Smoking out the Jesuits- The true mission of the Plot?
John Gerard had already escaped by rope from the Tower once and, due to
his relationship to the Gunpowder plot, saw himself heading there again.
Father Gerard was at Harrowden where he was Chaplain. He was there on November
5 when Henry Huddleston, a friend of the Vaux
family, brought him news: the plot had been discovered.
He had met Catesby, Percy and the Wrights on the road. Huddleston and two priests were on the way to warn Father Garnet and were captured on route. Father Gerard did not go with them. He stayed at Harrowden, a house riddled with hiding places constructed by the famous lay-brother Nicholas "Little John" Owen.
On the 12th of November, a Tuesday, William Tate, sent by Cecil, came to Harrowden to search for Father Gerard. One hundred men searching the house could not find the priest. The search lasted nine solid days.Cecil brings in Elizabeth Vaux for questioning to shed light on the matter.
Father Gerard was hiding all along in a room in which he could sit but not stand up. Being brought food, he survived while other priests rooms in the house were revealed to the searchers. Suffering from the cold of winter, Father Gerard survived the search, getting away just before Cecil received a tip that he was indeed still in the building.
Lady Anne Markham, once Father Gerard's friends, was willing to betray him to free her husband. Father Gerard remained hidden until the third of May 1606 at which time he crossed the channel to France.
Another house modified for the Jesuits was Hindlip. Little John Owen also fitted it out well with priest hides and secret rooms of all kinds. Father Garnet arrived there with Hall, the Vaux sisters and Little John around December 4. Like Father Gerard, Father Garnet was used to being on the run. He had been so for about 20 years. He probably stayed at Coughton until the search let up a bit and then headed directly to the safer place, Hindlip Hall, three miles north east of Worcester. Hindlip was a palace of secret rooms, all constructed by Little John.
As a result of the capture of Fathers Strange and Singleton, the knowledge of the escape of Gerard from Harrowden and other bits of information, Cecil, by process of elimination, sent his men to search for Garnet at Hindlip. Most other houses had been searched and priests were know to have been found at Hindlip in the past. The proclamation to search Hindlip included Gerard's name.
Bates, under questioning, had tried to put the government off of the scent of Tesimond had gone to Hindlip. This was an unfortunate coincidence. The proclamation for the arrest of Fathers Gerard,Cecil had instructed Hindlip searched before the proclamation was issued. Detailed plans for the search of Hindlip were given by Cecil himself.
The house had a commanding view of the countryside and the approach of Pursuivants could be seen. Sir Henry Bromley arriving early on January 20 1606 and found the beds still warm- four more warm beds than people! The lookout had not been close enough. A hundred or more armed men surrounded the house. As the men knocked on the gate servants rushed to hide religious articles as well as the Jesuits. The man of the house, Thomas Abingdon, was away but the women employed delaying tactics, sending servants to talk back and forth.
Bromley broke down the gates, but this process was time consuming and the Jesuits were safely hidden away along with the religious articles. Bromley read his proclamation to Mary Abingdon. She of course denied hiding priests and gave Bromley the keys. Bromley wrote to Cecil- "I did never hear so impudent liars as I find here... all recusants, and all resolved to confess nothing, what danger so ever they incur." He wrote of Mary Abingdon:"I could by no means persuade the gentlewomen of the house to depart the house without I should have carried her, which I held uncivil as being so nobly born as I have and do undergo the greater difficulties thereby." Interestingly Mary Abingdon was Lord Mounteagle's sister. She had to be treated carefully.
Thomas Abingdon returns to find his house being torn apart. Thomas Abingdon also denies the presence of priests. Floors were ripped up and oak paneling was taken down. Walls were removed and ceilings prodded.
After three days Bromley was about to give up, but just then "a number of Popish trash hid under the floor boards" was found and the trail became fresh. All kinds of secret hides were discovered, all unused and dusty. Thomas Abingdon's property deeds were found in one of the hides, indicating that he had lied about their existence.
Nicholas Owen, the great architect of it hall, had gone into hiding so quickly on Monday evening that he had taken no food, only one apple for two men and by Thursday they were quite hungry. They were also without water for four days.
Out of an apparently solid wall two men appeared. Bromley had left, fearing that the search was a waste. The house was further destroyed as the search was intensified. On Monday the 27th of January the secret chamber tucked away in an angle of the chimney breast was discovered. The priests had sucked a mixture of wine and eggs through a straw through a wall into another room. They had obtained broth and other drinks as well by this technique. The two men, Fathers Garnet and Hall, were in pain from lack of movement. Their limbs were swollen. Father Garnet eventually came out. "When we came forth we appeared like 2 ghosts yet I the stronger though my weakness lasted longer..." and so without a fight as Father Garnet wrote: "Fiat voluntas ejus" (his will be done.)
Father Garnet never knew that the proclamation was issued in his name. He thought that Humphry Littleton had sold him out. That in fact was a lie planted in Father Garnet's mind by Cecil.
At the same Garnet and Hall were being taken out of his hiding place on the 27th, the others in our story: Fawkes, The Winters, Digby, Rookwood, Keyes, Grant and Bates, were being taken from the Tower to the Star Chamber for their treason trial. They had been all condemned to death by the time news reached London of the capture from Bromley. Cecil delayed the transportation of the prisoners so they would not meet at the hearing.
Bromley was to write the official letter of the capture and date it several days later on the 30th of January. First Fathers Garnet and Hall were moved to the jail at Worcester on the 27th. Then they were taken to Holt Castle. The two priests were treated like royalty, probably on the instructions of Cecil. The time delay in the transport of the prisoners was such that the eight men who could have cleared them of complicity in the plot were silent.
On January 30, three days after word of the capture of the two priests reached Cecil, Robert Winter, Sir Everard Digby, John Grant and Thomas Bates were hanged, drawn and quartered in St. Paul's Churchyard. The following day at Old Palace Yard, Thomas Winter, Ambrose Rookwood, Robert Keyes and Guy Fawkes met the same fate.
On February 12, six days after Garnet arrived in London, Cecil wrote to Sir Thomas Edmondes, the ambassador in Brussels, "Since their execution, Garnet, the provincial Jesuit, with some other Jesuits, is taken at Mr. Abingdon's house in Worcestershire and brought to London".
We shall soon talk of further interrogations and executions followed by a most amazing miracle.
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