A history of the gunpowder plot/Chapter 9
FAILURE OF THE PLOT
AFTER the capture of Guy Faukes, no time was lost in taking him before the Privy Council, and he was actually brought before the King in his bed-chamber before four o'clock, a.m. This feverish haste to question him is another point in favour of the supposition that the details of the plot were already well known to Cecil. But neither King nor Council could extract any information of value from the undaunted Guy. He confessed, however, that it was his object to have blown up the Parliament House, but refused to admit that he had any accomplices. One of his aims in firing the train was, he said, 'to blow the beggarly Scots back to their native mountains:' an answer which must have pleased some of those present, for the King's Scottish favourites, all notorious for their rapacity, had already made themselves very unpopular in London. As to his name and profession, Guy Faukes stated that he was one 'John Johnson, servant to Master Thomas Percy.' After leaving Whitehall, Guy Faukes was sent under a strong guard by water to the Tower, where the King directed the Lieutenant that he was to be tortured.
Those of the conspirators left in the metropolis were not long in discovering that all was lost, for soon after dawn the streets were filled with people talking of the plot. Horror and dismay were depicted on every countenance, and it was rumoured that a general rising of the Roman Catholics was imminent. The Spanish Ambassador's house was mobbed. The train-bands were called out, and the general alarm reminded the Londoners of the preparations made in 1588, against the coming of the Armada. 'Not only that night' writes the Venetian Ambassador, 'but all next day, the citizens were kept under arms.'
The conspirators, quickly realizing that there was no time to be wasted, made all haste to be gone. Percy and Christopher Wright rode off first, then Keyes; then Rookewood, whose stud now came in useful, followed, having relays of horses waiting for him between London and Dunchurch. Riding at a most extraordinary rate of speed, he soon overtook and passed Keyes on the road; and at Brickhill, Bucks, came up with Catesby and John Wright, and soon after with Christopher Wright and Percy, who had also been travelling very rapidly. All five then proceeded to Dunchurch, viâ Ashby St. Legers, the house of Catesby's mother. Rookewood having, by the time of his arrival at Ashby, completed something like eighty miles in less than eight hours! Such an adventure reminds us, curiously enough, of Ainsworth's account in his novel, Rookwood, of Dick Turpin's wholly mythical ride from London to York.
Arrived at Ashby, the party found Thomas Winter there. With him they soon took to saddle again for Dunchurch, where their dejected looks told Digby that all was up. Of the Roman Catholic 'huntsmen,' the greater number disappeared when Catesby avowed his plan of raising the standard of rebellion, one of the first to depart being Digby's uncle, Sir Robert. After much discussion, Catesby resolved, instead of seeking safety in flight, on marching towards Wales, traversing en route the counties of Warwick, Worcester, and Hereford or Stafford. He expected that the local Roman Catholics would rise and join him, but in this he was bitterly mistaken.
From the moment of his decision until the date of his death, the march was to prove hopelessly to be a forlorn hope, undertaken in the insanity of despair. The first check came from their own friends. Mr. Talbot, of Grafton, near Bromsgrove—a member of the ancient house of Shrewsbury, and father-in-law of Robert Winter—not only refused them aid, or even lodging, but also threatened to detain the delegates sent to him. The rebels proceeded first to visit Norbrook, Grant's fortified house, whence a message was despatched to Garnet, at Coughton, telling him of what had occurred. From Norbrook they went to Huddington, the Winters' home, where they were visited by Father Greenway, S.J. On November 7 they attacked Hewell Grange, Lord Windsor's house, and seized all the armour they could find. Thence they marched to Holbeach, the home of their friend, Stephen Lyttleton.
So far but very few of the inhabitants had joined them, and those who had, belonged mainly to the lowest ranks of the unemployed. The rainy weather, too, helped to impede their march and to damp their ardour; and the little band of well-horsed and well-armed gentlemen that had set out so valiantly from Dunchurch, reached Holbeach in a most miserable plight. At Holbeach they were deserted by Stephen Lyttleton, Robert Winter, and Thomas Bates. Here also Sir Everard Digby left them, and was speedily captured by the Sheriff of Worcestershire's men, hiding in a wood. Whether Sir Everard Digby actually deserted them, or was commissioned to obtain assistance from Roman Catholics living further afield, remains a disputed point.
Meanwhile, in London, great had been the stir when it was discovered that the birds had flown. The extraordinary rapidity of the mode of travelling adopted by Percy and Rookewood obtained for them a long start, but messengers were soon speeding into the Midlands, on their account, from Whitehall. Of the insurrection in the Midlands the Government was well aware; another proof that they had known for some time past of what was going-on. For the conspirators did not really take the field until November 6, and yet on the 7th was printed in London a proclamation denouncing the revolt. In those days, it is hardly necessary to remark, there were no telegraphs, telephones, motor-cars, or trains, so that Lord Salisbury must have got his information in a very quick space of time, if he waited for advices from Warwickshire before printing the royal proclamation issued in London on the 7th.
This proclamation is interesting in the extreme. In it Thomas Percy is denounced as the leader, whilst there is no allusion to Sir Everard Digby, Tresham, Keyes, or Bates. Special reference is made to the fact that the conspirators are acting on their own account, and without being in receipt of any assistance, advice, or approval from the Roman Catholic kingdoms on the Continent.
I append a verbatim copy of the proclamation, transcribed for me from the original at the Record Office:—
'By the King.'
'Whereas Thomas Percy Gentleman, and some other his confederates, persons knowen to be bitterly corrupted with the superstition of the Romish Religion, as seduced with the blindness thereof, and being otherwise of lewde life, insolent disposition, and for the most part of desperate estate, have beene discovered to have contrived the most horrible treason that ever entered into the hearts of men, against our Person, our Children, the whole Nobilitie, Clergie, and Commons in Parliament assembled, which howsoever cloaked with zeale of Superstitious Religion, aymed indeed at the Subversion of the State, and to induce an horrible confusion of all things. In which they and all others of bankerupt and necessitous estate, might have those of better abilitie for a pray to repaire their beggarly Fortunes, and have proceeded so farre some of them in their devilish Attempts as to assemble in Troupes in our Counties of Warwicke and Worcester, where they have broken up a Stable, and taken out horses of divers Noblemen and Gentlemen, within our towne of Warwicke, And no doubt but doe proceede further in their purposes, seeking to raise some Rebellion in our Realme, and will with many fained and false Allegations seek to seduce divers of our Subjects, especially with shew of Religion, Although wee are by good experience so well persuaded of the Loyaltie of divers of our subjects (though not professing true Religion) that they doe as much abhorre this detestable conspiracie as our Selfe, and will bee ready to doe their best endeavours (though with expence of their blood) to suppresse all Attemptors against our Safetie and the quiet of our State, and to discover whomsoever they shall suspect to be of Rebellious or Traiterous disposition: Yet have Wee thought good by this our open Declaration, to give warning and advertisement to all our Subjects whatsoever, of that horrible purpose of Percies and his complices, and to distinguish betweene all others, calling themselves Catholics, and these detestable Traitours: And therefore doe denounce and publish all the Persons hereunder named, Adherents to Percy, to bee Traitours knowen, and that all others are in the same case, who shall in any wise either receive, abbette, cherish, entertaine, or adhere unto them, or not doe their best endeavours to apprehend and take them.
'Wherefore Wee will and command all our Lieutenants, Deputy Lieutenants, Sheriffes, Justices of Peace, Mayors, Bayliffes, Constables, and all other our officers, Ministers, and loving Subjects, to take knowledge thereof, and to doe their best duties herein, as they will answer the contrary at their uttermost peril: Not doubting, but that they all, without regard of their pretence of Religion, will with our hearts and will, employ themselves for the suppressing, apprehending, deterring, and discovering of all sorts of persons any wayes likely to be privie to a Treason so hatefull to God and man, and implying in it the utter subversion of this Realme, and dignitie thereof.
'And where Wee doe heare that many doe spread abroad, that this Conspiracie was intended onely for matter of Religion, and that Sovreine Princes our neighbours are interessed therein, which Rumors are divulged by busy Persons both to Scandalize the Amitie wherein We stand with all Christian Princes and States, and to give unto lewde Persons hope that they shall be backed in their enterprises by great Potentates. We doe declare that We cannot admit so inhumane a thought, as to conceive that any Prince of what Religion soever, could give eare to so Savage and Barbarous an imagination. And that by such examinations as hitherto have been taken, Wee finde them all, and their Ministers cleere from any suspicion of privity thereunto; Whereof one infallible argument to us is, that all the Ministers of Sovraine Princes which are now here, made earnest sute to us to bee present in their place that day. And wherefore We doe admonish and charge all our Subjects, that they shall not speake of any the Princes our neighbours, or their Ambassadors, otherwise then reverently, upon paine of our displeasure, and to bee punished as persons seeking the disturbance of the Peace, wherein We live with our sayd Neighbours.
'Given at our Pallace of Westminster, the seventh day of November, in the third Yeere of our Reigne of Great Britaine, France, and Ireland.
God Save the King.
Thomas Percy Gentleman.
Edward Grant of Northbrooke in the County of Warwicke Gentleman.
Imprinted at London by Robert Barker.
Printer to the King's most Excellent Majestie,
Anno Dom. 1605.
On the day after this proclamation was issued an equally interesting pronouncement was dated and sent on its way from the scene of Catesby's operations up to London. This was a letter, signed by two Justices of the Peace (Sir Euseby Andrew and Sir Thomas Burnaby), to Cecil, describing the consternation created in the counties of Warwick and Northampton, by the whirlwind ride of the five conspirators from London down to Ashby St. Legers. This letter was accompanied by several depositions taken down from the lips of certain persons in the neighbourhood, who had witnessed the movements of Catesby and Percy on their arrival at Dunchurch. Again, in this despatch, as in the royal proclamation, we cannot but remain astonished at the rapidity with which the news of Faukes's attempt to blow up the Parliament House had travelled; for here we have two country gentlemen, writing from Daventry (seventy miles from London), on the third day only after the 5th, talking plainly of the plot to destroy the Parliament.
I append a verbatim copy of this letter, transcribed by me from the original at the Record Office:—
'We having bine informed of a great concourse of horsemen on Tuesday the fifthe of November at Ledgers Ashby in the County of Northampton, betweene foure and tenne of the clocke in the afternoone, and likewise of the intended treason about the Parliament house, as also of five gentlemen, who came posting doune from London very suspiciously into our Countrie, and as farre as we can gather by Examinations wente presently to the saide Ledgers Ashby but there did not stay: Whereupon we having taken divers Examinations, we thought it our duty to sende the accompt thereof unto your Lordship: And so referring our selves wholly to your honored discretion, we humbly take our leaves. Daventrie in Northam. this VIIIth day of Novem : 1605.
The prompt action of the country gentlemen, gave the conspirators but little breathing time, and all the loyal fighting men in the shires of Worcester, Warwick, and Northampton, including even some Roman Catholics, took arms in support of the Crown. Catesby's attempt to turn Digby's 'hunting-party' into a Roman Catholic army, destined to pull down the Government and the Established Church in favour of a new sovereign and a new Creed, had proved a prodigious failure. Holbeach provided the last scene in the tragedy, and the fall of the curtain was not long delayed. Sir Richard Walshe, Sheriff of Worcestershire, hung on to the skirts of the conspirators' force until it was safe inside the walls of Holbeach House (four miles from Stourbridge), in the proximity of which he awaited with equanimity the arrival of men marching to his aid, for he knew that the little garrison inside was caught within a trap.
But before the attack on the house was made by the sheriff, occurred an event, in the shape of an accident, which had an extraordinary effect upon the superstitious minds of the disheartened traitors seeking a comfortless shelter within its walls. This was no less than an explosion of gunpowder. It was a case of the biter being bit, with a vengeance! Catesby and company, who had arranged to blow up to the skies their enemies at Westminster, were now within an ace of sharing the fate which they had projected for their victims. Some powder, which the rebels had brought with them, had got damp during their dismal march, owing to the bad weather, and whilst drying it, a live coal, jumping out, touched the powder, and caused instant ignition, Although nobody was killed, several had a most narrow escape, and Catesby and Rookewood were severely scorched.
This startling incident completely unmanned the conspirators. Even Catesby at last lost heart, and Robert Winter asserted that the whole catastrophe had been pictured to him in a terrible dream which had visited him in his slumbers, and in its realization, he declared he clearly recognized the finger of Almighty God. That morning he deserted his comrades, and slunk away through the rain, cowed and trembling, as did Thomas Bates. Rookewood and Catesby, deeming that the end was now very near, betook themselves to their prayers. Thomas Winter and Percy vowed to die, sword in hand, in one final, hopeless, helpless conflict with their foes. One and all were now convinced that Heaven had from the beginning been against their design, and saw in many of the strange occurrences which had injured their cause during the past year the workings of Providence against them: the repeated prorogations of Parliament, the treachery of Tresham, the hostility of Mounteagle, the dreadful dream of Winter, the inclement weather of the last few days, the explosion of the powder, were now all attributed to the wrath of Heaven kindled against their plan.
A little after eleven a.m. on November 8, the Sheriff of Worcester, having encompassed Holbeach House, proceeded to storm the little garrison, which, by reason of its want of numbers and lack of ammunition, was unable to offer any prolonged resistance to the attack. With the utmost gallantry Percy,  Catesby, and the Wrights met their fate. Ambrose Rookewood and Thomas
Winter were badly wounded, but recovered. It was thought also that one or two amongst the slain might also have survived but for the action of the country people, who began stripping their bodies and handling them roughly, for the sake of plunder, before they could receive the attentions of a surgeon. In support of the Jesuit story that Percy was shot down by orders from Salisbury, who had given directions that he was not to be taken alive, because he was in the position of a man who knew too much about that minister's early knowledge of the plot, there exists not the very smallest original evidence. It surely was Lord Salisbury's object to capture rather than kill Percy, who (as we have seen above) was the first person denounced in the royal proclamation, and whose capture might have helped to incriminate Salisbury's enemy, Lord Northumberland.
Rookewood, Thomas Winter, Grant, and Keyes were taken to London and lodged in the Tower. Keyes was not taken with the rest at Holbeach, but was captured in Warwickshire on November 9. He had parted with his friends at Dunchurch, but what he had been doing in the interval is unknown.
Of the thirteen conspirators originally engaged in the plot, no less than eleven were either captured or killed within a period of four days from the fatal Fifth of November. Of these eleven men, Catesby, Percy, and the Wrights were dead; Guy Faukes was in the Tower; Digby, Thomas Winter, Grant, Keyes, Bates, and Rookewood were on their way thither under arrest. Of the remaining pair, Francis Tresham was in London, but not yet actually arrested; and Robert Winter was in hiding. By November 12, Tresham also was under lock and key, so that, if we omit the fugitive Robert Winter (the least important of the band), we find the Government's measures for the repression of the conspiracy, both at Westminster and in the Midlands, had been so skilfully executed that it had only taken the authorities seven days to kill or imprison all those who had been actively engaged in the Gunpowder Plot.
That the Government wished to take Percy alive is further shown by reference to a letter from the Venetian Ambassador to the Doge of Venice, dated November 23, in which he writes:—
'Percy, head of the conspiracy, was wounded by a musket, and along with five others was taken alive. As soon as the King heard this, he sent off two of his best surgeons, and a doctor, to attend the said Percy, and also a litter to convey him to London. His Majesty is extremely anxious to keep him alive, as he hopes to wring from him all the details of the Plot, for up to now he has been considered the leader.'
This extract, from a source above suspicion, proves the absurdity of the Jesuit fable that Percy was killed by orders of Lord Salisbury, and reveals that he was, as I have stated, considered, at first, by the Government to have been the leader among the conspirators.
- James finished his written order with the canting sentence, 'And so God speede your good worke'!
- Percy was first reported in London to have made for Gravesend (Dom. S.P., Nov. 5, 1605).
- Close to Rugby. It was on the neighbouring Dunsmoor Heath that Sir Everard Digby had summoned his 'hunting-party' to meet on the fifth.
- Ainsworth, however, refers to Ambrose Rookewood's ride in his novel, Guy Faukes.
- Where Garnet had celebrated the Feast of All Saints. Digby's wife, and other relatives of some of the conspirators, were there.
- Here Mass was said by Father Hart, a Jesuit (alias Hammond), who heard the conspirators' confessions, and absolved them.
- About fifty in number. About forty reached Holbeach.
- They broke into Warwick Castle.
- On December 24, I find the Venetian Ambassador to Spain writing to the Doge of Venice, 'I enclose the King of England's proclamation, exculpating foreign princes. They have printed and published it here (Madrid), and sold it publicly in the streets.'
- Of whom Sir Richard Verney did the most effective service.
- 'To their dismay, every Catholic from whom they solicited aid on the road shut his doors against them, and the sheriffs of each county followed, though at a respectful distance, with an armed force' (Lingard).
- Bates seems to have left the house without any attempt to conceal his purpose, for in a letter he subsequently testified that, when going away, 'Christopher Wright flung me out of an window an 100l.' The bulk of this sum was to be given to Wright's family. He was captured in Staffordshire, on November 12.
- 'The accident with the gunpowder at Holbeach turned the scale, and placed before them their acts as they really were' (Dr. Gardiner).
- Percy and Catesby were shot by John Streete, a trooper, who received a pension for life in reward (about fourteen shillings a day in our money).
- 'The rude people stripped the rest naked; and their wounds being many and grievous, and no surgeon at hand, they became incurable, and so died' (letter from an eye-witness to Salisbury).
- Percy, as a matter of fact, was not killed outright, but died from his wounds three days later.
- 'The heads of Percy and Catesby were cut off, and sett uppon the ends of the Parliament house' (Stow).
- Cal. S.P., Venetian Series, vol. x., No. 447.