If he will not otherwise confess,” the King had ended by saying, “the gentler tortures are to be first used unto him.”
Continuing The Gunpowder Plot,
our selection from What the Gunpowder Plot Was by Samuel R. Gardiner published in 1897. The selection is presented in five easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in The Gunpowder Plot.
Place: House of Lords, London
Upon this James himself intervened, submitting to the Commissioners a series of questions with the object of drawing out of the prisoner a true account of himself, and of his relations to Percy. A letter had been found on Fawkes when he was taken, directed not to Johnson, but to Fawkes, and this among other things had raised the King’s suspicions. In his third examination, on the afternoon of the 6th, in the presence of Northampton, Devonshire, Nottingham, and Salisbury, Fawkes gave a good deal of information, more or less true, about himself; and, while still maintaining that his real name was Johnson, said that the letter, which was written by a Mrs. Bostock in Flanders, was addressed to him by another name “because he called himself Fawkes,” that is to say, because he had acquired the name of Fawkes as an alias.
“If he will not otherwise confess,” the King had ended by saying, “the gentler tortures are to be first used unto him, et sic per gradus ad ima tenditur.” To us, living in the nineteenth century, these words are simply horrible. As a Scotchman, however, James had long been familiar with the use of torture as an ordinary means of legal investigation, while even in England, though unknown to the law, that is to say, to the practice of the ordinary courts of justice, it had for some generations been used not infrequently by order of the council to extract evidence from a recalcitrant witness, though, according to Bacon, not for the purpose of driving him to incriminate himself. Surely, if the use of torture was admissible at all, this was a case for its employment. The prisoner had informed the government that he had been at the bottom of a plot of the most sanguinary kind, and had acknowledged by implication that there were fellow-conspirators whom he refused to name.
If, indeed, Father Gerard’s view of the case, that the government, or at least Salisbury, had for some time known all about the conspiracy, nothing — not even the Gunpowder Plot itself — could be more atrocious than the infliction of torments on a fellow-creature to make him reveal a secret already in their possession. If, however, the evidence I have adduced be worth anything, this was by no means the case. What it shows is that on the afternoon of the 6th all that the members of the government were aware of was that an unknown number of conspirators were at large — they knew not where — and might at that very moment be appealing — they knew not with what effect — to Catholic land-owners and their tenants, who were, without doubt, exasperated by the recent enforcement of the penal laws. We may, if we please, condemn the conduct of the government which had brought the danger of a general Catholic rising within sight. We cannot deny that, at that particular moment, they had real cause of alarm. At all events, no immediate steps were taken to put this part of the King’s orders in execution.
Some little information, indeed, was coming in from other witnesses. In his first examination, on November 5th, Fawkes had stated that in his absence he locked up the powder, and “one Gibbons’ wife who dwells thereby had the charge of the residue of the house.” An examination of her husband on the 5th, however, only elicited that he, being a porter, had with two others carried three thousand billets into the vault. On the 6th, Ellen, the wife of Andrew Bright, stated that Percy’s servant had, about the beginning of March, asked her to let the vault to his master, and that she had consented to abandon her tenancy of it if Mrs. Whynniard, from whom she held it, would consent. Mrs. Whynniard’s consent having been obtained, Mrs. Bright, or rather Mrs. Skinner — she being a widow remarried subsequently to Andrew Bright — received two pounds for giving up the premises.
The important point in this evidence is that the date of March, 1605, given as that on which Percy entered into possession of the cellar, showed that Fawkes’ statement that he had brought powder into the cellar at Christmas, 1604, could not possibly be true. On the 7th Mrs. Whynniard confirmed Mrs. Bright’s statement, and also stated that, a year earlier, in March, 1604, “Mr. Percy began to labor very earnestly with this examinate and her husband to have the lodging by the Parliament House, which one Mr. Henry Ferris, of Warwickshire, had long held before, and, having obtained the said Mr. Ferris’ good-will to part from it after long suit by himself and great entreaty of Mr. Carleton, Mr. Epsley, and other gentleman belonging to the Earl of Northumberland, affirming him to be a very honest gentleman, and that they could not have a better tenant, her husband and she were contented to let him have the said lodging at the same rent Mr. Ferris paid for it.”
Mrs. Whynniard had plainly never heard of the mine; and that the Government was in equal ignorance is shown by the indorsement on the agreement of Ferris — or rather Ferrers — to make over his tenancy to Percy — “The bargain between Ferris and Percy for the bloody cellar, found in Winter’s lodging.” Winter’s name had been under consideration for some little time, and doubtless the discovery of this paper was made on, or more probably before, the 7th. The Government, having as yet nothing but Fawkes’ evidence to go upon, connected the hiring of the house with the hiring of the cellar, and at least showed no signs of suspecting anything more.
On the same day, the 7th, something was definitely heard of the proceedings of the other plotters, who had either gathered at Dunchurch for the hunting-match, or had fled from London to join them, and a proclamation was issued for the arrest of Percy, Catesby, Rokewood, Thomas Winter, Edward  Grant, John and Christopher Wright, and Catesby’s servant, Robert Ashfield. They were charged with assembling in troops in the counties of Warwick and Worcester, breaking into stables and seizing horses. Fawkes, too, was on that day subjected to a fourth examination. Not very much that was new was extracted from him. He acknowledged that his real name was Guy Fawkes, that — which he had denied before — he had received the sacrament not to discover any of the conspirators, and also that there had been at first five persons privy to the plot, and afterward five or six more “were generally acquainted that an action was to be performed for the Catholic cause, and saith that he doth not know that they were acquainted with the whole conspiracy.” Being asked whether Catesby, the two Wrights, Winter, or Tresham, were privy, he refused to accuse any one.
[10: Properly “John.”]
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