A history of the gunpowder plot/Chapter 12

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[Faukes, T. Winter, Rookward, and Keyes were executed in this yard.]


OUT of the original number of thirteen, only eight of the conspirators survived to be committed for trial. These eight, namely, Thomas Winter, Guy Faukes, John Grant, Robert Winter, Ambrose Rookewood, Thomas Bates, Robert Keyes, and Digby, were arraigned at Westminster Hall, on January 27, 1606, before a Commission consisting of the Lord Chief Justice (Sir John Popham), the Lord Chief Baron (Sir Thomas Fleming), Sir Peter Warburton (a Judge), and the Earls of Salisbury, Northampton,[1] Nottingham, Suffolk, Worcester, and Devonshire. Sir Everard Digby was separately arraigned, and tried and sentenced immediately after the conclusion of the case against his friends. The Counsel for the Crown were Sir Edward Philips and Sir Edward Coke.

The prisoners were not represented by counsel. All of them, however, with the sole exception of Sir Everard Digby, pleaded 'Not Guilty.' This bold policy of refusing to plead 'Guilty' was apparently taken by them on account of the manner in which the indictment had been framed, the absent priests (Garnet, Greenway, and Gerard) all being mentioned by name as participators in the plot. When asked, therefore, 'why he pleaded Not Guilty'[2] Faukes only voiced the opinion of his confederates, when he replied, 'That he had done so in respect of certain conferences mentioned in the indictment, which he said that he knew not of: which were answered to have been set down according to course of law, as necessarily presupposed before the resolution of such a design.'

The trial from beginning to end was a mere farce. The prisoners, after having to listen to a very long, by no means truthful, and very violent speech from Sir Edward Coke, and having heard 'their several Examinations, Confessions, and voluntary Declarations, as well of themselves, as of some of their dead Confederates' read out, were merely asked, 'What they could say, wherefore Judgment of Death should not be pronounced against them?'[2] and the trial was virtually over, so far as the hearing of their case was concerned.

Thomas Winter, on being asked what he had to answer for himself, 'only desired that he might be hanged both for his brother and himself.'

Robert Keyes said, 'That his estate and fortune were desperate, and as good now as at another time, and for this cause rather than for another.'

Thomas Bates and Robert Winter 'craved mercy.' John Grant 'was a good while mute; yet after, submissively said, he was guilty of a conspiracy intended, but never effected.'

Ambrose Rookewood 'first excused his denial of the Indictment, for that he had rather lose his life than give it. Then did he acknowledge his offence to be so heinous, that he justly deserved the indignation of the King, and of the Lords, and the hatred of the whole commonwealth; yet could he not despair of mercy at the hands of a prince, so abounding in grace and mercy; and the rather, because his offence, though it were incapable of any excuse, yet not altogether incapable of some extenuation, in that he had been neither author, nor actor, but only persuaded and drawn in by Catesby, whom he loved above any worldly man: and that he had concealed it not for any malice to the person of the King, or to the State, or for any ambitious respect of his own, but only drawn with the tender respect, and the faithful and dear affection he bare to Mr. Catesby, his friend, whom he esteemed dearer than anything else in the world. And this mercy he desired not for any fear of the image of death, but for grief that so shameful a death should leave so perpetual a blemish and blot unto all ages, upon his name and blood. But, howsoever that this was his first offence, yet he humbly submitted himself to the mercy of the King; and prayed that the King would herein imitate God, who sometimes doth punish corporaliter, non mortaliter, "corporally, yet not mortally."'

' . . . Here also was reported Robert Winter's dream, which he had before the blasting with powder in Lyttleton's house, and which he himself confessed and first notified, viz. That he thought he saw steeples stand awry, and within those churches strange and unknown faces. And after, when the aforesaid blast had the day following scorched divers of his confederates, and much disfigured the faces and countenances of Grant, Rookewood, and others; then did Winter call to mind his dream, and to his remembrance thought, that the faces of his associates so scorched, resembled those which he had seen in the dream.'

Sir Everard Digby pleaded guilty, stating, inter alia, that his firm friend, Catesby, had introduced him to the conspirators, whom he had joined 'for the restoring of the Catholic religion in England.' He requested that all his property might be preserved for his wife and children, and that he might be beheaded, instead of hanged. The last request would,[3] in all probability, have been granted, had not Digby, most unfortunately for himself, made reference to the fact 'that promises were broken with the Catholics.' This was too open a criticism of the King's duplicity not to be understood by all in Court, and brought Cecil to his feet, who denied that James had ever committed himself so far as to promise toleration to the Roman Catholics.

The winter's afternoon was by now so far advanced that darkness had set in, and in that dimly lighted, sombre Court the jury quickly found all the accused men guilty, and the Lord Chief Justice passed sentence of death.[4]

'Upon the rising of the Court, Sir Everard Digby, bowing himself towards the Lords, said, "If I may but hear any of your Lordships say you forgive me, I shall go more cheerfully to the gallows." Whereunto the Lords said, "God forgive you, and we do."'[5]

The conspirators met their fate with courage, considering the terrible nature of their punishment. Tied to separate hurdles, they were dragged, lying bound on their backs, through the muddy streets to the place of execution, there to be first hanged, cut down alive, drawn, and then quartered.

Guy Faukes, weak and ill though he was, seems to have suffered the least, for he was dead by the time his body was taken down. Ambrose Rookewood lived until he reached the quartering-block. Keyes, breaking the rope, was probably killed by the knife; whilst Sir Everard Digby was in full possession of all his senses on being cut down, and even felt the pain of a bruise on the head when his body fell to the ground.

  1. Northampton was a Roman Catholic, although by no means a strict or devout member of that religion.
  2. 2.0 2.1 State Trials, vol. ii., edited by Cobbett.
  3. Aubrey (who calls Sir Everard 'the handsomest gentleman in England') states that 'King James restored his estate to his son and heir.'
  4. Hanging, drawing, and quartering.
  5. Anything more absolutely in accord with the traditional story of the Plot than the above confessions of Rookewood, Thomas Winter, and Digby it is difficult to conceive; yet, with almost incredible audacity, some Jesuit writers have had the hardihood to question whether there was a Plot at all.