William Ainsworth.

Guy Fawkes: or, The Gunpowder Treason: An Historical Romance

Since it may not be otherwise, I assent, replied Viviana. If I must go, I will start at once.

Wisely resolved, replied Sir Everard.

Viviana then retired, and soon afterwards appeared equipped for her journey. The two attendants and Nicholas Owen were in the court-yard, and Catesby assisted her into the saddle.

Do not lose sight of her, he said to Garnet, as the latter mounted.

Rest assured I will not, replied the other.

And taking the direction of Coventry, the party rode off at a brisk pace.

Catesby then joined the other conspirators, while Sir Everard sent off Lady Digby and his household, attended by a strong escort, to Coughton. This done, the whole party repaired to the court-yard, where they called over the muster-roll of their men, to ascertain that none were missing, examined their arms and ammunition, and finding all in order, sprang to their steeds, and putting themselves at the head of the band, rode towards Southam and Warwick.


About six o'clock in the morning the conspirators reached Leamington Priors, at that time an inconsiderable village; and having ridden nearly twenty miles over heavy and miry roads, for a good deal of rain had fallen in the night, they stood in need of some refreshment. Accordingly, they entered the first farm-yard they came to, and proceeding to the cow-houses and sheepfolds, turned out the animals within them, and fastening up their own steeds in their places, set before them whatever provender they could find. Those, and they were by far the greater number, who could not find better accommodation, fed their horses in the yard, which was strewn with trusses of hay and great heaps of corn. The whole scene formed a curious picture. Here was one party driving away the sheep and cattle, which were bleating and lowing, there, another rifling a hen-roost, and slaughtering its cackling inmates. On this hand, by the direction of Catesby, two stout horses were being harnessed with ropes to a cart, which he intended to use as a baggage-waggon; on that, Sir Everard Digby was interposing his authority to prevent the destruction of a fine porker.

Their horses fed, the next care of the conspirators was to obtain something for themselves: and ordering the master of the house, who was terrified almost out of his senses, to open his doors, they entered the dwelling, and causing a fire to be lighted in the chief room, began to boil a large kettle of broth upon it, and to cook other provisions. Finding a good store of eatables in the larder, rations were served out to the band. Two casks of strong ale were likewise broached, and their contents distributed; and a small keg of strong waters being also discovered, it was disposed of in the same way.

This, however, was the extent of the mischief done. All the conspirators, but chiefly Catesby and Sir Everard Digby, dispersed themselves amongst the band, and checked any disposition to plunder.

The only articles taken away from the house were a couple of old rusty swords and a caliver. Catesby proposed to the farmer to join their expedition. But having now regained his courage, the sturdy churl obstinately refused to stir a foot with them, and even ventured to utter a wish that the enterprise might fail.

I am a good Protestant, and a faithful subject of King James, and will never abet Popery and treason, he said.

This bold sally would have been answered by a bullet from one of the troopers, if Catesby had not interfered.

You shall do as you please, friend, he said, in a conciliatory tone. We will not compel any man to act against his conscience, and we claim the same right ourselves. Will you join us, good fellows? he added, to two farming men, who were standing near their master.

Must I confess to a priest? asked one of them.

Certainly not, replied Catesby. You shall have no constraint whatever put upon you. All I require is obedience to my commands in the field.

Then I am with you, replied the fellow.

Thou'rt a traitor and rebel, Sam Morrell, cried the other hind, and wilt come to a traitor's end. I will never fight against King James. And if I must take up arms, it shall be against his enemies, and in defence of our religion. No priests, no papistry for me.

Well said, Hugh, cried his master; we'll die in that cause, if need be.

Catesby turned angrily away, and giving the word to his men to prepare to set forth, in a few minutes all were in the saddle; but on inquiring for the new recruit, Sam Morrell, it was found he had disappeared. The cart was laden with arms, ammunition and a few sacks of corn; and the line being formed, they commenced their march.

The morning was dark and misty, and all looked dull and dispiriting. The conspirators, however, were full of confidence, and their men, exhilarated and refreshed by their meal, appeared anxious for an opportunity of distinguishing themselves. Arrived within half a mile of Warwick, whence the lofty spire of the church of Saint Nicholas, the tower of Saint Mary's, and the ancient gates of this beautiful old town could just be discerned through the mist, a short consultation was held by the rebel leaders as to the expediency of attacking the castle, and carrying off the horses with which they had learnt its stables were filled.

Deciding upon making the attempt, their resolution was communicated to their followers, and received with loud acclamations. Catesby then put himself at the head of the band, and they all rode forward at a brisk pace. Crossing the bridge over the Avon, whence the castle burst upon them in all its grandeur and beauty, Catesby dashed forward to an embattled gate commanding the approach to the structure, and knocking furiously against it, a wicket was opened by an old porter, who started back on beholding the intruders. He would have closed the wicket, but Catesby was too quick for him, and springing from his steed, dashed aside the feeble opposition of the old man, and unbarred the gate. Instantly mounting again, he galloped along a broad and winding path cut so deeply in the rock, that the mighty pile they were approaching was completely hidden from view. A few seconds, however, brought them to a point, from which its three towers reared themselves full before them. Another moment brought them to the edge of the moat, at this time crossed by a stone bridge, but then filled with water, and defended by a drawbridge.

As no attack like the present was apprehended, and as the owner of the castle, the celebrated Fulke Greville, afterwards Lord Brooke, to whom it had been recently granted by the reigning monarch, was then in the capital, the drawbridge was down, and though several retainers rushed forth on hearing the approach of so many horsemen, they were too late to raise it. Threatening these persons with destruction if any resistance was offered, Catesby passed through the great entrance, and rode into the court, where he drew up his band.

By this time, the whole of the inmates of the castle had collected on the ramparts, armed with calivers and partisans, and whatever weapons they could find, and though their force was utterly disproportioned to that of their opponents, they seemed disposed to give them battle. Paying no attention to them, Catesby proceeded to the stables, where he found upwards of twenty horses, which he exchanged for the worst and most jaded of his own, and was about to enter the castle in search of arms, when he was startled by hearing the alarm-bell rung. This was succeeded by the discharge of a culverin on the summit of the tower, named after the redoubted Guy, Earl of Warwick; and though the bell was instantly silenced, Rookwood, who had dislodged the party from the ramparts, brought word that the inhabitants of Warwick were assembling, that drums were beating at the gates, and that an attack might be speedily expected. Not desiring to hazard an engagement at this juncture, Catesby gave up the idea of ransacking the castle, and ordered his men to their horses.

Some delay, however, occurred before they could all be got together, and, meanwhile, the ringing of bells and other alarming sounds continued. At one time, it occurred to Catesby to attempt to maintain possession of the castle; but this design was overruled by the other conspirators, who represented to him the impracticability of the design. At length, the whole troop being assembled, they crossed the drawbridge, and speeded along the rocky path. Before the outer gate they found a large body of men, some on horseback, and some on foot, drawn up. These persons, however, struck with terror at their appearance, retreated, and allowed them a free passage.

On turning to cross the bridge, they found it occupied by a strong and well-armed body of men, headed by the Sheriff of Warwickshire, who showed no disposition to give way. While the rebel party were preparing to force a passage, a trumpet was sounded, and the Sheriff, riding towards them, commanded them in the King's name to yield themselves prisoners.

We do not acknowledge the supremacy of James Stuart, whom you call king, rejoined Catesby, sternly. We fight for our liberties, and for the restoration of the holy Catholic religion which we profess. Do not oppose us, or you will have cause to rue your temerity.

Hear me, cried the Sheriff, turning from him to his men: I promise you all a free pardon in the King's name, if you will throw down your arms, and deliver up your leaders. But, if after this warning, you continue in open rebellion against your sovereign, you will all suffer the vilest death.

Rejoin your men, sir, said Catesby, in a significant tone, and drawing a petronel.

A free pardon and a hundred pounds to him who will bring me the head of Robert Catesby, said the Sheriff, disregarding the menace.

Your own is not worth half the sum, rejoined Catesby; and levelling the petronel, he shot him dead.

The Sheriff's fall was the signal for a general engagement. Exasperated by the death of their leader, the royalist party assailed the rebels with the greatest fury, and as the latter were attacked at the same time in the rear, their situation began to appear perilous. But nothing could withstand the vigour and determination of Catesby. Cheering on his men, he soon cut a way across the bridge, and would have made good his retreat, if he had not perceived, to his infinite dismay, that Percy and Rookwood had been captured.

Regardless of any risk he might run, he shouted to those near to follow him, and made such a desperate charge upon the royalists that in a few minutes he was by the side of his friends, and had liberated them. In trying, however, to follow up his advantage he got separated from his companions, and was so hotly pressed on all sides, that his destruction seemed inevitable. His petronels had both brought down their mark; and in striking a blow against a stalwart trooper his sword had shivered close to the handle. In this defenceless state his enemies made sure of him, but they miscalculated his resources.

He was then close to the side of the bridge, and, before his purpose could be divined, struck spurs deeply into his horse, and cleared the parapet with a single bound. A shout of astonishment and admiration arose alike from friend and foe, and there was a general rush towards the side of the bridge. The noble animal that had borne him out of danger was seen swimming towards the bank, and, though several shots were fired at him, he reached it in safety. This gallant action so raised Catesby in the estimation of his followers, that they welcomed him with the utmost enthusiasm, and rallying round him, fought with such vigour, that they drove their opponents over the bridge and compelled them to flee towards the town.

Catesby now mustered his men, and finding his loss slighter than he expected, though several were so severely wounded, that he was compelled to leave them behind, rode off at a quick pace. After proceeding for about four miles along the Stratford road, they turned off on the right into a narrow lane leading to Snitterfield, with the intention of visiting Norbrook, the family residence of John Grant. On arriving there, they put the house into a state of defence, and then assembled in the hall, while their followers recruited themselves in the court-yard.

So far, well, observed Catesby, flinging himself into a chair; the first battle has been won.

True, replied Grant; but it will not do to tarry here long. This house cannot hold out against a prolonged attack.

We will not remain here more than a couple of hours, replied Catesby: but where shall we go next? I am for making some desperate attempt, which shall strike terror into our foes.

Are we strong enough to march to the Earl of Harrington's mansion near Coventry, and carry off the Princess Elizabeth? asked Percy.

She were indeed a glorious prize, replied Catesby; but I have no doubt, on the first alarm of our rising, she has been conveyed to a place of safety. And even if she were there, we should have the whole armed force of Coventry to contend with. No no, it will not do to attempt that.

Nothing venture, nothing have! cried Sir Everard Digby. We ought, in my opinion, to run any risk to secure her.

You know me too well, Digby, rejoined Catesby, to doubt my readiness to undertake any project, however hazardous, which would offer the remotest chance of success. But in this I see none, unless, indeed, it could be accomplished by stratagem. Let us first ascertain what support we can obtain, and then decide upon the measures to be adopted.

I am content, returned Digby.

Old Mr. Talbot of Grafton is a friend of yours, is he not? continued Catesby, addressing Thomas Winter. Can you induce him to join us?

I will try, replied Thomas Winter; but I have some misgivings.

Be not faint-hearted, rejoined Catesby. You and Stephen Littleton shall go to him at once, and join us at your own mansion of Huddington, whither we will proceed as soon as our men are thoroughly recruited. Use every argument you can devise with Talbot, tell him that the welfare of the Catholic cause depends on our success, and that neither his years nor infirmities can excuse his absence at this juncture. If he will not, or cannot come himself, cause him to write letters to all his Catholic neighbours, urging them to join us, and bid him send all his retainers and servants to us.

I will not neglect a single plea, replied Thomas Winter, and I will further urge compliance by his long friendship towards myself. But, as I have just said, I despair of success.

Soon after this, he and Stephen Littleton, with two of the troopers well-mounted and well-armed, rode across the country through lanes and by-roads, with which they were well acquainted, to Grafton. At the same time, Catesby repaired to the court-yard, and assembling his men, found there were twenty-five missing. More than half of these it was known had been killed or wounded at Warwick; but the rest, it was suspected, had deserted.

Whatever effect this scrutiny might secretly have upon Catesby, he maintained a cheerful and confident demeanour, and mounting a flight of steps, harangued the band in energetic and exciting terms. Displaying a small image of the virgin to them, he assured them they were under the special protection of heaven, whose cause they were fighting and concluded by reciting a prayer, in which the whole assemblage heartily joined. This done, they filled the baggage-cart with provisions and further ammunition, and forming themselves into good order, took the road to Alcester.

They had not gone far, when torrents of rain fell, and the roads being in a shocking condition, and ploughed up with ruts, they turned into the fields wherever it was practicable, and continued their march very slowly, and under excessively disheartening circumstances. On arriving at the ford across the Avon, near Bishopston, they found the stream so swollen that it was impossible to get across it. Sir Everard Digby, who made the attempt, was nearly carried off by the current. They were therefore compelled to proceed to Stratford, and cross the bridge.

My friends, said Catesby, commanding a halt at a short distance of the town, I know not what reception we may meet with here. Probably much the same as at Warwick. But I command you not to strike a blow, except in self-defence.

Those injunctions given, attended by the other conspirators, except Percy and Rookwood, who brought up the rear, he rode slowly into Stratford, and proceeding to the market-place, ordered a trumpet to be sounded. On the first appearance of the troop, most of the inhabitants fled to their houses, and fastened the doors, but some few courageous persons followed them at a wary distance. These were harangued at some length by Catesby, who called upon them to join the expedition, and held out promises, which only excited the derision of the hearers.

Indeed, the dejected looks of most of the band, and the drenched and muddy state of their apparel, made them objects of pity and contempt, rather than of serious apprehension: and nothing but their numbers prevented an attack being made upon them. Catesby's address concluded amid groans of dissatisfaction; and finding he was wasting time, and injuring his own cause, he gave the word to march, and moved slowly through the main street, but not a single recruit joined him.

Another unpropitious circumstance occurred just as they were leaving Stratford. Two or three of his followers tried to slink away, when Catesby, riding after them, called to them to return, and no attention being paid to his orders, he shot the man nearest him, and compelled the others, by threats of the same punishment, to return to their ranks. This occurrence, while it occasioned much discontent and ill-will among the band, gave great uneasiness to their leaders. Catesby and Percy now brought up the rear, and kept a sharp look-out to check any further attempt at desertion.

Digby and Winter, being well acquainted with all the Catholic gentry in the neighbourhood, they proceeded to their different residences, and were uniformly coldly received, and in some cases dismissed with reproaches and menaces. In spite of all their efforts, too, repeated desertions took place; and long before they reached Alcester, their force was diminished by a dozen men. Not thinking it prudent to pass through the town, they struck into a lane on the right, and fording the Arrow near Ragley, skirted that extensive park, and crossing the hills near Weethly and Stoney Moreton, arrived in about an hour and a half, in a very jaded condition, at Huddington, the seat of Robert Winter. Affairs seemed to wear so unpromising an aspect, that Catesby, on entering the house, immediately called a council of his friends, and asked them what they proposed to do.

For my own part, he said, I am resolved to fight it out. I will continue my march as long as I can get a man to follow me, and when they are all gone, will proceed alone. But I will never yield.

We will all die together, if need be, said Sir Everard Digby. Let us rest here to-night, and in the morning proceed to Lord Windsor's mansion, Hewel Grange, which I know to be well sked with arms, and, after carrying off all we can, we will fortify Stephen Littleton's house at Holbeach, and maintain it for a few days against our enemies.

This proposal agreed to, they repaired to the court-yard, and busied themselves in seeing the wants of their followers attended to; and such a change was effected by good fare and a few hours' repose, that the spirits of the whole party revived, and confidence was once more restored. A slight damp, however, was again thrown upon the satisfaction of the leaders, by the return of Thomas Winter and Stephen Littleton from Grafton. Their mission had proved wholly unsuccessful. Mr. Talbot had not merely refused to join them, but had threatened to detain them.

He says we deserve the worst of deaths, observed Thomas Winter, in conclusion, and that we have irretrievably injured the Catholic cause.

And I begin to fear he speaks the truth, rejoined Christopher Wright. However, for us there is no retreat.

None whatever, rejoined Catesby, in a sombre tone. We must choose between death upon the battle-field or on the scaffold.

The former be my fate, cried Percy.

And mine, added Catesby.

An anxious and perturbed night was passed by the conspirators, and many a plan was proposed and abandoned. It had been arranged among them that they should each in succession make the rounds of the place, to see that the sentinels were at their posts strict orders having been given to the latter to fire upon whomsoever might attempt to fly but, as Catesby, despite his great previous fatigue, was unable to rest, he took this duty chiefly upon himself.

Returning at midnight from an examination of the court-yard, he was about to enter the house, when he perceived before him a tall figure, with a cloak muffled about its face, standing in his path. It was perfectly motionless, and Catesby, who carried a lantern in his hand, threw the light upon it, but it neither moved forward, nor altered its position. Catesby would have challenged it, but an undefinable terror seized him, and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth. An idea rose to his mind that it was the spirit of Guy Fawkes, and, by a powerful effort, he compelled himself to address it.