Category Archives: Gunpowder Plot

Death Execution Gunpowder Plot Woodcut

Execution Woodcuts

Three woodcuts from the the mid seventeenth century. The first two depict execution by hanging, drawing, and quartering, which was the standard method of execution for convicted traitors. The third depicts Guy Fawkes’ head on a spike.





Assassination Crime Gunpowder Plot London Monarchy Parliament Tower Of London

The true copie of the declaration of Guido Fawkes


The confession of Guy Fawkes, published in December 1605. This confession corresponds to the official government position on the Gunpowder Plot, and was probably extracted under torture which renders it unreliable as an historical text. But it certainly makes for interesting reading.


The true copie of the declaration of Guido Fawkes, taken in the presence of the Counsellors whose names are under written.

I confesse that a practise in general was first broken unto me against his Majestie for relief of the Catholique cause, and not invented or propounded by my self. And this was first propounded unto me about Easter last. I was twelve month beyond the Seas in the Lowe Countryes of the Archdukes obeisance. Thomas Winter came thereupon with mee into Engand, and there we imparted our purpose to three other Gentlemen, namely, Robert Catesby, Thomas Percy, and John Wright, who all five [of us were] consulting together of the meanes how to execute the same, and taking a vow among our selves for secrecy. Catesbie propounded to have it performed with Gunpowder, and by making a Myne under the upper House of Parliament, which place we made choice of because Religion having been unjustly suppressed there, it was fittest that Justice and punishments should be executed there.

This being resolved amongst us, Thomas Percy hired a House at Westminster for that purpose, near adjoying to the Parliament House, and there we begun to make our Myne about 11th of December 1604. The five that first entered into the work were Thomas Piercy, Robert Catesby, Thomas Winter, John Wright, and my self. Soon after we took another unto us, Christopher Wright, having sworn him also, and taken the Sacrament for Secrecie. When we came to the very foundation of the Wall of the House, which was about three yards thick, and found it a matter of great difficulty, we tooke unto us another Gentleman, Robert Winter, in like manner with oath and Sacrament as aforesaid.

It was about Christmas when we brought our Myne unto the Wall, about Candlemass we had wrought the Wall halfe through. And whilst they were working, I stood as Sentinell to defer any man that came near, whereof I gave them warning, and so they ceased until I gave notice againe to proceede. And we seven lay in the House and had Shot and Powder, being resolved to die in that place before we should yeeld or be taken.

As they were working upon the Wall, they heard a rushing in a Cellar of removing of Coales, whereupon we feared we had beene discovered, and they sent me to go to the Cellar, who finding that the Coales were a-selling, and that the Cellar was to be let, viewing the commodity thereof for our own purpose, Percy went and hired the same for yeerly rent. We had this provided, and brought into the House twenty Barrels of Powder, which we remooved unto the Cellar, and covered the same with Billets and Faggots, which were provided for that purpose.

About Easter, the Parliament being prorogued until October next, we dispersed our selves, and I retired to the Lowe countries by advice and direction of the rest, as well to acquaint Owen with the particulars of the Plot, as also least by my longer stay I might have grown suspicious, and to have come into question. In the meantime Percy having the key of the Cellar, laid in more Powder and wood into it. I returned about the beginning of September next, and then receiving the key of Percy, we brought in more Powder and Billets to cover the same again, and so I went for a time into the Countrey until the 30. of October.

It was further resolved amongst us that the same day that this Act should have been performed, some other of our Confederates should have surprised the person of the Lady Elizabeth the Kings Daughter, who was kept in Warwickshire at the Lord Harington’s house, and presently have proclaimed her Queene, having a Project of Proclamation ready for that purpose; wherein we made no mention of altering of Religion, nor would have avowed the deed to be ours, untill we should have had power enough to make our partie good and then we would have avowed both. Concerning Duke Charles the Kings second son, we had sundry consultations how to seize on his person, but because we found no meanes how to compasse it, the Duke being kept near London, where wee had not forces enough, we resolved to serve our turne with the Lady Elizabeth.

The names of the principal persons that were made privy afterwards to this horrible conspiracy: Edward Digby, Knight. Francis Tresham. John Grant. Robert Keyes.



There are more posts on the Gunpowder Plot here

Curiosities Death Gunpowder Plot London Playwrights Shakespeare Uncategorized

Fatal Vespers: The Dismall Day at the Black-Fryers


On 26th October (os dating), 5th November (ns dating) 1623, a fatal accident occurred in London. The location of the accident was a gatehouse in the precinct of Blackfriars. Between two and three hundred Catholics gathered together in a small garret room, to hear the Jesuit Robert Drury deliver a sermon, and to celebrate evensong. Half way through Drury’s sermon, the wooden floor gave way and the priest and almost a hundred people fell two storeys to their death. Some people survived the fall, others were trapped in the rubble, and some managed to break through a wall surrounding the collapsed floor itself and escape into an adjacent house. Crowds quickly assembled, many to assist in the rescue of survivors, and others merely to taunt the unfortunate Catholics victims. The following day the dead were extracted from the rubble, but due to an order from the Bishop of London, which prohibited their burial in any consecrated city ground, sixty or so corpses were interred in two common pits near the spot where the accident had occured. A large pair of black wooden crosses were hastily erected, only to be subsequently removed.

There is some extant contemporanous evidence of the event. A ballad exists, entitled The Dismall Day at the Black-Fryers, the illustration from which can be seen at the top of this post, and one account, written by a supposed Catholic, Thomas Goad, describes the accident itself:


The floare, whereon that assembly stood or sate, not sinking by degrees, but at one instant failing and falling, by the breaking asunder of a maine Sommier or Dormer of that floare; which beame, together with the Joyces and Plancher thereto adjoyned, with the people thereon, rushed downe with such violence, that the weight and fall thereof, brake in sunder another farre stronger and thicker Sommier of the Chamber situated directly underneath: and so both the ruined floares, with the people overlapped and crushed under, or betweene them, fell, (without any time of stay) upon a lower third floare, being the floare of the said Lord Ambassadors withdrawing Chamber; which was supported underneath with Arch-work of stone, (yet visible in the Gate-house there) and so became the boundarie or terme of that confused and dolefull heape of ruines, which otherwise had sunke yet deeper by its owne weight and height of the downfall: the distance from the highest floare, whence the people fell, to the lowest, where they lay, being about two and twentie foot in depth.

Here some bruised, some dismembred, some onely parts of men: there some wounded, and weltering in their owne and others bloud, other some putting forth their fainting hands and crying out for helpe. Here some gasping and panting for breath, others stifled for want of breath. To the most of them being thus covered with dust, this their death was a kinde of buriall. Have the gates of death beene opened unto thee? Or hast thou seene the doares of the shadow of death? Verily if any man could looke in at those gates, and returne, he would report such a pourtrait as was this spectacle.

Such was the noise of this dreadfull and unexpected downefall, that the whole city of London presently rang of it, and forthwith the Officers of the city (to whom the care of good order chiefly appertaineth) and in speciall Sergeant Finch the Recorder, repaired thither the same evening. With all speed possible some were employed for the relieving and saving such as yet struggled for life under this heavy load. Which could not so soone be effected, as they in charity desired; for that the ruines, which oppressed the sufferers, did also stop up entrance to the helpers: who thereupon were faine to make a breach in through an upper window of stone. From hence they hasted downe with pickaxes and other instruments, to force asunder, and take of, by peecemeale, the oppressing load of beames, joyces, and bords.

In this dolefull taske of withdrawing those impediments, laying forth the dead bodies, and transporting the maimed, all that night, and part of the next day was spent, though charitie and skill did whet their endevours with all dexteritie and expedition.

A young girle of the age of ten yeeres, or thereabout, who then crying said unto him [a rescuer], O my Mother, O my sister, which are downe under the timber and rubbish. But hee wishing her to be patient, and telling her that by Gods grace they should get forth quickly, the child replied, that this would prove a great scandall to their Religion.


Contemporary engraving of the ‘Fatal Vespers’ of 1623 –  an impression of the collapse of the interior


Given the date of the accident, so near to the anniversary of the Gunpowder Plot, many believed it was the result of divine providence; God punishing Catholics for the conspiracy of 1605. In a touching tribute to the victims in his account of the event, Thomas Goad lists their names and occupations, which I have reproduced at the end of this post.

However, there is a curious Shakespeare connection to this story. In 1613, Shakespeare bought a property near the Blackfriars theatre from Henry Walker, ‘citizen and minstrel of London’. Shakespeare paid £140 for the property on 10th March 1613. It had originally belonged to Mathias Bacon from about 1590, until he sold it to Walker in 1604. The property had long been regarded as a centre of Catholic agitation and intrigue. Part of it was built over ‘a great gate’, and in 1586, Richard Frith reported that ‘It hath sundry back doors and bye-ways, and many secret vaults and corners. It hath been in time past suspected and searched for papists but no good done for want of good knowledge of the back doors and bye-ways and of the dark corners.’ Shakespeare bought the property with other men; possibly a William Johnson (identified as landlord of the Mermaid Tavern), John Jackson, a shipping magnate, and John Heminges. However, it was Shakespeare alone who put up the cash, the others serving as his trustees. Of the extant Shakespeare signatures, one is on the purchase deed, the other on the mortgage. There is no evidence that Shakespeare ever lived in the house. Could the contemporaneous illustration above be the same house Shakespeare bought in 1613? It’s tempting to speculate.


A list of the dead, taken from Goad’s account of the accident. The names, occupations, and in some cases, addresses, provide some lovely detail.


 Mater Drurie the Priest that preached. Mr. Redy the Priest, whose lodging was under the Garret that fell: the floore of which lodging fell too. Lady Webbe in Southwarke. Lady Blackstones daughter, in Scroops Court. Thomas Webbe her man. William Robinson Taylor, in Fetter lane. Robert Smith, Master. Anne Davison, Mr. Davisons daughter, of the Middle-row in Holburne, Tayler. Anthonie Hall his man. Anne Hobdin. Marie Hobdin, lodging in Mr. Davisons house. John Galloway Vintener, in Clarkenwell Close. Mr. Peirson, Jane his wife, Thom. & James, his two sonnes, in Robbinhood Court in Shooe lane.


Mistris Udall. Katharine Pindar, a Gentle woman in Mrs. Udals house in gunpowder alley. Abigal her maide. John Netlan a Taylor of Bassingborne in Cambridge shiere. Nathaniel Coales, lying at one Shortoes in Barbican, Tayler. John Halifaxe, sometimes a Waterbearer. Mary Rygbie, wife to John Rygbie in Holburne, Confectioner.


John Worralls sonne in Holburne. Thomas Brisket, his wife, and his sonne, and maide, in Mountague close. Mistris Summers, wife to Captaine Summers in the Kings Bench. Marie her maide. Mistris Walsted in Milkestreet. John Raines, an Atturney in Westminster. Robert Sutton, sonne to Mr. Worral a Potter in Holburne. Edward Warren, lying at one Adams a Butcher, in Saint Clement Danes. A son of Mr. Flood in Holborne, Scrivener.


Elizabeth White, Andrew Whites daughter in Holburne, Chandler. Mr. Stoker Tayler, in Salisburie Court. Elizabeth Sommers in Graies-Inne lane. Mr. Westwood. Judeth Bellowes, wife of Mr. William Bellowes in Fetter lane. A man of Sir Lues Pembertons. Elizabeth Moore widow. John James. Morris Beucresse Apothecarie. Davie Vaughan, at Jacob Coldriches, Tayler in Graies Inne lane. Francis Man, brother to William Man in Theeving lane in Westminster.


Richard Fitzgarrat, of Graies Inne, Gent. Robert Heifime. Mr. Maufeild. Mr. Simons, Dorothy Simons,Thomas Simons a boy, In Fesant Court in Cow lane. Robert Parker, neer Lond stone, Merchant. Mistris Morton, at White-fryers, Mistris Norton, Marrian her maide at Mr. Babingtons in Bloomesburie. Francis Downes, sometimes in Southamp|ton house, Tayler. Edmond Shey, servant to Robert Euan of Graies Inne, Gent. Josilin Percy, servant to Sr. Henry Carluile, lying at Mistris Ploidons house in high Holburne. John Tullye, servant to Mr. Ashborn, lying at Mr. Barbers house in Fleetstreeet.


John Sturges, the Lord Peters man. Thomas Elis, Sr. Lewis Treshams man. Michael Butler in Woodstreet, Grocer. John Button, Coachman to Mistris Garret in Bloomesberry. Mistris Ettonet, lying at Clearkenwell greene. Edward Revel, servant to Master Nicholas Stone the Kings Purveyor. Edmund Welsh, lying with Mr. Sherlock in high Holborne, Tailer. Bartholomew Bavin, in White Lyon Court in Fleetstreet, Clarke.  Davie an Irish man, in Angell Alley in Graies Inne Gent. Thomas Wood, at Mr. Woodfalls over against Graies Innegate. Christopher Hopper, Tailer lying there.


George Cranston, in Kings street in Westminster, Tailer. John Blitten. Jane Turner, lying at one Gees in the old Baily. Frithwith Anne. Mistris Elton. Mr. Walsteed. Marie Berrom. Henry Becket, lying at Mistris Clearks house in Northumberland Alley in Fetter lane. Sarah Watsonne, daughter to Master Watsonne a Chirurgian. John Bevans, at the seven Stars in Drury lane. Master Harris. Mistris Tompson, at Saint Martins within Aldersgate, Habberdasher. Richard F[…]guift. George Ceaustour.


Master Grimes, neere the Hors-shooe taverne in Drury lane. Mr. Knuckle a Painter dwelling in Cambridge. Master Fowell, a Warwickshire Gent. Master Gascoine. Francis Buckland and Robert Hutten, both servants to Master Saule Confectioner in Holburne. John Lochey, a Scriveners sonne in Holburne. One William seruant to Master Eirkum. John Brabant, a Painter in Little-Brittaine. William Knockell, A man-servant of Mr. Buckets a Painter in Aldersgate street. One Barbaret, Walter Ward, Richard Garret, enquired after, but not found.


From Anon, Death’s Universal Summons (1650)



Anon, THE Dismall Day, at the Black-Fryers. Or, A deplorable Elegie, on the death of almost an Hundred Persons, who were lamentably slaine by the fall of a House in the Blacke-Fryers, being all assembled there (after the manner of their Devotions) to heare a Sermon on Sunday-Night, the 26. of October last past (1623)

Thomas Goad, The dolefull euen-song, or A true, particular and impartiall narration of that fearefull and sudden calamity, which befell the preacher Mr. Drury a Iesuite, and the greater part of his auditory, by the downefall of the floore at an assembly in the Black-Friers on Sunday the 26. of Octob. last, in the after noone Together with the rehearsall of Master Drurie his text, and the diuision thereof, as also an exact catalogue of the names of such as perished by this lamentable accident: and a briefe application thereupon (1623)

Mathew Rhodes, The dismall day at the Black-Fryers, or, A deplorable elegie on the death of almost an hundred persons, who were lamentably slaine by the fall of a house in the Blacke-Fryers (1623)

Arthur Freeman, ‘The fatal vesper and The doleful evensong: Claim-Jumping in 1623’, Library (1967) s5-XXII(2): 128-135

The Oxford Companion to Shakespeare, OUP (2001)

Bankside Education Elizabeth Gunpowder Plot London Review Shakespeare Theatre

Staging the World: Review


The British Museum is soon to stage a major exhibition on the world of Shakespeare in collaboration with the Royal Shakespeare Company. The exhibition provides an insight ‘into the emerging role of London as a world city, seen through the innovative perspective of Shakespeare’s plays.’ It is part of the World Shakespeare Festival and runs from 19 July – 25 November 2012.

The British Museum Press has released several publications to compliment the exhibition, and kindly sent me review copies. A further book on Shakespeare and Food is forthcoming shortly. The titles I’m reviewing here are Shakespeare: Staging The World, Shakespeare’s Britain, and Angels and Ducats: Shakespeare’s Money and Medals,

First up is the rather splendid ShakespeareStaging The World by Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton. This is a big beautiful book, which considers the early modern period through the eyes of Shakespeare; its premise being that the things he, his players, and his audience saw, ‘mattered at least as much as what they read in shaping their vision of the world.’ This is cleverly illustrated by the juxtaposition of a stunning collection of early modern objects with Shakespeare’s characters and plays.

To look at a woodcut of a Jewish household in Venice and a sixteenth-century Caribbean wood carving of a spirit imprisoned in a tree and a pack of playing cards in which Cleopatra and Queen Elizabeth appear side-by-side is to be given a new historical and intellectual perspective on the characters of Shylock, Ariel and Cleopatra.

The book not only serves as a catalogue of the objects on display at the exhibition, it features a rich and detailed commentary by the Shakespearean scholar Jonathan Bate, and the exhibition’s curator, Dora Thornton, which in and of itself enriches both existing scholarship, and our knowledge of daily life in early modern England. The book is divided into nine chapters, each of which explores a specific theme and the objects which serve to bring it to life. For example, Chapter One gives an overview of London in 1612; a World City. It provides a narrative of aspects of London life at this time, and considers the theatres as bustling commercial enterprises. One of the most compelling objects featured in this chapter is a surviving turned oak baluster excavated from the site of the Rose theatre. It may have been part of the safety rail around the upper galleries:


© The Trustees of The British Museum


Subsequent chapters explore Country, County and Custom, Kingship and the English Nation, The Legacy of Rome, Venice Viewed from London, The Noble Moor, The Scottish Play, and the Matter of Britain. Each is illustrated throughout with truly mouth-watering photographs, illustrations, maps, and woodcuts. One of my favourite objects is this Horn-book from the late 1600s, comprising a sheet of printed paper protected by a layer of horn, similar to the one from which Shakespeare himself would have learned his alphabet and Lord’s Prayer while at school:


© The Trustees of The British Museum


One of the many facts I discovered while reading Staging The World, is that in 1571, a statute was enacted enforcing the wearing of woolly caps by everyone over the age of six on Sundays and holidays. This knitted man’s cap was found in Moorfields, London and dates to the mid-sixteenth century:


 © The Trustees of The British Museum

Perhaps my favourite object is this lantern, traditionally associated with Guy Fawkes. It was given to the University of Oxford in 1641 as a memento of the Gunpowder Plot. It’s made from sheet iron and would originally have had a horn window so it could be completely closed to hide the lighted candle within:
 © The Trustees of The British Museum

Shakespeare: Staging The World is more than just a museum catalogue, it’s a stunning collection of early modern objects brought vividly to life by Jonathan Bates and Dora Thornton. I’d endorse it for anyone with an interest in Shakespeare or early modern England. For the Shakespeare scholar it’s a valuable addition to the bookshelf, for the historian it’s a smorgasbord of early modern artifacts. For the general reader it’s a beautifully illustrated and informative guide to the world of Shakespeare. Highly recommended. Shakespeare: Staging The World, Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton (The British Museum Press: London, 2012) (£25).
A smaller, shorter version of Staging The World can be found in Shakespeare’s Britain, also by Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton. It contains a condensed overview of some of the objects found in Staging The World and has a specific focus on Shakespeare and Britain; a theme which preoccupied the playwright in his later years, and one which was ushered in by James I who longed for a unified kingdom. Perfect for someone who wants to get a flavour of the period, it neatly encapsulates Shakespeare’s Britain with lavish illustrations. I particularly love the cover image, which comes from a watercolour entitled ‘Going to Bankside’ painted by Michael Van Meer in 1619, and depicts some rather fancy-looking people enjoying a trip across the Thames to Bankside, perhaps to see one of Shakespeare’s plays. Shakespeare’s Britain, Jonathan Bate and Dora Thornton (The British Museum Press: London, 2012) (£9.99)
The final book, Angels and Ducats: Shakespeare’s Money and Medals, is a fascinating catalogue of the coins on display at the exhibition. As anyone who’s been forced to admire my Elizabethan sixpence will testify, I do love sixteenth and seventeenth century coins. Not because I have any interest in numismatics, but because they give us pause to wonder just who’s pocket they’ve been in, and as such, they connect us with history in a real and immediate way.
© The Trustees of The British Museum
The above ducat dates from the office of Marino Grimani, Doge of Venice from 1595-1605. Ducats were, in origin, ‘the defining gold coin of Venice, but the term also meant any coin of the same standard and it was widely used and familiar.’
Another coin, perhaps my favourite, is a milled sixpence dated 1562, depicting the profile of Elizabeth I. It’s in much better condition than my own. Milled sixpences were machine-made coins circulated in the early 1560s at the beginning of Elizabeth’s reign. They were treasured at the time, and often used as reckoning-counters.
    © The Trustees of The British Museum

As well as using sixpences as counters, specially-made counters were available for accountants, and a bag or cylinder of counters served as an early modern calculator. The Clown, in The Winter’s Tale, talks of his need for counters before he goes shopping:

I cannot do’t without counters. Let me see, what am I to buy for our sheep-shearing feast? Three pounds of sugar, five pounds of currants, rice – what will this sister of mine do with rice?

Below is a set of silver counters depicting the Stuart royal family, dating to the 1600s. The accompanying silver box holds all twenty-nine counters.


 © The Trustees of The British Museum
Angels and Ducats fulfils a valuable role. It enables us to see for the first time exactly what the coins Shakespeare refers to in his plays actually look like. In this way this book enriches our understanding of both Shakespeare’s work and his life. Angels and Ducats is essential reading for anyone interested in the themes of money and finance on the London stage, but beyond that it is a wonderful introduction to the variety of coins in circulation in early modern England. Angels and Ducats: Shakespeare’s Money and Medals (The British Museum Press: London, 2012) (£9.99).
All three offerings from The British Museum Press are beautifully written and stunningly illustrated. If I had to recommend one, it would be Shakespeare: Staging The World, since it covers all the objects included in the exhibition. However Shakespeare’s Britain is a neat precis of some of the objects on display and Angels and Ducats is unique in its study of specific coins in England during this period. If you’re intending to visit the exhibition then any or all of the books are a great way to familiarise yourself with the history of the objects on display. If you can’t make the exhibition then each of the books serves as charming compensation. But in their own right, all three deserve a place on any bookshelf.
The books can be bought via The British Museum Bookshop online. Tickets for the exhibition Shakespeare: Staging The World can be bought here.
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