A history of the gunpowder plot/Chapter 6
SIR EVERARD DIGBY AND FRANCIS TRESHAM
OF the thirteen misguided men who are known for certain to have been engaged in hatching the Gunpowder Plot, and who duly paid forfeit for their treason with their lives, the fate of one only has excited an expression of regret from his posterity. This one is Sir Everard Digby, Kt., who is popularly considered to have been cajoled into joining the conspiracy, after much hesitation, against his better and prior inclinations to have nothing whatever to do with the deed; and who is also commonly supposed to have been far superior to his confederates in regard to his general character and abilities. Why Sir Everard should thus alone of the plotters have been singled out for so much commiseration, it is difficult for anybody who has tested the traditional story of the plot, as recorded in the original papers at the Record Office, to comprehend. This popular sympathy seems, in fact, to have been accorded to Sir Everard on the absurdly mistaken grounds that he was really the only gentleman in regard to birth, education, and behaviour amongst his fellow-conspirators. This theory is, of course, fallacious in the extreme. He was not, for instance, so well educated or so learned as Thomas Winter; he was no better born than at least six of his confederates—nor, indeed, so nobly descended as was Percy; in private life he was not more esteemed or better behaved than Ambrose Rookewood; whilst, as a soldier, his reputation was not equal to that of Guido Faukes, nor, as a swordsman, either to that of Catesby or John Wright. In a word, he is erroneously supposed by the man in the street to have been the only respectable person engaged in the Gunpowder Plot.
Sympathy, too, resting on no surer foundations, and wholly undeserved, has been extended towards him on account of his youth, and his being the husband of a young and comely wife, by whom he was the father of two children. Here again, however, his supporters are at fault. If, indeed, he was so fortunate as to be a happy husband and a proud father, so also was Rookewood, whose wife was, from all accounts, a lady of far greater personal attractions, and more highly accomplished than was Lady Digby. As to the question of his age, his admirers have been deceived by not knowing the date of his birth; for he was not, as his principal biographer tells us, barely four and twenty years of age at the period of the exposure of the plot, but over three years older. Had he been barely twenty-four, he must have been married at the early age of fourteen. But, in making these just comments, it must not be thought that the writer is influenced by any desire to make an attack on the character of Sir Everard, for such is not the case. His sole aim in offering these criticisms is merely to show that Digby, whatever virtues he may or may not have possessed, is not entitled to receive any more sympathy from historians than, say, either Robert Winter, Thomas Winter, or Ambrose Rookewood.
Sir Everard Digby was born and brought up a Protestant, but reverted to the faith of his ancestors when still in his 'teens. He became a favourite of Queen Elizabeth, and cut quite a gay figure at Court, his ample fortune, no doubt, being a considerable factor in his advancement. His father, a gentleman owning estates in Rutlandshire, had died when Everard was quite a child, and had left him a ward of the Crown, or, as we should now term it, award of Chancery. In 1596, he married Mary Mulshol, a notable heiress, of Goathurst, Bucks. In 1603, he was knighted by James I. at Belvoir Castle. His joining Catesby in such a scheme as the Gunpowder Treason was, therefore, an act of base ingratitude to a monarch who had been specially kind to him, notwithstanding his known recusancy. On arranging to join the conspirators, Sir Everard Digby contributed a sum, equivalent in our money to nearly ten thousand pounds, to its support.
Sir Everard Digby was, in personal appearance, tall and handsome, and of pleasing manners and address. He is described as having been 'extremely modest,' and as 'one of the finest gentlemen in England.' Father Gerard, his intimate friend, mentions that 'in gifts of mind he excelled much more than in his natural parts; although in those also it were hard to find so many in one man in such a measure. But of wisdom he had an extraordinary talent, such a judicial wit, and so well able to discern and discourse of any matter, as truly as I have heard many say they have not seen the like of a young man, and that his carriage and manner of discourse were more like to a grave Councillor of State than to a gallant of the Court.' This panegyric from a Jesuit source must, however, be accepted cum grano, and I agree with Jardine that neither his conduct nor his letters justify this applause.' He appears, indeed, to have been a mere tool in the hands of the Jesuits, as the references to 'Mr. Farmer' (Father Garnet), contained in his correspondence, plainly prove. It was, however, by the inspiring influence of Catesby that his scruples were gradually overcome, and he consented to aid the conspirators.
Francis Tresham, who, according to the generally received tradition, was the Judas among the conspirators, came from a race as wealthy and illustrious as did Digby. Related to the Winters, Catesby, and Lord Mounteagle, he was the eldest son of Sir Thomas Tresham, of Rushton, Northamptonshire, a most ardent Roman Catholic, but chiefly famous for his building operations, an interesting account of which has been compiled in an illustrated treatise by Mr. Alfred Gotch. One of the most remarkable results of his enterprise was the erection of a triangular lodge at Rushton, built in honour of the Trinity, the idea running through the whole building being Three; e.g. the shape of the house being an equilateral triangle, thirty-three feet in length, the floors three in number, three windows on each floor, triangular rooms, etc.
Sir Thomas Tresham was, altogether, a far better man than his disreputable son Francis, who was ever of a crafty and treacherous nature, a fact well known to the arch-villain, Catesby, who, however, was tempted, at the eleventh hour, to induce Tresham to join the plot for the sake of his wealth, his father having died some two months before the eventful 'fifth.' Tresham was born in 1568, educated at Gloucester Hall, Oxford, and was involved in the Essex rebellion; for which outbreak he, or rather his father, was very heavily fined, and he narrowly escaped execution. He had also been a party to Father Garnet's schemes for obtaining aid from Spain. How this miserable Tresham was the traitor who was mainly instrumental in betraying his fellow-plotters, I shall show later.
Finally, it will be seen from a perusal of the above memoirs of the different conspirators that Robert Catesby, unscrupulous and cunning as he was, selected each one to join the plot on account of his possession of some special quality that would particularly forward the interests of the great design. Thus, Thomas Winter was chosen on account of his skill in languages and his soldierly reputation; Ambrose Rookewood on account of his wealth and his horses; the dishonest Percy on account of his position at Court and in Lord Northumberland's household; Sir Everard Digby on account of his social position, his friendship with influential Roman Catholics, and his wealth; Grant on account of his fortified house; Robert Winter on account of his wealth and his relationship to the Talbots, and other great Roman Catholic families; Faukes on account of his military qualities, and his face being unknown to the government spies; the turbulent Keyes, and the Wrights on account of their being stout-hearted and handy men; the humble Bates on account of his being a useful and trustworthy messenger; and Francis Tresham for the sake of his cash.
- The State Paper, or Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London.
- Lady Digby's chief attraction seems to have been her wealth.
- Both of whom were knighted, and one (Sir Kenelm) became particularly famous.
- He was born in 1578.
- The usually correct Jardine, author of A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, states that he was born in 1581.
- As was his friend, Oliver Manners, the date of whose knighthood, as given in Burke's Peerage, being quite incorrect.
- By another Jesuit he is referred to as possessing 'a profound judgment, and a great and brilliant understanding.'
- Published in Northampton, and in London, 1883.
- Vide Mr. Gotch's plans.