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The Reign of James I page 9

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These repeated delays, however, insured the defeat of the plot. All the conspirators except Catesby were now ruined by fines, exactions, and persecutions on account of their faith. They had depended for support for the last twelve-months on the assistance of relations and friends. Catesby had purchased the military stores and other requisites: his means were now exhausted, and yet more money must be in hand against the day of explosion if they meant to take full advantage of it. This induced them to extend the number of their accomplices, a perilous proceeding in anything demanding secrecy; and yet Catesby ventured on divulging the scheme to no less than three fresh associates, men of family and fortune. The first was Sir Everard Digby, of Drystoke, in Rutlandshire, Gotehurst, in Buckinghamshire, and of other large estates. Digby had been left as a boy a ward of queen Elizabeth's, had been educated at her court, and as a protestant. But a little before the death of the queen he embraced the catholic faith, and thus abandoning the brilliant prospects before him, retired to his estates in the country. At the time of the conspiracy he had a young wife and two children, was only twenty-five himself, and thus had every imaginable earthly good within his reach. Subtle must have been the persuasion which could have induced such a man to risk all this in a desperate enterprise, and bold the spirit of Catesby who could venture to tempt him to it. It was not effected without difficulty. Digby could not avoid seeing the hazard and doubting the innocence of such a proceeding, but eventually he gave way, and promised to assemble his catholic friends on the opening of parliament, to hunt with him on Dunsmoor, in Warwickshire, and to advance one thousand five hundred pounds.

The next was Ambrose Rookwood, of Coldham Hall, Suffolk, the head of an ancient and wealthy family, who had suffered like his neighbours, but was still affluent. He had a fine stud of horses, which made him a very desirable coadjutor, independent of other considerations. He seems to have had as little ambition as he had motive for conspiracy, being, spite of his share of persecutions, able to enjoy a quiet life; but his attachment to Catesby was his snare. Like the rest, he at first recoiled from the prospect of so much bloodshed; but Catesby managed to reconcile him to the idea, and he removed his family to Clopton Hall, near Stratford-on-Avon, in order to be near the catholic rendezvous at Dunsmoor.

The third new accomplice was Sir Francis Tresham. His father, Sir Thomas Tresham, had long been severely handled on account of his religion, in Elizabeth's reign, and his son Francis, who succeeded him had been engaged in several plots. He wag in that of Essex, in conjunction with Catesby and Percy, and escaped by a prompt distribution of three thousand pounds amongst the queen's favourites. His chief seat was at Rushton, in Northamptonshire. The selection of Tresham was especially imprudent, for he had the character of a man selfish, reserved, and fickle; but he had money, which induced Catesby to trust him. From the moment, however, that he did so, he had no more peace of mind. Terrible fears and suspicions seized him, dreams as terrible haunted him at night. His comrades had no confidence in Tresham, whose character was well known; but the thing was done, and there was no retracing the step which was to bring destruction upon them. Tresham promised a contribution of two thousand pounds, and Percy also engaging to advance four thousand pounds from the rents of the earl of Northumberland, whose steward he was, the pecuniary provision appeared ample, and they proceeded to organise their plan of operations.

A list of all the peers and commons who were catholics, or who had opposed the penal statutes and other harsh measures against the catholics, was made out, and these were at the last moment on the fatal morning to be called away from the house by some urgent message. Guy Fawkes was appointed to fire the train with a slow burning match, which should allow of his escape before the explosion; and a ship was to lie ready in the river to carry him over to Flanders, where he was to publish a manifesto justifying the deed, and calling on the catholic powers for aid. Percy, as a gentleman pensioner, was to enter the palace and secure the person of the young prince Charles - it seems they were willing to let prince Henry perish - and on pretence of placing him in security, convey him away to the appointed rendezvous at Dunchurch. Digby, Tresham, Grant, and others, were to hasten to Combe Abbey, and secure the princess Elizabeth, whom, if the two young princes should not be saved, they were at once to proclaim queen. Catesby was to proclaim the heir-apparent, whoever it was, at Charing-cross; and on reaching Warwickshire a declaration was to be issued abolishing monopolies, purveyance, and wardships. A protector was to be appointed to conduct the government during the minority of the sovereign.

There were circumstances enough in these regulations to have alarmed all but fanatics in the cause. The messages at the last moment to so many members of the two houses must have created suspicion, and the endeavour to secure the royal children was full of hazard. But there were greater dangers than these. As the time drew nigh, almost every one had friends amongst the members of parliament, and they were not contented with the general plan of drawing them away at the critical moment. Each wished to convey a particular warning to his own friends or relatives, which should make their safety certain. Every such warning, however, menaced the discovery of the whole scheme. Tresham was excessively anxious to rescue the lords Mordaunt and Mounteagle, who had married two of his sisters. Percy was equally desirous to save his relative, the earl of Northumberland; Keyes, the old gentleman who had the custody of the house at Lambeth, was importunate to save lord Mordaunt, who sheltered and maintained his wife and children after his own ruin; and all were eager to warn the young earl of Arundel.

Catesby, extremely alarmed by these proposals, declared that means enough were in operation to keep all those that they wished to save away; but that rather than endanger the result, he would have all blown up, though they were as dear to him as his own son. He and Fawkes, as the day drew near, retired to a solitary house in Enfield Chase, called White Webbs, where, as they were in consultation with Thomas Winter, Tresham suddenly made his appearance. He appeared excited and embarrassed, and demanded that he should be allowed to put lord Mounteagle, who had married his sister, on his guard. When Catesby and his associates protested against it, he advanced reasons for delay, declaring that he should not be prepared with the promised advance of money till he had sold some property. He pleaded that the explosion would be as effectual at the end of the session as at the beginning; that in the meantime the conspirators might live in Flanders, whither his ship should convey them, and where he would supply them with the necessary funds for maintenance. Catesby was confirmed in his fears of Tresham by these proposals, but thought it best to dissemble and appear to acquiesce. Tresham returned to town, and would seem to have warned not only Mounteagle but others, most likely including Lord Mordaunt, who had married his other sister. Digby and others of the conspirators are supposed to have warned their own friends, so that the danger of discovery was hourly increasing. Tresham, in his examination, alleged that his real object at this moment was not to delay, but to put an end to the plot, as the only means he could devise to save the lives of all concerned, and to preserve his own life, fortune, and reputation.

The movements of Lord Mounteagle warranted the belief that he had received a warning of some kind that there was danger in town, for he removed from his house in London to one which he had at Hoxton, and on the 26th of October, six days before the proposed opening of Parliament, he, much to the surprise of his own family, ordered a good supper to be prepared there. Mounteagle had formerly been engaged in the Spanish treason, and had written to Baynham, who was the emissary at Rome, and therefore was probably aware of some plot in agitation, but he had latterly obtained the confidence of the king, and was one of the commissioners for the late prorogation.

As he sat at table about seven o'clock in the evening, a page handed to him a letter, which he said he had received from a tall man whose features he could not recognise in the dark. Mounteagle opened the letter, and seeing that it had neither date nor signature, he handed it to Thomas Ward, a gentleman of his establishment, to read aloud. It was as follows: - "My lord out of the love i beare to some of youer frends i have a caer of your preservacion therefor i would advyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyfe to devyse some exscuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament for god and man hath concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme and think not slightlye of this advertisment but retyere to youre self into youre contri wheare you may expect the event in safeti for thowghe theare be no apparance of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them this cowncel is not to be contemned because it may do yowe good and can do yowe no harme for the danger is passed as soon as yowe have burnt the letter and i hope God will give yowe the grace to mak good use of it to whose holy protecion i comend yowe."

The astonishment of the guests at the hearing of this letter may be imagined. Lord Mounteagle immediately hastened to town, and laid the letter before Cecil and some of the other ministers, the king being away still at Royston hunting. Cecil determined that nothing should be clone till the king's return. The next morning Ward, who had read the letter publicly at the supper-table, communicated the circumstance to Thomas Winter, and that the letter was in the possession of Cecil. Winter was thunderstruck, but put the best face upon the matter that he could, and pretended to laugh at the whole affair as a hoax on the credulity of Lord Mounteagle; but no sooner was Ward gone than he flew to White Webbs, and imparted the news to Catesby. Catesby at once attributed the letter to Tresham, and the more so as lie had absented himself for several days on the pretence of having business in Northamptonshire. The question with Catesby was, had he revealed the particulars of the plot and the names of the conspirators. To ascertain the extent of the mischief, and of the guilt of Tresham, he sent him an imperative message to come to White Webbs. Tresham obeyed the summons on the 30th of October, and met Catesby and Winter at this lonely house in Enfield Chase. They had made up their minds if they found him guilty, to shoot him on the spot. They charged him point blank with the discovery of the plot, and kept a searching gaze upon his countenance as he received their declaration. Had he faltered or shown any confusion, his doom would have been instant. But he exhibited the utmost calmness and firmness of expression, protesting most solemnly that he was innocent of the charge.

That Tresham was the writer of the letter, and that he had entered into a confidential understanding with Mount-eagle for the defeat of the plot, there appears every reason to conclude. His own avowal on the examination that such was his intention is borne out by all the examinations. The delivery of the letter whilst Mounteagle was at supper with his friends, if it was done by Tresham, shows an intention that it should thus be made irrevocably public. The instant communication of lord Mounteagle's servant with Winter the conspirator, in order to warn them, confirms the idea that all this was planned betwixt Tresham and Mounteagle; but there is no reason to believe that Tresham had betrayed the names of his accomplices.

Catesby and Winter returned with Tresham to town, and Guy Fawkes was despatched to the cellar under the parliament house to discover whether all was right there. Not a thing or a secret mark was disturbed. They then first told him why they had sent him, on which Fawkes complained of their distrust of his courage, and said he would visit the cellar every day till the 5th of November. Had Cecil not been still more cunning than the conspirators, had he made a stir and an inquisition, the aim of Tresham would have been effected, the conspirators would have escaped, and the plot have been put an end to without any catastrophe. But the artifice of Cecil lulled their suspicions, and lured them on to their fate.

On the 31st of October James returned to town, and tho letter was laid before him, with the particulars of its delivery, James was greatly struck by the account, read the letter several times over, and discussed the matter for two hours with his ministers. James boasted to parliament on its opening, that it was his own bright suggestion that the receiving of the letter sent to lord Mounteagle implied that they were all to be blown up, and that he in consequence ordered the search of the cellars under the parliament house. But this was a piece of consummate flattery on the part of his ministers, to make it appear the result of his superior sagacity; for we have direct evidence in the circular of the earl of Salisbury, that the ministers were in possession of the secret, but he observes, "we all thought fit to forbear to impart it to the king until some three or four days before the sessions." In fact, the intelligence that the letter was in the hands of the king, and that the council was consulting on it, was immediately conveyed to Winter by Mounteagle's servant. Upon this Winter waited on Tresham at his house in Lincoln's Inn walks, where Tresham, in great agitation, assured him that the existence of the mine was known to the ministers; that he knew certainly, but denied any knowledge of by whom the discovery had been made. He declared that they were all lost men if they did not instantly escape. From the moment the affair was known^ Tresham had avoided further intercourse with the conspirators, meaning to appear totally ignorant of their concerns, for which reason he went about openly, and even offered his services to the council.

The conspirators met to decide on their plan of action. Some of them advised instant escape to the Continent; Catesby, Winter, and others were perfectly convinced that Tresham was in communication with Mounteagle, and perhaps with Cecil; but some of them would not believe such treason, and the arguments of Percy finally nailed them to their fate. This discussion took place on the 3rd of November. Percy conjured them to wait and see what the next day would bring forth, the very last day before the grand crisis. He represented all the labour, the anxieties, the plannings they had gone through, the costs they had incurred, the difficulties they had overcome, and he demanded whether, on the very point of complete success, they were to abandon their enterprise through the fears of a recreant colleague, who probably described what only his affrighted fancy pictured to him. He reminded them that his vessel still lay in the Thames at their service, and on the first positive proof of danger, they had only to hasten on board and drop down the river out of reach of their enemies.

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