Gunpowder Plot

Gunpowder Plot, a conspiracy formed and matured in the years 1604-5 by some English Romanists to blow up with gunpowder the Parliament House, and thus destroy at once the king, lords, and commons of England when assembled at the opening of Parliament, with the hope of being able, during the resultant confusion, to reestablish their faith in the kingdom, or, at least, avenge the oppressions and persecution of its adherents. At the accession of James I to the throne, the Roman Catholics anticipated toleration, or, at all events, a great relaxation in the rigor of the penal laws against them, and were greatly exasperated on finding that not only were their hopes in this regard disappointed, but that increased severity was employed towards them; for James, when once firmly seated on his throne, in Feb. 1604, '"assured his council that he had never any intention of granting toleration to the Catholics;' that he would fortify the laws against them, and cause them to be put into execution to the utmost." The conceiver of the design of taking so indiscriminate and brutal a vengeance was Robert Catesby, of "ancient family and good estate," who had once abjured and then returned again with increased ardor to his early faith. He made known his scheme first to Thomas Winter, "a gentleman of Worcestershire," and next to John Wright, who belonged to a highly respectable Yorkshire family. According to the statement made in prison (Nov. 19, 1605) by a fellow-conspirator (Fawkes), "these three first devised the plot, and were the chief directors of all the particularities of it." Winter refused his assent to the plan until an effort had been made to obtain, through the mediation of Spain, toleration for the English Catholics by a clause to that effect in the treaty then negotiating between England and Spain. He accordingly went to the Netherlands to further that object, where be learned from the Spanish ambassador that it could not be accomplished. He, however, met at Ostend an old associate, Guy Fawkes (q.v.), and foreseeing in him an efficient coadjutor in Catesby's scheme, induced him to return with him to England without making known to Fawkes the particular nature of the plot. Fawkes, though not the projector or head, became by far the most notorious member of the conspiracy, anal popular opinion long represented him as a low, cruel, and mercenary ruffian; but he appears to have been by birth a gentleman, and of a nature chivalrously daring and unselfish, but thoroughly perverted by a blind fanaticism, which led him to regard devotion to his own faith and its adherents as the essence of Christian virtues. Soon after the arrival of T. Winter and Fawkes in London, a meeting was held at Catesby's lodgings, at which there were present the four already named and an additional member of the conspiracy, Thomas Percy, a brother-in-law of John Wright, and "'a distant relation of the earl of Northumberland." These five, at Catesby's request, agreed to bind themselves to secrecy and fidelity by a solemn oath, which, a few days afterwards, in a lonely house beyond St. Clement's Inn, they took on their knees in the following words: "You swear by the blessed Trinity, and by the sacrament you now propose to receive, never to disclose, directly or indirectly, by word or circumstance, the matter that shall be proposed to you to keep secret, nor desist from the execution thereof until the rest shall give you leave." They then went into an adjoining room and received the holy sacrament from father Gerard, a Jesuit priest, who was, it is said, ignorant of their horrid project. The particulars of the plot were then communicated to Fawkes and Percy, and in furtherance of the plan then agreed on, Percy, whose position as a gentleman pensioner would prevent any suspicion arising therefrom, rented of a Mr. Ferris, on May 24, 1604, a house adjoining the Parliament buildings, the keys of which were given to Fawkes, who was unknown in London, and who assumed the name of John Johnson, and the position of servant to Percy. They took a second oath of secrecy and fidelity to each other on taking possession of the house, but before their preparations were completed for beginning the work of mining through to the Parliament building, the meeting of Parliament was prorogued to Feb. 7,1605. They separated to meet again in November, and, in the mean while, another house was hired on the Lambeth side of the river, in which weed, gunpowder, and other combustibles were placed, to be removed in small quantities to the house hired of Ferris. This Lambeth house was put in charge of Robert Kay, or Keyes, an indigent Catholic gentleman, who took the oath and became a member of the band. On a night in December, 1604, the conspirators, having provided themselves with tools and other necessaries, went zealously to work on the mine, Fawkes acting as sentinel, The wall separating them from the Parliament House was found to be very thick, and more help was needed; so Christopher Wright, a younger brother of John Wright, was taken in on oath, and Kay brought over from Lambeth. The work was carried on zealously, the conspirators beguiling the labor with discussions of future plans. They agreed in the policy of proclaiming one of the royal family in the place of James, and as they supposed his eldest son, prince Henry, would be present and perish with his father in the Parliament House, Percy under. took to seize and carry off prince Charles as soon as the mine was exploded; and, in default of Percy's success, arrangements were made to carry off the princess Elizabeth, then near Coventry under the care of lord Harrington. "Horses and armor were to be collected in Warwickshire.'' They failed, however, in devising any safe plan for saving the lives of Roman Catholic members of Parliament. While the matter was thus progressing, Fawkes reported the prorogation of Parliament to Oct. 3, and they separated until after the Christmas holidays. In January, 1605, John Grant, a Warwickshire gentleman, and Robert Winter, eldest brother of Thomas Winter, were admitted to the conspiracy, and shortly after them Thomas Bates, a servant of Catesby, and the only participant in the plot not of the rank of a gentleman. While going on with the work in Feb., 1505, they were alarmed by some noises, and Fawkes, who went out to ascertain the cause, reported that they were caused by the removal of a stock of coal from a cellar under the Parliament House, with the gratifying additional intelligence that the cellar was to he let. Percy straightway hired it, the work on the mine was abandoned, and the gunpowder (36 bbls.) was conveyed from its place of concealment at Lambeth into this cellar, and covered up with stones, hits of iron, and fagots Of wood. All was ready in May, and the conspirators separated to await the meeting of Parliament. Fawkes went to the Netherlands on a mission connected with the plot, but returned without much success in August. In September, Sir Edward Baynham, "a gentleman of an ancient family in Gloucestershire," Was admitted into the plot and sent to Rome, not to reveal the project, but, on its consummation, to gain the favor of the Vatican by explaining that its object was the re-establishment of Roman Catholicism in England. A further prorogation of Parliament to Nov. 5 having been made, the conspirators were led, in consequence of the repeated prorogations, to fear that their plot was suspected; but Thomas Winter's examinations, made on the day of prorogation, served to reassure them. "Catesby purchased horses, arms, and powder, and, under the pretence of making levies for the archduke of Flanders, assembled friends who might be armed in the country when the first blow was struck." To obtain the required means for these ends, three wealthy men were admitted (on oath as the others) into the conspiracy, viz. Sir Everard Digby; of Rutlandshire, who promised to furnish £1500, and to collect his Roman Catholic friends on Dunsmore Heath, in Warwickshire, by Nov. 5, as if for a hunting party; Ambrose Rookwood, of Suffolk, who owned a magnificent stud of horses; and Francis Tresham, who "engaged to furnish 2000;" but Catesby mistrusted the latter, and sorely repented having intrusted his secret to him. As the 5th of November drew near, "it was resolved that Fawkes should fire the powder by means of a slow-burning match, which would allow him time to escape before the explosion" to a ship ready to proceed with him to Flanders; and that, in the event of their losing the prince of Wales and prince Charles, the princess Elizabeth should be proclaimed queen, and "a regent appointed during her minority." On another point they failed to harmonize so fully. Each conspirator had a friend or friends in Parliament whose safety he wished to secure, but to communicate the project to so many persons involved too great risk, "and it was concluded that no express notice should be given them, but only such persuasion, upon general grounds, as might deter them from attending. Many of the conspirators were averse to this resolve, "and angry at its adoption; and Tresham in particular: for his sisters had married lords Stourton and Mounteagle." On a refusal of Catesby and other leaders to allow him to notify directly Mounteagle, it is said he hinted that the money promised by him would not be forthcoming, and ceased to attend the meetings. It is probable he warned Mounteagle, for this nobleman unexpectedly gave a supper, Oct. 26, ten days before the meeting of Parliament, at a house at Hoxton which he had not lately occupied, and while seated at table a page brought him a letter, stating that he had received it in the street from a stranger, who urged its immediate delivers, into Mounteagle's hands. The letter warned Mounteagle not to attend the Parliament, and hinted at the plot, and was on the same evening shown by Mounteagle to several lords of the council, and on Oct. 31 shown to the king also. The conspirators suspected Tresham of having betrayed them, and accused him of it, but he stoutly denied it. They were now thoroughly alarmed; some left London, and others concealed themselves; but Fawkes remained courageously at his post in the cellar, notwithstanding the hourly increasing intimation that the plot was known to government. On the evening of Nov. 4 the lord chamberlain visited the cellar, saw Fawkes there, and, noticing the piles of fagots, said to him, "Your master has laid in a good supply of fuel." After informing Percy of this ominous circumstance, Fawkes returned to his post, where he was arrested about 2 o'clock on the morning of Nov. 5 by a company of soldiers under Sir Thomas Knevet, a Westminster magistrate, who had orders to search the houses and cellars in the neighborhood. On Fawkes's person was found a watch (then an uncommon thing), some slow matches, some tinder and touchwood, and behind the cellar door a dark lantern with a light burning. They removed the wood, etc., and discovered the gunpowder also. Fawkes was taker, before the king and council, where he boldly avowed his purpose, only expressing regret for its failure, and, in reply to the king's inquiry "how he could have the heart to destroy his children and so many innocent souls," said, "Dangerous diseases require desperate remedies." He utterly refused to name his accomplices, and neither temptations nor tortures, whose horrible severity is shown by the contrast in his signatures on the 8th and 10th of November, could induce him to implicate others further than their own actions had already done, while at no time would he admit the complicity of suspected Jesuit priests, refusing to plead guilty on his trial because the indictment contained averments implicating them. For the connection of the Jesuits with this conspiracy, SEE GARNET; SEE JESUITS; and the authorities given at the end of this article.

Catesby and John Wright had departed for Dun-church before Fawkes's arrest, and the other conspirators, except Tresham, fled from London after that event. They met at Ashby Ledgers, and resolved to take up arms, and endeavor to excite to rebellion the Roman Catholics in Warwickshire, Worcestershire, Staffordshire, and Wales; but their failure was complete, and their efforts only served to point them out as members of the conspiracy. They were pursued by the king's troops, and at Holbeach the two Wrights, Percy, and Catesby were killed, and Rookwood and Thomas Winter wounded in a conflict with the troops. the others were soon captured. Tresham died in the Tower of disease; the remaining seven, viz., Digby, Robert and Thomas Winter, Rookwood, Grant, Fawkes, Kay, and Bates, were tried on the 27th January, 1606, and executed on the 30th and 31st of that month. This diabolical plot reacted fearfully against the Romanists, and its memory is still a bulwark of Protestant feeling in England. The revolting atrocity of the deed purposed by these misguided men must ever excite horror and reprobation; but we may hope that candid minds in this more tolerant age, while judging them, will condemn also both the teachings which bred such fanaticism, and the spirit of persecution which aroused it to action.

The 5th of November, in commemoration of this plot, is called Guy Fawkes's Day, and until recently a special service for it was found in the ritual of the English Church. It was made a holiday by act of Parliament in 1606, and is still kept as such in England, especially by the juveniles. The following account of the customs pertaining thereto is abridged from Chambers, .Book of Days, ii, 549 50. The mode of observance throughout England is the dressing up of a scarecrow figure in cast-off clothing (with a paper cap, painted and knotted with paper strips, imitating ribbons), parading it in a chair through the streets, and at night burning it in a bonfire. The image represents Guy Fawkes, and, consequently, carries a dark lantern in one hand and matches in the other. The procession visits the houses in the neighborhood, repeating the time-honored rhyme —

"Remember, remember, The fifth of November, The gunpowder treason and plot; There is no reason Why the gunpowder treason Should ever be forgot ."

Numerous variations of the above rhyme are used: for example, at Islip, the following:

"The fifth of November, Since I can remember, Gunpowder treason and plot; This is the day that God did prevent, To blow up his king and Parliament. A stick and a stake, For Victoria's sake; If you won't give me one, I'll take two; The better for me, And the worse for you ?'

It is an invariable custom on these occasions to solicit money from the passers-by in the formula Pray remember Guy!" "Please to remember Guy!" or, "Please to remember the bonfire !" In former times the burning of Guy Fawkes's effigy was in London a most important ceremony. Two hundred cart-loads of fuel were sometimes consumed in the bonfire in Lincoln's Inn Fields, and thirty Guys would he gibbeted and then cast into the fire. Another immense pile was heaped up in the Clare Market by the butchers, who the same evening paraded the streets 'with the accompaniment of the famed "marrow-bone-and-cleaver" music. The uproar occasioned by the shouts of the mob, the ringing of the church bells, and the general confusion can be only faintly imagined at the present day. — Jardine, British Criminal Trials (Library of Entertaining Knowledge), vol. it; Pictorial Hist. of England, iii, 20-32 (Chambers's ed.); Knight, Popular Hist. of England, iii, 321-37; ibid., Old England, ii, 151- 62; Chambers, Book of Days, it, 546 50; Hume, Hist, of England, vol. iv; Chambers, Cyclopaedia, s.v. SEE FAWKES. (J.W.M.)

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