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   Chapter 4 STRUCTURAL DIFFICULTIES.

What Gunpowder Plot Was By Samuel Rawson Gardiner Characters: 42756

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


From a study of the documentary evidence, I pass to an examination of those structural conditions which Father Gerard pronounces to be fatal to the 'traditional' story. The first step is obviously to ascertain the exact position of Whynniard's house, part of which was rented by Percy. The investigator is, however, considerably assisted by Father Gerard, who has successfully exploded the old belief that this building lay to the southwest of the House of Lords. His argument, which appears to me to be conclusive, runs as follows:-

"That the lodging hired by Percy stood near the southeast 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 lie close to the pale of Sir Thomas Parry's garden, and men going to and from the water through the back door that leadeth into Mr. Percy, his lodging.-[Gunpowder Plot Book, 40, part 2.]

"2. Fawkes, in his examination of November 5, 1605, speaks of the window in his chamber near 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."[130]

I think, however, that a still closer identification is possible. On page 80 will be seen a frontage towards the river, marked 'very old walls, remaining in 1795 & 1800,' of which the line corresponds fairly with that of the house in the view given as the frontispiece to this volume.

On part of the site behind it is written 'Very Old House,' and the remainder is said to have been occupied by a garden for many years. It may, however, be gathered from the view that this piece of ground was covered by part of the house in 1799, and I imagine that the 'many years' must have commenced in 1807, when the house was demolished (see view at p. 89). If any doubt remains as to the locality of the front it will be removed by Capon's pencilled note on the door to the left,[131] stating that it led to Parliament Place.[132]

The house marked separately to the right in the plan, as Mrs. Robe's house, 1799, is evidently identical with the more modern building in the frontispiece, and therefore does not concern us.

With this comparatively modern plan should be compared the three which follow in succession (pp. 81, 82, 83), respectively dated 1685, 1739, and 1761. They are taken from the Crace Collection of plans in the Print Room of the British Museum, Portfolio xi. Nos. 30, 45, 46.

The first of these three plans differs from the later ones in two important particulars. In the first place, the shaded part indicating buildings is divided by dark lines, and, in the second place, this shaded part covers more ground. I suppose there can be little doubt that the dark lines indicate party walls, and we are thus enabled to understand how it is that, whilst in writing to Parry[133] Salisbury speaks of Percy as having taken a part of Whynniard's house, Percy is spoken of in all the remaining evidence that has reached us as taking a house. Salisbury, no doubt, was thinking of the whole tenement held by Whynniard as a house, whilst others gave that name to such a part of it as could be separately held by a single tenant. The other difference between the plans is less easy to explain. Neither of the later ones show that excrescence towards the river-bank, abutting on its northern side on Cotton Garden, which is so noted a feature in the plan of 1685. At one time I was inclined to think that we had here the 'low room new builded,' that in which Percy at first stored his powder; but this would be to make the house rented by him far larger than it is likely to have been. A more probable explanation is given by the plan itself. It will be seen that the shading includes the internal courtyard, perceptible in the two later plans, and it does not therefore necessarily indicate the presence of buildings. May not the shaded part reaching to the river mean no more than that in 1685 there was some yard or garden specially attached to the House?

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Part of a Plan of the Ancient Palace of Westminster, by the late Mr. William Capon,

Measured and Drawn between 1793 and 1823.-Vetusta Monumenta, vol. v.

The houses at the edge of the river were not in existence in 1605,

the ground on which they were built having been reclaimed since that date.

From a Plan of part of Westminster, 1685.

A. Probable position of the chamber attached to the House of Lords.

B. Probable position of the house leased to Percy.

These references are not in the original plan.

From a Plan of Part of Westminster, with Intended Improvements of

the Houses of Lords and Commons, by W. Kent, 1739.

A red line showing the ground set apart by Kent for building is omitted.

From a Plan of Westminster Hall and the Houses of Parliament

as it appeared in 1761

Part of this lettering is in pencil in the original plan.

Before giving reasons for selecting any one part of Whynniard's block as that rented from him by Percy, it is necessary to face a difficulty raised by Father Gerard:-

"Neither," he writes, "does the house appear to have been well suited for the purposes for which it was taken. Speed tells us, and he is confirmed by Bishop Barlow, of Lincoln, that it was let out to tenants only when Parliament was not assembled, and during a session formed part of the premises at the disposal of the Lords, whom it served as a withdrawing room. As this plot was of necessity to take effect during a session, when the place would be in other hands, it is very hard to understand how it was intended that the final and all-important operation should be conducted."[134]

This objection is put still more strongly in a subsequent passage:-

"We have already observed on the nature of the house occupied in Percy's name. If this were, as Speed tells us, and as there is no reason to doubt, at the service of the Peers during a session for a withdrawing-room, and if the session was to begin on November 5, how could Fawkes hope not only to remain in possession, but to carry on his strange proceedings unobserved amid the crowd of lacqueys and officials with whom the opening of the Parliament by the Sovereign must needs have flooded the premises. How was he, unobserved, to get into the fatal 'cellar'?"[135]

It is easy enough to brush away Father Gerard's alleged confirmation by Bishop Barlow,[136] who, writing as he did in the reign of Charles II., carries no weight on such a point. Besides, he did not write a book on the Gunpowder Plot at all. He merely republished, in 1679, an old official narrative of the trial, with an unimportant preface of his own. What Father Gerard quotes here and elsewhere is, however, not even taken from this republication, but from an anonymous pamphlet published in 1678, and reprinted in The Harleian Miscellany, iii. 121, which is avowedly a cento made up from earlier writers, and in which the words referred to are doubtless copied directly from Speed.

Speed's own testimony, however, cannot be so lightly dismissed, especially as it is found in the first edition of his History, published in 1611, and therefore only six years after the event:-

"No place," he says, "was held fitter than a certain edifice adjoining the wall of the Parliament House, which served for withdrawing rooms for the assembled Lords, and out of Parliament was at the disposal of the keeper of the place and wardrobe thereunto belonging."[137]

This is quite specific, and unless Speed's evidence can be in any way modified, fully justifies Father Gerard in his contention. Let us, however, turn to the agreement for the house in question:-

"Memorandum that it is concluded between Thomas Percy of London Esquire and Henry Ferrers of Bordesley Clinton in the County of Warwick Gentleman the xxiiii day of March in the second year of our Sovereign Lord King James.[138]

"That the said Henry hath granted to the said Thomas to enjoy his house in Westminster belonging to the Parliament House, the said Thomas getting the consent of Mr. Whynniard, and satisfying me, the said Henry, for my charges bestowed thereupon, as shall be thought fit by two indifferent men chosen between us.

"And that he shall also have the other house that Gideon Gibbons dwelleth in, with an assignment of a lease from Mr. Whynniard thereof, satisfying me as aforesaid, and using the now tenant well.

"And the said Thomas hath lent unto me the said Henry twenty pounds, to be allowed upon reckoning or to be repaid again at the will of the said Thomas.

"Henry Ferrers.

"Sealed and delivered in the presence of

Jo: White and Christopher Symons.[139]"

It is therefore beyond question, on the evidence of this agreement, that Speed was right in connecting with Parliament a house rented by Percy. It is, however, also beyond question, on the evidence of the same agreement, that he also took a second house, of which Whynniard was to give him a lease. The inference that Percy would have been turned out of this second house when Parliament met seems, therefore, to be untenable. Whynniard, it may be observed, had, on March 24, 1602, been appointed, in conjunction with his son, Keeper of the Old Palace,[140] so that the block of buildings concerned, which is within the Old Palace, may very well have been his official residence.

Let us now cast our eyes on the plan on p. 81. We find there a long division of the building running between the wall of the House of Lords and the back wall of the remainder of the block. It certainly looks as if this must have been the house, or division of a house, belonging to Parliament, and this probability is turned into something like certainty by the two views that now follow, taken from the Crace Collection; Views, Portfolio xv., Nos. 18, 26.

It will be seen that the first of these two views, taken in 1804 (p. 88), shows us a large mullioned window, inside which must have been a room of some considerable length to require so large an opening to admit light, as its breadth must evidently have been limited. Such a room would be out of place in the rambling building we have been examining, but by no means out of place as a chamber or gallery connected with the House of Lords, and capable of serving as a place of meeting for the Commissioners appointed to consider a scheme of union with Scotland. A glance at the view on page 89, which was taken in 1807, when the wall of the House of Lords was being laid bare by the demolition of the houses abutting on it, shows two apertures, a window with a Gothic arch, and an opening with a square head, which may very well have served as a door, whilst the window may have been blocked up. If such a connection with the House of Lords can be established, there seems no reason to doubt that we have the withdrawing room fixed beyond doubt. Father Gerard mentions an old print representing 'the two Houses assembled in the presence of Queen Elizabeth,' and having 'windows on both sides.'[141] Such a print can only refer to a time before the mullioned chamber was in existence, and therefore-unless this print, like a subsequent one, was a mere copy of an earlier one still-we have fair evidence that the large room was not in existence in some year in the reign of Elizabeth, whilst the plan at p. 80 shows that it was in existence in 1685. That it was there in 1605 is not, indeed, to be proved by other evidence than that it manifestly supplies us with the withdrawing room for the Lords and for the Commissioners for the Union of which we hear so much.

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East End of the Prince's Chamber.

Published July 1, 1804, by J. T. Smith.

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Views of the East Side of the House of Lords, the East End of the Prince's Chamber, &c.

Taken October 8, 1807.

N.B. From the doorway out of which a man is peeping, nearly in the centre of the print,

Guy Fawkes was to have made his escape. Published Nov. 4, 1807, by J. T. Smith.

That in the early part of the nineteenth century the storey beneath this room was occupied by a passage leading from the court opening on Parliament Place, and Cotton Garden, is shown in the plan at p. 81; and the views at pp. 88, 89, rather indicate that that passage was in existence when the old house, which I call Whynniard's block, was still undemolished. If this was so, we are able to find a place for the 'little entry,' under which, according to Winter, the conspirators worked. This view of the case, too, is borne out by Smith's statement, that 'in the further end of that court,' i.e. the court running up from Parliament Place, 'is a doorway, through which, and turning to the left through another doorway, is the immediate way out of the cellar where the powder-plot was intended to take effect.'[142] It seems likely that the whole long space under the withdrawing room was used as a passage, though, on the other hand, the part of what was afterwards a passage may have been blocked by a room, in which case we have the 'low room new builded'-i.e. built in some year in Elizabeth's reign-in which the powder was stored.

Having thus fixed the position of the house belonging to Parliament, and shown that it probably consisted of a long room in one storey, we can hardly fail to discover the second house as that marked B in the plan on p. 81, since that house alone combines the conditions of being close to the House of Lords, and having a door and window looking towards the river.

According to Father Gerard, however, the premises occupied by Percy were far too small to make this explanation permissible.

"We learn," he says, "on the unimpeachable evidence of Mrs. Whynniard's servant that the house afforded accommodation only for one person at a time, so that when Percy came there to spend the night, Fawkes, who passed for his man, had to lodge out. This suggests another question. Percy's pretext for laying in so much fuel was that he meant to bring up his wife to live there. But how could this be under such conditions?"[143]

Mrs. Whynniard's servant, however, Roger James, did not use the words here put into his mouth. He said that he had heard from Mrs. Gibbons 'that Mr. Percy hath lain in the said lodging divers times himself, but when he lay there, his man lay abroad, there being but one bed in the said lodging.'

Fawkes, therefore, lodged out when his master came, not because there was not a second room in the house, but because there was only one bed. If Mrs. Percy arrived alone she would probably find one bed sufficient for herself and her husband. If she brought any maidservants with her, beds could be provided for them without much difficulty. Is it not likely that the plan of sending Fawkes out to sleep was contrived with the object of persuading the Whynniards that as matters stood no more than one person could occupy the house at night, and of thus putting them off the scent, at the time when the miners were congregated in it?

A more serious problem is presented by Father Gerard's inquiry 'how proceedings so remarkable' as the digging of the mine could have escaped the notice, not only of the Government, but of the entire neighbourhood.

"This," he continues, "it must be remembered, was most populous. There were people living in the very building a part of which sheltered the conspirators. Around were thickly clustered the dwellings of the Keeper of the Wardrobe, auditors and tellers of the Exchequer, and other such officials. There were tradespeople and workmen constantly employed close to the spot where the work was going on; while the public character of the place makes it impossible to suppose that tenants such as Percy and his friends, who were little better than lodgers, could claim the exclusive use of anything beyond the rooms they rented-even when allowed the use of them-or could shut against the neighbours and visitors in general the precincts of so frequented a spot."[144]

To this is added the following footnote:-

"The buildings of the dissolved College of St. Stephen, comprising those around the House of Lords, were granted by Edward VI. to Sir Ralph Lane. They reverted to the Crown under Elizabeth, and were appropriated as residences for the auditors and tellers of the Exchequer. The locality became so populous that in 1606 it was forbidden to erect more houses."

This statement is reinforced by a conjectural view of the neighbourhood founded on the 'best authorities' by Mr. H. W. Brewer.[145] Mr. Brewer who has since kindly examined with me the drawings and plans in the Crace Collection, on which I rely, has, I think, been misled by those early semi-pictorial maps, which, though they may be relied on for larger buildings, such as the House of Lords or St. Stephen's Chapel, are very imaginative in their treatment of private houses. In any case I deny the existence of the two large houses placed by him between what I infer to have been Whynniard's house and the river side.

The history of the land between the wall of the old palace on which stood the river front of Whynniard's house, and the bank of the Thames, can be traced with tolerable accuracy. It formed part of a larger estate, formerly the property of the dissolved chapel of St. Stephen, granted by Edward VI. to Sir Ralph Fane;[146] Father Gerard's Sir Ralph Lane being a misprint or a mistake. Fane, however, was hanged shortly afterwards, and the estate, reverting to the Crown, was re-granted to Sir John Gates.[147] Again reverting to the Crown, it was dealt with in separate portions, and the part on which the Exchequer officers' residences was built was to the north of Cotton Garden, and being quite out of earshot of Whynniard's house, need not concern us here. In 1588, the Queen granted to John Whynniard, then an officer of the Wardrobe, a lease of several parcels of ground for thirty years.[148] Some of these were near Whitehall, others to the south of Parliament Stairs. The only one which concerns us is a piece of land lying between the wall of the Old Palace, on which the river-front of Whynniard's house was built, and the Thames. In 1600 the reversion was granted to two men named Evershed and Holland, who immediately sold it to Whynniard, thus constituting him the owner of the land in perpetuity. In the deed conveying it to him, this portion is styled:-

"All that piece of waste land lying there right against the said piece, and lieth and is without the said stone wall, that is to say between the said passage or entry of the said Parliament House[149] on the north part, and abutteth upon the said stone wall which compasseth the said Old Palace towards the West, and upon the Thames aforesaid towards the East, and continueth at length between the passage aforesaid and the sluice coming from the said Parliament House, seventy-five foot."[150]

On this piece of waste land I place the garden mentioned in connection with the house rented by Percy. This is far more probable than it was where Mr. Brewer has placed it, in the narrow court which leads from Parliament Place to the other side of Percy's house, and ends by the side of the Prince's Chamber. If this arrangement be accepted, it gets rid of the alleged populousness of neighbourhood. No doubt people flocked up and down from Parliament Stairs, but they would be excluded from the garden on the river side, and with few exceptions would pass on without turning to the right into the court. Nobody who had not business with Percy himself or with his neighbour on the south[151] would be likely to approach Percy's door. As far as that side of the house was concerned, it would be difficult to find a more secluded dwelling. The Thames was then the 'silent highway' of London, and the sight of a barge unloading before the back door of a house can have been no more surprising than the sight of a gondola moored to the steps of a palace on a canal in Venice. John Shepherd, for instance, was not startled by the sight:-

Memorandum that John Shepherd servant to the said Mr. Whynniard, saith that the fourth of September last being Wednesday before the Queen's Majesty removed from Windsor to Hampton Court,[152] he being taken suddenly sick, and therefore sent away to London, and coming late to lie at the Queen's Bridge,[153] the tide being high, he saw a boat lie close by the pale of Sir Thomas Parry's garden[154] and men going to and fro the water through the back door that leadeth into Mr. Percy's lodging, which he doth now bethink himself of, though then, being sick and late, he did not regard it.[155]

It thus appears that this final supply of powder was carried in at night, and by a way through the garden-not by the more frequented Parliament Stairs.

The story of the mine, no doubt, presents some difficulties which, though by no means insuperable, cannot be solved with absolute certainty without more information than we possess at present. We may, I think, dismiss the suggestion of the Edinburgh Reviewer that the conspirators may have dug straight down instead of making a

tunnel, both because even bunglers could hardly have occupied a fortnight in digging a pit a few feet deep, and because their words about reaching the wall at the end of the fortnight would, on this hypothesis, have no meaning. Thomas Winter's statement is that he and his comrades 'wrought under a little entry to the wall of the Parliament House.'[156] The little entry, as I have already argued,[157] must be the covered passage under the withdrawing room; a tunnel leading from the cellar of Percy's house would be about seven or eight feet long. The main difficulty at the commencement of the work would be to get through the wall of Percy's house, and this, it may be noticed, neither Fawkes nor Winter speak of, though they are very positive as to the difficulties presented by the wall of the House of Lords. If, indeed, the wall on this side of Percy's house was, as may with great probability be conjectured, built of brick, as the river front undoubtedly was,[158] the difficulty cannot have been great, as I have been informed by Mr. Henry Ward[159] that the brick used in those days was, both from its composition and from the method in which it was dried, far softer than that employed in building at present. We may, therefore, fairly start our miners in the cellar of their own house with a soft brick wall to penetrate, and a tunnel afterwards to construct, having wood ready to prop up the earth, and appropriate implements to carry out their undertaking.[160]

Here, however, Father Gerard waves us back:-

"It is not easy," he writes, "to understand how these amateurs contrived to do so much without a catastrophe. To make a tunnel through soft earth is a very delicate operation, replete with unknown difficulties. To shore up the roof and sides there must, moreover, have been required a large quantity of the 'framed timber'[161] of which Speed tells us, and the provision and importation of this must have been almost as hard to keep dark as the exportation of the earth and stones. A still more critical operation is that of meddling with the foundations of a house-especially of an old and heavy structure-which a professional craftsman would not venture upon except with extreme care, and the employment of many precautions of which these light-hearted adventurers knew nothing. Yet, recklessly breaking their way out of one building, and to a large extent into another, they appear to have occasioned neither crack nor settlement in either."[162]

I have already dealt with the problem of bringing in articles by night, and of getting through Percy's wall. For the rest, Father Gerard forgets that though six of the seven miners were amateurs, the seventh was not. Fawkes had been eight years in the service of the Archdukes in the Low Countries, and to soldiers on either side the war in the Low Countries offered the most complete school of military mining then to be found in the world. Though every soldier was not an engineer, he could not fail to be in the way of hearing about, if not of actually witnessing, feats of engineering skill, of which the object was not merely to undermine fortifications with tunnels of far greater length than can have been required by the conspirators, but to conduct the operation as quietly as possible. It must surely have been the habit of these engineers to use other implements than the noisy pick of the modern workman.[163] Fawkes, indeed, speaks of himself merely as a watcher whilst others worked. But he was a modest man, and there can be no reasonable doubt that he directed the operations.

When the main wall was attacked after Christmas the conditions were somewhat altered. The miners, indeed, may still have been able to avoid the use of picks, and to employ drills and crowbars, but some noise they must necessarily have made. Yet the chances of their being overheard were very slight. Having taken the precaution to hire the long withdrawing room and the passage or passage-room beneath it, the sounds made on the lower part of the main wall could not very well reach the ears of the tenants of the other houses in Whynniard's block. The only question is whether there was any one likely to hear them in the so-called 'cellar' underneath the House of Lords, beneath which, again, they intended to deposit their store of powder. What that chamber was had best be told in Father Gerard's own words:-

"The old House of Lords,"[164] he writes, "was a chamber occupying the first floor of a building which stood about fifty yards from the left bank of the Thames,[165] to which it was parallel, the stream at this point running about due north. Beneath the Peers' Chamber on the ground floor was a large room, which plays an important part in our history. This had originally served as the palace kitchen, and, though commonly described as a 'cellar' or a 'vault,' was in reality neither, for it stood on the level of the ground outside, and had a flat ceiling formed by the beams which supported the flooring of the Lords apartment above. It ran beneath the said Peers' Chamber from end to end, and measured seventy-seven feet in length by twenty-four feet four inches in width.

"At either end the building abutted upon another running transversely to it; that on the north being the 'Painted Chamber,' probably erected by Edward the Confessor, and that on the south the 'Prince's Chamber,' assigned by its architectural features to the reign of Henry III. The former served as a place of conference for Lords and Commons, the latter as the robing-room of the Lords. The royal throne stood at the south end of the House, near the Prince's Chamber."[166]

According to the story told by Fawkes this place was let to Mrs. Skinner by Whynniard to store her coals in. In an early draft of the narrative usually known as the 'King's Book,'[167] we are told that there was 'some stuff of the King's which lay in part of a cellar under those rooms'-i.e. the House of Lords, and 'that Whynniard had let out some part of a room directly under the Parliament chamber to one that used it for a cellar.' This statement is virtually repeated in the 'King's Book' itself, where Whynniard is said to have stated 'that Thomas Percy had hired both the house and part of the cellar or vault under the same.'[168] That part was so let is highly probable, as the internal length of the old kitchen was about seventy-seven feet, and it would therefore be far too large for the occupation of a single coalmonger. We must thus imagine the so-called vault divided into two portions, probably with a partition cutting off one from the other. If, therefore, the conspirators restricted their operations to the night-time, there was little danger of their being overheard. There was not much likelihood either that Whynniard would get out of bed to visit the tapestry or whatever the stuff belonging to the King may have been, or that Mrs. Skinner would want to examine her coal-sacks whilst her customers were asleep. The only risk was from some belated visitor coming up the quiet court leading from Parliament Place to make his way to one of the houses in Whynniard's block. Against this, however, the plotters were secured by the watchfulness of Fawkes.

The precautions taken by the conspirators did not render their task easier. It was in the second fortnight, beginning after the middle of January, when the hard work of getting through the strong and broad foundation of the House of Lords tried their muscles and their patience, that they swore in Christopher Wright, and brought over Keyes from Lambeth together with the powder which they now stored in 'a low room new-builded.'[169] After a fortnight's work, reaching to Candlemas (Feb. 2), they had burrowed through about four feet six inches into the wall, after which they again gave over working.[170] Some time in the latter part of March they returned to their operations, but they had scarcely commenced when they found out that it would be possible for them to gain possession of a locality more suited to their wants, and they therefore abandoned the project of the mine as no longer necessary.[171]

Before passing from the story of the mine, the more important of Father Gerard's criticisms require an answer. How, he asks, could the conspirators have got rid of such a mass of earth and stones without exciting attention?[172] Fawkes, indeed, says 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.' Then Goodman declares that he saw it,[173] but, even if we assume that his memory did not play him false, it is impossible that the whole of the produce of the first fortnight's diggings should be disposed of in this way. The shortest length that can be ascribed to the mine before the wall was reached is eight feet, and if we allow five feet for height and depth we have 200 cubical feet, or a mass more than six feet every way, besides the stones coming out of the wall after Christmas. Some of the earth may have been, as Fawkes said, spread over the garden beds, but 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.

We are further asked to explain how it was that, if there was really a mine, the Government did not find it out for some days after the arrest of Fawkes. Why should they? The only point at which it was accessible was at its entrance in Percy's own cellar, and it is an insult to the sharp wits of the plotters, to suppose that they did not close it up as soon as the project of the mine was abandoned. All that would be needed, if the head of the mine descended, as it probably did, would be the relaying of a couple or so of flagstones. How careful the plotters were of wiping out all traces of their work, is shown by the evidence of Whynniard's servant, Roger James, who says that about Midsummer 1605, Percy, appearing to pay his quarter's rent, 'agreed with one York, a carpenter in Westminster, for the repairing of his lodging,' adding 'that he would send his man to pay the carpenter for the work he was to do.'[174] Either the mine had no existence, or all traces of it must have been effectually removed before a carpenter was allowed to range the house in the absence of both Percy and Fawkes. I must leave it to my readers to decide which alternative they prefer.

According to the usually received story, the conspirators, hearing a rustling above their heads, imagined that their enterprise had been discovered, but having sent Fawkes to ascertain the cause of the noise, they learnt that Mrs. Skinner (afterwards Mrs. Bright) was selling coals, and having also ascertained that she was willing to give up her tenancy to them for a consideration, they applied to Whynniard-from whom the so-called 'cellar' was leased through his wife, and obtained a transfer of the premises to Percy. All that remained was to convey the powder from the house to the 'cellar,' and after covering it with billets and faggots, to wait quietly till Parliament met.

Father Gerard's first objection to this is, that whilst they were mining, 'ridiculous as is the supposition, the conspirators appear to have been ignorant of the existence of the "cellar," and to have fancied that they were working their way immediately beneath the Chamber of Peers.' The supposition would be ridiculous enough if it were not a figment of Father Gerard's own brain. He relies on what he calls 'Barlow's Gunpowder Treason,'[175] published in 1678, and on a remark made by Tierney in 1841, adding that it is 'obviously implied' by Fawkes and Winter. What Fawkes says on November 17 is:-

"As they were working upon the wall, they heard a rushing in a cellar of removing of coals; whereupon we feared we had been discovered, and they sent me to go to the cellar, who finding that the coals were a selling, and that the cellar was to be let, viewing the commodity thereof for our purpose, Percy went and hired the same for yearly rent."[176]

What Winter says is that, 'near to Easter ... opportunity was given to hire the cellar, in which we resolved to lay the powder and leave the mine.' What single word is there here about the conspirators thinking that there was no storey intervening between the foundation and the House of Lords? The mere fact of Percy having been in the house close to the passage from which there was an opening closed only by a grating into the 'cellar' itself,[177] would negative the impossible supposition. Father Gerard, however, adds that Mrs. Whynniard tells us that the cellar was not to let, and that Bright, i.e. Mrs. Skinner, had not the disposal of the lease, but one Skinner, and that Percy 'laboured very earnestly before he succeeded in obtaining it.' What Mrs. Whynniard says is that the cellar had been already let, and that her husband had not the disposal of it. Percy then 'intreated that if he could get Mrs. Skinner's good-will therein, they would then be contented to let him have it, whereto they granted it.'[178] Is not this exactly what one might expect to happen on an application for a lease held by a tenant who proves willing to remove?

Father Gerard proceeds to raise difficulties from the structural nature of the cellar itself. Mr. William Capon, he says, examined the foundations of the House of Lords when it was removed in 1823, and did not discover the hole which the conspirators were alleged to have made. His own statement, however, printed in the fifth volume of Vetusta Monumenta,[179] says nothing about the foundations; and besides, as Father Gerard has shown, he had a totally erroneous theory of the place whence he supposes the conspirators to have had access to the 'cellar.' Nothing-as I have learnt by experience-is so likely as a false theory to blind the eyes to existing evidence.

Then we have remarks upon the mode of communication between Percy's house and the cellar. Father Gerard tells us that:-

"Fawkes says (November 6th, 1605) that about the middle of Lent[180] of that year, Percy caused 'a new door' to be made into it, that he might have a nearer way out of his own house into the cellar.

"This seems to imply that Percy took the cellar for his firewood when there was no convenient communication between it and his house. Moreover, it is not very easy to understand how a tenant-under such conditions as his-was allowed at discretion to knock doors through the walls of a royal palace. Neither did the landlady say anything of this door-making, when detailing what she knew of Percy's proceedings."

Without perceiving it, Father Gerard proceeds to dispose of the objection he had raised.

"In some notes of Sir E. Coke, it is said 'The powder was first brought into Percy's house, and lay there in a low room new built, and could not have been conveyed into the cellar but that all the street must have seen it; and therefore he caused a new door out of his house into the cellar to be made, where before there had been a grate of iron."[181]

To Father Gerard this 'looks very like an afterthought.' Considering, however, that every word except the part about the grating is based on evidence which has reached us, it looks to me very like the truth. It is, indeed, useless to attempt to reconcile the position of the doors opening out of the 'cellar' apparently indicated on Capon's plan (p. 80) with those given in Smith's views (p. 109) of the four walls taken from the inside of the cellar, and I therefore conclude that the apertures shown in the former are really those of the House of Lords on the upper storey, a conjecture which is supported by the insertion of a flight of steps, which would lead nowhere if the whole plan was intended to record merely the features of the lower level. In any case, Smith's illustration shows three entrances-one through the north wall which I have marked A, another with a triangular head near the north end of the east wall marked B, and a third with a square head near the south end of the same wall marked C. The first of these would naturally be used by Mrs. Skinner, as it opened on a passage leading westwards, and we know that she lived in King Street; the second would be used by Whynniard, whilst, either he or some predecessor might very well have put up a grating at the third to keep out thieves. That third aperture was, however, just opposite Percy's house, and when he hired Mrs. Skinner's part of the 'cellar,' he would necessarily wish to have it open and a door substituted for the grating. There was no question of knocking about the walls of a royal palace in the matter. If he had not that door opened he must either use Whynniard's, of which Whynniard presumably wished to keep the key, or go round by Parliament Place to reach the one hitherto used by Mrs. Skinner. It is true that, if the north door was really the one used by Mrs. Skinner, it necessitates the conclusion that there was no insurmountable barrier between Whynniard's part of the cellar, and that afterwards used by Percy. Moreover, it is almost certainly shown that this was the case by the ease with which the searchers got into Percy's part of the cellar on the night of November 4th, though entering by another door. In this case the conspirators must have been content with the strong probability that whenever their landlord came into his end of the 'cellar,' he would not come further to pull about the pile of wood with which their powder barrels were covered. On the other hand, the entrances knocked in blocked-up arches may not have been the same in 1605 and in 1807. At all events, the square-headed aperture in Smith's view agrees so well with that in the view at p. 89, that it can be accepted without doubt as the one in which Percy's new door was substituted for a grating, and which led out of the covered passage opening from the court leading from Parliament Place.

A

North

Side

Larger Image

Larger Image South

Side

B C

Larger Image East

Side

Larger Image West

Side

Four walls of the so-called cellar under the House of Lords.

From Smith's Antiquities of Westminster, p. 39.

Though it is possible that Whynniard might, if he chose, come into the plotters' 'cellar,' we are under no compulsion to accept Father Gerard's assertion that Winter declared 'that the confederates so arranged as to leave the cellar free for all to enter who would.'[182] "It is stated," writes Father Gerard, in another place, "in Winter's long declaration on this subject, that the barrels were thus completely hidden 'because we might have the house free to suffer anyone to enter that would,' and we find it mentioned by various writers, subsequently, that free ingress was actually allowed to the public."[183] As the subsequent writers appear to be an anonymous writer, who wrote on The Gunpowder Plot under the pseudonym of L., in 1805, and Hugh F. Martyndale, who wrote A Familiar Analysis of the Calendar of the Church of England in 1830, I am unable to take them very seriously. The extraordinary thing is that Father Gerard does not see that his quotation from Winter is fatal to his argument. Winter says that Fawkes covered the powder in the cellar 'because we might have the house free to suffer anyone to enter that would.[184] The cellar was not part of the house; and, although the words are not entirely free from ambiguity, the more reasonable interpretation is that Fawkes disposed of the powder in the cellar, in order that visitors might be freely admitted into the house. Winter, in fact, makes no direct statement that the powder was moved, and it is therefore fair to take this removal as included in what he says about the faggots.

As for the quantity of the gunpowder used, the opinion of the writer discussed in the Edinburgh Review (January, 1897), appears reasonable enough:-

"Apart from the hearsay reports, Father Gerard seems to base his computations on the statement that a barrel of gunpowder contained 400 pounds. This is an error. The barrel of gunpowder contained 100 pounds;[185] the last, which is rightly given at 2,400 pounds, contained twenty-four barrels. The quantity of powder stored in the cellar is repeatedly said, both in the depositions and the indictment to have been thirty-six barrels-that is, a last and a half, or about one ton twelve hundredweight; and this agrees very exactly with the valuation of the powder at 200l. In 1588, the cost of a barrel of 100 pounds was 5l. But to carry, and move, and stow, a ton and a half in small portable barrels is a very different thing from the task on which Father Gerard dwells of moving and hiding, not only the large barrels of 400 pounds, but also the hogsheads that were spoken of."[186]

I will merely add that Father Gerard's surprise that the disposal of so large a mass of powder is not to be traced is the less justifiable, as the Ordnance accounts of the stores in the Tower have been very irregularly preserved, those for the years with which we are concerned being missing.

Having thus, I hope, shown that the traditional account of the mine and the cellar are consistent with the documentary and structural evidence, I pass to the question of the accuracy of the alleged discovery of the conspiracy.

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