MoboReader> Literature > What Gunpowder Plot Was


What Gunpowder Plot Was By Samuel Rawson Gardiner Characters: 51277

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03

Having thus disposed of Father Gerard's assaults on the general truth of the accepted narrative of the Plot, we can raise ourselves into a larger air, and trace the causes leading or driving the Government into measures which persuaded such brave and constant natures to see an act of righteous vengeance in what has seemed to their own and subsequent ages, a deed of atrocious villainy. Is it true, we may fairly ask, that these measures were such as no honourable man could in that age have adopted, and which it is therefore necessary to trace to the vilest of all origins-the desire of a half-successful statesman to root himself in place and power?

It would, indeed, be difficult to deny that the feeling of advanced English Protestants towards the Papal Church was one of doctrinal and moral estrangement. They held that the teaching of that church was false and even idolatrous, and they were quite ready to use the power of the state to extirpate a falsity so pernicious. On the other hand, the priests, Jesuits, and others, who flocked to England with their lives in their hands, were filled with the joy of those whose work it is to disseminate eternal truths, and to rescue souls, lost in heresy, from spiritual destruction.

The statesman, whether in his own person aggressively Protestant or not, was forced to consider this antagonism from a different point of view. The outbreak against Rome which had marked the sixteenth century had only partially a doctrinal significance. It meant also the desire of the laity to lower the authority of the clergy. Before the Reformation the clergy owed a great part of their power to the organisation which centred in Rome, and the only way to weaken that organisation, was to strengthen the national organisation which centred in the crown. Hence those notions of the Divine Right of Kings and of Cujus regio ejus religio, which, however theoretically indefensible, marked a stage of progress in the world's career. The question whether, in the days of Elizabeth, England should accept the authority of the Pope or the authority of the Queen, was political as much as religious, and it is no wonder that Roman Catholics when they burnt Protestants, they placed the religious aspect of the quarrel in the foreground; nor that Protestants when they hanged and disembowelled Roman Catholics, placed the political aspect in the foreground. As a matter of fact, these were but two sides of the shield. Protestants who returned to the Papal Church not merely signified the acceptance of certain doctrines which they had formerly renounced, but also accepted a different view of the relations between Church and State, and denied the sufficiency of the national Government to decide finally on all causes, ecclesiastical and civil, without appeal. If the religious teaching of the Reformed Church fell, a whole system of earthly government would fall with it.

To the Elizabethan statesman therefore the missionary priests who flocked over from the continent constituted the gravest danger for the State as well as for the Church. He was not at the bottom of his heart a persecutor. Neither Elizabeth nor her chief advisers, though, even in the early part of the reign, inflicting sharp penalties for the denial of the royal supremacy, would willingly have put men to death because they held the doctrine of transubstantiation, or any other doctrine which had found favour with the Council of Trent; but after 1570 they could not forget that Pius V. had excommunicated the Queen, and had, as far as his words could reach, released her subjects from the bond of obedience. Hence those excuses that, in enforcing the Recusancy laws against the Catholic laity, and, in putting Catholic priests to death as traitors, Elizabeth and her ministers were actuated by purely political motives. It was not exactly the whole truth, but there was a good deal more of truth in it than Roman Catholic writers are inclined to admit.

It was in this school of statesmanship that Sir Robert Cecil-as he was in Elizabeth's reign-had been brought up, and it was hardly likely that he would be willing to act otherwise than his father had done. It was, indeed, hard to see how the quarrel was to be lifted out of the groove into which it had sunk. How could statesmen be assured that, if the priests and Jesuits were allowed to extend their religious influence freely, the result would not be the destruction of the existing political system? That Cecil would have solved the problem is in any case most unlikely. It was, perhaps, too difficult to be as yet solved by any one, and Cecil was no man of genius to lead his age. Yet there were two things which made for improvement. In the first place, the English Government was immensely stronger at Elizabeth's death than it had been at her accession, and those who sat at the helm could therefore regard, with some amount of equanimity, dangers that had appalled their predecessors forty-five years before. The other cause for hope lay in the accession of a new sovereign; James had never been the subject of Papal excommunication as Elizabeth had been, and was consequently not personally committed to extreme views.

James's character and actions lend themselves so easily to the caricaturist, and so much that he did was the result either of egotistic vanity or of a culpable reluctance to take trouble, that it is difficult to give him credit for the good qualities that he really possessed. Yet hazy as his opinions in many respects were, it is easy to trace through his whole career a tolerably consistent principle. He would have been pleased to put an end, not indeed to the religious dispute, but to the political antagonism between those who were divided in religion, and would gladly have laid aside the weapon of persecution for that of argument. The two chief actions of his reign in England were the attempt to secure religious peace for his own dominions by an understanding with the Pope, and the attempt to secure a cessation of religious wars in Europe by an understanding with the King of Spain. In both cases is revealed a desire to obtain the co-operation of the leader of the party opposed to himself. Of course it is possible, perhaps even right, to say that this line of action was hopeless from the beginning, as involving too sanguine an estimate of the conciliatory feelings of those for whose co-operation he was looking. All that we are here concerned with is to point out that James brought with him ideas on the subject of the relations between an English-and, for the matter of that, a Scottish-king and the papacy, which were very different from those in which Cecil had been trained.

On the other hand, James's ideas, even when they had the element of greatness in them, never lifted him into greatness. He looked upon large principles in a small way, usually regarding them through the medium of his own interests. The doctrine that the national government ought to be supreme, took in his mind the shape of a belief that his personal government ought to be supreme. When in Scotland he sought an understanding with the Pope, his own succession to the English Crown occupied the foreground, and the advantage of having the English Catholics on his side made him eager to strike a bargain. On the other hand, he refused to strike that bargain unless his own independent position were fully recognised. When, in 1599, he despatched Edward Drummond to Italy, he instructed him to do everything in his power to procure the elevation of a Scottish Bishop of Vaison to the Cardinalate, in order that he might advocate his interests at Rome. Yet he refused to write directly to the Pope himself, merely because he objected to address him as 'Holy Father.'[218] It was hardly the precise objection that would have been taken by a man of greater practical ability.

Nor was it only on niceties of this sort that James's desire to come to some sort of understanding with the Pope was likely to be wrecked. His correspondence with Cecil during the last years of Elizabeth, shows how little he had grasped the special difficulties of the situation, whilst on the other hand it throws light on the shades of difference between himself and his future minister. In a letter written to Cecil in the spring of 1602, James objects to the immediate conclusion of a peace with Spain on three grounds, the last being that the 'Jesuits, seminary priests, and that rabble, wherewith England is already too much infected, would then resort there in such swarms as the caterpillars or flies did in Egypt, no man any more abhorring them, since the Spanish practices was the greatest crime that ever they were attainted of, which now by this peace will utterly be forgotten.'

"And now," he proceeds, "since I am upon this subject, let the proofs ye have had of my loving confidence in you plead for an excuse to my plainness, if I freely show you that I greatly wonder from whence it can proceed that not only so great a flock of Jesuits and priests dare both resort and remain in England, but so proudly do use their functions through all the parts of England without any controlment or punishment these divers years past: it is true that for remedy thereof there is a proclamation lately set forth, but blame me not for longing to hear of the exemplary execution thereof, ne sit lex mortua. I know it may be justly thought that I have the like beam in my own eye, but alas, it is a far more barbarous and stiffnecked people that I rule over. St. George surely rides upon a towardly riding horse, where I am daily bursting in daunting a wild unruly colt, and I protest in God's presence the daily increase that I hear of popery in England, and the proud vauntery that the papists makes daily there of their power, their increase, and their combined faction, that none shall enter to be King there but by their permission; this their bragging, I say, is the cause that moves me, in the zeal of my religion, and in that natural love I owe to England, to break forth in this digression, and to forewarn you of these apparent evils."

To this Cecil replied as follows:-

"For the matter of priests, I will also clearly deliver your Majesty my mind. I condemn their doctrine, I detest their conversation, and I foresee the peril which the exercise of their function may bring to this island, only I confess that I shrink to see them die by dozens, when (at the last gasp) they come so near loyalty, only because I remember that mine own voice, amongst others, to the law (for their death) in Parliament, was led by no other principle than that they were absolute seducers of the people from temporal obedience, and consequent persuaders to rebellion, and which is more, because that law had a retrospective to all priests made twenty years before. But contrary-wise for that generation of vipers (the Jesuits) who make no more ordinary merchandise of anything than of the blood and crowns of princes, I am so far from any compassion, as I rather look to receive commandment from you to abstain than prosecute."

This plain language drove James to reconsider his position.

"The fear," he replied, "I have to be mistaken by you in that part of my last letter wherein I discover the desire I have to see the last edict against Jesuits and priests put in execution; the fear, I say, of your misconstruing my meaning hereon (as appears by your answer), enforceth me in the very throng of my greatest affairs to pen by post an answer and clear resolution of my intention. I did ever hate alike both extremities in any case, only allowing the midst for virtue, as by my book now lately published doth plainly appear. The like course do I hold in this particular. I will never allow in my conscience that the blood of any man shall be shed for diversity of opinions in religion, but I would be sorry that Catholics should so multiply as they might be able to practise their old principles upon us. I will never agree that any should die for error in faith against the first table, but I think they should not be permitted to commit works of rebellion against the second table. I would be sorry by the sword to diminish their number, but I would also be loth that, by so great connivance and oversight given unto them, their numbers should so increase in that land as by continual multiplication they might at least become masters, having already such a settled monarchy amongst them, as their archpriest with his twelve apostles keeping their terms in London, and judging all questions as well civil as spiritual amongst all Catholics. It is for preventing of their multiplying, and new set up empire, that I long to see the execution of the last edict against them, not that thereby I wish to have their heads divided from their bodies, but that I would be glad to have both their heads and bodies separated from this whole island and safely transported beyond seas, where they may freely glut themselves upon their imaginated gods. No! I am so far from any intention of persecution, as I protest to God I reverence their Church as our Mother Church, although clogged with many infirmities and corruptions, besides that I did ever hold persecution as one of the infallible notes of a false church. I only wish that such order might be taken as the land might be purged of such great flocks of them that daily diverts the souls of many from the sincerity of the Gospel, and withal, that some means might be found for debarring their entry again, at least in so great swarms. And as for the distinction of their ranks, I mean between the Jesuits and the secular priests, although I deny not that the Jesuits, like venomed wasps and firebrands of sedition, are far more intolerable than the other sort that seem to profess loyalty, yet is their so plausible profession the more to be distrusted that like married women or minors, whose vows are ever subject to the controlment of their husbands and tutors,[219] their consciences must ever be commanded and overruled by their Romish god as it pleases him to allow or revoke their conclusions."[220]

The agreement and disagreement between the two writers is easily traced in these words. Both are averse to persecute for religion. Both are afraid lest the extension of the firmly organised Roman Church should be dangerous to the State as well as to religion. On the other hand, whilst Cecil is content to plod on in the old ways, James vaguely adumbrates some scheme by which the priests, being banished, might be kept from returning, and thus the chance of a dangerous growth of their religion being averted, it would be possible to protect the existing forms of government without having recourse to the old persecuting laws. We feel, in reading James's words, that we are reading the phrases of a pedant who has not imagination enough to see how his scheme would work out in real life; but at all events we have before us, as we so often have in James's writings, a glimpse of new possibilities, and a desire to escape from old entanglements.

With such ideas floating in his mind, and with a strong desire to gain the support of the English Catholics to his succession, James may easily have given assurances to Thomas Percy of an intention to extend toleration to the English Catholics, which may have overrun his own somewhat fluid intentions, and may very well have been interpreted as meaning more than his words literally meant. James's engagement to Percy's master, Northumberland, was certainly not devoid of ambiguity. "As for the Catholics," he wrote, "I will neither persecute any that will be quiet and give but an outward obedience to the law, neither will I spare to advance any of them that will by good service worthily deserve it."[221]

When James reached England in 1603 he seemed inclined to carry out his intentions. He is reported, at least, to have told Cecil in June that the fines were not to be levied, adding that he did not wish to make merchandise of consciences, nor to set a price on faith. Yet, in spite of this, the meshes of the administrative system closed him in, and the fines continued to be collected.[222] The result was the conspiracy of Copley and others, including Watson, a secular priest. This foolish plot was, however, betrayed to the Government by some of the Roman Catholic clergy, who were wise enough to see that any violence attempted against James would only serve to aggravate their lot.

The discovery that there were those amongst the priests who were ready to oppose disloyalty quickened James to carry out his earlier intention. On June 17 he informed Rosny, the French ambassador, of his intention to remit the recusancy fines, and, after some hesitation, he resolved to put his engagement in execution. On July 17, 1603, he allowed a deputation from the leading Catholics to be heard by the Privy Council in his own presence, and assured them that as long as they remained loyal subjects their fines would be remitted. If they would obey the law-in other words, if they would soil their consciences by attending church-the highest offices in the State should be open to them.[223] The assurance thus given was at once carried out as far as possible. The 20l. fines ceased, and the greater part of the two-thirds of the rents of convicted recusants were no longer required. If some of the latter were still paid, it is probable that this was only done in cases in which the rents had been granted to lessees on a fixed payment to the Crown by contracts which could not be broken.

Obviously there were two ways in which attempts might be made to obviate danger from Catholic disloyalty. Individual Catholics might be won over to confidence in the Government by the redress of personal grievances, or the Pope, as the head of the Catholic organisation, might be induced to prohibit conspiracies as likely to injure rather than to advance the cause which he had at heart. It is unnecessary to say that the latter was a more delicate operation than the former.

An opening, indeed, had been already given. When James refused to sign a letter to Pope Clement VIII., on the ground that he could not address him as 'Holy Father,'[224] his secretary, Elphinstone, surreptitiously procured his signature, and sent it off without his knowledge.[225] Clement, therefore, was under the impression that he had received a genuine overture from James, and replied by a complimentary letter, which he intrusted to Sir James Lindsay, a Scottish Catholic then in Rome. In 1602 Lindsay reached Scotland, and delivered his letter. As he was to return to Rome, James instructed him to ask Clement to excuse him for not writing in reply, and for being unable to accept some proposal contained in the Pope's letters, the reasons in both cases having been verbally communicated to Lindsay. Finally, Lindsay was to assure Clement that James was resolved to observe two obligations inviolably. In the first place he would openly and without hypocrisy declare his opinion, especially in such matters as bore upon religion and conscience. In the second place, that his opinion might not be too obstinate where reason declared against it, he would, laying aside all prejudice, admit whatever could be clearly proved by the laws and reason.[226]

It is no wonder that James had rejected the Pope's proposal, as Clement had not only offered to oppose all James's competitors for the English succession, but had declared his readiness to send him money on condition that he would give up his eldest son to be educated as Clement might direct.[227] That such a proposal should have been made ought to have warned James that it was hopeless to attempt to come to an understanding with the Pope on terms satisfactory to a Protestant Government. For a time no more was heard of the matter. Lindsay was taken ill, and was unable to start before James was firmly placed on the English throne.

The announcement to the lay Catholics that their fines would be remitted had been preluded by invitations to James to come to terms with the authorities of the Papal Church. Del Bufalo, Bishop of Camerino, the Nuncio at Paris, despatched a certain Degl' Effetti to England in Rosny's train, to feel the way, and the Nuncio at Brussels sent over his secretary, Sandrino, to inquire, though apparently without the sanction of the Pope himself, whether James would be willing to receive a 'legate,'[228] which may probably be interpreted merely as a negotiator, not as a 'legate' in the full sense of the term. On July 11/21, Del Bufalo, writing to Cardinal Aldobrandino, reports that the strongest argument used by James against toleration for the Catholics was, that if they were allowed to live in Catholic fashion they must obey the Pope, and consequently disobey the King; whilst those who were favourable to toleration were of opinion that this argument would be deprived of strength if James could be assured that the Pope might remove this impediment by commanding Catholics under the highest possible penalty, to make oath of fidelity and obedience to his Majesty. When this reached Rome the following note was written on it in the Pope's hand:-

"It is rather heresy which leads to disobedience. The Catholic religion teaches obedience to Princes, and defends them. As to reaching the King's ears, we shall be glad to do so, and we wish him to know with what longing for the safety[229] and quiet of himself and his kingdom we have proceeded and are proceeding. It is our conscientious desire so to proceed as we have written to one king and the other."[230]

As the letter referred to must have been the one in which Clement asked to have the education of Prince Henry, this note does not sound very promising. Nor was James's language, on the other hand, such as would be counted satisfactory at Rome. After his return from England Rosny informed Del Bufalo that James had assured him that he would not persecute the Catholics as long as they did not trouble the realm, and had praised the Pope as a temporal sovereign, adding that if he could find a way of agreeing with him he would gladly adopt it, provided that he might remain at the head of his own Church.[231]

A letter written on August 8/18, by Barneby, a priest recently liberated from prison, to Del Bufalo, throws further light on the situation. From this it appears that what the Nuncio at Brussels had proposed was not the sending of a fully authorised legate to England, but merely the appointment of someone who, being a layman, would, without offending James's susceptibility, be at hand to plead the cause of the Catholics and to give account of anything relating to their interests. We are thus able to understand how it was that the Nuncio had made the proposal without special orders from the Pope. More germane to the present inquiry is the account given by Barneby of James's own position:-

"For though," he writes, "it is certain that his Majesty conscientiously follows a religion contrary to us, and will therefore, as he says, never suffer his subjects to exercise lawfully and freely any other religion than his own-and that, both on account of his civil position, as on account of certain reasons and considerations relating to his conscience-nevertheless he openly promises to persecute no one on the ground of religion. And this he has so far happily begun to carry out with great honour to himself, and with the greatest joy advantage and pleasure to ourselves, though some of our most truculent enemies revolt, desiring that nothing but fine and sword may be used against us. What will happen in the end I can hardly imagine before the meeting of Parliament.[232]"

As far as it is possible to disengage James's real intentions from these words, it would seem that he had positively declared against liberty of worship, but that he would not levy the legal fines for not going to church on those who remained obedient subjects. Did he mean to wink at the Mass being said in the private houses of the recusants, or at the activity of the priests in making converts? These were the questions he would have to face before he was out of his difficulties.

On the other side of the channel Del Bufalo was doing his best to convey assurances to James of the Pope's desire to keep the English Catholics in obedience. With this view he communicated with James's ambassador in Paris, Sir Thomas Parry, who on August 20, gave an account of the matter to Cecil:-

"The Pope's Nuncio," he wrote, "sent me a message, the effect whereof was that he had received authority and a mandate from Rome to call out of the King our master's dominions the factious and turbulent priests and Jesuits, and that, at M. de Rosny's[233] passage into the realm, he had advertised them thereof by a gentleman of his train, and that he was desirous to continue that service to the King, and further to stop such as at Rome shall move any suit with any such intent, and would advertise his Majesty of it; that he had stayed two English monks in that city whose names he sent me in writing, who had procured heretofore faculty from thence to negotiate in England among the Catholics for such bad purposes; that not long since a petition had been exhibited to the Pope for assistance of the English Catholics with money promising to effect great matters for advancement of the Catholic cause upon receipt thereof; that his Holiness had rejected the petition and sharply rebuked the movers; that he would no more allow those turbulent courses to trouble the politic governments of

Christian Princes, but by charitable ways of conference and exhortation seek to reduce them to unity. Lastly his request was to have this message related to the King, offering for the first trial of his sincere meaning that, if there remained any in his dominions, priest or Jesuit, or other busy Catholic, whom he had intelligence of for a practice in the state which could not be found out, upon advertisement of the names he would find means that by ecclesiastical censures they should be delivered unto his justice."[234]

The last words are somewhat vague, and as we have not the Nuncio's own words, but merely Parry's report of them, we cannot be absolutely certain what were the exact terms offered, or how far they went beyond the offers previously made by the Nuncio at Brussels.[235] Nor does a letter written by the Nuncio to the King on Sept. 19/29, throw any light on the subject, as Del Bufalo confines himself to general expressions of the duty of Catholics to obey the King.[236] That the Nuncio's proposals met with considerable resistance among James's councillors is not only probable in itself, but is shown by the length of time which intervened before an answer was despatched at the end of November or the beginning of December.[237] The covered language with which Cecil opened the despatch in which he forwarded to Parry the letter giving the King's authorisation to the ambassador to treat with the Nuncio, leaves no doubt as to his own feelings.

"But now, Sir," writes Cecil, "I am to deliver you his Majesty's pleasure concerning a matter of more importance, though for mine own part it is so tender as I could have wished I had little dealt in it; not that the King doth not most prudently manage it, as you see, but because envious men suspect verity itself."

Parry, Cecil went on to say, was to offer to the Nuncio a Latin translation of the King's letter, and also to give him a copy of the instructions formerly given to Sir James Lindsay. The object of this was to prevent Lindsay from going beyond them. Cecil then proceeds to hint that Lindsay, who was now at last about to start from Italy, would not have been allowed to meddle further in the business but that it would disgrace him if he were deprived of the mission with which he had formerly been intrusted. The main negotiation, however, was to pass between Parry and the Nuncio, though only by means of a third person; and, as a matter of fact, Lindsay did not start for many months to come.

So far as concerns us, the King's letter accepts the Pope's objections to the sending of a 'legatus,' as he would be unable to show him proper respect; and then proceeds to contrast the Catholics who are animated by pure religious zeal with those who have revolutionary designs. With respect to both of these he professes his readiness to deal in such a way that neither the Pope nor any right-minded or sane man shall be able to take objection. In an earlier part of the letter he had assumed that the Pope was prepared actually to excommunicate those Catholics who were of an unquiet and turbulent disposition. Whether this were justified or not by the Nuncio's words, it was an exceedingly large assumption that the Pope would bind himself to excommunicate Catholics practically at the bidding of a Protestant king.

On or about December 4/14, 1604, the King's letter was forwarded by the Nuncio to Rome.[238] Nor did James confine his assurances to mere words. A person who left England on January 11,[239] 1604, assured the Nuncio that peaceful Catholics were living quietly, and that those who were devout were able 'to serve God according to their consciences without any danger.' He himself, he added, could bear witness to this, as, during the whole time he had been in London, he had heard mass daily in the house of one Catholic or another.[240]

This idyllic state of things-from the Roman Catholic point of view-was soon to come to an end. Clement VIII. refused, at least for the present, either to send a representative to England or to promise to call off turbulent persons under pain of excommunication.[241] Possibly nothing else was to be expected, as the idea of turning the Pope into a kind of spiritual policeman was not a happy one. Still, it is easy to understand that James must have felt mortified at the Pope's failure to respond to his overtures, and it is easy, also, to understand that Cecil would take advantage of the King's irritation for furthering his own aims. Nor were other influences wanting to move James in the same direction. Sir Anthony Standen had lately returned from a mission to Italy, and had brought with him certain relics as a present to the Queen, who was a Roman Catholic, and had entered into communication with Father Persons. Still more disquieting was it that a census of recusants showed that their numbers had very considerably increased since the King's accession. No doubt many of those who apparently figured as new converts were merely persons who had concealed their religion as long as it was unsafe to avow it, and who made open profession of it when no unpleasant consequences were to be expected; but there can also be little doubt that the number of genuine conversions had been very large. From the Roman Catholic point of view, this was a happy result of a purely religious nature. From the point of view of an Elizabethan statesman, it constituted a grave political danger. It is unnecessary here to discuss the first principles of religious toleration. It is enough to say that no Pope had reprimanded Philip II. for refusing to allow the spread of Protestantism in his dominions, and that James's councillors, as well as James himself, might fairly come to the conclusion that if the Roman Catholics of England increased in future years as rapidly as they had increased in the first year of the reign, it would not be long before a Pope would be found ready to launch against James the excommunication which had been launched against Elizabeth, and that his throne would be shaken, together with that national independence which that throne implied.

For the time James-pushed hard by his councillors,[242] as he was-might fancy that he had found a compromise. There was to be no enforcement of the recusancy laws against the laity, but on February 22, 1604, a proclamation was issued ordering the banishment of the priests[243]. It was not a compromise likely to be of long endurance. For our purposes the most important of its results was that it produced the Gunpowder Plot. A few days after its issue that meeting of the five conspirators took place behind St. Clement's, at which they received the sacrament in confirmation of their mutual promise of secrecy. All that has been said of the tyranny of the penal laws upon the laity, as affording a motive for the plot, is so much misplaced rhetoric. Moreover, if we accept Fawkes's evidence[244] of the date at which he first heard of the plot as being about Easter, 1604, i.e. about April 8, the communication of the design to Winter must have taken place towards the end of March, that is to say after the issue of the proclamation and before any other step had been taken to enforce the penal laws. Consequently all arguments, attributing the invention of the plot to Cecil for the sake of gaining greater influence with the King fall to the ground. He had just achieved a triumph of no common order, the prelude, as he must have been keen enough to discern, of greater triumphs to come. Granted, for argument's sake, that Cecil was capable of any wickedness-we at least require some motive for the crime which Father Gerard attributes to him by innuendo.

As time went on, there was even less cause for the powerful minister to invent or to foster a false plot. It is unnecessary to tell again in detail the story which I have told elsewhere of the way in which James fell back upon the Elizabethan position, and put in force once more the penal laws against the laity. On November 28, 1604, he decided on requiring the 20l. fines from the thirteen wealthy recusants who were liable to pay them, and on February 10, 1605[245]-a few days after the plotters had got half through the wall of the House of Lords-he announced his resolution that the penal laws should be put in execution. On May 4, 1605, Cecil, who in August, 1604, had been made Viscount Cranborne, was raised to the Earldom of Salisbury. Yet this is the politician who is supposed by Father Gerard to have been necessitated to keep himself in favour by the atrocious wickedness he is pleased to ascribe to him. In plain truth, Salisbury did not need to gain favour and power. He had both already.

A policy of intolerance is so opposed to the instincts of the present day, that it is worth while to hear a persecutor in his own defence. On March 7, 1605, less than a month after the King's pronouncement, Nicolo Molin, the Venetian ambassador, writes, that he had lately spoken to Cranborne on the recent treatment of the Catholics.

"He replied that, through the too great clemency of the King, the priests had gone with great freedom through all the country, the City of London and the houses of many citizens, to say mass, which they had done with great scandal, and thereupon had arrived advices from Rome that the Pope had constituted a congregation of Cardinals to treat of the affairs of this kingdom which gave occasion to many to believe that the King was about to grant liberty of conscience,[246] and had caused a great stir amongst our Bishops and other ministers, the Pope having come to this resolution mainly through the offices of that light-headed man Lindsay,[247] and then his Majesty, whose thoughts were far from it, resolved to use a rather unusual diligence to restrict a little the liberty of these priests of yours, as also to assure those of our religion that there was not the least thought of altering things in this direction. Sir James Lindsay, he said, had disgusted his Majesty, and the Pope would in the end discover that he was a lightheaded, unstable man. I understood, said I, that he had gone to Rome with the King's permission. It is quite true, said he, and if your Lordship wishes to understand the matter I will explain it. Sir James Lindsay, he continued, a year before the death of Queen Elizabeth asked leave to go to Rome, and his request was easily granted. When he arrived there he got means, with the help of friends, to be introduced to the Pope to whom, as is probable, he addressed many impertinencies, as he has done at the present time. In short, he was presented to the Pope, and got from him a good sum of money, perhaps promising to do here what he will never do, and obtained an autograph letter from the Pope to our King to the effect that he had understood from Sir James Lindsay his Majesty's good disposition, if not to favour the Catholic religion, at least not to persecute it, for which he felt himself to be under great obligations to him, and promised to assist him when Queen Elizabeth died, and to help him as far as possible to gain the succession to her realm as was just and reasonable, but that if his Majesty would consent to have the Prince, his son, educated in the Catholic religion, he would bind himself to engage his state and life to assist him, and would do what he could[248] that the Christian Princes should act in union with the same object.[249] With this letter Sir James arrived, two months before the Queen's death, repeating to his Majesty many things besides to the same effect. The King was willing enough to look at the letter, as coming from a Prince, and filled with many affectionate and courteous expressions, but he never thought of answering it, though he was frequently solicited by Sir James. The reason of this was that it would be necessary in writing to the Pope to give him his titles of Holiness and Blessedness, to which, being held by us to be impertinent, after the teaching of our religion, his Majesty could not be in any way persuaded, so that the affair remained asleep till the present time. Then came the Queen's death, on which Sir James again urged the King to answer the letter, assuring him that he would promise himself much advantage from the Pope's assistance if occasion served; but it pleased God to show such favour to the King that he met with no opposition, as every one knows. Some months ago, however, it again occurred to Sir James to think of going to Rome; he asked licence from his Majesty, and obtained it courteously enough. At his departure he said, 'I shall have occasion to see the Pope, and am certain that he will ask me about that letter of his. What answer am I to make?' 'You are to say,' replied the King, 'that you gave me the letter, and that I am much obliged to him for the love and affection he has shown me, to which I shall always try to correspond effectually.' 'Sire,' said Sir James, 'the Pope will not believe me. Will your Majesty find some means of assuring the Pope of the truth of this?' On which his Majesty took the pen and drew up a memoir with his own hand, telling Sir James that if he had occasion to talk to the Pope he should assure him of his desire to show, by acts, the good will of which he spoke, and the esteem he felt for him as a temporal Prince. He then directed Sir James to dwell on this as much as he could, and that as to religion[250] he wished to preserve and maintain that in which he had been brought up, being assured that it was the best, but that, not having a sanguinary disposition, he had not persecuted the Catholics in their property or their life, as long as they remained obedient subjects. As to instructing the Prince, his son, in the Catholic religion, he would never do it, because he believed it would bring down on him a heavy punishment from God, and the reproach of the world, if he were willing, whilst he himself professed a religion as the best, to promise that his son should be brought up in one full of corruptions and superstitions. Cecil then recounted the substance of the memoir, which was sealed with the King's seal, in order that the Pope and every one else might give credence to it on these points. Now, Sir James, to gain favour and get money, has transgressed these orders, as we understand that he has given occasion to the Pope to appoint a congregation of Cardinals on our affairs, and to us to have our eyes a little more open to the Catholics, and especially to the priests. To this I replied that I did not think that his Majesty should for this reason act against his constant professions not to wish to take any one's property or life, on account of religion. 'Sir,' he replied, 'be content as to blood, so long as the Catholics remain quiet and obedient. As to property, it is impossible to do less than observe[251] the laws in this respect, but even in that we shall proceed dexterously and much more gently than in the times of the late Queen, as the Catholics who refuse to attend our churches, and who are rich, will not think it much to pay £20 a month. Those who are less rich and have not the means to pay as much, and from whom two thirds of their revenue is taken during their lifetime will now have this advantage by the King's clemency that whereas in the Queen's time their property was granted to strangers who, to get as much as they could, did not hesitate to ruin their houses and possessions, it will now be granted to their own patrons, at the lowest rate, so that they will pay rather a quarter than two thirds of their estate. This arrangement has been come to in order not to afflict the Catholics too much, and to prevent our own people from believing that we wish to give liberty to the Catholic religion, as they undoubtedly will if the payments are absolutely abolished."

After a further remonstrance from the ambassador, Cranborne returned to the charge.

"Sir," he replied, "nothing else can be done. These are the laws, and they must be observed. Their object is undoubtedly to extinguish the Catholic religion in this kingdom, because we do not think it fit, in a well-governed monarchy, to increase the number of persons who profess to depend on the will of other Princes as the Catholics do, the priests not preaching anything more constantly than this, that the good Catholic ought to be firmly resolved in himself to be ready to rise for the preservation of his religion even against the life and state of his natural Prince.[252] This is a very perilous doctrine, and we will certainly never admit it here, but will rather do our best to overthrow it, and we will punish most severely those who teach it and impress it on the minds of good subjects."[253]

It is unnecessary to pursue the conversation further, or even to discuss how far Cranborne was serious when he expressed his intention of moderating the incidence of the laws which the Government had resolved to carry out. It is certain that they were not so moderated, and that the enforcement of law rapidly degenerated into mere persecution. What is important for our purposes is that the language I have just quoted leads us to the bed-rock of the situation. Between Pope and king a question of sovereignty had arisen, a question which could not be neglected without detriment to the national independence till the Pope either openly or tacitly abandoned his claim to excommunicate kings, and to release such subjects as looked up to him for guidance from the duty of obedience to their King. That the Pope should openly abandon this claim was more than could be expected; but he had not excommunicated James as his predecessor had excommunicated Elizabeth, and there was some reason to hope that he might allow the claim to be buried in oblivion. At all events, Clement VIII. had not only refused to excommunicate James, but had enjoined on the English Catholics the duty of abstaining from any kind of resistance to him. James had, however, wished to go further. Incapable-as most people in all ages are-of seeing the position with other eyes than his own, he wanted the Pope actively to co-operate with him in securing the obedience of his subjects. He even asked him to excommunicate turbulent Catholics, a thing to which it was impossible for the Pope-who also looked on these matters from his own point of view-to consent. In the meanwhile it was becoming evident that the Pope was not working for a Protestant England under a Protestant king, with a Catholic minority accepting what crumbs of toleration that king might fling to them, and renouncing for ever the right to resist his laws however oppressive they might be; but rather for a Catholic England under a Catholic King. This appeared in Clement's demand that Prince Henry should be educated in a religion which was not that of his father, and it appeared again in the reports of Lindsay, which had caused such a commotion at Whitehall. "His Holiness," wrote Lindsay, "hath commanded to continue to pray for your Majesty, and he himself stays every night two large hours in prayer for your Majesty, the Queen, and your children, and for the conversion of your Majesty and your dominions. This I may very well witness as one who was present."[254] We should have thought the worse of the Pope if he had done otherwise; but the news of it was hardly likely to be welcome to an English statesman. Who was to guarantee that, if the priests were allowed full activity in England a Roman Catholic majority would not be secured-or, that when such a majority was secured, the suspended excommunication would not be launched, and a rebellion, such as that of the League in France, encouraged against an obstinately Protestant Sovereign. We may be of opinion that those statesmen who attempted to meet the danger with persecution were men of little faith, who might have trusted to the strength of their religious and political creed-the two could not in those days be separated from one another; but there can be no doubt that the danger was there. We may hold Salisbury to have been but a commonplace man for meeting it as he did, but he had on his side nearly the whole of the official class which had stood by the throne of Elizabeth, and which now stood by the throne of James.

At all events, Salisbury's doctrine that there was to be no personal understanding with the Pope was the doctrine which prevailed then and in subsequent generations. James's attempt came to nothing through its insuperable difficulties, as well as through his own defects of character. A pleading, from a Roman Catholic point of view, in favour of such an understanding may be found in a letter written by Sir Everard Digby to Salisbury, which Father Gerard has shown to have been written, not in December, as Mrs. Everett Green suggested, but between May 4 and September, 1605, and which I ascribe to May, or as soon after May as is possible. The letter, after a reference to a conversation recently held between Digby himself and Salisbury, proceeds as follows:-

"One part of your Lordship's speech, as I remember, was that the King could not get so much from the Pope (even then, when his Majesty had done nothing against the Catholics) as a promise that he would not excommunicate him, wherefore it gave occasion to suspect that, if Catholics were suffered to increase, the Pope might afterwards proceed to excommunication if the King would not change his religion.[255] But to take away that doubt, I do assure myself that his Holiness may be drawn to manifest so contrary a disposition of excommunicating the King, that he will proceed with the same course against all as shall go about to disturb the King's quiet and happy reign[256]; and the willingness of Catholics, especially of priests and Jesuits, is such as I dare undertake to procure any priest in England (though it were the Superior of the Jesuits) to go himself to Rome to negotiate this business, and that both he and all other religious men (till the Pope's pleasure be known) shall take any spiritual course to stop the effect that may proceed from any discontented or despairing Catholic.

"And I doubt not but his return would bring both assurance that such course should not be taken with the King, and that it should be performed against any that should seek to disturb him for religion. If this were done, there could then be no cause to fear any Catholic, and this may be done only with those proceedings (which, as I understood your Lordship) should be used. If your Lordship apprehend it to be worth the doing I shall be glad to be the instrument, for no hope to put off from myself any punishment, but only that I wish safety to the King and ease to the Catholics. If your Lordship and the State think it fit to deal severely with Catholics within brief there will be massacres, rebellions and desperate attempts against the King and State. For it is a general received reason amongst Catholics that there is not that expecting and suffering course now to be run that was in the Queen's time, who was the last of her line, and the last in expectance to run violent courses against Catholics; for then it was hoped that the King that now is would have been at least free from persecuting, as his promise was before his coming into this realm, and as divers his promises have been since his coming, saying that he would take no soul-money nor blood. Also, as it appeared, was the whole body of the Council's pleasure when they sent for divers of the better sort of Catholics (as Sir Thomas Tresham and others) and told them it was the King's pleasure to forgive the payment of Catholics, so long as they should carry themselves dutifully and well. All these promises every man sees broken, and to thrust them further in despair, most Catholics take note of a vehement book written by Mr. Attorney, whose drift (as I have heard) is to prove that only being a Catholic is to be a traitor, whose book coming forth after the breach of so many promises, and before the ending of such a violent Parliament, can work no less effect in men's minds than a belief that every Catholic will be brought within that compass before the King and State have done with them. And I know, as the priest himself told me, that if he had not hindered, there had somewhat been attempted, before our offence,[257] to give ease to Catholics. But being so safely prevented, and so necessary to avoid, I doubt not but your Lordship and the rest of the Lords will think of a more mild and undoubted safe course, in which I will undertake the performance of what I have promised, and as much as can be expected; and when I have done I shall be as willing to die as I am ready to offer my service, and expect not nor desire favour for it, either before the doing it, nor in the doing it, nor after it is done, but refer myself to the resolved course for me."[258]

I have thought it well to set forth the pleadings on both sides, though it has led me somewhat out of my appointed track. Though our sympathies are with the weaker and oppressed party, it cannot be said that Digby's letter meets the whole case which Salisbury had raised. Whether that be so or not, it is enough, for our present purpose if we are able to discern that Salisbury had a case, and was not merely man?uvring for place or power. At all events, his opinion, whether it were bad or good, had, in the spring of 1605, been accepted by James, and he was therefore in less need even than in the preceding year of producing an imaginary or half-imaginary plot to frighten to his side a king who had already come round to his ideas.

* * *

Free to Download MoboReader
(← Keyboard shortcut) Previous Contents (Keyboard shortcut →)
 Novels To Read Online Free

Scan the QR code to download MoboReader app.

Back to Top