“Hanged, Drawn and Quartered…”
Only eight of the original Plot survived.
On a cold Monday, January 27, 1606, all the prisoners were brought from the Tower of London through Traitors Gate and onto a barge to go up-river to Westminster. John Winter was only 19, hardly a part of the plot at all, but he would be tried with his two other brothers, Thomas and Robert.
The only account of the trial is the “True and Perfect” “Kings Book”, which is not either.
Once at Westminster the men sat for a while in the Star Chamber. They told their rosaries while the mocking public looked on.
There was no defense-no verbal examination. They had already been condemned several days before. The Archbishop of Canterbury had summoned a committee to discuss the manner of their execution.
After a half hour the prisoners were led from the Star Chamber into Westminster Hall which was packed with onlookers. The Queen, Prince, and James were there incognito.
The prisoners were brought to a high scaffold so that they could be seen and faced their jury. Not a jury of their peers but a special commission; Robert Cecil, Sir John Popham, Charles Howard, Thomas Howard, Henry Somerset, Charles Blount, Henry Howard, Sir Thomas Fleming, Sir Thomas Walmesley and Sir Peter Warburton, quite a biased group. Counsel for the crown were Sir Edward Philips and Sir Edward Coke. Coke was know as a “savage prosecutor”. Philips spent time as a Circuit Judge responsible for among other things cutting off the ears of Catholics.
Lack of representation was not unusual for the period nor was the use of torture to force confessions. Alteration of the evidence was common.
The only evidence required was very strong: they were Catholics, in close communication with Jesuits, a part of an underground army working on behalf of the Pope for the restoration of England to the true faith and possibly the defeat of England by Spain. This was fact and took precedence over all else.
All except Digby pleaded not guilty. He had been arraigned on a separate indictment in Northamptonshire. Fawkes was singled out by Popham. How could he be not guilty when found in a room full of gunpowder with a pocket full of matches! But Popham had given Fawkes an opportunity to speak-he did not deny being part of the plot but what he did say was in relation to the priests: “We never opened the matter to them.” Coke had no suitable reply, “All that was put in for form of law, because it must be presupposed,” not very convincing.
To get things back on track, Sir Edward Phillips got right up and said,
But of such horror and monstrous nature,
That before now the tongue of man never delivered,
The ear of man never heard,
The heart of man never conceived,
Nor the malice of hellish or earthly devil ever practiced.
For if it be abominable to murder the least,
If to touch God’s anointed be to oppose themselves against God,
If by blood to subvert princes,states and kingdoms, be hateful to God and man, as all true Christians must acknowledge.
Then how much more than too monstrous shall all Christian hearts judge the horror of this reason , to murder and subvert
Such a king,
Such a queen,
Such a progeny,
Such a state,
Such a government,
So complete and absolute,
That God approves.
The world admires,
All true English hearts honor and reverence,
The Pope and his disciples only envy and malign.
Then Coke took over. He described the “gentlemen of good houses, of excellent parts, of very competent fortunes and estates … who have been most perniciously seduced, abused, corrupted and Jesuited… The Principal offenders are the seducing Jesuits men that use the reverence of religion, yea even the most sacred and blessed name of Jesus, as a mantle to cover their impiety,blasphemy, treason and rebellion…”
The trial was only a first step to bringing the priests to justice.
Cecil had instructed Coke in how the trial was to take place.
These things I am commanded to renew unto your memory. First that you be sure to make it appear to the world that there was an employment of some persons to Spain for a practice of invasion (referring to the visit of Thomas Winter to Madrid ) as soon as the Queens breath was out of her body. The reason is this for which the King doth urge it. He saith some men there are that will give out and do that only despair of the King’s courses on the Catholics and his severity draw all these to such works of discontentment where by you it will appear that before his Majesty face was ever seen or that he had done anything in government, the King of Spain was approached through he refused it, saying ‘he rather expected to have peace’…You must remember to lay Owen as found in this as you can.
In the trial Cecil noted that gunpowder itself was the invention of a Friar, “one of the Romash Rabble.” Jokes were made. “If the trial had been conducted sooner they would have hung John Johnson (the alias used by Fawkes) instead of Guy Fawkes”. From the scriptures he quoted: “the proud have laid a snare for me, and spread a net a broad yea and set traps in my way.”
Cecil reflected upon the tolerance of James and then laid out the punishment which was due traitors: First after a traitor hath had his just trial and is convicted and attained he shall have his judgment to be drawn to the place of execution from his prison as being not worthy any more to tread upon the face of the earth, whereof he was made. Also that he hath been retrograde by nature, and there fore he is drawn backwards at a horses tail. And whereas god hath made the head of a man the highest and most supreme part as being his chief grace and ornament he must be drawn with his head declining downward, and lying so near the ground as may be being thought unfit to take benefit of the common air. For which cause also he shall be strangled being hanged up by the neck between heaven and earth as deemed unworthy of both or either as likewise that the eyes of men may behold and their hearts condemn him. Then he is to be cut down alive and to have his privy parts cut off and burnt before his face, as being unworthy begotten and unfit to leave any generation after him. His bowels and inlaid parts taken out and burnt who inwardly had conceived and harbored in his heart such horrible treason after to have his head cut off which had imagined the mischief and lastly his body to be quartered and the quarters set up in some high and eminent place to the view and detestation of men and to become a prey for the fowls of the air. And this is a reward due to traitors.
The guilty were caught red handed and the Jesuits, who were captured but absent, were behind it all.
When Cecil was done the jury retired without a word from the accused.
Digby was then tried separately and, because of his guilty plea, was allowed to speak. He was involved for four reasons: first, Loyalty to Catesby; second, religion; third, James change from tolerance to intolerance; and finally, the view that even harsher rules against Catholics were to come.
He asked to be punished alone and that his family be spared. Coke answered:, from the 109th Psalm, “May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow. Let his children be carried about vagabonds and beg in one generation may his name be blotted out”.
To which Digby might well have replied, “The mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful man is opened against me”.
Promises of toleration struck a sore point. However those promises had not been given to Digby personally but to Percy, who was conveniently dead. Henry Howard stated that such promises could not and would not have been made. Digby admitted that he had received the information concerning tolerance second hand from Sir Thomas Tresham.
Cecil then commended Lord Mounteagle for bringing forth the letter.
The Jury returned and gave their verdict: Fawkes; Thomas,Robert and John Winter; Rookwood; Grant; Bates and Keyes were all guilty. Digby was of course guilty and asked to be beheaded instead of drawn and quartered.
The prisoners were asked what they could say wherefore judgment of Death should not be pronounced against them.
The Winters “… accounted themselves not guilty of any crime in the sight of God, Whom they sought to serve and please in the action and would not for any other respect have attempted it.” Had it not been such a high crime the younger Winter could be spared but not in this case, although all sensed the tragedy.
Rookwood cited friendship with Catesby and loyalty to the Catholic religion. The author of the Kings Book responded, “He would fain have made his bringing up and breeding in idolatry to have been some excuse to his villainy but a fair tale could not help a foul deed”.
John Grant admitted his guilt of a conspiracy intended but never carried out.
Guy Fawkes again spoke of the innocence of the Priests. He was much tortured and in pain and not well. He acknowledged his own guilt and stated that he was ready to die for it.
Robert Keyes made a spirited speech which was quite defiant. He discussed the persecution which had motivated the plot and personal experience. He was glad of the occasion of the trial and was not afraid of the sentence of death. There could be for him no better cause than to die for freedom.
Bates, the serving man, had little to say. He said it was done for love of master.
Popham Lord Chief Justice then defended the Recussancy Laws passed by Elizabeth and that they were “necessary mild equal moderate and to be justified to all the world.” He then pronounced judgment and read the description of the penalty once again.
There was a pause. All eyes turned to Digby, who bowed to the Lords and said, “If I may but hear any of your Lordships say you forgive me I shall go more cheerfully to the gallows.” The Lords said, “God forgive you and we do.” It was however only a verbal forgiveness.
They were taken out from Westminster Hall into the cold and by boat to the Tower.
Cecil wrote later: “Most of them confessed their offense against God and this State, some few and especially Grant did obstinately hold that this late action was no sin against God but all died true Roman Catholics.” The conspirators probably would have taken this as the highest compliment.
There was a considerable delay between judgment and execution. The trial was on Monday the 27th of January. Tuesday and Wednesday they remained in the Tower, but not to prepare for death. There were no visitors, only Father Strange who ministered to them. The delay instead was for the construction of a scaffold, arrangement of the butchering blocks and issue of plans for crowd control. The Gala was to begin…
There might be protests. Sheriff Verneys house had been set on fire twice when holding prisoners from Holbeach. The Lord Mayor ordered that one able person with halberd in hand stand at every door of every dwelling house in the open street along the way that the traitors were to be drawn towards the place of execution. Sir Arthur Gorges wrote a complaint to Cecil: The gate of Paul’s Churchyard was not the place for the executions. But they took place there, the location only changed on the second day to the Old Palace Yard.
The first conspirators were drawn behind horses, heads downward, on a framework of poles through crowded streets of London toward St. Paul’s. They were Digby, Robert Winter, John Grant and Thomas Bates.
The hangman was ready for them there, waiting beside his ladder on the scaffold. The butcher stood beneath at his block with his knives and cleavers for the quartering. The fire was already burning to receive their privates and entrails. The hangman’s skill was not to kill them instantly by breaking their necks. It was far more entertaining to deliver them to the block when still alive. The prisoner mounts the ladder to the gibbet arm, the rope is placed around his neck, then the hangman would turn him off the ladder. The prisoner was instantly cut down and sent to the block very much alive.
Digby went first. He grew pale and eye heavy. He spoke briefly, noting that he held no offense but asked forgiveness of God, the king and the whole kingdom. He crossed himself and prayed his Latin prayers. He gave great satisfaction to the standers by. He made no resistance to the block whilst he was in quartering and his bowels and heart were cast into the fire and his head cut off, the hangman holding it up as is usual. It was noted that there was no alteration at all in his countenance. It was also said that “When the executioner pluckt out his heart holding up saying ‘this is the heart of a traitor,’ that Sir Everard made the statement, ‘Thou Liest.'”
Winter went next, making no call for mercy, just a few prayers. Then John Grant, with a short speech excusing himself by his dedication to religion. Then came Bates, who noted again that it was done only for the love of his master Catesby. He asked forgiveness of God, King and kingdom.
The first executions ended. The air must of smelled of burning human flesh and pitch. Their quarters were dipped in tar to preserve them whilst on display and their heads set up on display at Tower Bridge.
Garnet writes, “Many of the beholders returned full of pity and compassion towards so worthy minded men…especially Sir Everard Digby whose fortitude of mind they did so much admire and had so great opinions of his devotions that for all that day and some time after they could talk almost of nothing else.”
Then the crowds came back the next day in their thousands lining the three mile route between the Tower and Old Palace yard in Westminster. They were hanging from upper story windows and rooftops. The day was Friday the 31st of January 1606.
It was now the turn of Thomas Winter, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes and Guy Fawkes. Rookwood knew he would be drawn past the house where his wife was staying. He asked to be told when that was. He paused and could see her standing in a window. He shouted, “Pray for me!” She answers that she would. He then shouts, “I will and be of good courage and offer thyself wholly to God. I for my part do as freely restore thee to God as he gave thee unto me.”
Thomas Winter, the only survivor of the original inner ring, was the first. He was asked to speak but replied that he had already told all to the Council. He had come to die and noted that the priests were not to blame.
Rookwood followed making a long speech asking forgiveness from King and State. He prayed for James, the Queen and their Children .He prayed to God to make James a Catholic, as the historian noted : “a line which was to mar all the potage with one filthy weed.”
Then next was Keyes. He tried to jump from the ladder but the rope broke. He was quickly taken to the block and divided into four parts.
The last was the one to become the most famous. Already tortured into ill health, Guy Fawkes could hardly go up the ladder. He asked a kind of forgiveness of the King, prayed and then jumped off the ladder, breaking his neck. He was spared the pain of the inevitable butchery.
John Winter was left in the Tower for a few weeks but was taken to Worcester and executed at Red Hill on April 7 1606.
They all were convinced that they died serving religious freedom. But in such a way, however, which was against the law and threatened a state for which Catholic causes were linked to empire building on the part of Spain and reconquest of souls by the Rome.
Digby wrote a beautiful epitaph:
Who’s that which knocks? O stay, my Lord I come I know that call since first it made me know My self, which makes me now with joy to run Lest he be gone that can my duty show Jesu my Lord I know Thee by the Cross Thou offerst me, but not unto my loss. This was found in his papers in the Tower after his death.
On the 6th of February 1606,Cecil addressed a joint session of Parliament which he was pleased to find had come prepared with articles containing suggestions for harsher laws concerning the priests and papists. He was happy to encourage them.
That very day Father Garnet was on the final portion of his journey from Worcester to London. Cecil wrote to Lord Dirleton, “Thus have you in effect the true state of Parliament causes to which I will only make this addition, that we are sure of Hall and Walley (Garnet) in the Gatehouse to which place we have this night committed them themselves not sticking now to acknowledge their dignities.”
Cecil’s enemy of more than 20 years was now being brought into his grasp. Yet Garnet proved a very difficult nut to crack.
As we continue we shall learn of the miracle and of the brave Jesuit…