“We must blow up the King and his Parliament…”
In 1604 four men, Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, John Winter,and John Wright, all Catholics who had been personally affected by religious persecution and who were all related either by birth or marriage, met at the request of Robert Catesby at his house in Lambeth (across the river from Parliament) to discuss possible solutions to the current persecution which James I had re-imposed. James had suggested that should he become king he would be tolerant of Catholics.
The disappointment of this reversal served as the last straw for men who had personally felt the weight of religious intolerance. Blowing up the king and Parliament was first discussed. It is significant that not only was the king to be killed but that to change the Parliament, the institution must now be attacked. Thomas Winter proposed a mission to the King Philip of Spain, who was in the process of negotiating peace with England from a position of considerable weakness. Winter also was to locate Guy Fawkes, known for his skills as a miner. The Spanish refused to help. They needed the peace agreement as war with England had depleted their resources.
The plot moves slowly first due to the dissolution of Parliament, then because of hope that the Spanish would help. The Winniard house near Parliament was rented by Thomas Percy. Robert Keyes then joined the plot, assigned to watch over the house at Lambeth. They soon discovered that the Winniard house was being used by a delegation of Scottish peers so a further delay was encountered, overcome only on December 11.
Materials were moved across the river from Robert Catesby’s house in Lambeth under cover of darkness. The acquisition of gunpowder and supplies is a point of interest in Fawkesian studies as the substance was produced and tightly controlled by the state.
The question of the royal succession was discussed. The direct successor was to James I was Prince Henry, who would be in Parliament and be destroyed with James I. Also the Duke of York, later Charles I, who was only five years old at the time, might also go to Parliament and be killed. Thomas Percy would go to be with Charles and carry him off at the time of the explosion. If this would not work, they would go for Princess Elizabeth James’s eldest daughter, next in line to the throne A hunting party would pick her up at the estate where she was staying. Friendly peers were to be warned not to attend parliament.
The tunnel was at the wall of Parliament on Christmas eve. Trouble was the wall was 9 feet thick and they also needed to hollow out a room for the gunpowder. Time was running out as February 7 was the deadline, the date of the Parliament meeting. Miraculously, the session of Parliament was postponed until September 29, 1605. The wall was penetrated at a rate of a foot a week, this by men who, besides Guy Fawkes, were not accustomed to manual labor. Because of this slow progress, Christopher Wright, brother of John, joins the plot as an extra pair of hands.
In February, thirty six hundred weight barrels of powder were conveyed across the river, each carried by two men using a brewers sling. This nearly two tons of powder would certainly make a dent in Parliment. In March, the excavators of the tunnel hear a strange sound: men removing barrels from a cellar. It turned out that this cellar was located right under parliament. Thomas Percy rents the cellar and gunpowder is moved there.
Robert Catesby then runs out of money. Catesby becomes involved with the English effort to recruit a English Catholic force to fight with Archduke Albert in the Netherlands.Catesby is able to visit Catholic households without penalty. Catesby recruits for financial assistance Robert Winter and John Grant.Catesby servant, Thomas Bates, is recruited as a loyal follower, as the comings and goings of his master were beginning to alarm him. Catesby also goes in late March to visit Father Garnet and talks with him about his conscience. “Is it right to justify the killing of innocent-non-combatants?” Garnet replies that killing of innocents is permitted if it can not be avoided.
Ambrose Rookwood was admitted to the plot at the end of March, as Rookwood had one of the finest stables in all of England. Plenty of horses would be needed for a hasty escape.
Father Garnet sets out to warn Catesby not to become involved in mischief. Catesby agrees to ask the Pope directly what should be done about the plight of the English Catholics before the plan is completed. In July, Catesby reveals the plot to Tesimond in the confessional, who in turn reveals it with Catesby’s permission to Garnet. Thus two priests each knew of the others obligations to the confessional, sub sigillo. Each would know if the other had broken the vow, a clever gambit by Catesby. Garnet requests special powers from the Pope to help stay any general plot which he might suspect. The Pope responded with a request for further details, details which Garnet could not provide due to the seal of the confessional. Catesby eventually broke the seal the day after the plot was discovered allowing Father Garnet to testify. By which time, Catesby was dead.
In the summer of 1605 the plotters either went to the countryside or turned to fund-raising. A search for Jesuits in the Midlands came close but suspiciously did not net any. Catesby enlists Edward Digby with a colorful oath on the cross and references to a book by Father Martin Delrius: Disquisitiones Magiacae. This book discusses the relationship of the seal of the confessional to blowing up the sovereign. It parallels the plot and is certainly where Catesby arrived at his plan. Digby donates 1,500 pounds to the plot and agrees to lead the rising in the Midlands. He would lead a hunting party on Dunsmore Heath then with word of the explosion he would swoop down on Combe abbey and take Princess Elizabeth to be proclaimed queen. Unless Percy could make off with the prince. Digby was a hunter and would not arouse suspicion.
Father Garnet had to choose which to contact concerning the plot: Rome or the Government. He chose Rome because there was hope for the relaxation of the Penal Laws in the next session of Parliament. This hope would fade had a plot been uncovered.
In Fall 1605 Francis Tresham was recruited. He donates 2000 pounds and is the last conspirator enlisted. Much is made that his admission increased the number of conspirators to 13.
Parliament is delayed in opening from October 3 to November 5.
Catesby meets in late October with an important admiral and it seems was being watched by Cecil’s men. One meeting was attended by Ben Johnson, writer turned spy.
Guy Fawkes returns from Yorkshire to the Bell Inn at Daventry on October 14.
The conspirators meet on October 15 and discuss problems with Catholics who sitting in Parliament might be killed: Thomas Howard, Earl of Arundel; Lord Mountague; Lord Mordaunt and the relatives of Tresham, Mounteagle and Stourton. These men were to be warned if possible. Mordaunt was believed not to attend and the others were either to be subtly warned or prevented from attending.Tresham gets cold feet and asks for postponement. But the first day was essential as the king would have to be present only on that day.
On October 25, Thomas Winter learns via Mounteagle that Prince Henry would not be attending Parliament. Arrangements were made to surprise the prince, aged 12, and leave alone Duke Charles.
At the same time Fawkes notes that he had made a visit to the cellar and that by consulting secret marks knew that nothing had been disturbed. Rookwood stations horses in London and along route to Midlands to carry the news to Digby at Dunchurch on Dunsmore Heath. Tresham would be at White Webs with the badly needed money. Robert Winter on October 24 arranges for ready money, fearing he may have to leave the country. Cecil writes on the same day, “Let His Majesty know that I dare boldly say no shower nor storm shall mar our harvest except it should come from the middle region.”
Two days later an anonymous writer, some suspect Tresham, informs Lord Mounteagle of the plot. Mounteagle was at his mansion in Hoxton when he received the letter. Mounteagle rides right off to London with the letter, although the message was far from exact or clear. A conference was called to discuss the letter and it was agreed to wait and watch. Thomas Winter said he learned of the delivery of the letter the next day on the 27th. The next morning he informed Fawkes and Catesby at White Webs believes that the letter was too vague and the government would be slow to act.
Precautions were to be taken and Fawkes was to check the powder. He goes to do this on the 30th. Tresham avoids meeting the others as he was to hand over funds and is suspect as a relative of Mounteagle. Fawkes returns with the news that his marks were intact and the powder not discovered.
Thomas Winter goes to London to check things out on the 31st. No indication of serious consideration of the note. Winter tells Tresham to meet Catesby.
The King also returns to London on the 31st and Cecil gives him a day to settle in before mentioning the letter. Tresham meets with Catesby on November 1. Tresham convinces the others of his innocence but argues for abandonment of the plot. The king orders a search of the Parliament building to be conducted on the day before Parliament was to meet on Nov. 4. Garnet says an illegal mass on November 1. This is one of the charges which convicted him.
In the mass for the day is the Vesper Hymn with the lines: “From the land of believers take away all unbelievers that all beneath our One Shepherd’s sway within one fold may come again”. This was taken by the government, although an ancient text, as evidence Garnet had used these lines in his discourse to give one last warning to the conspirators.Catesby was to have been at the Mass but did not turn up.Garnet’s last words of the mass urged the success of the Catholic cause in the beginning of the first parliament. The government interpreted them as wishing for the success of the plot.
Fawkes is sent to advise Percy of events on Friday November 1. Percy and Fawkes return to London on November 2. On the evening of November 2, the conspirators meet to consider the plot and agree to move ahead. Percy diverted the rent money he was to collected, over 3,000 pounds, to the uprising. Percy also researches the atmosphere at the court.
On Monday, November 4, Thomas Howard, Lord Chamberlain, with Lord Mounteagle, searching Parliament, discover the cellar and stored wood and coal. By asking Whyneard, the keeper of the wardrobe, they find that Thomas Percy had rented the house and cellar. In the corner at the time of the search, “Whereupon, the Lord Chamberlain, casting his eye aside, perceived a fellow standing in a corner there calling himself the said Percy’s man, and keeper of the house for him, but indeed was Guido (Guy) Fawkes, the owner of that hand which should have acted that monsterous tragedy.” Fawkes was not seized on this afternoon inspection.
On November 4, Sir Everard Digby, unaware of difficulties in London, rides out for the hunting party on the 5th. That night, Fawkes was on guard at ten o’ clock when Robert Keyes brings him the Watch given by to him by Percy. The watch was probably a symbolic gesture as fuses would have been timed in advance and the king would not be on a strict timetable. Fawkes also was probably not preparing to leave by ship but perhaps to go somewhere to wait out the events ( point of contention to Fawkensian scholars.)
Catesby heads toward Dunchurch to aid in the rising on Monday afternoon. John Wright meets with Thomas Winter, Robert Keyes and Thomas Percy. Keyes receives the watch and John Wright goes to meet Catesby while Percy stays the night with preparations to leave in the morning. Christopher Wright purchases three beaver hats and picks up an engraved sword, both symbols in the confidence of their success. The engraving on the sword : “The Passion of Christ” and “another”.
At about Midnight,Fawkes heard footsteps on the way to him on watch in the cellar. Sir Thomas Knyvet, a justice of the peace, and a small number of men found Fawkes in the rooms dressed to ride at such a late time of the evening. A search was made of the room and the powder found under coal and wood. Fawkes was searched and found to have three matches Fawkes was bound and guarded and Sir Thomas went to the palace to advise the Lord Chamberlain and Cecil who informed the king at about four in the morning. Fawkes did not talk but gave only the name of John Johnson, servant to Thomas Percy King James I asked: “Why would you have fired the powder?” Fawkes replied:
“To blow the Scottish beggars back to their native mountains!“