1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Garnet, Henry
GARNET, or Garnett, HENRY (1555–1606), English Jesuit, son of Brian Garnett, a schoolmaster at Nottingham, was educated at Winchester and afterwards studied law in London. Having become a Roman Catholic, he went to Italy, joined the Society of Jesus in 1575, and acquired under Bellarmine and others a reputation for varied learning. In 1586 he joined the mission in England, becoming superior of the province on the imprisonment of William Weston in the following year. In the dispute between the Jesuits and the secular clergy known as the “Wisbech Stirs” (1595–1596) he zealously supported Weston in his resistance to any compromise with the civil government. His antagonism to the secular clergy was also shown later, when in 1603 he, with other Jesuits, was the means of betraying to the government the “Bye Plot,” contrived by William Watson, a secular priest. In 1598 he was professed of the four vows.
Garnet supervised the Jesuit mission for eighteen years with conspicuous success. His life was one of concealment and disguises; a price was put on his head; but he was fearless and indefatigable in carrying on his propaganda and in ministering to the scattered Catholics, even in their prisons. The result was that he gained many converts, while the number of Jesuits in England increased during his tenure of office from three to forty. It is, however, in connexion with the Gunpowder Plot that he is best remembered. His part in this, for which he suffered death, needs discussion in greater detail.
In 1602 Garnet received briefs from Pope Clement VIII. directing that no person unfavourable to the Catholic religion should be allowed to succeed to the throne. About the same time he was consulted by Catesby, Tresham and Winter, all afterwards involved in the Gunpowder Plot, on the subject of the mission to be sent to Spain to induce Philip III. to invade England. According to his own statement he disapproved, but he gave Winter a recommendation to Father Creswell, an influential person at Madrid. Moreover, in May 1605 he gave introductions to Guy Fawkes when he went to Flanders, and to Sir Edmund Baynham when he went to Rome (see Gunpowder Plot). The preparations for the plot had now been actively going forward since the beginning of 1604, and on the 9th of June 1605 Garnet was asked by Catesby whether it was lawful to enter upon any undertaking which should involve the destruction of the innocent together with the guilty, to which Garnet answered in the affirmative, giving as an illustration the fate of persons besieged in a town in time of war. Afterwards, feeling alarmed, according to his own accounts, he admonished Catesby against intending the death of “not only innocents but friends and necessary persons for a commonwealth,” and showed him a letter from the pope forbidding rebellion. According to Sir Everard Digby, however, Garnet, when asked the meaning of the brief, replied “that they were not (meaning the priests) to undertake or procure stirs, but yet they would not hinder any, neither was it the pope’s mind they should, that should be undertaken for Catholic good. . . . This answer, with Mr Catesby’s proceedings with him and me, gave me absolute belief that the matter in general was approved, though every particular was not known.” Both men were endeavouring to exculpate themselves, and therefore both statements are subject to suspicion. A few days later, according to Garnet, the Jesuit, Oswald Tesemond, known as Greenway, informed him of the whole plot “by way of confession,” when, as he declares, he expressed horror at the design and urged Greenway to do his utmost to prevent its execution. Subsequently, after his trial, Garnet said he “could not certainly affirm” that Greenway intended to relate the matter to him in confession.
Garnet’s conduct in now keeping the plot a secret has been a matter of considerable controversy not only between Roman Catholics and Protestants, but amongst Roman Catholic writers themselves. Father Martin del Rio, a Jesuit, writing in 1600, discusses the exact case of the revelation of a plot in confession. Almost all the learned doctors, he says, declare that the confessor may reveal it, but he adds, “the contrary opinion is the safer and better doctrine, and more consistent with religion and with the reverence due to the holy rite of confession.” According to Bellarmine, Garnet’s zealous friend and defender, “If the person confessing be concealed, it is lawful for a priest to break the seal of confession in order to avert a great calamity”; but he justifies Garnet’s silence by insisting that it was not lawful to disclose a treasonable secret to a heretical king. According to Garnet’s own opinion a priest cognizant of treason against the state “is bound to find all lawful means to discover it salvo sigillo confessionis.” In this connexion it is worth pointing out that Garnet had not thought it his duty to disclose the treasonable intrigue with the king of Spain in 1602, though there was no pretence in this case that he was restricted by the seal of confession, and his inactivity now tells greatly in his disfavour; for, allowing even that he was bound by confessional secrecy from taking action on Greenway’s information, he had still Catesby’s earlier revelations to act upon. He appears to have taken no steps whatever to prevent the crime, beyond writing to Rome in vague terms that “he feared some particular desperate courses,” which aroused no suspicions in that quarter. At the same time he wrote to Father Parsons on the 4th of September that “as far as he could now see the minds of the Catholics were quieted.”
His movements immediately prior to the attempt were certainly suspicious. In September, shortly before the expected meeting of parliament on the 3rd of October, Garnet organized a pilgrimage to St Winifred’s Well in Flintshire, which started from Gothurst (now Gayhurst), Sir Everard Digby’s house in Buckinghamshire, included Rokewood, and stopped at the houses of John Grant and Robert Winter, three others of the conspirators. During the pilgrimage Garnet asked for the prayers of the company “for some good success for the Catholic cause at the beginning of parliament.” After his return he went on the 29th of October to Coughton in Warwickshire, near which place it had been settled the conspirators were to assemble after the explosion. On the 6th of November, Bates, Catesby’s servant and one of the conspirators, brought him a letter with the news of the failure of the plot and desiring advice. On the 30th Garnet addressed a letter to the government in which he protested his innocence with the most solemn oaths, “as one who hopeth for everlasting salvation.”
It was not till the 4th of December, however, that Garnet and Greenway were, by the confession of Bates, implicated in the plot; and on the same day Garnet removed from Coughton to Hindlip Hall, near Worcester, a house furnished with cleverly-contrived hiding-places for the use of the proscribed priests. Here he remained some time in concealment in company with another priest, Oldcorne alias Hall, but at last on the 30th of January 1606, unable to bear the close confinement any longer, they surrendered and were taken up to London, being well treated during the journey by Salisbury’s express orders. He was examined by the council on the 13th of February and frequently questioned during the following days, but refused to incriminate himself, and a threat to inflict torture had no effect upon his resolution. Subsequently Garnet and Oldcorne having been placed in adjoining rooms and enabled to communicate with one another, their conversations were overheard on several separate occasions and considerable information obtained. Garnet at first denied all speech with Oldcorne, but subsequently on the 8th of March confessed his connexion with the plot. He was tried at the Guildhall on the 28th.
Garnet was clearly guilty of misprision of treason, i.e. of having concealed his knowledge of the crime, an offence which exposed him to perpetual imprisonment and forfeiture of his property; for the law of England took no account of religious scruples or professional etiquette when they permit the execution of a preventable crime. Strangely enough, however, the government passed over the incriminating conversation with Greenway, and relied entirely on the strong circumstantial evidence to support the charge of high treason against the prisoner. The trial was not conducted in a manner which would be permitted in more modern days. The rules of evidence which now govern the procedure in criminal cases did not then exist, and Garnet’s trial, like many others, was influenced by the political situation, the case against him being supported by general political accusations against the Jesuits as a body, and with evidence of their complicity in former plots against the government. The prisoner himself deeply prejudiced his cause by his numerous false statements, and still more by his adherence to the doctrine of equivocation. Garnet, it is true, claimed to limit the justification of equivocation to cases “of necessary defence from injustice and wrong or of the obtaining some good of great importance when there is no danger of harm to others,” and he could justify his conduct in lying to the council by their own conduct towards him, which included treacherous eavesdropping and fraud, and also threats of torture. Moreover, the attempt of the counsel for the crown to force the prisoner to incriminate himself was opposed to the whole spirit and tradition of the law of England. He was declared guilty, and it is probable, in spite of the irregularity and unjudicial character of his trial, that substantial justice was done by his conviction. His execution took place on the 3rd of May 1606, Garnet acknowledging himself justly condemned for his concealment of the plot, but maintaining to the last that he had never approved it. The king, who had shown him favour throughout and who had forbidden his being tortured, directed that he should be hanged till he was quite dead and that the usual frightful cruelties should be omitted.
Soon after his death the story of the miracle of “Garnet’s Straw” was circulated all over Europe, according to which a blood-stained straw from the scene of execution which came into the hands of one John Wilkinson, a young and fervent Roman Catholic, who was present, developed Garnet’s likeness. In consequence of the credence which the story obtained, Archbishop Bancroft was commissioned by the privy council to discover and punish the impostors. Garnet’s name was included in the list of the 353 Roman Catholic martyrs sent to Rome from England in 1880, and in the 2nd appendix of the Menology of England and Wales compiled by order of the cardinal archbishop and the bishops of the province of Westminster by R. Stanton in 1887, where he is styled “a martyr whose cause is deferred for future investigation.” The passage in Macbeth (Act II. Scene iii.) on equivocators no doubt refers especially to Garnet. His aliases were Farmer, Marchant, Whalley, Darcey Meaze, Phillips, Humphreys, Roberts, Fulgeham, Allen. Garnet was the author of a letter on the Martyrdom of Godfrey Maurice, alias John Jones, in Diego Yepres’s Historia particular de la persecucion de Inglaterra (1599); a Treatise of Schism, a MS. treatise in reply to A Protestant Dialogue between a Gentleman and a Physician; a translation of the Stemma Christi with supplements (1622); a treatise on the Rosary; a Treatise of Christian Renovation or Birth (1616).
Authorities.—Of the great number of works embodying the controversy on the question of Garnet’s guilt the following may be mentioned, in order of date: A True and Perfect Relation of the whole Proceedings against ... Garnet a Jesuit and his Confederates (1606, repr. 1679), the official account, but incomplete and inaccurate; Apologia pro Henrico Garneto (1610), by the Jesuit L’Heureux, under the pseudonym -Joannes, and Dr Robert Abbot’s reply, Antilogia versus Apologiam Eudaemon-Joannes, in which the whole subject is well treated; Henry More, Hist. Provinciae Anglicanae Societatis (1660); D. Jardine, Gunpowder Plot (1857); J. Morris, S.J., Condition of the Catholics under James I. (1872), containing Father Gerard’s narrative; J. H. Pollen, Father Henry Garnet and the Gunpowder Plot (1888); S. R. Gardiner, What Gunpowder Plot was (1897), in reply to John Gerard, S.J., What was the Gunpowder Plot? (1897); J. Gerard, Contributions towards a Life of Father Henry Garnet (1898). See also State Trials II., and Cal. of State Papers Dom., (1603–1610). The original documents are preserved in the Gunpowder Plot Book at the Record Office.