A history of the gunpowder plot/Chapter 3

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CHAPTER III
THOMAS WINTER AND JOHN WRIGHT

THOMAS WINTER was a Worcestershire gentleman of good family. He was a relative of several of his fellow-conspirators, namely Catesby, Tresham, Grant, and of course (his elder brother) Robert Winter.[1]

He was also a connection by marriage of Lord Mounteagle, to whom the famous letter, revealing the conspiracy, was addressed. He was, so Father Gerard boasts, 'a reasonable good scholar, and able to talk in many matters of learning, but especially in philosophy or histories very well and judicially. He could speak both Latin, Italian, Spanish, and French. He was of mean stature, but strong and comely, and very valiant. He was very devout, and zealous in his faith.'

If this account be true—and there is some reason to doubt it—Winter must have been the most accomplished and capable of all the conspirators, for he was also a soldier as well as a scholar. Born in 1572, he spent the greater part of the last decade of Elizabeth's reign on the Continent, in fighting first in the Netherlands, curiously enough, against Spain, that very power to which most of his friends at home looked for aid. Before the period of the Essex rebellion, however, he had changed his politics,[2] and we find him employed on a secret mission to Madrid, asking military aid from the Spanish King on behalf of the English Romanists, so soon as Elizabeth should die, or even beforehand. On this mission he seems to have been sent by the advice and direction of Lord Mounteagle and Father Garnet, after they and he had consulted with Tresham and Catesby. He was accompanied on his journey by Father Greenway, and on arriving at Madrid, placed his negotiations with the Spanish Government under the direction of Father Cresswell, S.J. On returning from this mission, he went across (in 1604) to Brussells, on a continuation of his errand, to visit the Constable of Castille, 'whose answer was,' according to Gerard, 'that he had strict command from his Majesty of Spain to all good offices for the Catholics; and for his own part, he thought himself bound in conscience so to do, and that no good occasion should be omitted. Thus much the Constable promised at that time. . . . But it is an easy matter to satisfy with hopes of future favours, when he that receives the promises shall not be present to see the performance'!

If Winter failed to obtain the aid sought, his second mission, at any rate, was not absolutely fruitless, for he brought back with him the famous Guy Faukes,[3] with whom he was soon after engaged in planning the great conspiracy.

John Wright, the next of the conspirators on our list, did not possess the remarkable abilities of Catesby and Winter, but he seems to have been well suited to the rough part he played, for he won Catesby's special approval 'for his valour and secrecy in carriage of any business' Born in December, 1567, Wright was the eldest son of a Yorkshire gentleman. He was a good swordsman, and very fond of using that weapon when a young man, being rude and quick-tempered, though slow of speech. According to Gerard, he became a Romanist about 1600-01, but it is far more likely that he had been received into the Church some five years or more before that date, for as far back as 1596 he had awakened the suspicions of the Government by his close friendship with Catesby. This latter fact is especially interesting, since it shows that the leaders among the conspirators had been practically kept under close supervision by the English Government for nine years before the fatal fifth of November, 1605. What chance of success, therefore, had a plot, under the direction of such men, escaping detection for any length of time?

Before closing this brief introduction to our account of this pair of conspirators, I may as well mention that, for the sake of simplicity, I have spelled the name 'Winter' as it is now generally written. Thomas Winter, however, seems almost invariably to have written his name 'Wintour,' as signed by him in letters (still extant) addressed to his confederate Grant, in January and February,[4]1605; in a letter written in the Tower, 1 November, 25, 1605; and in documents signed by him in the Tower,[4] in December-January, 1605-06. In his confession, preserved at Hatfield, dated November 25, 1605, he (suspiciously) signs himself 'Winter,' a point which has been the subject of much criticism and controversy. Into a close examination of this discrepancy I will not now enter, but I would take this opportunity of remarking that, judging by the almost illegible manner in which is written the date ' 25 * Qbor,'[5] in the Hatfield MS., it is not certain whether, in any event, the confession belongs to the date assigned to it.[6] His brother, and co-conspirator,
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wrote his name 'Wintour.' But too much stress must not be laid on this discrepancy in the spelling, when we consider the various forms used by some of Winter's most celebrated contemporaries. Shakespeare, for instance, wrote his name 'Shakspere' and 'Shakespeare'[7] and Sir Philip Sidney has left behind him letters wherein his name is signed by him in three different ways.

  1. Percy and the Wrights were relations, so that the plot was quite a family affair. Moreover, Catesby's son married one of Percy's daughters.
  2. And, I believe, his religion. He was a convert to Roman Catholicism.
  3. Guy Faukes, whose reputation as a soldier was well-known, was specially invited to England by Thomas Winter to join in 'a' conspiracy, the real nature of which was not revealed to him till after meeting Catesby. Winter may have been the first to propose hatching 'a' plot, but Catesby nevertheless was the first to invent the Gunpowder Treason.
  4. 4.0 4.1 These are preserved in the Record Office.
  5. In the copy made by Lord Salisbury's secretary, Munck, at the Record Office, the deed is dated November 23.
  6. Vide 'Thomas Winter's Confession,' by the Rev. John Gerard, S.J. (London, 1898).
  7. If not also 'Shakspeare.'