Friday, 10 April 2015

The Extraordinary Gunpowder Plot Aftermath in 1605

We all know about the events of the Gunpowder plot but few are aware that the events that follow are equally enthralling. On the 5th November 1605, news spreads in the early hours of Guy Fawkes’ capture. The surviving plotters know the King’s men will soon be upon them so they ride their horses away from London all the way to the Midlands in twos and threes to avoid suspicion. The only exception is Tresham as he decides it will be better to remain in London.

At Dunchurch in Warwickshire the group gather and join another gang of followers gathered by Digby, ostensibly as a hunting party. All told they number around 60 people by the time they reach Holbeche House on the Staffordshire border in the evening hours of the 7th of November. Here they feel they will be safe as it is owned by the Littleton family who have been involved in many Catholic uprisings, as well as the Essex Rebellion.

Word spreads of this gathering and hopes rise that perhaps a Catholic uprising suggested by Catesby against King James I of England can indeed happen especially when they increase in number to around 100 men. That hope is dashed as people hear of the Gunpowder plot and fear a government bent on revenge. Numbers dwindle quickly and by the next day they are down to 40 people.

A glimmer of hope is rekindled by Guy Fawkes due to his defiant refusal to give up the names of his fellow conspirators. Even the King who was Guy’s intended victim is impressed. However fearing these other men might soon escape he orders Fawkes to be tortured on 6th November. Guy is subsequently put on rack and has his body stretched in such excruciating pain that his will is broken by 7th November and he confesses.

At the same time, John Popham, the Lord Chief Justice, raids the homes of every Catholic known to have suddenly left such as Ambrose Rookwood. He soon identifies Catesby, Rookwood, and the Wright and Wintour brothers as suspects and Francis Tresham is then arrested.

Back at Holbeach House, the gang become aware that an armed government force is preparing to attack them. They gather inside and ready themselves for battle, but not before sending Littleton and Thomas Wintour to seek help from a neighbouring Catholic relative. Alas for them he refuses. Hearing this, Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton flee together whilst Digby leaves with a few servants.

Things then go from bad to worse when Robert Catesby tries to dry some gunpowder that have become damp in front of the fire. In an ironic twist of fate a stray spark causes an explosion which badly injured both him and John Wright. In fact one of them ends up blinded and unable to help in the forthcoming gun fight.

Just before midday on the 8th of November, the Sheriff of Worcester arrive with a posse of men and surrounds the house. After several attempts to make the conspirators surrender both sides settled on a gun battle. Later that day the government forces succeed in crashing into the house. In the ensuing battle Kit Wright, John Wright, Robert Catesby and Thomas Percy are shot dead whilst Thomas Wintour and Ambrose Rookwood are injured and captured. Digby is caught soon after.

There is no escape for anyone. The remaining known conspirators are caught (barring Robert Wintour and Stephen Littleton), imprisoned in Worcester jail, and transported to London to await trial. Four days after the siege at Holbeche, Francis Tresham is arrested in London and sent to the Tower of London. Two months later, Wintour and Littleton are captured at Hagley House. From there they are taken to the Tower of London whilst their houses are stripped bare for evidence of conspiracy.

 The government continues to rush head long forward as they fear Jesuit priests, led by Henry Garnet are the real masterminds behind the plot. For Robert Cecil, the government advisor, this is very important as a Jesuit conspiracy will justify the Government’s severe anti-Catholic legislation. Garnet is captured at Hindlip based on information supplied by Humphrey Littleton, who had been with the plotters on the 8th of November, and now tries to buy himself a pardon. It is an attempt doomed to failure as he gains no credit and is later executed for complicity in the Plot.


January 27th 1606 the trial of the eight surviving conspirators begins. None deny the charge of treason, and all were condemned to execution. In the meantime Francis Tresham has already died in prison from a suspicious urinary tract infection. Only two days later on the 29th Digby, Grant, Robert Wintour, and Bates are hung, drawn and quartered on January 29th at St. Paul's Churchyard, while Thomas Wintour, Robert Keyes, Guy Fawkes and Ambrose Rookwood suffer the same fate on  January 30th at the Old Palace Yard Westminster. 

The day is especially dramatic. Fawkes, though weakened by torture manages to cheat the executioners. By jumping from the gallows he breaks his neck and dies. In so doing he manages to avoid having his heart ripped out whilst he is alive. A co-conspirator, Robert Keyes, attempts the same trick, but unfortunately for him the rope breaks, so he is disembowelled while fully conscious. Those who die at Holbeche are also shown no respect. Their heads are removed to be displayed on pikes with Guy Fawkes’ skull famously hung on London Bridge.

The repression does not end there. Henry Garnet is later executed on 3 May 1606 at St Paul's. His crime was that of being the confessor of several members of the Gunpowder Plot, even though he opposed the plot. Many spectators think his sentence is too severe. During the execution many in the crowd cry  'hold, hold' to stop the hangman cutting down Garnet’s body and quartering him while he is still alive. Some even  pull the priest's legs to ensure a speedy death and prevent unnecessary suffering.

For the government this is all necessary as it is afraid of further rebellion. Investigators punish any they suspect. Even innocent people become victims. Lord Mordant is fined £6,666 and dies in Fleet debtors’ prison in 1609, while the Earl of Northumberland is fined the colossal sum of £30,000 and imprisoned at the king’s leisure only to be freed in 1621.

However these fears prove unfounded. Even King James recognises that it was just a conspiracy by a few wayward people. Never the less when Parliament meet in 1606 it introduces more laws. Another Oath of Allegiance is introduced and from January 21st 1606, a Bill for an annual public thanksgiving is brought before Parliament. Remarkably it remains in force until 1859 by which time anti-Catholicism has markedly dissipated.

If you liked that story then remember there are new stories on this site every week that can be found at my Secret History Stories homepage.