Guise and Dolls part 2 – Weighing Straw Mannequins

Straw Detectives

In the previous post, I outlined an alternative take on the infamous “Gunpowder Plot”. As I shall argue at a later stage, this event, like few others, reverberates through time to our present day in ways that have profoundly altered the fabric of society. In light of such a claim, and in keeping with the lofty title of this website, we are required to subject the case to a more Sherlockian analysis. In doing so we will also acquaint ourselves with the principles of deduction employed by the immortal detective.


As Maria Konnikova lays out in her “Mastermind: How To Think Like Sherlock Holmes”, solitude, in the sense of setting up an inner space and time in which one can separate mental noise from important observations and pertinent facts, is absolutely vital for solving difficult cases:

I knew that seclusion and solitude were very necessary for my friend in those hours of intense mental concentration during which he weighed every particle of evidence, constructed alternative theories, balanced one against the other, and made up his mind as to which points were essential and which immaterial.

Dr Watson – The Hound of the Baskervilles


These “particles” can be arranged into the more complex configurations that we call “bodies of evidence.

From the dictionary:

Evidence (noun) – the available body of facts or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is true or valid.


In emulating the methods of our Baker Street detective, I have first weighed and ordered as many of the “particles of evidence” as possible into bodies of facts or information, according to their relevance as I have perceived them to be in alignment with the viewpoint of the skeptical Jesuit historian John Gerard, and those that followed him.


“It will be enough to show that, whatever its origin, the conspiracy was, and must have been, known to those in power, who, playing with their infatuated dupes, allowed them to go on with their mad scheme, till the moment came to strike with full effect.”

John Gerard

What Was the Gunpowder Plot?


Gerard was writing in the 19th century and is not to be confused with his namesake, the priest who escaped England shortly after the Gunpowder Plot and who also expressed his doubts on the validity of the official narrative.


Rather than constructing alternative theories myself, I have used those put forward by Gerard’s opponents, first among them, Samuel Rawson Gardiner who wrote What Gunpowder Plot Was in an attempt to counter the arguments put forward by Gerard.

A later proponent of Gerard’s position is Francis Edwards who laid out his arguments in  The Enigma of the Gunpowder Plot 1605: The Third Solution.

Likewise, the later champion of the official narrative, Dr Mark Nicholls, author of Guy Fawkes’s biography in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, attempts to convince us (unconvincingly) that Gardiner long ago “demolished” the arguments that Gerard and other “conspiracy theorists” put forward.


Now let us address each “body of evidence” along with a weighing of each competing theory:


1: Cecil’s Web

“Plots have I laid, inductions dangerous, by drunken prophecies, libels and dreams” Shakespeare – Richard III


Placed first is the body of evidence relating to the activities of the secret state, forerunner to today’s MI6 and MI5, developed during the instability and violence of the Elizabethan era and through the reign of James I. The information garnered from the correspondence between the members of this sinister network of intelligence, available to us today, reveals a different narrative to the one we have been accustomed to. It shows us that the dwellers at the centre of the web, while projecting a veneer of ignorance, were aware of every perturbation. Far from being in a state of lethargy, they were in fact deploying their numerous agents, prying into the affairs of the Catholics and receiving constant information pertaining to their actions and intentions. The evidence can be taken a step further to show that they were also sedulously seeking pretexts to entangle as many as possible of those “great of name” and even regulating the features of a conspiracy of their own design to this end.

The Secretary of State, Robert Cecil, was the true heir to his father, William Cecil, and the infamous Francis Walsingham, whose web of espionage was thought to have numbered fifty-three spies and eighteen agents across foreign courts. From these two giants in their field, he had learned how to ply the threads of statesmanship, both overt and covert, from behind the throne. Accordingly, he was not a popular figure, with many enemies, but he was certainly feared. Extremely cunning, a master of stratagems and disguises, friends and foes alike compared him to Ulysses of many wiles.

One of his rivals, Sir Walter Raleigh, had been inveigled into the mysterious conspiracy inaugurating the reign of James I, known as the “Main”, and neutralised thus.

Another, the Earl of Northumberland, was dealt with in likewise fashion in consequence of the Gunpowder Plot.

He was of course, most dreaded by the Catholics, as an unremitting proponent of the penal laws imposed on the beleaguered followers of the old faith. He influenced the King against his better judgment, to renege on his promise to relieve them of their grievous persecution. This cruelty was intensified as all priests were ordered to leave the country and hunted down with increasing violence and frequency. People were hanged for helping or harbouring priests.

As one contemporary commented:


The times of Elizabeth, although most cruel, were the mildest and happiest in comparison with those of King James.”

Cecil’s spy network maintained its victims under perpetual surveillance, intercepted communications, infiltrated their ranks, bribed, blackmailed and threatened informers and made pre-emptive arrests.

On a deeper, yet more sinister level, they also forged messages, falsified evidence, employed agents provocateurs and engaged in entrapment.


“There are five kinds of spy: The local spy, the inside spy, the reverse spy, the dead spy, and the living spy. When the five kinds of spies are all active, no one knows their routes – this is called organizational genius and is valuable to the leadership.” Sun Tzu – The Art of War Chapter 13


Numerous examples attest to this modus operandi during the period of the Powder Plot.


“Local spies are hired from among the people of a locality.” Sun Tzu

Cecil had his agents in courts, ports, towns, prisons and suspect households.


“Inside spies are hired from among enemy officials.” Sun Tzu


In January 1604, Cecil replies to a letter from Sir Thomas Parry in Paris concerning an English Catholic under surveillance carrying coded messages to two Catholic priests. Cecil reveals that the proceedings of the priests are always known to him by means of false brethren”. Catholics who had been turned and sent back as double agents or Protestant agents pretending to have converted to Catholicism and infiltrating their inner circles.


“Living spies come back to report.” Sun Tzu


In 1604, April, a letter to Sir Thomas Challoner, one of Cecil’s officials, was written by intelligence operative Henry Wright, reporting on the sinister activities of one of his “discoverers” an agent named JosephDavies. He had infiltrated a Catholic treason with the specific mission objective of incriminating priests. Within his notes he had marked over sixty individuals but was expressly told by Wright that twenty would suffice to be implicated, provided they be “most principal Jesuits and seminary priests“. He selected thirteen or fourteen names, of whom five had been sworn to secrecy, but declined to reveal them and their conspiracy until he had received a sealed pardon as assurance that he would not himself be sacrificed to the state’s machinations along with the unwitting victims.As there were no conspiracies other than the Gunpowder Plot afoot during this specific period of time, the balance of evidence suggests that this was the very treason that Davies promised to reveal, the same that was “miraculously discovered a year and a half later”. Further evidence strongly reinforces this inference.


In 1606, March, Henry Wright, Davies’ handler, applied for reward on account of his services “in discovering villainous practices. At a later date, a memorial was presented to the King on his behalf, entitled:


Touching Wright and his services performed in the damnable plot of the Powder treason.”

King James was reminded of Chief Justice Popham and Sir Thomas Challoner’s role in the discovery of the Powder, by means of information supplied by Wright, “for two years space almost” before the official “discovery”.

The intelligence operative, Wright, had clearly been supplying information pertinent to the Gunpowder Plot well before Monteagle’s letter and the night of November 4th.

Back in April, 1604, another informer, Ralph Ratcliffe, detailed particulars of a design amongst the Catholics both at home and abroad. However, the greater part of this information has been shown to be false, an example of the “sophistications“, that Cecil complained that his agents tended to mingle with their valid intelligence. The purpose, as usual, of these “sophistications” seems to have been to implicate members of the Catholic clergy. This document takes on singular importance when it is quoted in April 1606 for Parliament by the Attorney General, Sir E. Coke. He uses it as evidence justifying the conviction of several persons accused of complicity in the Gunpowder plot.


As Gerard puts it:


It thus affords a proof, on the authority of the government itself, that eighteen months before the conspiracy was “discovered,” intelligence regarding it had been received and was being attended to.”


On the 9th of October 1605, Sir Thomas Edmondes writing from Brussels warned Cecil of suspicious activities in the Low Countries. The next day Cecil replied expressing his apprehensions of trouble from the Jesuits abroad. Also on this same day Sir Thomas Parry wrote from Paris to Cecil of a petition which the Catholics were preparing against the meeting of Parliament, “and some further designs upon refusal;” and in another letter warned Edmondes:


Somewhat is at present in hand amongst these desperate hypocrites, which I trust God shall divert, by the vigilant care of his Majesty’s faithful servants and friends abroad, and prudence of his council at home.”


Cecil assured Sir Thomas Parry that the State was well aware of all the goings on of the Catholics by means of his network of spies. In early October of the same year, another agent, William Willaston wrote to Cecil from Paris, concerning a Catholic design via friends in England “to kindle a fire in many corners of our land, and a rebellion in Ireland,” and that “these matters be almost grown to a head,” and “there is a particular irreconcilable desperate malice against your Honour’s person.”

Later, on October 14th, Willaston writes again, this time from Rouen, referring to an infiltration agent, George Southwaick who will have his “comrades” arrested in England upon landing. Willaston points out that Southwaick must be taken along with the others so as not to arouse suspicions, “until such time as shall be thought fit to deliver him”. Willaston also suggests that the secretary of the Pope in Paris is a useful source of information, an inside spy and speaks of an intended rebellion in England, and the kindling of a fire there, and concludes “God grant they touch not the person of the King nor of his children.”

Nine days before the “discovery,” on the 27th of October, Southwaick writes in person to Cecil urging the deferment of the arrest of priests and alleged conspirators for better effect. He also warns of preparations for trouble in the shires, in connection with “their plot.” Finally, he promises to furnish the intelligence concerning the purpose of the plotters, the time and place of their meeting in London and the names of forty priests, “with many great of name” to be apprehended at mass.

In this busy month we also have a curious note written by an anonymous author giving information of a murderous and treasonous plot, in a similar style to Monteagle’s letter, simulating in an all too obvious fashion, the work of an illiterate, and equally obviously, insinuating the approval of the Catholic clergy.

On the morning of the 5th of November itself, Southwaick writes to Levinus Munck, Cecil’s private secretary. He apologizes that he had not been able to communicate earlier without risking his cover and then reports on the obscure meetings, mutable purposes and uncertain resolutions of his “comrades” compelling him to ride day and night to report to his handlers. He begs his masters not to allow his identity to be disclosed to his victims.

On the 10th November, 5 days later, Southwaick again writes to Munck informing him of the priests who have had meetings in Paris or who had been written to in England. He claims that the French Ambassador will confirm that he (Southwaick) had informed his handlers two months previously that there had been a plot brewing. He also requests that should he be apprehended that he can rely upon his Lord, Cecil.

Ironic then, that in 1606, out of favour, he is warned by Cecil to leave the country. “I hold him” says Cecil, “to be a very impostor.”


“Reverse spies are hired from among enemy spies.” Sun Tzu


Many agents under Cecil and his predecessors had been bankrupts, debtors and convicts, forced to offer their services as stool pigeons. Often, they were caught and sent back to spy for the opposing side. As testified by Cecil himself, the loyalties of these compulsive side-changers, these duplicitous double-agents were blurred, even to themselves. We can of course arrive at the same conclusions as to Cecil’s own motivations along with those of the upper echelons of the secret state.

As a potential example of Cecil’s own “sophistications” there is a remarkable letter written to Sir Everard Digby, on June 11th, 1605. It refers to an otter hunt to be undertaken when the hay shall be cut”. It is difficult to see how this could be linked to the Gunpowder plot, but the letter is indeed endorsed by Cecil himself as:


Letter written to Sir Everard Digby—Powder Treason.”


One could speculate that “the hay shall be cut” is code for the blowing up of Parliament and the “otter hunt” for the uprising in the Midlands, the conspirators having allegedly agreed to muster their forces under the pretext of a hunt. It is curious however, that this letter is dated three months prior to the initiation of Digby in the plot according to the official narrative in September, 1605.


Digby himself was to later warn Cecil:

“If your Lordship and the State think fit to deal severely with the Catholics, within brief space there will be massacres, rebellions, and desperate attempts against the King and the State.”

It is commonly assumed that this undated letter was penned after the Gunpowder Plot had failed, and Digby had been arrested. However, the tone of the letter appears inconsistent with one who has been branded a traitor, captured and imprisoned. Digby writes of the intent he has to establish the King in safety, hardly an expected line from a would-be king-slayer. The letter is also sealed with his coat-of-arms, hardly to be expected from an incarcerated convict. Gerard accordingly dates the letter between May and September 1605, well before Digby had been entangled in the conspiracy by Catesby.


Doomed Knaves


“Dead spies transmit false intelligence to enemy spies.”


We are now in a position take a closer look at the pawns in this deadly game of chess.

First, let us keep in mind Lord Castlemaine’s remarks:


Loose people may usually be drawn into a plot when statesmen lay gins, and that it was no hard thing for a Secretary of State, should he desire any such thing, to know of turbulent and ambitious spirits to be his unconscious instruments


In such times it was inevitable that recourse to violence was considered the natural response of those who had no power. Numerous individuals on both sides were ready at any moment to risk everything for their cause.

It may come as a surprise to discover that the “loose” nature of the plotters was well known as far back as 1596 when, eight years before the commencement of the Plot and Queen Elizabeth had fallen ill, Catesby, the two Wrights, and Tresham were all arrested on the orders of the Lords of the Council.

Along with these aforementioned gentlemen, Winter, Percy, and Grant had also been engaged in the ill-fated rebellion of Essex in 1601, the intent of which had been to force the Queen to change the leaders in her government, particularly Robert Cecil. During the rebellion Catesby was wounded, and both he and Tresham came perilously close to being hanged. In fact, whilst others were executed, they were merely fined. What conditions attended this uncommon leniency one wonders?


Catesby and Tresham were also named by Sir Edward Coke as being involved with Watson in the Bye plot of 1603. Winter, Wright, and Fawkes, had allegedly been sent to Spain on treasonable embassies.


While it is evident that such gentlemen would continue to be agitated under the yet-harsher treatment meted out by Cecil under James I, it is also evident that not only would they have been under tighter surveillance, but that a significant portion of them would have fitted neatly into the categories of bankrupts, debtors and convicts, forced to offer their services as stool pigeons to the state“Dead Spies.”


Just as Cecil had his “Judas priests” amongst the Catholics, it is evident that he also had several “decoy-ducks” amongst the plotters to lure the unwitting dupes to their destruction. Certainly, we can count Catesby and Tresham as playing key roles in this regard. Both had already been arrested several years before taking part in the Essex rebellion and being saved from the noose in the last minute, then involving themselves in the Bye plot and, remarkably, walking away from that conspiracy also. It beggars all belief that the secret state would be allowing them to go about their business unobserved or to have no guiding hand in such.

Catesby is depicted by the official narrative as being blinded by fanaticism, of misguided but honest intent. There is evidence that this picture of his character is a false one. On numerous occasions it is clear that he had employed deception to inveigle his friends into his senseless schemes.

Most notable is the testimony of Father Garnet:

I doubt not that Mr. Catesby hath feigned many such things for to induce others.”

Another intercepted letter of Garnet’s reveals that Catesby had circulated a slander against Garnet himself, whilst pretending to be his devoted friend and disciple.

Catesby “did me much wrong, and hath confessed that he told them he asked me a question in Q. Elizabeth’s time of the powder action, and that I said it was lawful. All which is most untrue. He did it to draw in others.

It was claimed by an anonymous contemporary at the time that Catesby’s servant, George Bartlet, confessed on his death-bed that his master frequently visited Cecil’s house, several nights before the discovery and was always taken in privately through the back entrance.

It is the thirteenth conspirator, Tresham, that is commonly suspected of writing the letter to Lord Monteagle. However, as we shall see, this is by no means certain. Francis Tresham’s father, Sir Thomas Tresham, had been one of James’s loyal supporters during the uncertain succession and publicly proclaimed the new king at great risk to himself. Indeed, Francis himself, along with his brother Lewis and his brother-in-law, Lord Monteagle, had supported the Earl of Southhampton in holding the Tower of London on the King’s behalf.

Tis passing strange, that this stalwart supporter of King James should be involved so deeply in the Bye and Powder plots…


When the “discovery” took place, Tresham did not flee along with the other conspirators but remained in London, not hiding but showing himself openly on the streets and even presenting himself to the council and offering his services. Others would also accuse him of secretly conversing with Cecil in the Secretary’s house at midnight along with an unspecified other during the period preceding the Powder Plot. Importantly, despite being officially known to the government by at least November 7th, he was not proclaimed as one of the conspirators, only being taken into custody on November 12th. During his confinement he was induced to incriminate Father Garnet, one of Cecil’s key targets, by making a statement that Garnet had written a letter to further the Spanish Treason in 1602. Curiously, he died whilst confined in the Tower, on December 23rd of a strange illness. In an act of exceptional generosity he had been allowed to be attended by his wife and a confidential servant during this illness, throughout which, he and his friends had declared that, should he survive his malady, “they feared not the course of justice.” Where did such confidence arise?

It is unsurprising that the enemies of the government at the time attributed his death to poison.

Dead spies tell no tales…

But what tale? Perhaps it was the conscience-stricken retraction of his statement regarding Garnet, dictated to his servant, William Vavasour, as his illness worsened and he lay at death’s door. He declared upon his salvation that he had not seen Garnet “in sixteen years before,” which would seem to absolve the priest of any connection with both the Spanish Treason and the Powder Plot. Tresham then signed the statement and asked his wife to deliver it personally to Cecil.

He was dead three hours later.


The very fact that Tresham entrusted this letter to Cecil, who was desperate to link Garnet and other leading priests to the Powder Plot, indicates that he was unaware of the depths the Secretary had already sunk to in his efforts to entrap his enemies.

However, the prize for the most blatant “decoy-duck” belongs to Thomas Percy, who had been a Protestant right up until his part in Lord Essex’s rebellion and subsequently lifted from the gallows. It was Percy who had transacted the hiring of the house and the “cellar.” To accomplish this, he had called on the influence of his powerful Protestant friends, among them Dudley Carleton, Mr Epsley and other gentlemen attending the Earl of Northumberland, in order to obtain the lease. Carleton was secretary to Sir Thomas Parry, the French Ambassador and was “patronized” by Cecil.

Percy moved in rarefied circles, frequently attending court as one of the King’s pensioners. He was even seen coming out of Cecil’s house in the dead of night on several occasions during the progress of the plot, according to the eminent lawyer Sir Francis Moore. Later referred to by James I himself as “a tame duck employed to catch wild ones,” he would seem here to have gone out of his way to attract as much attention to himself as possible in his actions.

More to the point, the State seems to have gone out of its way to facilitate what was represented as a covert infiltration into its very heart.

It is again curious that Percy and Catesby, always presented as the leaders of the plot, were despatched together with one bullet in the attack on Holbeche house. Curious because the rebels had no firearms and were defenceless. They emerged back to back with their hands forming the cross which may have been a signal to the government soldiers to spare their agents. It seems that no such mercy was granted by their spymaster, their silence being of more import to his agenda.

Sir Edward Hoby, writing to Edmondes, the Ambassador at Brussels voiced his suspicion that


Percy is dead: who it is thought by some particular men could have said more than any other.”


As expressed by Lord Castlemaine:

The game being secured, to hang the spaniel which caught it, that its master’s art might not appear.

Such was the fate of those ensnared so deeply in the web of deception – “Dead Spies.”

The next body of evidence in the weighing centres around Lord Monteagle, the only surviving and well-rewarded knave, and the feigned discovery of the plot by means of the mysterious letter.


2. Letter to Lord Eagle

On October 26, ten days before the fatal fifth, Lord Monteagle arrives in his house on the very day the warning letter is sent, having been absent for a year. The letter is delivered by a mysterious man in the street to Monteagle’s page and thence to his dining table.

The question must be asked and was asked at the time, as to how this personage could have known when and where the Lord would have been at the time of delivery. The inference being that the arrival of the letter was pre-planned and expected.

Monteagle, after a cursory glance, has a servant, Thomas Ward, a known friend of several of the conspirators, read it aloud in front of the household before he himself has subjected it to a sustained perusal.


“My lord out of the love i beare to some of youere frends i have a caer of youer preseruacion therfor i would advyse yowe as yowe tender youer lyf to devys some excuse to shift of youer attendance at this parleament for god and man hath concurred to punishe the wickednes of this tyme and think not slightlye of this advertisment but retyre youre self into youre contri wheare yowe may expect the event in safti for thowghe theare be no apparence of anni stir yet i saye they shall receyve a terrible blowe this parleament and yet they shall not seie who hurts them this cowncel is not to be contemned because it maye do yowe good and can do yowe no harme for the dangere is passed as soon as yowe have burnt the letter and i hope god will give yowe the grace to mak good use of it to whose holy proteccion i comend yowe”

(Addressed) to the ryht honorable the lord mouteagle


In the 20th century, Joan Cambridge, a leading expert on handwriting was called in to examine the letter sent to Lord Monteagle. She concluded that it was extremely unlikely to have been written by the usual suspects, Tresham or Father Garnett but she was 70% sure it was written by Robert Cecil, the Secretary of State, himself:


Did Cecil write it? Probably he did. It is a 70 per cent probability. I can’t go further than that because there are special factors of the ink and paper having aged. But I’m reasonably satisfied in my own mind that he did.” Joan Cambridge

Guy Fawkes: Was there a Gunpowder Plot?


Gardiner does not address the claim that the letter was written by Cecil, nor that it was extremely unlikely to have been written by the usual suspects Tresham or Garnett. This is because Joan Cambridge had not been born when he wrote his book.


Nicholls, seemingly unaware of Cambridge’s claims, can make no such excuse. He states that Tresham almost certainly wrote the letter. This according to him is due to the fact that Catesby and Winter suspected Tresham, threatening to hang him, but were eventually convinced by his protestations of innocence. They were not convinced by his urgings to escape to France and offerings of money for such a purpose, however, and pressed on with their hare-brained scheme. Not even the planned date was altered.

This argument loses its force when we view Catesby and Winter as double-agents, who, perhaps along with Tresham, acted out this little play in order to keep the dupes of the conspiracy in a state of unsuspecting ignorance.

Or perhaps Tresham really was having second thoughts. Certainly, he claimed he was against the plot from the outset after it having been revealed to him only after he had been sworn in by his first cousin, Catesby.

In an attempt to counter the argument that Cecil prearranged this “convenient scene” with Monteagle, Gardiner puts forward the view of David Jardine in his “A Narrative of the Gunpowder Plot,” written in 1857. This view holds that Monteagle arranged with Tresham to stop the plot but allow the escape of their guilty friends. Indeed Ward warned them the next morning that they had been compromised. Gardiner argues that this would render the notion that Cecil was involved, untenable. His reasoning for this is that, in his view, it is unlikely that Cecil would rely on merely an obscure letter and no other contrived evidence to convince the world that this partly or totally imagined plot was genuine.

However, this is a Strawman argument:


“A straw man is a common form of argument and is an informal fallacy based on giving the impression of refuting an opponent’s argument, while actually refuting an argument that was not presented by that opponent. One who engages in this fallacy is said to be “attacking a straw man.”

Straw man – Wikipedia

By no means does Gerard suggest that this plot must have been entirely in Cecil’s mind nor does he rely only on this letter as we have seen in the correspondence between the Secret State.


“It will be enough to show that, whatever its origin, the conspiracy was, and must have been, known to those in power, who, playing with their infatuated dupes, allowed them to go on with their mad scheme, till the moment came to strike with full effect.”John Gerard


The evidence provided by the handwriting expert Joan Cambridge, that this letter cannot have been written by Tresham, but was most likely written by Cecil himself, combined with the obviously contrived scene at Monteagle’s house suggests rather that both Cecil and Monteagle, at least, were in collusion. Monteagle perhaps, hoped merely to foil the plot itself and to allow his friends to escape. However, the conspirators, led by Catesby, curiously decided to go ahead anyway with their compromised plot.


Whilst eliminating Tresham and Garnett as writers of the letter, there does remain that 30 percent chance that someone other than Cecil penned it. That someone may have been Tresham’s manservant, William Vavasour. Vavasour was the servant allowed along with Tresham’s wife into the Tower to attend him throughout his illness. Again, this is something that was never allowed to a real prisoner under sentence of death. As Tresham’s condition worsened he dictated a letter for Vavasour to write to Cecil. In it he retracted a statement that he had been induced to make about Father Garnet. He died three hours later on December 23rd 1605.

The dying statement caused such a furore on the part of the government that the writing was inquired into. Vavasour, in fear, then wrote an untrue statement, witnessed by the Lieutenant of the Tower, that Mrs Tresham was the writer of the dying statement. She repudiated this and claimed that Vavasour had written it. After examination in the Tower by Chief Justice Popham and Attorney-General Coke, he confessed that he had indeed written the letter but had denied it “for fear”. Fear of what? Perhaps of displeasing Cecil or perhaps something more.

As it turned out, Vavasour had written the statement of denial in a disguised hand in an attempt to distinguish it from his writing in Tresham’s dying statement. Now this disguised hand was found to match very well with the hand of the anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle. It could well be that his proficiency in disguising his hand was recognised by Tresham and so he was employed in writing that fateful letter. And so, though Tresham may not have written the letter, he may have been responsible after all.

Regardless, it is clear that both Monteagle and Cecil were well aware and most likely arranged together the comedy of the “discovery”. Cecil appeared to have been much perturbed at Tresham’s retraction and said so at Garnet’s trial:

Mr. Tresham in his lifetime accused you, Garnet, before the lords, yet now upon his salvation, he under his hand did excuse you, being at the very point of death, saying he had not seen you in sixteen years, which matter, I assure you, before you were taken shook me very much. But, thanks be to God, since the coming of the King, I have known so much of your doctrine and practices, that hereafter they shall not much trouble me.”

THE IDENTIFICATION OF THE WRITER OF THE ANONYMOUS LETTER TO LORD MONTEAGLE IN 1605


The question arises as to why Cecil did not simply destroy Tresham’s letter of retraction, as willing as he was to incriminate Garnet, however falsely. I suggest the answer may lie with the mystery surrounding Vavasour’s denial of having taken down the statement and attributing it to Mrs Tresham. Is it not possible that both Vavasour and Mrs Tresham wrote down the statement so that there were two? Perhaps Tresham did not trust Cecil after all and rightly so. His wife would thus pass one of the letters onto Cecil and keep the other. It could have transpired that Vavasour was under the impression that Mrs Tresham had delivered the letter in her own handwriting and kept the one in his. After her repudiation, and his attempt at disguising his writing he may have understood that it was the other way around. If Cecil suspected that Mrs Tresham possibly had another copy of the letter, then this would explain his careful admission of Tresham’s retraction during the public trial of Garnet. In fact, Cecil claimed that she had not only written but composed her husband’s dying statement and induced him to sign it to save Garnet. He declined to see her when she attempted to deliver it and so she was forced to pass it on via Sir Walter Cope, and to own that Vavasour had written it. Under our theory, we can suppose that the original plan was indeed to pass her version of the two letters on but was forced to use Vavasour’s when she learned of Cecil’s suspicion. We could further speculate that further evidence incriminating Cecil was passed onto Mrs Tresham and Vavasour and signed by Tresham before his death. This may go some way to explain why Tresham’s family received his inheritance and remained untouched whilst Catesby’s did not. It may also explain why Vavasour went free whilst other serving-men were tried and executed under Cecil’s vengeful zeal.

And let us not forget Monteagle himself, who along with a generous grant for life, was showered with affected praise and gratitude:


“Lastly, and this you must not omit, you must deliver, in commendation of my Lord Mounteagle, words to show how sincerely he dealt, and how fortunately it proved that he was the instrument of so great a blessing, … because it is so lewdly given out that he was once of this plot of powder, and afterwards betrayed it all to me.”—Cecil to Coke.

Lewd perhaps, but most likely true nonetheless.

Monteagle was brother-in-law to Tresham and was on the most intimate terms with Catesby and the other conspirators, having taken part in the Essex rebellion and the Spanish negotiations. There is still preserved a letter of his to Catesby, which in the opinion of some reveals his engagement with the Powder Plot itself. All the while, he enjoyed high favour at court, having written a fawning letter to the King where he extols the Protestant religion and condemns his own, expressing the fervent desire to convert.

He remained a Catholic to his death.

The next body of evidence concerns the the curious behaviour on the part of the government upon reception of the Eagle’s letter.

3. Nonepowder


Monteagle gives the letter to Cecil the very next day after receiving it, on the 27th October.

On the 1st November, Cecil shows the letter to the King who is allowed to fancy that he is the first to apprehend its meaning.

Cecil does not order the search at the House of Lords until the 4th November, the eve of the plot.

Why did Cecil wait eight days,despite knowing when the attack was intended to take place?


“Therefore, I would advise you, as you tender your life, to devise some excuse to shift of your attendance of this Parliament, for God and man hath concurred to punish the wickedness of this time.”


Gardiner argues that Cecil wished to capture the plotters in the act and did not wish to frighten them into flight by making premature inquiries.

Nicholls also argues that the 8 days may have been needed to investigate the letter, protect the king, and find evidence of treason.

Still, it must strain the credulity of even the most ardent coincidence theorists that the suspected presence of powder under Parliament endured for several days before anything at all was done to interfere with the plotters’ proceedings.

Cecil’s justifications seem rather absurd.

To the ambassadors: “that, till the night before, nothing should be done to interrupt any purpose of theirs that had any such devilish practice, but rather to suffer them to go on to the end of their day.”


To the Privy Council: “…such as had such practice in hand might not be scared before they had let the matter run on to a full ripeness for discovery.”


Keep in mind now, we are expected to believe without batting an eyelid that a minister, famed for his shrewdness, is allowing a decidedly sinister-looking desperado to knock about for several days with flint and steel and lantern amidst a powder magazine of epic proportions directly under the centre of state.

What if an accident, proverbially possible, were to occur? Several accidents had occurred in London previously, one destroying four houses from the chance ignition of two barrels. There was always the very real risk of gunpowder detonating instantly and unexpectedly. A simple spark could have ignited the magazine. One moment of mishap…
Accidental explosions: gunpowder in Tudor and Stuart London

No naked flames were allowed near gunpowder which explains Fawkes’ use of a lantern but workers were also prohibited from carrying any metal objects and wore felt slippers in case the nails in their boots should strike a spark. Fawkes was said to have had his spurred boots on ready for flight. The barrels were also bound with rope rather than iron hoops for this reason.

This also would have made the barrels more conspicuous…

Also the question arises as to why, if the knaves are not to be interrupted until the night before, is the Lord Chamberlain sent in to peruse the vault on the afternoon of the 4th of November, discovering Guy Fawkes in his role of servant “John Johnson” looking unconcerned?

Surely the safest bet of the conspirators having been startled thus would be to light the fuse prematurely and precipitate the catastrophe, making their escape amidst the confusion and turmoil.

But no, that evening the guards return, and this time discover the barrels of Gunpowder and apprehend Fawkes, who has failed to make himself absent following the initial search.

Parliament even goes ahead the next day after the knave is apprehended.

While Gardiner’s and Nicholl’s counter-arguments lack substance, Gerard’s hypothesis that Cecil was in control of the plot from the start fits better with this apparent willingness to allow all the heads of state to be placed under such risk, if in fact, they were not really under any such risk at all.


It must follow then that the powder itself posed no threat. Indeed, the plotters themselves seemed to have added to their store according to Winter’s account:

as suspecting the former to be dank.”


It would further seem that the latter supply was also of no threat, in Cecil’s mind at least, as after the discovery, the peers met in the same chamber that very day of the 5th November.


Remarkably, though an obsessively thorough and minute investigation was immediately launched by the government upon the official discovery, one is struck by a gunpowder barrel-shaped hole.


Copious evidence was compiled of the plotters’ movements, lodgings, associates, porters, carpenters, boatmen, swordhilts engraved, hats purchased and, curiously, the iron bars laid atop the barrels to maximise their destructive capacity but nothing concerning the gunpowder itself. No question asked as to where it came from or who supplied the central component of the conspiracy itself, as its very name would suggest.

We must infer that such silence speaks volumes, that such questions were not to be raised.


At the time of Gerard, no mention could be found of a substantial augmentation of the Crown supply in 1605.


However, the historian Lady Antonia Fraser, author of ”Faith and Treason: The Story of the Gunpowder Plot,” discovered that the gunpowder was indeed taken to the Tower of London. The Ordnance records that seem to have been unavailable during Gerard’s time, revealed that 18 hundredweight (0.914 tonnes) was received in a decayed state making it unsuitable for reissuing or recycling.

Now “decayed” could mean two possibilities:


1. Gunpowder left to sit too long separates into its chemical components rendering it harmless.


2. Damp gunpowder, having absorbed moisture over time from the humid atmosphere of the cellar, clumps together rendering it unfit for use in firearms but not, apparently, greatly affecting its explosive capacity.


We can ascertain which of these possibilities was the correct one by taking a closer look at the actual Ordnance record:


“From the Parliament Howse Septimo die Novembris 1605 anno Regni Regis Jacobi tertio Receaved into his Majesty’s Store within The office of The ordenaunce from out of the vault undernethe the Parliament howse Come powder xviii hundred weight decaied which was there laide and placed for the blowing up of the said howse and destruction of the kings Majestie, the nobilitie and Commonalitie there assembled. Receaved as aforesaid Corne powder decaied: xviii hundred weight.”The Debenture Book (WO49)

The bottom line offers us the clue:


Receaved as aforesaid Corne powder decaied: xviii hundred weight.


“Corned” powder was developed from the 15th century onwards as a means to prevent the separation into the three components as the earlier “serpentine” powder was wont to do over time.


However, “corned” powder was vulnerable to the second form of decay – damp, leading to it being perceived as unusable.


It was established during an ITV program in 2005 that damp gunpowder did indeed have much the same explosive potential:


The Gunpowder Plot – Exploding the Legend


Gerard does seem to have been in error in believing that each barrel of gunpowder contained 400 pounds when in reality it contained 100 pounds. With 36 barrels making a total of 3600 pounds, that is 1.5 tonnes rather than 4 tonnes which Gerard based on Barlow’s Gunpowder Treason.

The amount received at the Tower was 0.914 tonnes, about two-thirds this amount, and one-sixth the amount that Gerard assumed. The task of carrying, storing and concealing the barrels would have thus been easier than he surmised, although the fact that they were bound with rope, wood or copper rather than iron hoops (in case of sparks) would have made them more conspicuous than ordinary barrels.

Cecil however, writing to the ambassadors, claimed there were “two hodgsheads and some 30 small barrels.” The huge hogshead would, conservatively, have weighed around 1000 pounds. This would have brought the total to 5000 pounds or 2.27 tonnes. The two hogsheads would undoubtedly have posed a problem to the conspirators.

The ITV program referred to above clearly established by re-enacting the explosion that even the smaller amount of 0.914 tonnes would have killed all in the House of Lords. In fact, no one within a hundred-metre radius would have survived the blast.

It is likely that even dampened gunpowder, amplified by the effect of the build-up of pressure in the barrels from the hot gases, would have had similar explosive potential.
The explosive experts at the time, including Fawkes, would have been unaware of this however, which explains why he claimed to have gone along with Digby’s insistence on replenishing the supply when he imagined that damp may have set in to the original.

Likewise, if Cecil had orchestrated a set-up by arranging for decayed (dampened) gunpowder to have been used, he would also have been unaware of the actual danger posed which may account for his apparent complacency.


England was a police state and the manufacture of gunpowder was under Crown control, a monopoly, and stored in the Tower of London. Powder could have been smuggled over from abroad, however.

Indeed, Dr Nicholls argues that almost every gentleman in early 17th-Century Britain would have had a stock of gunpowder, dismissing the notion that only the State possessed powder in such quantities.


Were we to accept this argument, we would still be presented with the now-magnified difficulty of Cecil’s complete lack of concern regarding the security of the peers of State who, after the discovery, went ahead with their gathering above the powder chamber. If “almost every gentleman in early 17th-Century Britain would have had a stock of gunpowder” would there not have been the very real threat of more barrels having been concealed elsewhere about the buildings around Parliament?

Indeed, for over seventy years after these events, the infamous “cellar” continued to be leased to anyone who wished to hire it, still stocked full of a miscellaneous assortment of lumber, ideally suited to concealing yet more gunpowder, that “almost every gentleman in early 17th-Century Britain would have had a stock of.” It was only after these seventy years that the idea occurred to check beneath Parliament before each opening, now instituted as a ceremony.


The only real reason that seems to account for Cecil’s supreme confidence is that he was completely in control of the plot from start to finish. We may even postulate that Guy Fawkes himself was acting as inside man which would explain his reluctance to abandon the cellar after he was initially discovered.

4. Crime Scene

We turn our attention now to the ultimate locale of the conspiracy, situated next to and under the centre of state.

Index. Parliament Houses in the time of James I.
a. The House of Lords.b. Chamber under the House of Lords, called “Guy Faukes’ Cellar.”c. The Prince’s Chamber.d. The Painted Chamber.e. The “White Hall” or Court of Requests.f. The House of Commons (formerly St. Stephen’s Chapel).g. Westminster Hall.h. St. Stephen’s Cloisters, converted into houses for the Tellers of the Exchequer.i. Garden of the Old Palace (afterwards called “Cotton Garden”).j. House built on the site of the Chapel of “Our Lady of the Pew” (called later “Cotton House”).k. Houses built upon ruins of the walls of the Old Palace.l. Vault under the Painted Chamber.m. Yard or Court into which a doorway opened from Guy Faukes’ Cellar.n. Passage leading from the same Yard or Court into Parliament Place.o. Parliament Place.p. Parliament Stairs (formerly called “The Queen’s Bridge”).q. The River Thames.r. Old Palace Yard.s. Westminster Abbey.t. St. Margaret’s Church.u v w. Buildings of the Old Palace, called “Heaven” (or “Paradise”), “Hell,” and “Purgatory.”x. New Palace Yard.y. Bell Tower of St. Stephen’s.z. The Speaker’s Garden.

By means of his own excellent deductive reasoning, Gerard places the house rented by Percy near the south-east corner of the old House of Lords on the river side:


“That the lodging hired by Percy stood near the south-east corner of the old House of Lords (i.e. nearer to the river than that building, and adjacent to, if not adjoining, the Prince’s Chamber) is shown by the following arguments.

1. John Shepherd, servant to Whynniard, gave evidence as to having on a certain occasion seen from the river “a boat lye cloase to the pale of Sir Thomas Parreys garden, and men going to and from the water [Pg 252]through the back door that leadeth into Mr. Percy his lodging.” [Gunpowder Plot Book, 40, part 2.]

2. Faukes, in his examination of November 5th, 1605, speaks of “the windowe in his chamber neere the parliament house towards the water side.”

3. It is said that when digging their mine, the conspirators were troubled by the influx of water from the river, which would be impossible if they were working at the opposite side of the Parliament House.”

Gardiner accepts this but takes it a step further and identifies the house as “B” in the plan below:

Gardiner also speculates as to the position of a chamber attached to the House of lords which he labels “A”. We shall address this speculation in due course.


First we must again ask as to why this known Catholic agitator, Percy, having taken part in the Essex rebellion and being pardoned when other rebels were hanged, maintains the state’s trust as one of the King’s pensioners and is allowed through powerful Protestant contacts such as Dudley Carleton, patronized by Cecil and secretary to the French ambassador Sir Thomas Parry, to rent a house next door to the centre of state. This is the same Parry whose garden gate the plotters chose to lay their boat close to as they brought in the gunpowder through Percy’s back door, no doubt under the cover of night.

Parry and Carleton worked closely with Cecil and were evidently high-ranking members of his secret state. It is therefore quite unthinkable that they would not be monitoring closely the movements of individuals such as Percy. The fact that they actively facilitated the hiring of the house should be deeply suspicious to anyone acquainted with Cecil’s network. Such a web of intelligence that ensured its spider knew the most intimate business transacted in the Papal court before the Catholics in England, knew what communications were passing between Rome and Naples or Paris and Brussels, and what ships were in every port of Spain, their cargoes, equipment and destinations, was most certainly aware of the most minute murmurings at home by means of Judas priests and spies of every kind. As we have seen the state was well informed by such agents of a supposed Catholic plot afoot. Its (the state’s) actions suggest that this plot was in fact their own creature and was being led along and fashioned to serve its own purposes.


The digging of this underground mine was said to have commenced in December 1604 from the cellar, intending to reach and then work through the foundations of the Parliament House and then to construct a concave space beneath the Peer’s Chamber to store the powder.

Five of the plotters set to the task – Catesby, Percy, Thomas Winter, John Wright, and Fawkes. The tunnel, dug with tools through Percy’s soft brick wall and soft earth, had to be large enough to allow at least two men carrying a barrel at a time, perhaps five feet wide, five feet high and eight feet long to the parliament wall. It also had to be expertly underpropped with framed timber all along so as to prevent caving in of the earth and cracks in the building structures above them:


“We entered late in the night, and were never seen, save only Mr. Percy’s man, until Christmas-eve, in which time we wrought under a little entry to the wall of the Parliament House, and underpropped it as we went with wood.” Winter’s confession


None of the conspirators except Fawkes had any experience of such engineering projects. Even he was not an engineer but an explosives expert. According to Gardiner his experience in military mining would have been from listening to witness accounts or actual observation of such feats of engineering skill after eight years in the Low Countries where either side had ample expertise in such matters. Merely witnessing such feats however, hardly equates to expertise or even proficiency and so we can take Gardiner’s claims here with a pinch of salt.


They reached the wall by Christmas, after which they proceeded to work upon it. This proved excessively difficult, so they brought in Keyes to help. He had been responsible for the powder stored across the Thames in a house in Lambeth and so had to bring it across with him, twenty barrels in total at that point to be stored in Percy’s cellar or his outhouse. Christopher Wright was also initiated and brought in to help. Together, they worked upon this wall from January to the middle of March, only managing to get half-way through.


Gerard questions how all this activity escaped the notice of not only the government but the entire neighbourhood, thickly clustered as it was with the dwellings of numerous officials. We know that sound travels faster through solids and, as they were working on a wall “very hard to beat through,” each and every instance that pick struck stone must have been heard or at least felt in a hundred-yard radius.

Despite this, no one seems to have noticed anything.


Gardiner responds to Gerard’s reservations with the example of the infamous 18th century Baron Trenck, who:


executed a far harder piece of work without being discovered for a considerable time.”


He refers here to his imprisonment in a cell in Magdeburg resembling a stone outhouse. Trenck attempted to tunnel underneath with his bare hands. He had made ten feet before he was discovered.


This is a curious analogy as it is clear that it cannot really be compared with the work of the gunpowder conspirators. A small tunnel for one individual from a solitary prison, not an oft-occupied house, through soft brick and soft earth, not using tools, not hitting a solid wall and not under a parliamentary hall surrounded by numerous residents.


Gerard also raises the difficulty posed by the fact that Percy’s house was only let out when Parliament was not assembled. During these sessions it was used as a withdrawing room for the Lords.

How then was the plot to go ahead, necessarily taking effect during such a session, with herds of officials and their lacqueys milling about the same premises? The plotters proceedings were indeed delayed for this very reason as they had to wait throughout the summer and autumn for the discussion of a union with Scotland:


“When I came, the cause was for that the Scottish Lords were appointed to sit in conference on the Union in Mr. Percy’s house. This hindered our beginning until a fortnight before Christmas.” Winter’s confession


Gardiner responds by establishing that Percy, in actual fact, rented two houses in the same block of buildings from Whynniard, Keeper of the Old Palace. The first being the one next to Parliament, the other being a house nearby. Thus, he argues that Percy could have used this second house during a Parliamentary session.


However, it is not difficult to see the flaw in this argument. The tunnel was dug in the very house that was occupied by Lords and lacqueys during the parliamentary sessions. Was there not a risk that a servant might stumble across the entrance to it, even if it may have been cunningly concealed with flagstones as Gardiner suggests?


Yet another difficulty was presented by the need to dispose of the mass of soil dug out, perhaps two hundred cubic feet in volume, and the great stones that came out of the foundations, some of which could have been up to sixty cubic feet in size.

In Fawkes confession, he stated that:


“the day before Christmas having a mass of earth that came out of the mine, they carried it into the garden of the said house.”


Gardiner accepts that only some of this earth could have been spread over the garden beds but that:


“the greater part of it must have been disposed of in some other way. Is it so very difficult to surmise what that was? The nights were long and dark, and the river was very close.”


Gardiner does not address how the large stones of the foundation would have been removed but we can surmise that he would have suggested the river also.


If all this were possible to accomplish under the cover of night and in secrecy, one finds it difficult to escape the conclusion that a large number of men directed by expert engineers would have been required rather than merely seven, six of them amateurs, however enthusiastic.


5. Too Swift a Response

From the apprehension of Fawkes on the eve of the 4th November, it took the government three days, to identify eight of the conspirators,Percy, Catesby, Rokewood, Winter, Grant, John and Christopher Wright and Ashfield (Catesby’s servant) and issue a proclamation of arrest for them on the 7th November. This is despite the fact that Fawkes only admitted the names of his fellow plotters two days later on the 9th November when he was put to the “gentler tortures”.

26th Oct – Monteagle letter

27th Oct – Monteagle hands letter to Cecil

01st November – letter shown to James I who was allowed to fancy that he was the first to apprehend its meaning.

4th November afternoon – cellar searched (8 days after Cecil receives letter)

Evening – cellar searched and Johnson (Fawkes) apprehended

Guy Fawkes interrogation

5th November – professed to be John Johnson, servant of Percy, Percy already implicated. Proclamation issued for apprehension of Percy

We likewise find that in his examination of November 5th, Faukes is made to say: “He confesseth that about Christmas last [1604], he brought in the nighttime Gunpowder to the cellar under the upper house of Parliament,” that is some three months before the cellar was hired. Moreover, the words italicised have been added as an interlineation, apparently by Cecil himself. Evidently when this was done the mine was still undiscovered.

John Gerard

This mine/tunnel has never been found. The “cellar” was not a cellar at all but was level with the ground.

Arches from the “cellar” under the House of Lords.

Gibbon’s wife looks after house while Faux is away, (Gunpowder locked up)

Gibbon himself states that he and 2 others carried 3,000 billets into the vault.

6th November – second examination. In some way the government had found that Percy had a new door made in the wall leading to the cellar. This cellar being in reality a large and conspicuous chamber on ground level with people bustling in and out selling such wares as coal.

Nobody asked a question about an adjoining door being built?

They had also claimed to have found a pair of brewer’s slings for 2 men to carry barrels.

James I intervenes on the third examination. After letter is found addressed to Fawkes on Johnson (why carrying letter?), he claims that Fawkes is his nom de guerre. James orders the “gentler” tortures (common in Scotland), not the Government, who already knew the secrets Fawkes was to be made to confess, making torture unnecessary, but now had to be incorporated for the benefit of the unwitting monarch.

Ellen, wife of Andrew Bright, (formerly Mrs Skinner – widowed) states that Faux asked her to let the vault to Percy and abandon her tenancy provided her landlady Mrs Whynniard would consent. She did March 1605 “cellar” let to Percy.

7th November – The Paper- bargain between Percy and Ferris for “bloody cellar” and house next to Parliament  is found in Winter’s lodging. Winter is implicated.

Whynniard confirms Ellen Bright’s statement and adds that in March 1604, Percy worked hard to get Skinner and his wife to let him rent the house next door even though Mr Ferres was still renting it. Dudley Carleton, Mr Epsley and others belonging to the entourage of the Earl of Northumberland entreated them to let it to Percy.

Whynniard is “too ill” to attend examinations and later dies.

Proclamation of arrest for Percy, Catesby, Rokewood, Winter, Grant, John and Christopher Wright and Ashfield (Catesby’s servant). – Fawkes has revealed no one as yet. They are Charged with assembling in troops in the counties of Warwick and Worcester, breaking into stables and seizing horses.

The 4th examination Fawkes acknowledges his “real” name as Guy Fawkes. Admits that he had taken the sacrament to secrecy (Words in mouth) implicating a priest. He admits that 5 people are privy to the plot. Another 5 or 6 more generally acquainted but not with the whole plot. He refuses to accuse anyone.

8th November – 5th examination – Fawkes does not reveal names, only the secrets of the plot.

  • Hired house of Ferrers.
  • 11th December 1604, began to make mine, worked to Christmas
  • Carried earth to garden, after worked the wall half through, 7 people.
  • As they were working, heard Bright’s selling of his coals above in “cellar”.
  • Percy then hired “cellar”.
  • 20 barrels of powder brought to house. Bankside brought them over Thames to Percy’s house.
  • Moved powder into “cellar”. Covered with faggots.
  • Faux went to low countries at about Easter and left key with Percy. Confessed and returned end of August. 5-6 barrels more brought in. Covered with billets and faggots.
  • Faux went into country end of September and returned on Wed 30th October. (left for 1 month).
  • Resolved to capture on the 5th, either Duke Charles or Lady Elizabeth, or Lady Mary and proclaimed either one monarch, justifying action, protest against union, and all strangers (Scots).
  • Also, to send for prisoners in Tower of London (had consultation).
  • For the uprising to occur in Warwickshire, and armour sent there, but didn’t know exactly where.
  • Powder bought by common purse of confederates.

According to Gardiner, the 8th November is the first that Cecil learns of the mine.

Despite the swift response, enough time was left for Catesby and Percy to lure in the other dupes. During the uprising, Catesby told Digby’s “hunting party” that that the King and Salisbury were dead. As agent provocateur he was attempting to rouse up as many Catholics as possible. They weren’t fooled for long though and as soon as they figured out what was going on, most of these former dupes would abandon the cause.

The “accidental” overturning of the cart and soaking of the gunpowder in the river followed by the desperate attempt to dry it in front of a fire also suggest the actions of agents provocateur attempting to render the dupes defenceless.

On the morning of November 8th, those left arrived at Holbeche house. The sheriff’s men, 200 in number, surrounded it, then ignoring what could have been the prearranged surrender sign, they shot Catesby and Percy, wounded Winter, and took the others alive. Catesby and Percy were killed with one bullet as they emerged from the house back to back making the sign of the cross. Was this some kind of signal? The marksman who shot them was awarded with exceptional generosity.

Dead spies tell no tales…

9th November – On the instigation of the King, Fawkes is put to torture.

“In the declaration, signed with his tortured hand on the 9th, before Coke, Waad and Forsett,[71] and acknowledged before the Commissioners on the 10th, Fawkes distinctly refers to the examination of the 8th.”

17th November –  Fawkes signs confession

Fawkes’ signature may have been different because it was forged. Look at the difference between before and after:

Thomas Winter’s confession was also written in a different handwriting, and the official confession had his name spelled differently. And he wasn’t tortured.

Nicholls argues that the plotters were caught so quickly because they were travelling with Percy who had already been implicated by Fawkes as his employer and the tenant of the house.

Nonetheless, the very convenient paper implicating Winter found in his lodging, (how did they know to look there?) and the suspicious speed with which the government identified the “usual suspects” and then drew in the net to ensnare them suggests that, far from operating in the dark, they were running the operation all along.

6. Qui Bono?

The Gunpowder Plot was not exceptional among conspiracies of the time (nor any time). It gave advantage to those it was purportedly directed against and only injured those who purportedly carried it out or those who were accused of being connected with it.

But, as Gerard states:

“On the other hand, it marked an epoch in public policy, and irrevocably committed the king and the nation to a line of action towards Catholics, which up to that time they had hoped, and their enemies had feared, would not be permanently pursued.” Emphasis mine

“The political consequences of this transaction,” says Mr. Jardine,[423] “are extremely important and interesting. It fixed the timid and wavering mind of the king in his adherence to the Protestant party, in opposition to the Roman Catholics; and the universal horror, which was naturally excited not only in England but throughout Europe by so barbarous an attempt, was artfully converted into an engine for the suppression of the Roman Catholic Church: so that the ministers of James I., having procured the reluctant acquiescence of the king, and the cordial assent of public opinion, were enabled to continue in full force [Pg 210]the severe laws previously passed against Papists, and to enact others of no less rigour and injustice.” Emphasis mine

We can summarise a number of beneficial outcomes for Cecil’s Deep State:

  1. Roman Catholics, both enthusiasts and moderates, were discredited and ceased to be a political force
  2. Roman Catholics became disunited
  3. The English Catholic regiment fighting in the Flanders wars, which Fawkes and other plotters had close associations with, was discredited. Recruiting for it diminished drastically, reducing the danger of trained Catholic soldiers returning home posing a possible military challenge
  4. Foreign Governments were less able to intercede on behalf of English Roman Catholics
  5. The anti-Catholic legislation of 1606 passed more easily through Parliament than it would otherwise
  6. Cecil obtained the total confidence of James I, and was installed into the Order of the Garter.
  7. Cecil was finally successful in removing a chief rival, the Earl of Northumberland, by implicating him in the plot on the flimsiest of pretexts, that of having, as Captain of the Royal Pensioners, admitted Percy amongst them without exacting the usual oath. He had previously attempted to do so by connecting him with the conspiracy known as the “Main”. He had only been successful in this endeavour in implicating his other rivals, Cobham and Raleigh with equally flimsy pretext.

In manner much reminiscent of today, conspirators were in the habit of conveniently dropping compromising documents, threatening Cecil and his cronies, in the street. Or throwing them into yards or through windows.

Every effort was redoubled to demonise the Catholic community:

“Nor was the pencil less active than the pen in popularizing the same belief. Great was the ingenuity spent in devising and producing pictures which should impress [Pg 228]on the minds of the most illiterate a holy horror of the Church which had doomed the nation to destruction. One of the most elaborate of these was headed by an inscription which admirably summarizes the moral of the tale.”

“The Powder Treason.—Propounded by Satan: Approved by Antichrist [i.e. the Pope]: Enterprised by Papists: Practized by Traitors: Revealed by an Eagle [Monteagle]: Expounded by an Oracle [King James]: Founded in Hell: Confounded in Heaven.”

7. The accounts of contemporaries

It may come as a surprise to discover, even back then, that many intelligent commentators of the day, and for more than a century afterwards, were convinced that the Catholic conspirators were dupes and instruments of craftier men than themselves and had unwittingly played the State’s game.

The government itself anticipated this and went out of its way to publish an account of the affair two days after the “discovery”. Cecil spoke of the need of circumspection to counteract “lewd” reports:

“considering how apt the world is nowadays to think all providence and intelligences to be but practices.”

“there do pass from hand to hand divers uncertain, untrue, and incoherent reports and relations,”

These steps did not prevent a letter written abroad to state a widely prevalent opinion:

“Those that have practical experience of the way in which things are done, hold it as certain that there has been foul play, and that some of the Council secretly spun the web to entangle these poor gentlemen, as did Secretary Walsingham in other cases,”

Importantly, it was not Catholics alone that held this conviction:

The Puritan Osborne speaks of the manner in which the “discovery” was managed as “a neat device of the Treasurer’s, he being very plentiful in such plots.”

Goodman, Anglican Bishop of Gloucester, is even more explicit.:

“The great statesman had intelligence of all this, and because he would show his service to the State, he would first contrive and then discover a treason, and the more odious and hateful the treason were, his service would be the greater and the more acceptable.”[105] 

Even King James himself eventually cognized the truth and was in the habit of speaking of the Fifth of November as “Cecil’s holiday.”

“The Protestant writer, Sanderson,[108] acknowledging that the secretary was accused of having manipulated the transaction, says no word to indicate that he repudiates such a charge.”

“Welwood[109] is of opinion that Cecil was aware of the Plot long before the “discovery,” and that the famous letter to Monteagle was “a contrivance of his own.”

“Burnet[112] complains of the impudence of the papists of his day, who denied the conspiracy, and pretended it was an artifice of the minister’s “to engage some desperate men into a plot, which he managed so that he could discover it when he pleased.”

A follower of the infamous Titus Oates testified thatthere were who looked upon the Powder Treason “as upon a romantic story, or a politic invention, or a State trick,” giving no more credence to it than to the histories of the “Grand Cyrus, or Guy of Warwick, or Amadis de Gaul,”—or, as we should now say, Jack the Giant Killer.”

“The general scope and drift of such suspicions are well indicated by Bevil Higgons, “This impious design,” he writes[115] of the Plot, “gave the greatest blow to the Catholic interest in England, by rendering that religion so odious to the people. The common opinion concerning the discovery of the Plot, by a letter to the Lord Mounteagle, has not been universally allowed to be the real truth of the matter, for some have affirmed that this design was first hammered in the forge of Cecil, who intended to have produced this plot in the time of Queen Elizabeth, but prevented by her death he resumed his project in this reign, with a design to have so enraged the nation as to have expelled all Roman Catholics, and confiscated their estates. To this end, by his secret emissaries, he enticed some hot-headed men of that persuasion, who, ignorant whence the design first came, heartily engaged in this execrable Powder Treason…. Though this account should not be true,” he continues, “it is certain that the Court of England had notice of this Plot from France and Italy long before the pretended discovery; upon which Cecil … framed that letter to the Lord Mounteagle, with a design to make the discovery seem the more miraculous, and at the same time magnify the judgment of the king, who by his deep penetration was to have the honour of unravelling so ambiguous and dark a riddle.”

Of course, the Catholics themselves suspected foul play:

Lord Castlemaine tells us[121] that “the Catholics of England, who knew Cecil’s ways of acting and their own innocence, [Pg 49]suspected him from the beginning, as hundreds still alive can testify.”

“Father Henry More, S.J., a contemporary, speaks to the same effect.[122] 

“Father John Gerard, who was not only a contemporary, but one of those accused of complicity, intimates[123] his utter disbelief of the official narrative concerning the discovery, and his conviction that those who had the scanning of the redoubtable letter were “well able in shorter time and with fewer doubts to decipher a darker riddle and find out a greater secret than that matter was.”

“One Floyde, a spy, testified in 1615[124] to having frequently heard various Jesuits say, that the government were aware of the Plot several months before they thought fit to “discover” it.”

“The Catholic view is expressed with much point and force by an anonymous writer of the eighteenth century:[125] “I shall touch briefly upon a few particulars relating to this Plot, for the happy discovery whereof an anniversary holiday has now been kept for above a hundred years. Is it out of pure gratitude to God the nation is so particularly devout on this occasion? If so, it is highly commendable: for we ought to thank God for all things, and therefore I cannot deny but there is all the reason in the world to give him solemn thanks, for that the king and Parliament never were in any danger of being hurt by the Powder Plot…. I am far from denying the Gunpowder Plot. Nay, I believe as firmly that Catesby, with twelve more popish associates, had [Pg 50]a design to blow up K. James, as I believe that the father of that same king was effectually blown up by the Earls of Murray, Morton, Bothwell, and others of the Reformed Church of Scotland. However … I humbly conceive I may say the king and Parliament were in no danger of being hurt by it, and my reason is because they had not less a man than the prime minister of state for their tutelar angel; a person deeply read in politics; who had inherited the double spirit of his predecessor Walsingham, knew all his tricks of legerdemain, and could as seasonably discover plots as contrive them…. This much at least is certain, that the letter written to my Lord Mounteagle, by which the Plot was discovered, had not a fool, but a very wise sophister for its author: for it was so craftily worded, that though it was mysterious enough on the one hand to prevent a full evidence that it was written on purpose to discover the Plot, yet it was clear enough on the other to be understood with the help of a little consideration, as the event soon showed. Indeed, when it was brought to Secretary Cecil, he, poor gentleman, had not penetration enough to understand the meaning of it, and said it was certainly written by a madman. But there, I fear, he wronged himself. For the secretary was no madman. On the contrary, he had too much wit to explain it himself, and was too refined a politician to let slip so favourable an occasion of making his court to the king, who was to have the compliment made him of being the only Solomon wise enough to unfold this dark mystery. Which while his Majesty was doing with a great deal of ease, the secretary was all the while at his elbow admiring and applauding his [Pg 51]wonderful sagacity…. So that, in all probability, the same man was the chief underhand contriver and discoverer of the Plot; and the greatest part of the bubbles concerned in it were trapanned into it by one who took sure care that none but themselves should be hurt by it…. But be that as it will, there is no doubt but that they who suffer themselves to be drawn into a plot like fools, deserve to be hanged for it like knaves.”

“The opinion of Dodd, the historian, has already been indicated, which in another place he thus emphasizes and explains:[126] “Some persons in chief power suspecting the king would be very indulgent to Catholics, several stratagems were made use of to exasperate him against them, and cherishing the Gunpowder Plot is thought to be a masterpiece in this way.”[127]

Historians such as Gardiner and Nichols maintain that this theory of subterfuge on Cecil’s part only arose long after the plot itself and that it was adopted only by Catholics.

The facts as Gerard lays out, are otherwise:

“It would not be difficult to continue similar citations, but enough has now been said to show that it is nothing new to charge the chief minister of James I. with having fostered the conspiracy for his own purposes, or even to have actually set it a-going. It appears perfectly clear that from the first there were [Pg 52]not a few, and those not Catholics only, who entertained such a belief, and that the facts of the case are inadequately represented by historians, who imply, like Mr. Jardine, that such a theory was first broached long afterwards, and adopted by Catholics alone.[128]

Summary


1: Cecil’s Web

Evidence shows that Cecil’s secret state was not only aware of the plot well before its official discovery, but was actively directing it by means of agents of every sort who drew foolish scapegoats in to discredit the still powerful Catholics in the eyes of King and country.

2: Letter to Lord Eagle

The whole affair of the warning letter sent to Lord Monteagle was an elaborate scheme contrived by Cecil and arranged with Monteagle himself, to provide a miraculous discovery and to enable the King to feel that he had solved the riddle and saved the day. The hand-writing is most likely Cecil’s own. Despite the plotters being aware of it, they did not change their plans in any way, which may be explained by the role of Catesby and Percy as agents provocateur. Monteagle is later lavishly rewarded for his role in the discovery.

3: None-powder

Cecil sat on the letter from Oct 27 to Nov 1st  before showing it to the King. Knowing when the attack will take place, he then waited again until Nov 4th before searching the House of Lords. Cecil’s justifications for this, to catch the plotters in the act, were absurd.

We are expected to believe without batting an eyelid that a minister, famed for his shrewdness, is allowing a decidedly sinister-looking desperado to knock about for several days with flint and steel and lantern amidst a powder magazine of epic proportions directly under the centre of state.

The house is searched on the afternoon of the 4th and the soliders find Faux in his unlikely role as John Johnson. They suspect nothing until they return again that evening to then “discover” the barrels. Faux is still there!

It is most likely that Cecil himself had ensured the gunpowder was decayed and did not believe that it would go off. This explains his lackadaisical approach.

The politicians went ahead with Parliament the very next day after the discovery and Cecil allowed it!

The cellar continued to be let out privately for a considerable period after the plot.

It is unclear how the plotters came about such a large quantity of gunpowder.

4. Crime Scene

We must ask as to why a known Catholic agitator, Percy, having taken part in the Essex rebellion and being pardoned when other rebels were hanged, maintains the state’s trust as one of the King’s pensioners and is allowed through powerful Protestant contacts such as Dudley Carleton, patronized by Cecil and secretary to the French ambassador Sir Thomas Parry, to rent a house next door to the centre of state. This is the same Parry whose garden gate the plotters chose to lay their boat close to as they brought in the gunpowder through Percy’s back door, no doubt under the cover of night.

It seems the plotters were facilitated in obtaining and occupying an address situated next to the centre of state in the midst of government officials. The Deep State also seemed to have assisted in attempting the tunnel, and only abandoning the project when discovering the difficulties in penetrating the under-wall of the Lords chamber. A simpler, though less convincing  approach was adopted by renting out the chamber below the House of Lords and hiding the barrels there. All these activities can not have gone on unnoticed without inside assistance.

5. Too Swift a Response

From the apprehension of Fawkes on the eve of the 4th November, it took the government three days, to identify eight of the conspirators,Percy, Catesby, Rokewood, Winter, Grant, John and Christopher Wright and Ashfield (Catesby’s servant) and issue a proclamation of arrest for them on the 7th November. This is despite the fact that Fawkes only admitted the names of his fellow plotters two days later on the 9th November when he was put to the “gentler tortures”.

The very convenient paper implicating Winter found in his lodging, (how did they know to look there?) and the suspicious speed with which the government identified the “usual suspects” and then drew in the net to ensnare them suggests that, far from operating in the dark, they were running the operation all along.

6. Qui Bono?

The Gunpowder Plot was not exceptional among conspiracies of the time (nor any time). It gave advantage to those it was purportedly directed against and only injured those who purportedly carried it out or those who were accused of being connected with it.

We can summarise a number of beneficial outcomes for Cecil’s Deep State:

  • Roman Catholics, both enthusiasts and moderates, were discredited and ceased to be a political force
  • Roman Catholics became disunited
  • The English Catholic regiment fighting in the Flanders wars, which Fawkes and other plotters had close associations with, was discredited. Recruiting for it diminished drastically, reducing the danger of trained Catholic soldiers returning home posing a possible military challenge
  • Foreign Governments were less able to intercede on behalf of English Roman Catholics
  • The anti-Catholic legislation of 1606 passed more easily through Parliament than it would otherwise
  • Cecil obtained the total confidence of James I, and was installed into the Order of the Garter.
  • Cecil was finally successful in removing a chief rival, the Earl of Northumberland, by implicating him in the plot on the flimsiest of pretexts, that of having, as Captain of the Royal Pensioners, admitted Percy amongst them without exacting the usual oath. He had previously attempted to do so by connecting him with the conspiracy known as the “Main”. He had only been successful in this endeavour in implicating his other rivals, Cobham and Raleigh with equally flimsy pretext.

7. The accounts of contemporaries

It may come as a surprise to discover, even back then, that many intelligent commentators of the day, and for more than a century afterwards, were convinced that the Catholic conspirators were dupes and instruments of craftier men than themselves and had unwittingly played the State’s game. Importantly, it was not Catholics alone that held this conviction

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