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The Life Of A Conspirator Part 5

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[94] S. P. Gunpowder Plot Book, Part I. No. 108.

In this not altogether desirable "companie," Sir Everard Digby spent much time "in cogitation deep" upon the treatment of his fellow-religionists and countrymen. Both men were exasperated by the persecution which was going on around them, by the fickleness of their king, and by the dangers to which they, their wives, their families--for Sir Everard, as well as Catesby, had a child now--and their estates were exposed. Perhaps most irritating of all, to country-gentlemen of high position, was the then prevalent custom of sub-letting, or farming, the fines and penalties levyable upon Catholics to men who squeezed every farthing out of them that was possible. To be persecuted and fined by an authorized public official was bad enough; but to be pestered and tormented by a pettifogging private person who had purchased the right of doing so, as a speculation, must have been almost unendurable. The subject, however, which Digby and Catesby discussed most would probably be the severe anti-Catholic legislation which was apprehended from the new parliament. In this, said Catesby, the great danger lay. His surmises as to the form it might take would give him and his friend, Sir Everard, ample scope for contemplation, speculation, and conversation.

The words of Scripture, "Sufficient to the day is the evil thereof," do not appear to have occurred to their memories.

In periods of trouble and danger, as indeed in all others, men of different dispositions and temperaments take different views and different lines of conduct; there are optimists and pessimists, men who counsel endurance, men who advocate active resistance, men who advise waiting a little to see what may turn up, and men who urge that not a moment is to be lost. And so it was among the persecuted Catholics during the early years of the reign of James I. At the very time that men like Digby and Catesby were in the deepest depression of hopeless anxiety, the Spanish Amba.s.sador was congratulating himself because he fancied he saw symptoms of the king's inclination to become[95] a convert to the Catholic Church. On the other hand, among those who took the most gloomy view of the prospect, there were very distinct phases of thought and action. "England will witness with us," says Father Gerard,[96] "that the greatest part by much did follow the example and exhortation of the Religious and Priests that were their guides, moving them and leading them by their own practice to make their refuge unto G.o.d in so great extremities.... This we found to be believed practically by most, and followed as faithfully, preparing themselves by more often frequentation of the Sacraments, by more fervent prayer, and by perfect resignation of their will to G.o.d, against the cloud that was like to cover them, and the shower that might be expected would pour down upon them after the Parliament, unto which all the chief Puritans of the land were called, and only they or their friends selected out of every shire to be the framers of the laws, which thereby we might easily know were chiefly intended and prepared against us."

[95] _Roman Transcripts_, Sep. 24th, 1604, P.R.O., _Father H. Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot_, p. 4.



[96] _Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot_, p. 49.

But he says all were not quite so perfect, and of these imperfect there were two leading divisions. The first[97] "fainted in courage, and, as St Cyprian noteth of his times, did offer themselves unto the persecutors before they felt the chief force of the blow that was to be expected." Sir Everard Digby was not one of these. The second division were, as Father Gerard might most veraciously say, "much different from these, and ran headlong into a contrary error. For being resolved never to yield or forsake their faith, they had not patience and longanimity to expect the Providence of G.o.d, etc." It is to be feared that he may have noticed this want of patience and longanimity in Sir Everard Digby and his companions. "They would not endure to see their brethren so trodden upon by every Puritan," he goes on to say of this cla.s.s, "so made a prey to every needy follower of the Court, or servant to a Councillor, so presented and pursued by every churchwarden and minister, so hauled to every sessions when the Justices list to meet, so wronged on every side by the process of excommunication or outlawry, and forced to seek for their own by law, and then also to be denied by law, because they were Papists; finally both themselves and all others to be denounced traitors and designed to the slaughter. These things they would not endure now to begin afresh after so long endurance, and therefore began amongst themselves to consult what remedy they might apply to all these evils," &c., "so that it seems they did not so much respect what the remedy were, or how it might be procured, as that it might be sure and speedy--to wit, to take effect before the end of the Parliament from whence they seemed to expect their greatest harm."

[97] _Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot_, p. 50.

Those who followed the latter course may have included some who were in other respects good Christians; whether they showed the spirit of Martyrs and Confessors is another question.

Few things discouraged the English Catholics more than the goodwill and peaceful disposition shown to the new king by foreign Catholic kings and princes, notwithstanding that one final effort was made on their behalf by Spain, just as the treaty was being concluded with England for peace and the renewal of commercial intercourse. Velasco, the constable of Castile, who negotiated that treaty on behalf of Spain, was visited by Winter, at Catesby's suggestion, and urged to a.s.sist the English Catholics. Although he promised to speak on their behalf, he made it clear that his country would make no sacrifice to obtain toleration for them.[98] So far as he had promised, he kept his word. He told James that whatever indulgence he might show to them would be regarded by Philip as a personal act of friendship towards himself, and that they were prepared to make a voluntary offering annually in the place of the fines at that time imposed upon them by law; and he laid before him statistics of the distress to which very many respectable English families had been reduced by clinging to the faith of their forefathers.

[98] Lingard, Vol. vii. chap. i.

James's reply was very decided. On any diplomatic question relating to the interests of England and Spain he would be ready and glad to confer with the Spanish representative, but the government of his own subjects was a domestic matter upon which he could not consent to enter with a foreigner. Besides this, he informed Velasco that, even were he himself inclined to better the condition of the Catholics, his doing so would offend his Protestant subjects to such an extent as to endanger his throne.

It would almost seem as if Velasco's endeavours on behalf of the Catholics had a contrary effect to that which had been intended; for, instead of granting them the smallest relief, James issued a proclamation, ordering the judges and magistrates to enforce the penal laws, and to adopt measures calculated to insure the detection of Catholic recusants. Before the judges started on their circuits, he called them together and charged them "to be diligent and severe against recusants."[99] Accordingly, in the year 1604, about 1000 recusants were indicted in Yorkshire, 600 in Lancashire, and in the counties of Oxford, Berks, Gloucester, Monmouth, Hereford, Salop, Stafford, and in Wigorn, 1865.[100] Of Buckinghamshire, Sir Everard Digby's county, I can find no return. In all, the number of Catholic recusants convicted in the years 1604-5 amounted to 5500. In July, a priest named Sugar was executed at Warwick, simply and only because he was a priest, and a layman, named Grissold, for "accompanying and a.s.sisting" him.[101] In the Star Chamber, a man named Pound accused Sergeant Phillips of injustice in condemning a neighbour of his to death, for no other crime except that he had entertained a Jesuit. Not only did the lords of the Star Chamber confirm and approve of this sentence of Sergeant Phillips, but they condemned Pound himself to lose one ear in London and one "in the country where he dwelleth," and to be fined 1000, unless he would impeach those who advised him to make the suit. Fortunately this tremendous sentence was commuted, at the intercession of the French and Venetian Amba.s.sadors, to standing for a whole day in the pillory.[102]

[99] Tierney's Notes to Dodd, Vol. iv. p. 42.

[100] Dodd and Tierney, Vol. iv., Appendix xiv., pp. xciv., xcv.

[101] _Ib._, Vol. iv. pp. 40, 41.

[102] Lingard, Vol. vii. chap. i.

Bancroft had just ascended the archiepiscopal throne of Canterbury, full of zeal against the Papists. He urged his suffragan bishops to select the more wealthy and earnest among the Catholics, and, after first trying "sweet" and "kind means," to excommunicate them if they should refuse to conform. Forty days after their excommunication, the Bishops were to certify their names in Chancery, and then to sue out a writ _de excommunicato capiendo_, an instrument which subjected the delinquents to outlawry, forfeiture, and imprisonment, and deprived them of the right of recovering debts, of suing for damages, of effecting legal sales or purchases, and of conveying their properties either by will or otherwise.[103] Goodman, Bishop of Gloucester, writes[104]:--"The Spiritual Court did not cease to molest them, to excommunicate them, then to imprison them; and thereby they were utterly unable to sue for their own." Nor were the rumours of an approaching increase of severities, to be enacted in the ensuing parliament, mere exaggerated fancies. The denunciations of the Chancellor in the Star Chamber, and of Archbishop Bancroft at St Paul's Cross, confirmed the reports that sterner legislation against recusants was impending in the coming session. On the other hand, it is just possible that these official threats may have been uttered only to terrify the Catholics into submission, and with no very serious expectation of their fulfilment.

[103] Tierney's Notes to Dodd, Vol. iv. pp. 41, 42.

[104] _Court of King James I._, Vol. i. p. 101.

During those distressing times, Catesby's friends, among whom not the least was Sir Everard Digby, observed a change in his manner. He looked anxious and careworn; he was moody and abstracted at one moment, unusually loquacious and excitable at another. His mysterious absences from home were another source of uneasiness to those most intimate with him; so, too, were his large purchases of horses, arms, and gunpowder, which also attracted the attention of people who were not his friends; but he took great trouble to inform everybody that he was about to raise 300 horse, to join the English regiment which the Spanish Amba.s.sador had prevailed upon King James to allow to be levied in England for the a.s.sistance of the Archduke in Flanders.[105]

[105] Jardine's _Gunpowder Plot_, pp. 60-1.

Nevertheless, his friends were not satisfied. If he were really going to join the army in the Low Countries, why these long delays?

Great as was their intimacy, Catesby was in the condition just described for many months without confiding the real reason of his activity to Sir Everard Digby; although it is probable that he warned him to be prepared for any emergency which might arise for the use of men, arms, and horses. Both Digby and Catesby were heartily tired of a state of pa.s.sive endurance; the tyranny which was crushing the Catholics was daily increasing, and Sir Everard might very naturally suppose that while Catesby had no definite plan for resisting it, he wished to be ready in case foreign powers might come to their a.s.sistance, or the whole body of English Catholics, goaded to desperation, might rise in rebellion against their oppressors. Freely as he might appear to talk to Digby, and satisfied as the latter may have felt that he had the confidence of his friend, Catesby in reality feared to intrust a great secret, which was absorbing his attention, to the brave but straightforward master of Gothurst.

Another of Catesby's friends was less easy about him than Sir Everard Digby. Father Garnet, the Provincial of the Jesuits, suspected that some mischief was brewing, and seized an opportunity, when sitting at Catesby's own table, of inculcating the duty of patient submission to persecution. His host, who was his personal friend as well as a great respecter of his wisdom as a priest, showed considerable irritation.

Instead of treating the Provincial of the Jesuits with his usual reverence and courtesy, he flushed up and angrily exclaimed[106]:--"It is to you, and such as you, that we owe our present calamities. This doctrine of non-resistance makes us slaves. No authority of priest or pontiff can deprive man of his right to repel injustice."

[106] Lingard, Vol. vii. chap. i.

Another friend and frequent guest of young Sir Everard's, after he became a Catholic, should be noticed. A younger son of a Worcestershire family, Thomas Winter had attractions for Digby, in his profound zeal for the Catholic Church, his scholarship, his knowledge of foreign languages, his powers of conversation, and his military experiences, as he had served in Flanders, France, and, says Father Gerard, "I think, against the Turk." Unlike Catesby, he was "of mean stature, but strong and comely," and of "fine carriage." He was very popular in society, and "an inseparable friend to Mr Robert Catesby." In age he was about ten years older than Sir Everard. Whatever his zeal may have been for the Catholic Church, he did not always live in the odour of sanct.i.ty, and on one occasion he incurred the grave displeasure of Father Garnet by conveying a challenge to a duel from John Wright, one of the earliest conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot, to an adversary who had offended him. The combatants met, and Winter, as Wright's second, measured the swords of both duellists to ascertain whether they were of equal length; but the actual encounter was somehow prevented at the last moment.[107]

Father Garnet says that he had a "hard conceit of him."

[107] S. P. Dom. James I., Vol. xix. n. 41. Garnet's statement.

In dealing with the subject of Digby's friends, certainly his page, William Ellis, ought not to be forgotten. I have been unable to discover any details of his birth, except that he was heir to 80 a year--a much larger income, of course, in those days than in these--"if his father did him right." He entered Sir Everard's service at the age of seventeen, about May 1604.[108] How faithful he was to his master will appear by-and-bye.

[108] S. P. Dom. James I., G. P. Book, Part I., n. 108.

Among Sir Everard's younger friends was Lord Vaux of Harrowden, a cousin of Catesby's. One reason of the intimacy is thus described by Father Gerard.[109] "Sir Everard had many serious occasions to come to my Lord Vaux's; and then in particular, as I have learned since, being come from his [Digby's] ancient house and chief living, which lay in Rutlandshire, from whence he could not go unto the house where his wife and family lay [Gothurst], but he must pa.s.s the door of Lord Vaux, his house, which also made him there an ordinary guest." To harbour priests, and to defend the Catholic cause was no new thing in the family of Vaux, for, some twenty or thirty years earlier, Lord Vaux's grandfather had been imprisoned and fined for sheltering Father Campian in his house.[110]

His grandmother had been a daughter of John Tresham of Rushton, and of his cousin, Francis Tresham, we shall hear something presently. His mother and his aunts, Anne and Elizabeth, were most pious Catholics, but the religious atmosphere in which he was brought up does not seem to have led him to perfection; for, although as a young man he suffered imprisonment for his faith,[111] he afterwards had two sons, who bore the name of Vaux, by Lady Banbury during her husband's lifetime;[112]

and, although he married her after Lord Banbury's death, she never had another child. Worse still, he left Harrowden and the other family estates to his illegitimate children, instead of to his brother, who succeeded him in the t.i.tle, although his wife, on her side, claimed for her son that, as he was born during her first husband's lifetime, he had a legal right to the t.i.tle of Banbury. Accordingly, this son changed his surname to Knollys, and once actually sat, as Lord Banbury, in the House of Lords. As is well known, his descendants went on claiming and disputing the t.i.tle until the year 1813, when their right to it was finally disallowed.

[109] _Narrative of the G. P._, p. 138.

[110] _Records S.J._, Series i. p. 329.

[111] _Life of Father Gerard_, p. clx.x.xv.

[112] _Burke's Peerage_, 1872.

But what specially concerns my story is that Sir Everard Digby was endeavouring to bring about a marriage for this (then) very young Lord Vaux, with the "Lord Chamberlain his daughter,"[113] as Father Gerard writes; and, in a footnote, is added "Earl of Suffolk. Erased in Orig."

If this footnote is right, Sir Everard was probably trying to make a match for the youth with the very girl whom he eventually married, as Lady Banbury had been Elizabeth Howard, the eldest daughter of Lord Suffolk. Suffolk was Lord Chamberlain,[114] and curiously enough (when we consider that he seems to have had negotiations with Sir Everard Digby with respect to a match between his daughter and Lord Vaux), in his capacity of Lord Chamberlain, he suspected and led to the discovery of the gunpowder laid in the cellar beneath the Houses of Parliament.[115]

[113] _Narrative of the G. P._, p. 137.

[114] Gardiner. _History of England_, Vol. x. p. 364.

[115] Gardiner's _History of England_, Vol. i. p. 249.

Sir Everard visited a good deal at the house of Lord Vaux's mother, Mrs Elizabeth Vaux. This was a house in Buckinghamshire at Stoke Poges, that had been built by Sir Christopher Hatton,[116] the Lord Chancellor, who had died childless. It was let for a term of years to Mrs Vaux, and she not only established Father Gerard in it as her chaplain, but had hiding-places and other arrangements made, so that he could receive priests and Catholic laymen, as he might think well, for the good of the cause of religion. Here Sir Everard was probably thrown a good deal with Catesby and Tresham, as they were both related to his young host. Lord Vaux's two aunts, Miss Anne Vaux and Eleanor, the wife of Edward Brooksby, lived with him and his mother, and Miss Anne was one of those who had serious misgivings as to the mysterious conduct of her cousin, Robert Catesby.[117] "Seeing at Winter's and Grant's"--Grant was a popular Warwickshire squire, a Catholic, and celebrated for his undaunted courage--"their fine horses in the stable, she told Mr Garnet that she feared these wild heads had something in hand, and prayed him to talk to Mr Catesby and to hinder anything that possibly he might, for if they should attempt any foolish thing, it would redound to his discredit. Whereupon he said he would talk to Mr Catesby."

[116] It was to this Sir Christopher Hatton, that Sir Everard's father had dedicated his book _A Dissuasive from taking away the Livings of the Church_.

[117] _Father H. Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot_, Pollen, p. 20.

P.R.O., March 11.

Another account of what was probably the same interview was given by Father Garnet himself, in his examination of March 12th, 1605. [118] "He sayth that Mrs Vaux came to him, eyther to Harrowden or to Sir Everard Digby's at Gothurst, and tould this exam{t}. that she feared that some trouble or disorder was towards [them], that some of the gentlewomen had demanded of her where they should bestow themselves until the burst[119] was past in the beginning of the Parliament. And this exam{t}.

asking her who tould her so, she said that she durst not tell who tould her so: she was [choked] with sorrow."

[118] S. P. Dom. James I., Vol. xix. n 40. See _Records S.J._, Vol.

iv. p. 157.

[119] This could not mean the projected "burst" of gunpowder, of which she could have known nothing, but an attempt of some sort, about that time, to obtain relief for the Catholics by force of arms, which she appears to have expected, or rather, to have feared.

An attempt was made, later, to represent the name of Vaux to be the same as that of Fawkes:--[120] "Mrs Anne Vaux, or Fawkes, probably a relative of the conspirator;" for which there seems to be no foundation, and certainly there is none for the base imputation, in the same paragraph, of immorality between Anne Vaux and Father Garnet. Even the Protestant historian, Jardine, repudiates this calumny at considerable length.[121]

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