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Remember, Remember the Fifth of November

“That Catesby, Winter, Fawlks with many other Traitours lately attainted of high treason, would blowe vp with Gun-powder in the Parliament house, the King, the Prince, the Lls. Spirituall and Temporall, the Iudges of the realme, the Knights, Citizens and Burgesses, and many other subjects and seruants of the King assembled in Parliament at one Blow traiterously and diuilishly to destroy them al, and piece meale to teare them in sunder, without respect of Maiesty, Dignity, Degree, Age or Place.”

A True and Perfect Relation of the Whole…
London: Imprinted at London by Robert Barker…, 1606
First edition, second issue, with cancel title-page
KD372 G37 T78

Henry Garnet attended Winchester College, leaving, probably, because of his Catholic faith. From Winchester he worked for two years as corrector of the press of Tottel, a printer of law books. He joined the Society of Jesus, going to Spain and then Rome, where he taught Hebrew and mathematics. He returned to England as a Jesuit missionary in 1586. The Jesuits had been banished from England a year earlier, so Garnet and others ministered and worshiped in secret. Garnet, a voice of moderation in the tension between English Catholics and Protestants, apparently dissuaded English Catholics from violent acts on several occasions.

On November 5th, 1605, Guy Fawkes was arrested for a plot to blow up Parliament. A letter was found on him addressed to the house where Garnet had recently lived. Garnet was immediately suspected as being a part of what would come to be called the “Gunpowder Plot.” Garnet was examined twenty-three times, at first denying knowledge of the plot. Finally, Garnet admitted to having been fully informed of the plot by a fellow Jesuit, Oswald Tesimond, but claimed that Tesimond’s knowledge came from Robert Catesby during the sanctity of confession, which forbade Garnet to reveal it — an act known as “equivocation.” He claimed to have urged Catesby against the plot.

“And for the purpose great quantities of Gunpowder was traiterously and secretly placed, and hid by these Conspirators vnder the Parliament house.”

On March 28, 1606, Garnet was found guilty, and sentenced to be drawn, hanged, and quartered. The execution took place on May 3rd of that same year. Many Catholics venerated him as a martyr.

The 1606-07 Parliament attempted to strengthen laws against Catholics and Jesuits in the wake of the Gunpowder Plot.  A True and Perfect Relation contains official accounts of the Gunpowder Plot trials, including that of Guy Fawkes, rousing public support for these laws. Published anonymously, A True and Perfect Relation demonstrated the level of Protestant indignation over the complicity of Garnet and others in the Gunpowder Plot.

“On the 5. of November, being the time when the Traitors expected that their deuilish practice should haue taken effect, they conuented at Dunchurch vnder colour of a great hunting match, appointed by Sir Euerard Digby, as being a man of qualitie and accompt thereabout, purposing by this meanes to furnish themselues with company for their intended Insurrection and Rebellion; for that men being gathered together, and a tumult suddenly raised, the Traitors thought, that euery or most of them would follow the present fortune, and be easily perswaded to take part with them…”

The lines in William Shakespeare’s tragedy, Macbeth, “Faith, here’s an equivocator that could swear in both scales against either scale…” are thought to refer specifically to Garnet. The Porter makes mocking references to Garnet (the equivocator) and his trial. There are also possible references to relics from Garnet’s execution in the talk of ‘napkins’ used by Catholic spectators at executions to mop up the blood of martyrs, and the ‘tailor’ referring to a tailor examined in November 1606 for being in possession of ‘Garnet’s Straw’ (a stalk of grain onto which Garnet’s blood was supposed to have miraculously splashed in an image of his face).

When Macbeth sees Birnam wood advancing toward Dunsinane and understands the trick of the witches’ prophecy, he says ‘I … begin / To doubt th’equivocation of the fiend / That lies like truth.’ Throughout the play are words which held particular significance in post-Plot England – ‘blow’, ‘vault’, ‘train.’ The play’s themes of secret plotting, usurpation and regicide would have been hugely resonant for the audience of the day. Macbeth is filled with equivocation: doubled language and ambiguous realities.

“…and with this, ended speaking, and fel to praying; And Crossing himselfe, said, In nomine Patris & Filij, & Spritus sancti, and prayed Maria mater gratiae, Maria mater misericordiae, Tu me a malo progege, & hora mortis… Then, In manus tuas Domine, commendo Spiritum meum; Then, Per crucis hoe signum, (crossing himselfe) fugiat procul omne malignum. Insige Crucem tuam in corde meo Domine. Let me always remember the Crosse, and so returned againe to Maria mater gratiae, and then was turned off, and hung till he was dead.”

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