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A History of England Principally in the Seventeent

But also one of the conspirators


But

warnings had already come to the government, especially from Paris, where the priests of the Jesuit party ventured to express themselves still more plainly than in London. The warning was conveyed with the express intimation that 'somewhat is at present in hand among these desperate hypocrites.'[338] What an impression must now have been produced when one of the Catholic lords, who at an earlier period had followed this party, but had for some time withdrawn from it, Lord Mounteagle, communicated to the first minister a letter in which he was admonished in mysterious language to hold aloof from the opening of Parliament. It may be that the King, as he himself relates, in deciphering the sense of a word hit upon the supposition that a fate similar to that of his father was being prepared for him; or it may be that the ministers had, as they affirm, come upon the traces of the matter; but however this may have been, on the evening before the opening of Parliament the vaults were examined, when not only were the powder-barrels found among wood and faggots, but also one of the conspirators, Guy Fawkes, who was busy with the last preparations for the execution of the plot. With a smiling countenance he confessed his purpose, which he seemed to regard as the fulfilment of a religious duty. The pedantic monarch thought himself in the presence of a fanatical Mutius Scaevola.

The rest of the conspirators who were in London, alarmed by the discovery, hastened

to the appointed rendezvous at Dunchurch; but the news which they brought with them caused general discouragement. With a band of about one hundred men, they set off to make their escape to Wales, the home of most of the Catholics, hoping to receive the promised reinforcements and the support of the population on their way. They once actually attempted to assure themselves of the latter; but on declaring that they were for God and the country, they received the answer that they ought also to be for the King. No one joined them, and many of their comrades had already dispersed when they were overtaken at Holbeach by the armed bands of Worcestershire under the Sheriff. Percy and Catesby, as they stood back to back, were shot dead by two balls from the same musket; the two Wrights were killed, and Thomas Winter taken prisoner.[339]

The authority of government triumphed over this most frantic attempt to break through it, as it had triumphed in every similar case since the time of Henry VII.

[Sidenote: A.D. 1606.]

It was perhaps the most remarkable feature in this last, that it was directed especially against the Parliament. During the Wars of the Roses, it had only been necessary to drive the then reigning prince out of the field, or to chase him away, in order to create a new parliamentary rule. The attempts against Queen Elizabeth rested on the hope of producing a similar result by her death: but it was apparent in her last years that her death would be useless, and the comparatively free elections after that event returned a Parliament of the same character as the preceding. Even under the new reign the Protestant party secured their ascendancy in the elections; and the only possibility of an alteration for the future was to be found in the annihilation of the Parliament, not so much of the institution--at least this was not mooted--but of the men who composed it and gave it its character. The violent attempt on the Parliament is a proof of its power. The Gunpowder Plot was directed against the King, not in his personal capacity as monarch, but as head of the legislative authority. It was felt that this power itself with all its component parts must be destroyed without scruple or mercy, if an order of things in the State corresponding to the views of the hierarchical party was ever again to obtain a footing.


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