“…he had never in his life met the like man to Mr. Garnet either for modesty, wisdom, or learning,” wrote Sir Henry Bromley of the prisoner Garnet.
But Father Garnet was not wise enough. He and one other priest had know all along of the Gunpowder Plot. They knew those responsible intimately. Instead of telling the government and the king at once, they chose to ask Rome what they should do in the event that they knew that violent action involving the murder of all in Parliament, the King and his family was being contemplated. The state could not in any way think well of this.
After his stay at Holt Castle with Bromley was complete, Garnet left to London with Thomas Abingdon, Father Hall, Ashley and Little John Owen. It took them three days to reach London. Garnet was still suffering from his hiding. The Priests were taken to the Gatehouse while the other prisoners were put into Marshalsea prison.
After three or four days Garnet was examined by members of the Privy Council who were polite. They were impressed with the man and his knowledge. One of the council said, “He could not be misliked but for matter of doctrine only. As for the Powder he was clear of it.” Cecil, on the other hand, had other evidence and set out to demonstrate guilt. Garnet was brought before the entire Privy council on February 13. A courteous meeting but the pressure was mounting. Technical aspects of religious doctrine were discussed. The Council was also interested in the names of others who might have been involved. Garnet was moved from the Gatehouse to the Tower the next day. He mentioned in his writings the courteous treatment he received. Cecil was working to catch Garnet off guard.
Cecil assigned a keeper to Garnet with instructions to pretend to be interested in becoming Catholic. At first Garnet was suspicious but then accepted the planted spy. Luxuries were permitted. He could buy wine and send letters to Catholics on the outside asking for clothing and spectacles. But using the messenger to carry letters he placed himself into a trap.
He wrote to his nephew Thomas Garnet, also a Jesuit being held in the tower, and to Anne Vaux, who would relay any cryptic or secret messages which he might be able to include in the letters to the Jesuit society or other Catholics. Unknown to the priest, the letters were opened and read. A skilled forger, Thomas Phelippes, himself a prisoner in the Tower, copied them and passed them on minus secret messages and encoded lines. There were such secret messages included written in orange juice as well as encoded lines.
Cecil found as a result that Anne Vaux should be brought in. She was arrested and imprisoned in the Tower around March 11 and stayed there till the following August. But she did not give in and gave not one word. She had after all signed a letter to Garnet “your loving sister”, which prompted Cecil to call Garnet “Senex Fornicarius,” for which he apologized. Still there are questions though about the relationship. It was extremely close and dangerous.
Working on Garnet, Cecil made it possible for Hall to be transferred into adjoining cells where they could speak with each other through a small opening in the wall. The two priests heard each others confession. Then they compared notes on their interrogations by the Council. The conversations provided the essential information required for conviction. They discussed Tesimond and the knowledge of the plot that he had given Garnet in confession. Through the opening in the wall a small cavity also lead to a chamber where two scribes had been stationed to take down every word.
Garnet was again brought before the council, this time having been purposely deprived of sleep and perhaps drugged. He could not talk for thirst. He was given two glasses of beer, fell asleep and was let to rest but was little better. He was in a befuddled state. However, he revealed nothing. He was confronted with the partial knowledge that was gained from the listeners. They knew he was guilty but not from whom he received the information.
Tesimond had reached freedom and Garnet knew of this through the grapevine. Tesimond had gone directly to the hive of activity to escape. He had realized that the plot was done for and immediately rode to London. He was in fact reading a proclamation for his own arrest in a London street when one of the crowd recognized him. They took him to a dark alley where he escaped, crossing to France from Dover with a cargo of pigs.
The seal of the confessional no longer applied. Catesby had lifted it by writing openly to Garnet at Coughton and the plot was no longer secret. Garnet was tricked and knew it. He knew that torture would continue. He decided that through confession there might come mercy so agreed to confess. He declared on the 8th of March to the Council that he had knowledge of the plot beforehand but was under the seal of the confessional. He stated that the knowledge had come from Tesimond. Cecil then lied to Garnet stating that Tesimond had actually been captured and was a prisoner in the Tower and that he denied that Garnet’s knowledge had come under the seal. Garnet was stunned.
“It may be that he meant not so but I stand to it as the truth is that I took it so, both because he offered confession and a few days after came to confession.”
A letter Garnet wrote to Tesimond, who he believed to be in the Tower, came into the possession of Cecil and was found in his papers. He was concerned about Tesimond’s fate but also underlines the fact that no other knowledge came to him outside the seal.
Nicholas Little John Owen was also in the prison and was also now the subject of torture. He was a cripple with a rupture having injured himself in his priest hole construction activities. Being hanged from the manacles or Topcliffes rack would surely be extremely painful for him. Little John’s information was also very important in regard to priest holes as well as to the individuals involved, if only they could make him talk.
Little John was tortured to such an extent that his bowels were forced out, then later reinforced with an iron plate which cut him. The torture continued until it is said that he cut himself and died in the process. He took his secrets with him.
James Johnson, alias John Grissold, was also tortured concerning the Vaux-Garnet connection as he was caretaker at White Webbs. He did under torture list the visits of Garnet and the others to this Catholic “safe House”. Johnson was released but still afterwards was followed closely by the government.
Father Hall, with no direct knowledge in advance of the plot, was guilty of helping those involved. He too was tortured extensively. He had nothing new to tell of the plot. He was taken to Worcester with Abingdon, John Winter and Ralph Ashley.
On the 7th day of April 1606 Hall was hanged drawn and quartered at Red Hill, a mile outside Worcester. As was Ashley, young John Winter and Humphrey Littleton. Thomas Abingdon, as the brother in law of Lord Mounteagle, was given preferential treatment. After the execution of the others he was released but was forbidden for life to leave Worcestershire. He lived out his days doing antiquarian research.
At eight in the morning on Friday March 28, a coach rolls out of the Tower towards Guildhall in the City of London. Sir William Wade and another knight were accompanying a prisoner. The coach had its curtains tightly drawn. Henry Garnet, Superior of the English Society of Jesus, was going to trial.
Henry Garnet , alias Walley alias Farmer alias Darcy, “had conspired with Robert Catesby to withdraw the hearts of the subjects from their due obedience to God and their King and to deprive the King of his crown, to kill him and the Prince and to slaughter the whole Parliament assembled to raise rebellion to change religion, to ruin the commonwealth and to bring in strangers….” To this Garnet plead not guilty, even though he had early knowledge of it all via Tesimond through Catesby.
When Francis Tresham was arrested a book was found: A Treatise of Equivocation. Margin notes in the book were in Garnets hand. No mention was made however that also in Garnets hand was a re-working of the title to read “A Treatise against Lying and Fraudulent Dissimulation.” Coke used the work however to demonstrate that the philosophy of Equivocation demonstrated that Jesuits used lying to further their cause.
Garnet even made his way as an Equivocator into Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Act II, Scene 1, as his Alias “Farmer:
Enter a Porter Knocking within.
Porter: Here’s a knocking indeed! If a man were porter of hell gate, he should have old turning the key (knocking) Knock knock,knock. Who’s there in the name of Beelzebub. Here’s a farmer that hanged himself on the expectation of plenty come in time have napkins now about you here you’ll sweat fort (knocking) Knock,knock!Whos there i the other devils name? Faith here’s an equivocator that could swear in both the scales against other scale who committed treason enough for Gods sake yet could not equivocate to heaven, O come in equivocator.
Garnet was condemned before he was tried. His sub sigillo defense was brushed away as equivocation. His appeal to the Papal Nuncio was brought up. The direct link and consultation with the pope on the matter did not help his case. The King was heard, on his way from the proceedings, to have even criticized the trial.
The sentence of death was given on February 28 but was not immediately carried out. Garnet went from the trial where he learned about the death of Hall, whom he hoped was in glory. Despite being examined twenty three times, Garnet was kept in the Tower for another month with the hope that others in the underground Catholic movement could be implicated.
Finally the date was set. It was to be the 3rd of May that this brave man was to be executed. To his cook on the way out, Garnet said, “Farewell good friend Tom. This day I will save thee a labour to provide my dinner.” He was hauled as the others head downwards on a hurdle drawn by horses. He went to the scaffold on the west side of St. Paul’s churchyard. Even standing room on a wall sold for a shilling, a weeks wage. The place was packed wall to wall. All windows were full as were the tops of houses. There was nothing so well attended in living memory.
The Deans of St. Pauls and Winchester, Dr. John Overall and Dr. George Abbot Overall said, “Mr. Garnet, I am sent unto you from His Majesty to will you that now being in the last hour of your mortal life, you will perform the duty of a true subject to which you are obliged by the laws of God and nature and therefore to disclose such treasons as you know intended towards His Majesty danger and the commonwealth.”
Garnet answered, ” Mr. Dean, it may please you to tell His Majesty that I have been arraigned and what could be laid to my charge I have there answered and said as much as I could so that in this place I have no more to say.”
The Dean then tried to persuade him to change his religion. Garnet cut them off saying not to trouble themselves nor him on this issue. He was prepared and was resolved.
Mounting the scaffold, he was met by a group of officials, the Sheriffs of London, the Recorder and other officials. He asked if there was some place he could pray. The recorder said to him “that he and others were there by order from his Majesty to bring him to remembrance of his treason and that he should acknowledge he was justly condemned and ask the king’s forgiveness.” Garnet replied that he was not guilty of treason but “as far as his concealing of the treason did any ways offend his Majesty or the state he did ask them forgiveness with all his heart.”
The recorder then stated: “Do you hear, gentlemen? He asketh the king forgiveness for the Powder Treason.” This scene seems to reflect the unease that the state had even after all of the trial and conviction of its case.
Garnet however spoiled it for them. He said, “You do me wrong … for I have no cause to ask forgiveness for that whereof I was never guilty nor was privy to it in such sort that it may justly be imputed to me for concealing it.”
The Recorder then noted that there was proof in Garnet’s own hand that he heard of the plot outside of confession.
Garnet replied, “What is under my hand I will not deny but you shall never show my hand contrary to what I have spoken.”
The Recorder responded, ” You do but equivocate and if you will deny it after your death, we will publish your own hand that the world may see your false dealing.”
Garnet replied, “This is no time to talk of equivocation neither do I equivocate But in truth you shall not find my hand otherwise than I have said.”
The recorder turned to an assistant and said, “Let him see his own handwriting.” Garnet replied, “You cannot show me any such writing of my hand.” They could in fact not do this. The man who was to have had the note had left it behind at home. At that point “divers of the standers by laughed in their sleeves.”
That day was May the 3rd, the Feast of the Holy Cross. He was asked if there was anything he had to say.
“This day,” he said, “I thank God I have found my cross by which I hope to end all the crosses of my life. I am sorry with all my heart that any Catholics had ever any such intention knowing that such attempts are not allowable and to my own knowledge contrary to the Popes mind and therefore I wish all Catholics to be quiet and not to be moved by any difficulties to the raising of tumults but to possess their souls in peace.”
Then someone in the crowd yells out, “Were you not married to mistress Anne Vaux?”
Garnet then defended her, “She is a Virtuous good gentlewoman and therefore to impute nay such thing unto her cannot proceed but of malice.”
He was given a few minutes for prayer and then signaled the hangman. He was cast off the ladder, not being bound and not making any struggle with death. Due to intercession of the crowd, he was allowed to hang until dead before being cut down for quartering and burning.
So ends this part of our story. Next comes the miracle of the straw and the end of the story.