Catholic Martyrs of the Reformation
Martyrs and Uprisings in Britain
The best known Catholic Martyrs of the Reformation were those who died in England under the reign of the Tudors. Most people have heard the stories of Thomas More, Archbishop John Fisher, and Edmund Campion and many others, but these well-known martyrs, who have been officially recognized as saints, are just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands of British Catholics were killed, died in poverty, or lost all their property during the Reformation era, and their stories are mostly unknown.
It is difficult to say exactly how many Catholics were persecuted or killed during the Reformation era. Hundreds of Catholics were formally accused of treason and executed. Many more driven off their land, fined, forced to flee England Over 700 were executed by Elizabeth in retribution for Northern Rebellion Thousands more died in uprisings under Henry VIII and Edward VI Tens of thousands lost their homes and were thrown into poverty, but accurate statistics are not readily available.
The official story is that mass dislocations of British peasants during the 16th century were caused by "enclosures", which occurred when the new owners of church land evicted thousands of families who had lived on the properties for generations. The connection between the confiscation of Church land and the suffering and impoverishment of thousands of peasants and religious is barely mentioned in many Protestant histories.
Catholic Martyrs of England and Wales
The following is a list of some of the well known, canonically recognized British martyrs. Most were canonized in 1970 as Forty Martyrs of England and Wales who were individually tried and executed for treason during the English Reformation.
Catholic Martyrs under Henry VIII
- John Houghton (1486-1535) — Prior of the Carthusian Charterhouse in London during the reign of Henry VII. Tried for treason when he refused to take oath required by the Act of Supremacy.
- John Fisher (1469-1535) — Bishop of Rochester who was executed for upholding Catholic doctrine and refusing to accept Henry VIII as head of the church in England.
- Margaret Pole (1473-1541) — Matriarch of the Royal family of England who was executed by Henry VIII shortly after her son, Cardinal Pole, refused to recognized his marriage to Anne Boleyn.
- Thomas More (1478-1543) — Lord Chancellor under Henry VIII. Dismissed, imprisoned, and finally executed for failing to support Henry's divorce.
Catholic Martyrs under Elizabeth
- Cuthbert Mayne (1544-77) — Anglican rector converted by Edmund Campion, was ordained at Douai and returned to England as a missionary. Tried for treason for saying mass.
- Edmund Campion (1540-81) — English priest who renounced Anglicism, became a Jesuit and worked to restore the faith in Tudor England before being martyred.
- Margaret Clitherow (1556-86) — Matron from York accused of hiding priests in her house. Crushed to death with stones for refusing a trial in which her children would be forced to testify.
- Margaret Ward (1540-88) — British noblewoman who helped a priest escape from prison and was tortured for refusing to disclose his location. One of the 40 Martyrs of England and Wales.
- Henry Walpole (1558-95) — Jesuit missionary priest sent to England during the reign of Elizabeth. Imprisoned and tortured in the Tower of London until his execution in 1595.
- Philip Howard of Arundel (1557-95) — Cousin Elizabeth whose family remained Catholic. Arrested for trying to leave England. Imprisoned for 10 years and died in Tower of London.
- Robert Southwell (1561-95) — Jesuit sent as a clandestine missionary to England during the reign of Elizabeth. Known for his poetry and writings as well as his death as a martyr.
Catholic Uprisings against Protestant Britain
There were large scale uprisings and rebellions throughout England during the reigns of all of the Tudor monarchs in response to the changes wrought by Protestantism, and hundreds of 'rebels' were put do death in towns that participated throughout England. Local leaders were executed in their home towns specifically to discourage future uprisings. However, those who were killed are considered victims of political, rather than religious disturbances and are not considered martyrs. Although vagrancy and pauperism were significantly increased by these changes, especially in rural areas, the Protestant nobility and merchant classes profited from the disruptions. Since the economic dislocations due to the Reformation in England enriched rather than impoverished the upper classes, the abrupt transfer of a third of English property to new owners is not considered to have had negative economic effects overall.
Catholic Uprisings under Henry VIII
The series of rebellions listed below followed immediately after Thomas Cromwell began closing monasteries. The rebellions were all suppressed and hundreds of the leaders were executed. They are all sometimes referred to as the "Pilgrimage of Grace", the largest of the uprisings.
- Lincolnshire Rising, 1536 — Rising involving over 20,000 peasants, demanding the right to practice the Catholic religion and protection of Church property. Began in Lincolnshire as the result of the closure of a local Abbey. It dispersed when threatened with King's forces, but most of the leaders were executed.
- Pilgrimage of Grace, 1536 — Nonviolent rising followed immediately after the Lincolnshire uprising, but was more than double the size and spread to many towns in Northern England. It dispersed as a result of false promises made by representatives of the kings. Dozens of leaders, including monks and priests were executed, but none are considered martyrs.
- Bigod's Rebellion, 1537 — A Third uprising occurred when the participants in previous incidents realized the king had no intention of keeping his promises. This time the reaction against the organizers was harsh and swift. Over 200 leaders, including dozens of nobles, clergy, and monks, were executed for treason.
Catholic Uprisings under Tudors
- Prayer Book Rebellion, 1549 — The Prayer Book Rebellion, which occurred during the reign of Edward VI, was instigated by the dramatic changes to the Liturgy imposed by Cranmer with the Book of Common Prayer. It was an explicitly pro-Catholic, anti-Protestant rebellion that first arose in Devon and Cornwall and threatened to spread throughout the country. The rebels demanded a return to Catholic worship which the Protestant leaders had no intention submitting to, so the rebellion was put down harshly with a force of over 8000 soldiers, including foreign mercenaries. At least 2000 of the rebels were killed in battle, and thousands more were savagely massacred after surrendering or died of injuries. None of the rebellions under Henry VII were put down as brutally as the Prayer Book rebellion and the atrocity had the effect of discouraging opposition to the extremely unpopular changes to the liturgy imposed by the Church of England.
- Northern Rebellion, 1569 — At the time that Elizabeth came the throne in 1558, much of England, especially in the North and West, was still Catholic. Many Catholics in England and Europe disputed Elizabeth's claim to the throne, and saw Mary Queen of Scots as the legitimate heir. During her early years Elizabeth did not provoke Catholics but worked gradually to consolidate power and encourage the Protestants. Eventually, the Northern nobles formed a plan to oppose her and put Mary on the throne, and gathered an army in the north, but it was put down quickly and the rebels fled to Scotland. Few were killed in battle, but the reprisals following the rebellion were severe, with over 1000 executions including both noble and peasant supporters of Mary. Elizabeth explicitly called for at least 700 executions in villages throughout Northern England as a warning against future rebellions.
Catholic Uprisings under Stuarts
Most of the Catholic uprisings under the Tudors appeared to be authentic incidents organized by disgruntled Catholics. Under the Stuart regime, however, many of the most prominent Catholic rebellions are thought to have been at least partially organized or manipulated by Protestants for the purpose of was the Northern Rebellion, and that appeared to be an authentic plot to replace Elizabeth on the throne. Many other Catholic rebellions in later years however, such as the Popish Plot and the Gunpowder Plot, are thought to have been "False Flags", organized by Protestants in order to provide a pretext for anti-Catholic confiscations and legislation.
- Gunpowder Plot, 1605 — The Gunpowder Plot was allegedly a Catholic plot to blow up Parliament, but there are many suspicious factors pointing to a "False Flag" occurance. For example, the plot was "discovered" due to a suspicious letter, the plotters were executed immediately on the basis of a confession that appeared forged, and the government had a monopoly on Gunpowder and could not have misplaced such a large quantity of it. The plot was conceived after England made peace with Spain, and had the effect of stirring up anti-Catholic fervor, and preventing further co-operation between the countries. The anti-Catholic faction used the incident as an excuse to pass oppressive legislation and delegitimize the pro-Spanish faction in government. The most famous character related to the Gunpowder plot was Guy Fawkes, a soldier caught guarding the gunpowder store.
- Popish Plot, 1678 — The Popish plot was an alledged conspiracy to assassinate Charles II, put forth by Titus Oates, that was intended to foment anti-Catholic hysteria and force Parliament to pass and "Exclusions" bill preventing the Catholic James II from the throne. At least 22 people were executed as a result of Oates accusations until they were proven false.
Other Catholic Martyrs of the Protestant Reformation
- Martyrs of Gorkum (d. 1572) — Nineteen Dutch clergy and monks were captured by Calvinist militants in Brielle during the Netherland's revolt, and hung when they refused to renounce their faith.
- Fidelis of Sigmaringen (d. 1622) — Capuchin Friar who worked as a missionary in Fribourg Switzerland and had great success in converting Protestants back to the faith, until he was captured and martyred by Calvinist soldiers.
The following excerpt is from 'Leading Events of Church History: Early Modernd Period'. It provides an overview of Suppression of the Catholic Faith under Queen Elizabeth.
The Church of England as by Law Established
I. The Protestantism of Elizabeth
On the day of Mary's death, November 17, 1558, Elizabeth was proclaimed queen.
The story that she notified her accession to Pope Paul IV., and received so discourteous a reply that she was driven into the arms of the Protestant party, is discredited by Lingard, who points out that there is no trace in any official documents, English or Roman, of an ambassador accredited by Elizabeth to the Roman See. Moreover, Carne, Mary's ambassador, was dismissed by letters dated February 9, after Elizabeth had met her Parliament. As late as February 14, Carne, in writing to Elizabeth, says a cardinal had told him the Pope wished to have some one accredited from her.
Be this as it may, when Elizabeth opened Parliament, January 25, there was no hesitation as to the course to be adopted. The programme of measures to be passed had been drawn up by the Royal Council, and the Bills to be laid before the Lords and Commons were as follows:
- "An Act for restoring of Tenths and First Fruits to the Sovereign, enforcing anew Henry VIII.'s Act of Annates."
- "An Act of Supremacy recognizing Elizabeth as Head of the Church and abrogating the jurisdiction of the Pope."
- "An Act of Uniformity by which the Second Prayer-Book of Edward VI., slightly modified by Cecil, was ordered to be used in the Divine Service and in the Administration of the Sacraments instead of the Catholic Liturgy."
Thus in less than ten weeks from her accession the queen and her ministers had determined on seizing upon Catholic revenues, jurisdiction, and worship, and had sketched out a complete plan of the Church of England as by law established, and had provided for its being a thoroughly national Church, with a supreme head in the person of the sovereign.
But there had been previous signs of what was coming. The Bishop of Carlisle had received orders not to elevate the Sacred Host at the Consecration at midnight Mass. He replied that he could not obey in such a case, and Elizabeth and her court withdrew directly after the gospel. The Bishop of Winchester had been imprisoned for the sermon he preached at Mary's funeral, and a proclamation had been issued, saying that no change was to be made in the order of Divine Service till the queen should have consulted her Parliament, while all preaching was prohibited. In consequence, the bishops had met and had decided that it was not lawful for them to assist at the queen's coronation.
Bishop Oglethorpe, of Carlisle, at last consented to crown the queen, if she agreed to communicate and take the ordinary coronation oath and conform to the rites of the Roman Pontifical, which she did.
The Catholic bishops on their side had also prepared for the struggle that was sure to come. They had met in Convocation, and had drawn up a solemn declaration of their adherence to the Catholic faith in Five Articles, which included: (1) The Real Presence; (2) Transubstantiation; (3) The Sacrifice of the Mass; (4) Supremacy of the Pope; (5) Denial of the Right of Laymen to rule the Church.
The Universities of Oxford and Cambridge united in a similar confession of faith. The documents were laid before the Lords. But Convocation was not allowed to treat of the measures under consideration. It was to a Parliament carefully prepared for the purpose that were entrusted the queen's projects. In the Lords—by promises to Catholic peers of sundry favours, and that they personally should not be called on to take the oath of supremacy if they passed it, by creation of five Protestant peers, and by the exclusion of six of the sixteen bishops who formed the whole of the episcopal bench—a majority of three was secured. The Lower House had been packed; the writs served to the sheriffs, enjoining them to get members elected for the, queen's first Parliament, had indicated the persons to be returned. Yet, in spite of these precautions, the Bills became law only after violent opposition and by a species of chicanery. At each division the bishops voted unanimously against the Bills, and spoke against them whenever the opportunity arose. Beside the three principal measures named above, Parliament gave back to the Crown the Church property which had been restored to the clergy, and, moreover, empowered the sovereign to take possession of the lands still remaining attached to the various bishoprics as they became vacant, provided that an equivalent in tithes and parsonages were paid to the new prelate.
In the incredibly short space of three months legislation respecting religion was complete, and England was provided with her new faith. This was the work of a party of reformers, some of whom were fresh from the Continent, where they had passed several years in exile among Swiss and German Calvinists, the Lutherans having refused to give them hospitality as their opinions about the Eucharist were so very extreme. To finish with the doctrinal aspect of Elizabeth's reign, it is necessary to add that the Forty-two Articles of the Edwardine Creed were retouched and considerably modified by Archbishop Parker and Convocation in 1562. Nine years later they again underwent revision, but even yet had not taken the form in which they still exist. That was accomplished only in 1604 by order of James I.
Forcing the Protestant Religion on English subjects
The next step was to get the nation to recognize the Church as conceived by Parliament. Bishops, clergy, and people were dealt with in turn. The bishops, a few at a time, were called before Elizabeth and offered the choice between the oath of supremacy and deprivation. With one exception, Kitchen of Llandaff, they refused the former, and they were all imprisoned, first in the common prison, later in an ostensibly less rigorous but probably far more harassing confinement in one of the palaces of the new bishops.
Then came the turn of the clergy. Successive visitations were made to oblige them to conform. The first lasted only six months, and had to be abandoned, results were so barren. A very large number of canons, deans, heads of colleges, were deprived, and out of 9,400 priests, only 8o6 consented to take the oath. A large number went to Ireland, others abroad, and many became chaplains in private families, and thus were enabled to continue their ministry. It is uncertain what became of the others, but it seems likely that many, especially in the north and west, were quietly left to themselves, as it was impossible to sweep away such an enormous number of men, and equally impossible to find others to take their places. That a very large number were left in possession is proved by a second visitation being ordered three years later, when more than a third of the benefices were found to be vacant. Again there was a weeding out of faithful priests, and many of the married clergy ousted by Mary (some say three thousand) were reinstated and the Catholics turned out.
The Catholic people were to be coerced into becoming Protestants. Every non-attendance at the new Sunday service was to be punished by a fine; and it must be remembered that more than three-fourths of the people of England were Catholics when these laws were passed. It naturally took some time for the minority to force its creed on the majority, but all the power, the wealth, and the dignities were on the side of the Protestant party; Catholics had nothing but patient endurance and silent resistance to offer in defence of their faith, and this they did offer to a heroic degree.
Protestant Clergy for the English Church
But the most curious phase has yet to be dealt with—the way, namely, in which the English Church was provided with new pastors. Unlike many other Protestant sectaries, Elizabeth and her Council decided to have bishops as well as priests. They knew it was necessary that the new bishops should be consecrated, or the people would not accept them as lawful pastors. But bishops must be consecrated by other bishops; the law of the Church says—"one archbishop and two bishops, or four bishops, or at least three, in which case the consent of all the other bishops of the province must be given in writing." But a note in Cecil's handwriting exists: "There is no archbishop, and no four bishops: what is to be done?" For every Catholic bishop was in prison, except Kitchen of Llandaff, and he refused to act. Four men who had been bishops under Edward were got together. One, Barlow, the man chosen to be consecrator, had, it is said, not been consecrated, but merely elected; two had been consecrated by Edward's ordinal (a form so vague that one hundred years after its adoption, it was replaced by a more explicit ritual), and one had been consecrated in Henry's reign by a valid form. This man, by God's Providence, was present as an assistant only. The four began by recognizing the election of Parker the archbishop-designate. Then Barlow, using the invalid formula of the Edwardine ordinal, consecrated Parker, who at once confirmed the election of the men who had consecrated him, and, finally taking them as his assistants, he consecrated as many more as were needed to fill up the vacant sees. There had evidently been a doubt, not only in the minds of their opponents, but in their own, as to whether such consecration would be valid, for the question. was put to some of their theologians, who replied, that since the plenitude of jurisdiction resided in the sovereign, her consent would supply all that was wanting.
But there was absolutely no body of educated men to draw upon to provide clergy. As many as possible of the Edwardine ministers were reinstated, and to supply the places of the deceased or ejected Catholic priests anyone that could manage to read the service was entrusted with a parish, though he was not allowed to administer the Sacraments; and Green says: "The new Protestant clergy were often unpopular, and roused the disgust of the people by their violence and greed. The marriages of the clergy became a scandal, which was increased when the gorgeous vestments of the old worship were cut up into gowns and bodices for the priests' wives."
As time went on, the position of the adherents of the old faith became more difficult. Events were taking place not only in England, but in Scotland and on the Continent, that considerably aggravated Protestant hatred for Catholics, and laws of ever-increasing severity were passed on five different occasions—1571, 1581, 1585, 1587, 1593. All through the long struggle between Mary Queen of Scots and her nobles Elizabeth's support was lent to the Calvinists, while Catholic sympathy and Catholic help were given to the unfortunate sovereign. The Netherlands were engaged in their struggle against Philip II. every story of Spanish cruelty was re-echoed in England with telling effect, and Flemish refugees, pouring into the country, fanned the flame of hatred against the Catholic religion, which was supposed to be the cause of their sufferings. French Huguenots looked to Elizabeth for aid, and she extended it in turn, often secretly, to every group of reformers engaged in a struggle with their sovereign. Hence England rose in importance, as she was leagued with an influential body in each State. But the firmer the friendships made with Protestant insurgents abroad, the more bitter the position of Catholics at home. It was, however, when Elizabeth and her Council recognized that Catholicism in England would not, as they fondly hoped, be allowed to die out by the extinction of the priests that persecution began in stern earnest.
English Jesuit Seminary at Douay
In 1568 Dr. Allen opened a seminary at Douay to supply England with priests. In 1578 another was begun in Rome by Pope Gregory XIII. Numbers of Catholic young men, escaping from England, gladly went to the one or the other to be trained for the missions, and thence returned to help their persecuted countrymen at home. In 1580 the first Jesuits found their way into England, and they were followed by a continual stream of missionaries of their Order. Colleges were founded by them at Valladolid, Lisbon, and Seville in Spain, and St. Omer in France. The Benedictines, after some experience that Spanish air and Spanish food told on the health of the young Englishmen who had entered among them in considerable numbers, agreed to select one or two houses to which all aspirants should be sent. From these, several missionaries also came to England. Indeed, so numerous were the valiant priests who streamed into the country that it was often a difficult matter to provide for them all, so impoverished were even those who had been the wealthiest among the Catholics.
But nothing contributed more to make the position of our afflicted countrymen embarrassing and painful than the excommunication pronounced against Elizabeth by Pius V. (1571). The document was affixed to the door of the palace of the Bishop of London, and all were free to read the pains and penalties decreed against their sovereign. A suspension of the sentence was procured by the Jesuits, but according to Roman custom it was not annulled. Thus a political offence seemed to be mixed with the religious, and Catholics henceforth were punished as traitors, while even among themselves they were not agreed as to how far the Bull obliged them in conscience. Elizabeth's Government was quick enough to seize upon and foment any difference of opinion among Catholics, and the very unsettled state of affairs respecting the government of the Church in England, following on the death of the last bishop in 1584, added to their troubles. Neither did the advent of the Armada (1588) help to lighten their burden.
Actual martyrdoms began in 1570, when B. John Felton was put to death for affixing Elizabeth's sentence of excommunication to the entrance of the palace of the Bishop of London. From 1583 to 1603, each year—one only excepted—there were numerous executions, mostly of priests, amounting to about two hundred; but many others, besides thousands of men, women, and even children, were punished by fine, imprisonment, or torture, for non-compliance with the statutes against religion published in this reign. Thousands more sought refuge on the Continent; but it would be impossible in so short a summary as this even to sketch the daily round of harassing anxiety, poverty, privation, insult, and outrage of every kind which made up the lifelong martyrdom of the faithful Catholic in the brave days of old. In 1581 Dr. Allen was named by Pope Gregory XI II. Prefect of the English mission. He held the office and directed English Ecclesiastical affairs till his death, 1595. In 1598 an arch-priest was appointed. This office existed till 1621. From this time till 1655, vicars-apostolic had charge of the English Church.
The conviction that our English forefathers did not give up their faith is forced on the reader of Tudor history. They were led blindly into schism by blind guides under Henry, and though there may have been scenes of riot and plunder when the monasteries were sacked, these cannot be regarded as indicating the real feelings of the people. A mob will take up almost any cry, and many a one in the heat of popular excitement will say and do that which his calmer judgment would condemn. Neither did the English nation voluntarily embrace Protestantism The risings of the peasantry under Henry, Edward, and Elizabeth were a deliberate protest against the introduction of a new religion, and the long list of recusants of all classes, the references, so numerous, which the records of their sufferings contain of unnumbered others who were present at Mass, who sympathized with the sufferings of the martyrs, or who underwent hardships for their religion, prove that the attachment of the English to the faith of their fathers was deep and sincere. It was the loss of the Mass and cowardly attendance at heretical worship that undermined the constancy of our ancestors. Little by little, craft and cruelty thinned the diminishing flock, while the ranks of the "Reformed" were continually swelled by immigrant refugees from the Continent, and at last England found herself not only a Protestant, but a persecuting land.
II. The Persecution of Catholics
Terrible as had been the position of Catholics under Elizabeth, there was to be no
mitigation of their fate under James I. Their hopes had been
raised when, in March, 1603, the Scottish monarch ascended the English throne. They knew
that, "unlike Elizabeth, James had no cause for fearing the Roman See; it had never
questioned his legitimacy, it had assisted him when King of Scotland, its adherents in
England had almost universally hailed his accession to the crown with loyalty and
rejoicing, and the Pope had sent messages to him offering to assist in securing the
allegiance of the Catholics by removing any priests who might be obnoxious to him."*
Many Catholics had done all they could to assist him by their dutiful affection, and it
seems certain that the impression existed that James had given assurances that Catholics
should meet with some form of toleration. Moreover, the Queen Anne of Denmark was known to
be a Catholic, and it was hoped she would interfere in behalf of her co-religionists. They
were grievously disappointed; and hardly was James seated on the throne than the Catholics
discovered there was to be no favour for them, and far from benefiting by having a
Catholic queen, the royal lady's conduct gave scandal by her concealment of her religion,
and by the open concessions she made to the demands of the king as to her attendance at
Protestant worship and other religious practices.
* Footnote: The Life of a Conspirator, by one of his descendants, p. 63.)
It is fair to say that the discovery of the Main and Bye Plots, in both of which Catholics as well as Protestants were implicated, had a good deal to do with embittering James against both parties. But be the cause what it may, the penal code of Elizabeth, far from being relaxed, was put in full force with additional severities. Still the number of martyrs annually executed under James never reached the average under Elizabeth. In 1604 peace was signed between England and Spain, and the Spanish minister, Velasco, endeavoured to obtain some amelioration for the Catholics. James absolutely refused to listen to anything on the subject. Continual and ruinous fines exacted with insolence, not only by officials, but by needy courtiers and their menials, to whom the farming of the taxes was entrusted; the cruel searches to which they were exposed night and day; the prospect of imprisonment, torture, and a traitor's death—such was the life of a Catholic in the days of James I.
Then occurred the conspiracy known in history as the Gunpowder Plot. Concerning every single point of the whole story the contradictions are so absolute that it is a matter of no small difficulty to attempt to record what happened. A contemporary priest says that the earliest plotters were wicked and desperate wretches, Catholics in name only. It is certain that some of these had been engaged in questionable transactions, yet there is ample testimony by persons, by no means friendly to the Catholic cause, that they "were the least disreputable gang of conspirators who ever plotted a treason."
The story of the plot is derived principally from the confessions of two of the earliest conspirators, Thomas Wright and Guy Fawkes, from the despatches sent by the English Government to foreign courts, and to the ambassadors of those courts resident in England, and from the official relation published by order of James I. All other sources of information bearing on the trial were suppressed. The outline of the plot; the determination to blow up James I. and the Parliament; the hiring of a house by Percy; the attempt to mine through the foundations from Percy's house under the House of Lords; the hiring by Percy of a cellar under the House of Lords, vacated just at the right moment; the storing therein of the powder; the delivery of a warning letter to Lord Monteagle by Tresham; the discovery of the powder and of Fawkes less than twenty-four hours before the fatal moment, are too well known to be detailed, and it must be repeated we should know none of these things had we not the documents above mentioned.
It was suggested at the time that the conspiracy did not originate with the Catholics, but that James's secretary, Cecil, had concocted it in order to have them at his mercy; that the idea once communicated was taken up and carried out by men made desperate by seeing the daily persecution to which their co-religionists were exposed. Whether this be so or not, it is certain that at first five men were implicated—Catesby, who has the name of originating the plot, and who certainly was the chief agent in getting others to join; Percy, whose conduct throughout draws suspicion on him as being either the dupe or the tool of someone behind the scenes (for instance, his frequenting Cecil's house at night during the time the plot was being hatched; his travelling upon the king's especial business, with writs empowering him to demand horses at each halting-place, within three days of the 5th of November); Thomas Winter and Fawkes, both soldiers of fortune; and Wright, a convert, who had already been much harassed on account of his religion. Six others were entrapped during the course of the year, and, later on, Rokewood, Everard Digby, and Tresham were invited to join on account of their wealth and position. It is only fair to say that it was with extreme difficulty that they could be induced to join. They were won solely by Catesby's specious arguments.
Warnings were repeatedly given to Cecil by France and Flanders that something underhand was being attempted against the Government, but were apparently unheeded. The friends of the conspirators also noticed their preoccupation, and endeavoured to prevent the perpetration of a dangerous resistance, but to no purpose.
As time went on the plot grew, and at last, so the confessions state, it was determined, once Parliament was blown up, to seize upon Prince Charles and have him proclaimed by Catesby, and to name a Protector—surely a mad programme, even if it had not been so criminal. A party of Catholic nobles was to be invited by Digby to a hunting-match, and as soon as the news that the rest of the plan had been carried out should reach them, Digby was to divulge the secret, to call on his guests to rise for God and the country, and then to set to work to raise forces. In spite of the fact that the conspirators had reason to suspect that Tresham had betrayed them, it appears they did not abandon their desperate undertaking. When it failed, and Fawkes was taken, Percy and those who had remained in London rode, on November 5, without stopping, except to change horses, to Duncombe, where the hunting-match had been that day begun.
It would seem that they told a lying tale to Digby, saying that the king was dead, and that a rising would still be successful. As soon as some idea of what was going on got abroad, all the gentlemen but three rode off, indignant at the wicked ruse by which they had been trapped thither. All attempts to raise the country were unsuccessful: one Catholic noble after another condemned the plot, and refused absolutely to have anything to do with it. The conspirators had got as far as Holbeche, on the southern borders of Staffordshire, before they gave up all hopes. Here they seem to have realized the nature of their act, and, kneeling down, they begged God to forgive them, and they prepared to die. They had been followed by the justices of the counties through which they had passed. The castle was surrounded, and in the courtyard they fought, sword in hand, against men armed with guns. Four were shot—Catesby, Percy, Thomas Winter, and T. Wright. The rest were captured, some on the spot, others at a distance.
At once the whole body of Catholics, the archpriest at their head, condemned the murderous attempt. The trial of the conspirators was long and protracted, as there were many efforts at inculpating persons who had really had nothing to do with the plot. From the first there was a deliberate determination to find out that the Jesuits were at the bottom of the affair, although every one of the conspirators declared that they had nothing to do with it. It transpired that Father Gerard was the friend and confessor of Everard Digby, and that he had given Holy Communion to the first five on the day they took the fatal oath to be true to the plot, though they all declared on oath he knew nothing of what was going on. Catesby had induced Digby to join on the ground that the Jesuits approved the plot. Catesby had asked Father Garnet whether in a war, during a battle or a siege, it was lawful to kill the innocent with the guilty, and had twisted the answer he had received on a general hypothetical case into an explicit approval of this particular case of blowing up innocent members of Parliament with a guilty king and guilty ministers, not in a war at all, but in a planned assassination. Catesby, again, had been to confession to Father Grcenway, and had told him of what was in hand, and had given him leave to consult his superior, Father Garnet. It was evident, therefore, that these two fathers knew something of the plot, and an attempt was made to draw Father Gerard also into the accusation; but on this occasion Father Garnet only was taken. The eight conspirators were put to death, and then the trial of the Jesuit began.
Nothing could be extracted from him beyond what the prisoners had already confessed, until he was decoyed into a conversation with another Jesuit prisoner, Father Oldcorne, spies being placed in a hollow part of the wall to listen to them. Some compromising words passed between them. When charged with accusations based on these conversations, Garnet denied, but Oldcorne, interrogated separately, acknowledged. The former then justified himself by saying that all his information was derived from confessions: hence he might not speak hitherto, but that Catesby had given leave for the matter to be spoken of if it came out in any other way. He was examined three-and-twenty times, and at length was condemned to suffer the death of a traitor. At his execution he begged pardon for not having done that which he might have done, from the general knowledge he had of what was going on, to hinder the plot. The knowledge he derived from confession, he explained again, he could not use.
If Cecil planned the plot, he may certainly be said to have attained his aims. His reputation, position, and wealth were wonderfully enhanced. Catholics and Jesuits were at his mercy. The whole nation hated them, and they might be persecuted without let or hindrance. His personal rival, the Earl of Northumberland, as well as other Catholic lords, were punished—the first because he was the employer or relative of Percy, the others because the conspirators had wished to warn them against going to Parliament on the fatal 5th.
If the conspirators were the originators, they had injured every one they sought to help. In spite of the fact that not one Catholic was implicated, except those directly concerned, the Parliament which met after the discovery of the plot passed against the unhappy Catholics seventy fresh enactments of such extreme severity that the courts of neighbouring sovereigns protested at the scandalous and tyrannical laws. The adherents of the ancient faith were covered with odium, and much of the hatred that has been an heirloom in so many a Protestant home against the Catholics, Jesuits, and the Sacrament of Confession, is traceable to this most iniquitous attempt. Moreover, a new Act was passed, termed an Act of Allegiance, by which Catholics were called upon to reject the Pope's authority in temporal matters. A very large and influential body of Catholics, including several religious Orders, believed the oath might be taken in conscience; another party, led by the Jesuits, maintained that it could not. Their refusal exasperated James, and, as eventually the Pope declared in favour of the second opinion, many priests and others suffered death rather than take the oath.
The whole reign of James is marked by ceaseless harassing of Catholics. But when the king sought a Spanish alliance, he consented to negotiate respecting the penal laws pressing upon Catholics, and from 1618 to 1628 no one was put to death for the faith in England. As there seemed a loophole of escape in that direction, the Spanish party, which had played such an important part in politics since Mary's reign, was swelled by many influential Catholics. The nation at large was bitterly opposed to any such union, and demanded a war with Spain and the continuation of the penal laws of religion.