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Charles Dickens
A Child's History of England 32
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CHAPTER XXXII
ENGLAND UNDER JAMES THE FIRST



'OUR cousin of Scotland' was ugly, awkward, and shuffling both in
mind and person. His tongue was much too large for his mouth,
his legs were much too weak for his body, and his dull goggle-eyes
stared and rolled like an idiot's. He was cunning, covetous,
wasteful, idle, drunken, greedy, dirty, cowardly, a great swearer,
and the most conceited man on earth. His figure - what is commonly
called rickety from his birth - presented a most ridiculous
appearance, dressed in thick padded clothes, as a safeguard against
being stabbed (of which he lived in continual fear), of a grass-
green colour from head to foot, with a hunting-horn dangling at his
side instead of a sword, and his hat and feather sticking over one
eye, or hanging on the back of his head, as he happened to toss it
on. He used to loll on the necks of his favourite courtiers, and
slobber their faces, and kiss and pinch their cheeks; and the
greatest favourite he ever had, used to sign himself in his letters
to his royal master, His Majesty's 'dog and slave,' and used to
address his majesty as 'his Sowship.' His majesty was the worst
rider ever seen, and thought himself the best. He was one of the
most impertinent talkers (in the broadest Scotch) ever heard, and
boasted of being unanswerable in all manner of argument. He wrote
some of the most wearisome treatises ever read - among others, a
book upon witchcraft, in which he was a devout believer - and
thought himself a prodigy of authorship. He thought, and wrote,
and said, that a king had a right to make and unmake what laws he
pleased, and ought to be accountable to nobody on earth. This is
the plain, true character of the personage whom the greatest men
about the court praised and flattered to that degree, that I doubt
if there be anything much more shameful in the annals of human
nature.

He came to the English throne with great ease. The miseries of a
disputed succession had been felt so long, and so dreadfully, that
he was proclaimed within a few hours of Elizabeth's death, and was
accepted by the nation, even without being asked to give any
pledge that he would govern well, or that he would redress crying
grievances. He took a month to come from Edinburgh to London;
and, by way of exercising his new power, hanged a pickpocket on the
journey without any trial, and knighted everybody he could lay hold
of. He made two hundred knights before he got to his palace in
London, and seven hundred before he had been in it three months.
He also shovelled sixty-two new peers into the House of Lords -
and there was a pretty large sprinkling of Scotchmen among them,
you may believe.

His Sowship's prime Minister, CECIL (for I cannot do better than
call his majesty what his favourite called him), was the enemy of
Sir Walter Raleigh, and also of Sir Walter's political friend, LORD
COBHAM; and his Sowship's first trouble was a plot originated by
these two, and entered into by some others, with the old object of
seizing the King and keeping him in imprisonment until he should
change his ministers. There were Catholic priests in the plot, and
there were Puritan noblemen too; for, although the Catholics and
Puritans were strongly opposed to each other, they united at this
time against his Sowship, because they knew that he had a design
against both, after pretending to be friendly to each; this design
being to have only one high and convenient form of the Protestant
religion, which everybody should be bound to belong to, whether
they liked it or not. This plot was mixed up with another, which
may or may not have had some reference to placing on the throne,
at some time, the LADY ARABELLA STUART; whose misfortune it was,
to be the daughter of the younger brother of his Sowship's father,
but who was quite innocent of any part in the scheme. Sir Walter
Raleigh was accused on the confession of Lord Cobham - a miserable
creature, who said one thing at one time, and another thing at
another time, and could be relied upon in nothing. The trial of
Sir Walter Raleigh lasted from eight in the morning until nearly
midnight; he defended himself with such eloquence, genius, and
spirit against all accusations, and against the insults of COKE,
the Attorney-General - who, according to the custom of the time,
foully abused him - that those who went there detesting the
prisoner, came away admiring him, and declaring that anything so
wonderful and so captivating was never heard. He was found guilty,
nevertheless, and sentenced to death. Execution was deferred,
and he was taken to the Tower. The two Catholic priests, less
fortunate, were executed with the usual atrocity; and Lord Cobham
and two others were pardoned on the scaffold. His Sowship thought
it wonderfully knowing in him to surprise the people by pardoning
these three at the very block; but, blundering, and bungling, as
usual, he had very nearly overreached himself. For, the messenger
on horseback who brought the pardon, came so late, that he was
pushed to the outside of the crowd, and was obliged to shout and
roar out what he came for. The miserable Cobham did not gain
much by being spared that day. He lived, both as a prisoner and
a beggar, utterly despised, and miserably poor, for thirteen years,
and then died in an old outhouse belonging to one of his former
servants.

This plot got rid of, and Sir Walter Raleigh safely shut up in the
Tower, his Sowship held a great dispute with the Puritans on their
presenting a petition to him, and had it all his own way - not so
very wonderful, as he would talk continually, and would not hear
anybody else - and filled the Bishops with admiration. It was
comfortably settled that there was to be only one form of religion,
and that all men were to think exactly alike. But, although this
was arranged two centuries and a half ago, and although the
arrangement was supported by much fining and imprisonment, I
do not find that it is quite successful, even yet.

His Sowship, having that uncommonly high opinion of himself as
a king, had a very low opinion of Parliament as a power that
audaciously wanted to control him. When he called his first
Parliament after he had been king a year, he accordingly thought
he would take pretty high ground with them, and told them that he
commanded them 'as an absolute king.' The Parliament thought
those strong words, and saw the necessity of upholding their
authority. His Sowship had three children: Prince Henry, Prince
Charles, and the Princess Elizabeth. It would have been well for
one of these, and we shall too soon see which, if he had learnt
a little wisdom concerning Parliaments from his father's obstinacy.

Now, the people still labouring under their old dread of the
Catholic religion, this Parliament revived and strengthened the
severe laws against it. And this so angered ROBERT CATESBY, a
restless Catholic gentleman of an old family, that he formed one
of the most desperate and terrible designs ever conceived in the
mind of man; no less a scheme than the Gunpowder Plot.

His object was, when the King, lords, and commons, should be
assembled at the next opening of Parliament, to blow them up, one
and all, with a great mine of gunpowder. The first person to whom
he confided this horrible idea was THOMAS WINTER, a Worcestershire
gentleman who had served in the army abroad, and had been secretly
employed in Catholic projects. While Winter was yet undecided, and
when he had gone over to the Netherlands, to learn from the Spanish
Ambassador there whether there was any hope of Catholics being
relieved through the intercession of the King of Spain with his
Sowship, he found at Ostend a tall, dark, daring man, whom he had
known when they were both soldiers abroad, and whose name was
GUIDO - or GUY - FAWKES. Resolved to join the plot, he proposed it
to this man, knowing him to be the man for any desperate deed, and
they two came back to England together. Here, they admitted two
other conspirators; THOMAS PERCY, related to the Earl of
Northumberland, and JOHN WRIGHT, his brother-in-law. All these met
together in a solitary house in the open fields which were then
near Clement's Inn, now a closely blocked-up part of London; and
when they had all taken a great oath of secrecy, Catesby told the
rest what his plan was. They then went up-stairs into a garret,
and received the Sacrament from FATHER GERARD, a Jesuit, who is
said not to have known actually of the Gunpowder Plot, but who, I
think, must have had his suspicions that there was something
desperate afoot.

Percy was a Gentleman Pensioner, and as he had occasional duties
to perform about the Court, then kept at Whitehall, there would be
nothing suspicious in his living at Westminster. So, having looked
well about him, and having found a house to let, the back of which
joined the Parliament House, he hired it of a person named FERRIS,
for the purpose of undermining the wall. Having got possession of
this house, the conspirators hired another on the Lambeth side of
the Thames, which they used as a storehouse for wood, gunpowder,
and other combustible matters. These were to be removed at night
(and afterwards were removed), bit by bit, to the house at
Westminster; and, that there might be some trusty person to keep
watch over the Lambeth stores, they admitted another conspirator,
by name ROBERT KAY, a very poor Catholic gentleman.

All these arrangements had been made some months, and it was a
dark, wintry, December night, when the conspirators, who had been
in the meantime dispersed to avoid observation, met in the house
at Westminster, and began to dig. They had laid in a good stock of
eatables, to avoid going in and out, and they dug and dug with
great ardour. But, the wall being tremendously thick, and the work
very severe, they took into their plot CHRISTOPHER WRIGHT, a
younger brother of John Wright, that they might have a new pair of
hands to help. And Christopher Wright fell to like a fresh man,
and they dug and dug by night and by day, and Fawkes stood sentinel
all the time. And if any man's heart seemed to fail him at all,
Fawkes said, 'Gentlemen, we have abundance of powder and shot
here, and there is no fear of our being taken alive, even if discovered.'
The same Fawkes, who, in the capacity of sentinel, was always
prowling about, soon picked up the intelligence that the King had
prorogued the Parliament again, from the seventh of February, the
day first fixed upon, until the third of October. When the
conspirators knew this, they agreed to separate until after the
Christmas holidays, and to take no notice of each other in the
meanwhile, and never to write letters to one another on any
account. So, the house in Westminster was shut up again, and I
suppose the neighbours thought that those strange-looking men
who lived there so gloomily, and went out so seldom, were gone
away to have a merry Christmas somewhere.

It was the beginning of February, sixteen hundred and five, when
Catesby met his fellow-conspirators again at this Westminster
house. He had now admitted three more; JOHN GRANT, a Warwickshire
gentleman of a melancholy temper, who lived in a doleful house near
Stratford-upon-Avon, with a frowning wall all round it, and a deep
moat; ROBERT WINTER, eldest brother of Thomas; and Catesby's own
servant, THOMAS BATES, who, Catesby thought, had had some
suspicion of what his master was about. These three had all suffered
more or less for their religion in Elizabeth's time. And now, they all
began to dig again, and they dug and dug by night and by day.

They found it dismal work alone there, underground, with such a
fearful secret on their minds, and so many murders before them.
They were filled with wild fancies. Sometimes, they thought they
heard a great bell tolling, deep down in the earth under the
Parliament House; sometimes, they thought they heard low voices
muttering about the Gunpowder Plot; once in the morning, they
really did hear a great rumbling noise over their heads, as they
dug and sweated in their mine. Every man stopped and looked
aghast at his neighbour, wondering what had happened, when that
bold prowler, Fawkes, who had been out to look, came in and told
them that it was only a dealer in coals who had occupied a cellar
under the Parliament House, removing his stock in trade to some
other place. Upon this, the conspirators, who with all their digging
and digging had not yet dug through the tremendously thick wall,
changed their plan; hired that cellar, which was directly under the
House of Lords; put six-and-thirty barrels of gunpowder in it, and
covered them over with fagots and coals. Then they all dispersed
again till September, when the following new conspirators were
admitted; SIR EDWARD BAYNHAM, of Gloucestershire; SIR EVERARD
DIGBY, of Rutlandshire; AMBROSE ROOKWOOD, of Suffolk; FRANCIS
TRESHAM, of Northamptonshire. Most of these were rich, and were
to assist the plot, some with money and some with horses on which
the conspirators were to ride through the country and rouse the
Catholics after the Parliament should be blown into air.

Parliament being again prorogued from the third of October to the
fifth of November, and the conspirators being uneasy lest their
design should have been found out, Thomas Winter said he would go
up into the House of Lords on the day of the prorogation, and see
how matters looked. Nothing could be better. The unconscious
Commissioners were walking about and talking to one another, just
over the six-and-thirty barrels of gunpowder. He came back and
told the rest so, and they went on with their preparations. They
hired a ship, and kept it ready in the Thames, in which Fawkes was
to sail for Flanders after firing with a slow match the train that
was to explode the powder. A number of Catholic gentlemen not in
the secret, were invited, on pretence of a hunting party, to meet
Sir Everard Digby at Dunchurch on the fatal day, that they might be
ready to act together. And now all was ready.

But, now, the great wickedness and danger which had been all along
at the bottom of this wicked plot, began to show itself. As the
fifth of November drew near, most of the conspirators, remembering
that they had friends and relations who would be in the House of
Lords that day, felt some natural relenting, and a wish to warn
them to keep away. They were not much comforted by Catesby's
declaring that in such a cause he would blow up his own son. LORD
MOUNTEAGLE, Tresham's brother-in-law, was certain to be in the
house; and when Tresham found that he could not prevail upon the
rest to devise any means of sparing their friends, he wrote a
mysterious letter to this lord and left it at his lodging in the
dusk, urging him to keep away from the opening of Parliament,
'since God and man had concurred to punish the wickedness of the
times.' It contained the words 'that the Parliament should receive
a terrible blow, and yet should not see who hurt them.' And it
added, 'the danger is past, as soon as you have burnt the letter.'

The ministers and courtiers made out that his Sowship, by a direct
miracle from Heaven, found out what this letter meant. The truth
is, that they were not long (as few men would be) in finding out
for themselves; and it was decided to let the conspirators alone,
until the very day before the opening of Parliament. That the
conspirators had their fears, is certain; for, Tresham himself said
before them all, that they were every one dead men; and, although
even he did not take flight, there is reason to suppose that he had
warned other persons besides Lord Mounteagle. However, they were
all firm; and Fawkes, who was a man of iron, went down every day
and night to keep watch in the cellar as usual. He was there about
two in the afternoon of the fourth, when the Lord Chamberlain and
Lord Mounteagle threw open the door and looked in. 'Who are you,
friend?' said they. 'Why,' said Fawkes, 'I am Mr. Percy's servant,
and am looking after his store of fuel here.' 'Your master has
laid in a pretty good store,' they returned, and shut the door, and
went away. Fawkes, upon this, posted off to the other conspirators
to tell them all was quiet, and went back and shut himself up in
the dark, black cellar again, where he heard the bell go twelve
o'clock and usher in the fifth of November. About two hours
afterwards, he slowly opened the door, and came out to look about
him, in his old prowling way. He was instantly seized and bound,
by a party of soldiers under SIR THOMAS KNEVETT. He had a watch
upon him, some touchwood, some tinder, some slow matches; and
there was a dark lantern with a candle in it, lighted, behind the door.
He had his boots and spurs on - to ride to the ship, I suppose -
and it was well for the soldiers that they took him so suddenly.
If they had left him but a moment's time to light a match, he
certainly would have tossed it in among the powder, and blown up
himself and them.

They took him to the King's bed-chamber first of all, and there the
King (causing him to be held very tight, and keeping a good way
off), asked him how he could have the heart to intend to destroy so
many innocent people? 'Because,' said Guy Fawkes, 'desperate
diseases need desperate remedies.' To a little Scotch favourite,
with a face like a terrier, who asked him (with no particular
wisdom) why he had collected so much gunpowder, he replied, because
he had meant to blow Scotchmen back to Scotland, and it would take
a deal of powder to do that. Next day he was carried to the Tower,
but would make no confession. Even after being horribly tortured,
he confessed nothing that the Government did not already know;
though he must have been in a fearful state - as his signature,
still preserved, in contrast with his natural hand-writing before
he was put upon the dreadful rack, most frightfully shows. Bates,
a very different man, soon said the Jesuits had had to do with the
plot, and probably, under the torture, would as readily have said
anything. Tresham, taken and put in the Tower too, made
confessions and unmade them, and died of an illness that was heavy
upon him. Rookwood, who had stationed relays of his own horses all
the way to Dunchurch, did not mount to escape until the middle of
the day, when the news of the plot was all over London. On the
road, he came up with the two Wrights, Catesby, and Percy; and they
all galloped together into Northamptonshire. Thence to Dunchurch,
where they found the proposed party assembled. Finding, however,
that there had been a plot, and that it had been discovered, the
party disappeared in the course of the night, and left them alone
with Sir Everard Digby. Away they all rode again, through
Warwickshire and Worcestershire, to a house called Holbeach, on
the borders of Staffordshire. They tried to raise the Catholics on
their way, but were indignantly driven off by them. All this time
they were hotly pursued by the sheriff of Worcester, and a fast
increasing concourse of riders. At last, resolving to defend
themselves at Holbeach, they shut themselves up in the house, and
put some wet powder before the fire to dry. But it blew up, and
Catesby was singed and blackened, and almost killed, and some
of the others were sadly hurt. Still, knowing that they must die,
they resolved to die there, and with only their swords in their
hands appeared at the windows to be shot at by the sheriff and his
assistants. Catesby said to Thomas Winter, after Thomas had been
hit in the right arm which dropped powerless by his side, 'Stand by
me, Tom, and we will die together!' - which they did, being shot
through the body by two bullets from one gun. John Wright, and
Christopher Wright, and Percy, were also shot. Rookwood and Digby
were taken: the former with a broken arm and a wound in his body
too.

It was the fifteenth of January, before the trial of Guy Fawkes,
and such of the other conspirators as were left alive, came on.
They were all found guilty, all hanged, drawn, and quartered:
some, in St. Paul's Churchyard, on the top of Ludgate-hill; some,
before the Parliament House. A Jesuit priest, named HENRY GARNET,
to whom the dreadful design was said to have been communicated,
was taken and tried; and two of his servants, as well as a poor priest
who was taken with him, were tortured without mercy. He himself
was not tortured, but was surrounded in the Tower by tamperers
and traitors, and so was made unfairly to convict himself out of his
own mouth. He said, upon his trial, that he had done all he could
to prevent the deed, and that he could not make public what had
been told him in confession - though I am afraid he knew of the
plot in other ways. He was found guilty and executed, after a
manful defence, and the Catholic Church made a saint of him; some
rich and powerful persons, who had had nothing to do with the
project, were fined and imprisoned for it by the Star Chamber; the
Catholics, in general, who had recoiled with horror from the idea
of the infernal contrivance, were unjustly put under more severe
laws than before; and this was the end of the Gunpowder Plot.



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