken at a very late date, and, of course, in secret. Garnet's task, therefore, in advising Anne Vaux to consult with Tresham or Mounteagle may have been a very easy one. Probably, if not almost certainly, Anne consulted him in confession about her fears; and he, without in any way implicating or identifying himself in the matter at issue, contented himself with telling her to seek any means possible to save the Roman Catholic peers and gentlemen likely to be present at Westminster, without at the same time delivering their own friends engaged in the conspiracy into the hands of the. Government.

In conclusion, then, I venture to submit that the concoction and delivery of the famous anonymous letter was severally devised by Mounteagle, Francis Tresham, Warde, and Anne Vaux; that Father Garnet was Anne Vaux's adviser in communicating with Tresham and Mounteagle; that Thomas Warde and Lord Mounteagle planned together the delivery of the letter; that Salisbury knew nothing of the subtle part played by Father Garnet in the affair; that the letter was actually written by Anne Vaux at Tresham's dictation; that Mounteagle had, on behalf of Salisbury, acted as a spy upon the conspirators for some time previous to his going to Hoxton; and that he had originally been enlisted by Robert Catesby and Thomas Winter as a subordinate member of the conspirators himself.


  1. Which he did more than once.
  2. And, perhaps, the redoubtable Captain Hugh Owen, abroad.
  3. November 1, 1605.
  4. I.e. Mistress.
  5. Early in September, they went on the famous pilgrimage to St. Winifrid's Well. After that, they visited Harrowden, Gothurst, White Webbs, and Coughton (October 30).