My books and other Gingernuts

Monday, 4 November 2013

The last man to enter Parliament with honest intentions.

Guy Fawkes, probably the most famous traitor in British history, a name and face now linked as much with the modern fight against political corruption as the plot that got him killed. Yet how many people now remember much about the failed gunpowder plot? True we have bonfire night still and in some cases a guy is still burnt as fireworks explode but was guy Fawkes really the freedom fighter he is now painted as, the man who set out to bring down the government?
Well in a word, no he wasn’t. For a start it wasn’t even his plan, he was just the bloke who knew how to make things go bang and got the job of lighting the fuse.
The whole idea was actually Robert Catesby’s, a catholic zealot who wanted England to return to being a catholic state so planned to assassinate the king and entire privy council at the state opening of parliament. Now Catholics in England had not had the best of fortunes since good old King Henry VIII had taken control of the English church and things got worse under Queen Elizabeth I. In the new protestant land being catholic really didn’t go down too well. When King James I took the throne many Catholics hoped things would get easier but that didn’t happen.
So this Catesby began to gather his band of religious fanatics with the aim of placing a nine year old Princess Elizabeth, daughter of the king, on the throne as a catholic head of state. Catesby brought Guy Fawkes in as the explosive expert, a man with a decade of military experience fighting for the Catholics in the Dutch Revolt. Now being a man of strong religious belief it is believed that Catesby realised for his plan to work and the House of Lords to be redesigned by twenty barrels of gunpowder there would be quite a large loss of life. This plot would kill more than just the king and the others placed before his little princess in succession. In the grand tradition of a religious fanatic considering mass murder Catesby did the only thing possible, he went to see a priest. The priest in question was the principle Jesuit in England, Father Henry Garnet. Now the two met on three occasions but at the first meeting Catesby mentioned the morality of ‘killing innocents’ and how god and the pope would view it. Garnet said such actions could be excused but was worried enough to send messages to Rome asking that they forbid rebellion against the crown. At their next meeting Garnet showed this letter and tried to turn Catesby from his course. While Garnet knew of a plot but not the details he could not reveal it as it was protected by the rules of catholic confession. His hands tied Henry Garnet was dragged into the plot and the consequences when it failed. Now I dwell on Henry Garnet for one main reason, he was born close to where I now sit, in my very village in fact.
Henry was one of at least five siblings who started his education in Nottingham before entering Winchester College in Winchester, Hampshire where he excelled. With a place at New College, Oxford guaranteed he chose instead to move to London and worked for a legal publisher. In an ironic twist he also often dined with Sir John Popham who would later preside over the trials of the gunpowder plotters. In 1575 though he set sail to Portugal and entered the Society of Jesus, travelling later to Rome he was eventually sent back to England. The Jesuit order had been banished from England and any priest arrested would be charged with high treason so Garnet lived his life in hiding. A man who preached peace and worked for acceptance he became an unwitting victim of Catesby’s plot.
After things went ‘tits-up’ Garnet was forced to go on the run but it wasn’t long before he was captured and ‘questioned’. His response to being threatened with the rack does stand out, "Minare ista pueris” Threats are for boys.
With the use of forgeries but mainly torture Garnet finally revealed he had heard of the plot from another priest Oswald Tesimond who had heard it in confession from Catesby.
Charged with high treason he was found guilty and sentenced to death, accused of being an instigator of the plot. His execution was to be hung, drawn and quartered although when he was thrown from the ladder to be hung members of the crowd are said to have pulled on his legs so he was dead before he could be cut down alive and serve the rest of his punishment. His head was then displayed on a pole at London Bridge, probably the innocent victim Catesby had asked about.

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