Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Garnett, Henry
GARNETT, HENRY (1555–1606), jesuit, born in 1555 at Heanor, Derbyshire (not at Nottingham, as is commonly stated), was the son of Brian Garnett and his wife, Alice Jay. Father John Gerard states that his parents were well esteemed, and well able to maintain their family. He adds that his father was a man of learning who taught in the free school of Nottingham (Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, ed. Morris, 1872, p. 297; Tablet, 25 May 1889. p. 817). Garnett was brought up as a protestant, and in 1567 was admitted a scholar of Winchester. he did not proceed in due course to New College, Oxford. According to his catholic biographers, he resolved to leave the school on embracing the catholic faith, although some of his teachers at Winchester who were inclined to catholicism tried to induce him to remain. Dr. Robert Abbot (1560-1617) [q. v.] asserts, on the contrary, that the warden admonished him not to remove to New College on account of his gross immoralities at school (Antilogia Epist. ad Lectorem). Jardine admits that the account of Garnett's early depravity has `certainly more of the character of a tale of malignant scandal than of a calm narration of facts.' He quotes, however, some passages, including one from a statement attributed to Garnett in the Tower, to countenance a charge of drunkenness (Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot, pp. 172, 179n.) Garnett removed from Winchester to London, where he began to study law, and became corrector of the press to Tottel, the celebrated law printer. While he was in this employment he formed an acquaintance with Chief-justice Popham, who recognised him on his first examination, and treated him throughout the inquiry with great respect. Coke, in his speech at Garnett's trial, represents him as a man having 'many excellent gifts and endowments of nature; by birth a gentleman, by education a scholar, by art learned, and a good linguist.' After remaining with Tottel about two years, during which his dislike to the protestant religion became confirmed, he determined to devote his life to the service of the Roman catholic church. He crossed to Spain, and thence proceeded to Italy in company with Giles Gallop, formerly a Winchester scholar and a fellow of New College, who afterwards became a jesuit. Having resolved to join the Society of Jesus, he entered the novitiate of St. Andrew 11 Sept. 1575, and made his noviceship under Father Fabius de Fabio. He pursued his higher studies in the Roman College under such masters as Christopher Clavius, Francis Suarez, Benedict Pereira, and Robert (afterwards Cardinal) Bellarmin, and became a great proficient in all kinds of learning. He was employed as penitentiary at St. Peter's, and for some time was professor of Hebrew at the Roman College; and during the sickness of Father Clavius he temporarily occupied his chair in the school of mathematics. Clavius found him so profoundly versed in mathematical sciences that he opposed his return to England as a missionary, and, by order of the Father-general Aquaviva, he was detained for two years in Clavius's school. When Clavius resumed his chair, Garnett obtained leave to go upon the English mission, and left Rome in company with Father Robert Southwell on 8 May 1586, landing safely in England on 7 July following. Writers of his own communication describe him as a man of such remarkable gentleness that Aquaviva, when urged by Father Parsons to send him upon the dangerous English mission, replied that he was greatly troubled, because by sending him there he was exposing the meekest lamb to a cruel butchery.
William Weston, alias Edmonds, at this time the only Jesuit in England, gave his colleagues a hearty welcome on their arrival in London. On Weston's commitment to Wisbech Castle in 1587, Garnett was appointed to succeed him as superior of the English province. For eighteen years he governed the province with remarkable prudence, chiefly in London and its vicinity. His conduct, however, in supporting Weston and the jesuits in the Wisbech disputes (1695-6) gave much offence to some of his religion (Tierney, Dodd, iii. 41-5). In March 1596-7 he was living near Uxbridge, in a house called Morecroftes, and had at the same time a house in Spitalfields. He afterwards lived at White Webbs in Enfield Chase, called `Dr. Hewick's house.' He sometimes penetrated in company with the gaolers into the London prisons to minister to members of his flock. More than once he narrowly escaped arrest at the hands of faithless catholics, who were seduced by large rewards offered by the government for his capture. In a letter written on 1 Oct. 1593 to his sister Mary, whom he had sent to tho Augustinian convent at Louvain, he announces that he had reconciled their mother to the Roman church, and expresses a hope that his other two unmarried sisters would embrace the religious state (Oliver, Jesuit Collections, p. 100). On 8 May 1598 he was professed of the four vows. During his Superiorship there was a great increase of catholicism throughout the kingdom. He made great exertions to promote the prosperity of the seminaries abroad, secular and regular, and at his death he left behind him forty Jesuits in the English mission.
When Guy Fawkes [q. v.] was arrested on account of the gunpowder plot on 4 Nov. 1605, a letter was found upon him addressed to White Webbs, where Garnett had resided till within the last six months, and the suspicions of the government were consequently directed to him before three of the lay conspirators had been apprehended. Salisbury was most anxious to discover the priests who had been confessors to the conspirators. Thomas Bates, servant of Robert Catesby [q. v.], stated that his master and another conspirator had been at Lord Vaux's house at Harrowden, with Fathers Garnett, Greenway, and Gerard, and that he had been sent with a letter by his master, `after they were up in arms,' to a house at Coughton, Warwickshire, the residence of the great catholic family of Throckmorton, where Garnett and Greenway then were. Upon this evidence the government,on 15 Jan. 1605-6, issued a proclamation declaring that the three Jesuit fathers were proved guilty of the plot 'by divers confessions of many conspirators.' Gerard and Greenway escaped to the continent. Garnett had addressed to the privy council, on 30 Nov. 1605, from his retreat at Coughton, a protestation of his innocence (Catholic Magazine, 1823, pp. 198, 201). He remained at Coughton till 4 Dec., when he removed to Hindlip Hall, the seat of Thomas Habington [q. v.], near Worcester, by invitation of Father Thomas Oldcorne, alias Hall, who had acted as Habington's chaplain. This mansion contained several of the ingenious hiding-places common in the dwellings of the catholic gentry (see description and engraving of the house in Nash's Worcestershire, i. 584). Sir Henry Bromley, a neighbouring magistrate, was commissioned by the lords of the council to invest the house and conduct a rigorous search. Garnett and Oldcorne retired to one of the numerous secret receptacles, and their respective servants, Owen and Chambers, to another. The house was surrounded, all the approaches carefully watched and guarded, and several hiding-places were discovered, after a rigorous search, but nothing found in them excepting what Bromley described as 'a number of popish trash hid under boards.' In his letter to Salisbury (23 Jan.) he said: `I did never hear so impudent liars as I find here—all rocusants, and all resolved to confess nothing; what danger soever they incur.' On the fourth day of the search the two servants gave themselves up, being almost starved to death. The two Jesuits, overcome by the confinement and foul air, also surrendered. Garnett afterwards said that 'if they could have had liberty for only half a day from the blockade,' they could have made the place tenable for a quarter of a year. A contemporary manuscript states that 'marmalade and other sweetmeats were found there lying by them;' but that they had been chiefly supported by broths and warm drinks conveyed by a reed `through a little hole in a chimney that backed another chimney in a gentlewoman's chamber.' According to Gamett's account, want of air and the narrowness of the space, blocked by books and furniture, made the confinement intolerable. They came out like 'two ghosts.'
On their way to London the prisoners were well treated at the king's charge, by express orders from the Earl of Salisbury. On their arrival they were lodged in the Gatehouse, and a few days afterwards were examined before the privy council. As Garnett was conducted to Whitehall the streets were crowded with multitudes eager to catch a sight of the head of the Jesuits in England. He was sent to the Tower, and during the following days he was repeatedly examined. He made no confession, although threatened with torture, the application of which, however, had been strictly forbidden by the king. The lieutenant of the Tower then changed his tone, expressed pity and veneration for Garnett, and enabled him to correspond with several catholics. The letters were taken to the lieutenant, but contained no proof whatever against the prisoner. The warder then unlocked a door in Garnett's cell, and showed him a door through which he could converse with Oldcorne. Lockerson, the private secretary of Salisbury, and Forsett, a magistrate attached to the Tower, were concealed in a cavity from which they could overhear the conversations on five occasions. The reports of four of these conversations are still preserved.
Garnett was examined twenty-three times before the council. He at first denied the interviews with Oldcorne, but was drawn into admissions which led to charges of equivocation. A manuscript treatise upon this subject by an anonymous author, and annotated by him, was discovered, and has since been printed by Mr. Jardine (see Gardiner, History, 1885, i. 280, 281, and Jardine, p. 204 n.) Writers of his own communion have regarded him as a martyr to the sacredness of the seal of the sacrament of confession. Garnett acknowledged that on 9 July 1605 Catesby asked him whether it was lawful to enter upon any undertaking for the good of the catholic cause if it should not be possible to avoid the destruction of some innocent persons together with the guilty. Garnett replied in the affirmative, but declared that he did not understand the application of the question. He admitted, however, that at the end of July he was fully informed of the plot by Greenway, though, as this information was obtained under the seal of sacramental confession, he was bound not to reveal it. Catesby had in confession disclosed the design to Greenway, who represented to him the wickedness of the project, but could not prevail upon him to desist. However, Catesby consented that Greenway should communicate the case, under the seal of confession, to Garnett; and if the matter should otherwise come to light, he gave leave that both or either of the priests might then make use of the knowledge which he thus imparted to them. Garnett declared that he was struck with horror at the proposal, and as he could not disclose the secret, he used every endeavour to prevail upon the conspirators to abandon their undertaking.
Garnett's trial took place at Guildhall on 28 March 1606. There was a crowd of spectators in the court, including several foreign ambassadors and many courtiers. The proceedings lasted from eight o'clock in the morning till seven at night, and the king was present privately during the whole time. Coke, the attorney-general, conducted the prosecution. The proof of complicity was the conversation with Catesby on 9 June. Mr. Gardiner points out that there was no evidence which would have satisfied a modern jury, and that the proceeding was rather political than judicial, the fear of the pope making it impossible that fair play should be given to Garnett's supporters. He holds, however, that there was 'strong corroborative evidence,' from Garnett's apparent 'approval of the plot' at a later period, as shown by his association with the conspirators (Gardiner,i. 277, 278). Nothing was said of the conversation with Greenway, about which no doubt whatever existed. Mr. Gardiner surmises that the government adopted this course because they knew they would be assailed with the most envenomed acrimony by the whole catholic world if they executed a priest for not revealing a secret confided to him in confession. Garnett's defence was that he had never heard of the plot except in confession. He was found guilty, and sentenced to be drawn, hanged, disembowelled, and quartered.
Several weeks elapsed before the sentence was executed, and Garnett was again brought several times before the council, and interrogated as to the teaching of the Jesuits, and his own sentiments respecting the obligation of human laws and equivocation. At length, on 3 May 1606, he was drawn on a hurdle from the Tower to St. Paul's Churchyard, and there executed in front of the Bishop of London's palace. When he was on the scaffold the recorder vainly endeavoured to draw from him an admission of his guilt. He persisted in his denial that he had any positive information of the plot except in confession, though he allowed, as he had acknowledged before, that he had had a general and confused knowledge from Catesby. 'In all probability,' says Mr. Gardiner, `this is the exact truth' (ib. i. 282).
Many catholics sought for relics of a man whom they regarded as a martyr, and within a year of his death wonderful accounts were circulated throughout the Christian world about a miraculous straw or 'ear void of corn' on which a drop of Garnett's blood had fallen. It was said that on one of the husks a portrait of him surrounded with rays of glory had been miraculously formed. Hundreds of persons, it was alleged, were converted to Catholicism by the mere sight of 'Garnett's straw.' Archbishop Bancroft was commissioned by the privy council to call before him such persons as had been most active in propagating the story, and if possible to detect and punish the impostors. Many curious particulars on this subject will be found in Jardine's 'Gunpowder Plot' and Foley's 'Records.' Garnett's name occurs in the list of the 353 catholic martyrs which was sent to Rome by the English hierarchy in 1880, but is significantly omitted from Stanton's ' Menology of England and Wales, compiled by order of the Cardinal Archbishop and the Bishops of the Province of Westminster,' 1887, though in the second appendix to that work he is described as 'a martyr whose cause is deferred for further investigation.' There is a fine portrait of Garnett by John Wierix, engraved by R. Sadler.
His works are: 1. 'A Treatise on Schism,' 2. A manuscript treatise in confutation of 'A Pestilent Dialogue between a Gentleman and a Physician.' 3. A translation from Latin of the ' Summa Canisii,' with supplements on pilgrimages, invocation of saints, and indulgences, London, 1590, 8vo; St. Omer, 1622, 16mo. 4. `Treatise on the Rosary of our Lady.' Several works on the subject were published about this period. Perhaps Garnett's was `A Methode to meditate on the Psalter, or Great Rosarie of our Blessed Ladie,' Antwerp, 1598, 8vo (Gillow, Bibl. Dict. ii. 393). 5. Letter on the martyrdom of Godfrey Maurice, alias John Jones. In Diego Yepes' `Historia particular de la Persecucion de Inglaterra,' 1599. 6. `A Treatise of Christian Renovation or Birth,' London, 1616, 8vo.