A history of the gunpowder plot/Preface
IN these pages I relate the oft-told story of the famous Gunpowder Plot. For spinning such a well-known yarn, I offer no apology, because I hold that there is room for another, and more thoroughly impartial record than has yet been drawn up. I have based the foundations of my work entirely upon the original evidence as represented in the mass of Domestic and Foreign State Papers, dealing with the reign of James I., preserved at the Public Record Office, and at the British Museum (Additional MSS. 6178).
The result of my investigations has been, in my humble opinion, not only to verify the authenticity of the traditional story of the plot, but to reveal also that the Government knew full well of the existence of the conspiracy long before the receipt of the warning letter by Lord Mounteagle—a transaction which can best be described, in vulgar parlance, as a put-up job.
In no history of England, with perhaps the exception of that by Dr. S. R. Gardiner, or in no monograph dealing with the Plot, except the admirable volume of David Jardine, has the story of the conspiracy ever been told with anything like fidelity; and the ignorance of writers concerning the characters and careers of the conspirators themselves is surprising. It is this common ignorance that has helped Jesuits, and other interested persons, in their task of trying to obscure the history of the Plot as much as possible, with the view of inducing the modern world to call into question the accuracy of the facts, and by hook or by crook trying to clear the name and fame of Father Henry Garnet, and other Jesuit priests, from the imputation of the possession of a guilty knowledge of Robert Catesby's proceedings. All these ingenious attempts, however, to question the authenticity of the traditional story have ignominiously failed; and with more original evidence before us to-day than has hitherto been the case, we are able, at last, to form a fairly comprehensive view of the whole of the conspiracy concocted to blow up the Parliament House, and those in it, with gunpowder, on November 5, 1605, and to plunge the country, at the same time, into a state of civil war.
The vexed question as to Father Garnet's complicity in the Plot—about which a furious controversy has raged ever since the time of his death—is a matter upon which sufficient light has been shed to enable us, at last, to form an accurate opinion of his conduct. That he was no martyr to the secrecy of the confessional is evident, for it can be shown that he was well aware of the proceedings of the conspirators from sources of information frequently given to him outside the confessional box. Father Garnet's personal character, too, has clearly been overrated by Jesuit writers; and it seems almost incredible that an audacious attempt should have been made to have such a man 'beatified' at Rome.
But Father Henry Garnet's policy, bad though it was, does not merit such severe criticism as that which has been correctly bestowed upon the conduct of his colleague, Father Oswald Greenway. This Jesuit not only knew of the plans of the conspirators, both in and out of the confessional, but actually approved of their proceedings to such an extent that when they were engaged in open rebellion, only two days after the failure of the Plot, he rode over several miles across country to say Mass for them, and afterwards went on a mission to get other Romanists in the neighbourhood to join them. This treasonable act on his part is described by himself, in his account of the Plot, in a manner which is so thoroughly characteristic of the policy of the Jesuit writers to suppress the true story of the parts played by Fathers Garnet and Greenway in Robert Catesby's, and in former conspiracies, that I quote it herewith as an example of the danger of trusting to such biassed authorities:—
'Father Oswald went to assist these gentlemen with the Sacraments of the Church, understanding their danger and their need, and this with evident danger to his own person and life; and all those gentlemen could have borne witness that he publicly told them how he grieved not so much because of their wretched and shameful plight, and the extremity of their peril, as that by their headlong course they had given the Heretics occasion to slander the whole body of Catholics in the Kingdom, and that he flatly refused to stay in their company, lest the Heretics should be able to calumniate himself and the other Fathers of the Society (of Jesus).'
From a perusal of this craftily worded apologia a casual reader might conclude that Greenway had, at the risk of his life, visited his unfortunate co-religionists merely out of a sense of duty in order to administer to them the Sacraments of their religion; and that, after fulfilling his mission, being disgusted with their conduct, he rode away at once. As a matter of fact, Father Greenway went to Huddington, where the conspirators then lay, at Catesby's express invitation, and with Garnet's permission, as was proved by the confession of Bates (one of the conspirators), who had carried a written message to that effect. On his arrival, he was greeted gladly with the welcome, 'Here is a gentleman that will live and die with us!' On his departure, he undertook to do his best to summon some in the neighbourhood, and in Lancashire, to their aid. Eventually, fully conscious of his guilt, he saved his life by escaping to the Continent.
Finally, with reference to the case of Garnet, I should like to call attention to the two following little-known facts which reveal the low estimation in which this Jesuit was held by the majority of English Roman Catholics in the seventeenth century. During the year 1624, a representative of the English Secular Roman Catholic clergy, whilst staying at Rome, was surprised at reading underneath a portrait of Garnet the words 'Propter fidem Catholicam.' He forthwith complained to the Pope, stating that Garnet was not regarded by English Roman Catholics as a martyr, and the inscription was accordingly changed into 'Ab haereticis occisus.' Later on, in the next reign, Panzani, the Papal agent, finding how unpopular the Jesuits were in London, was instructed by Pope Urban VIII. to assure Charles I. that Garnet would not be 'beatified.'
- But, as will be seen below, my opinion as to the vexed question of Lord Mounteagle's connection with the plot differs from that formed by Dr. Gardiner, as it does on one other important matter.
- Tesimond, alias Greenway.
- Catesby, Digby, Bates, Rookewood, Percy, Grant, the Winters, and the Wrights.
- Apparently, he heard some of their confessions, and gave them absolution, as did Father Hart, S.J., on the day following.