Edward Barrington De Fonblanque.

Annals of the house of Percy, from the conquest to the opening of the nineteenth century (Volume v.2 pt.1) online

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The display of sympathy or compassion for those
whom he considered his enemies, was ever a serious
cause of offence in the mind of the jealous and suspicious
King; and from this time forth the Earl of Northum-
berland ceased to occupy a prominent place in the
Council, and seems to have withdrawn from Court, 2
to devote himself to study, to the education of his
children, in which he took much interest, and to building
and. gardening at Syon. 3

It was probably quite as much personal as political

feelino-, that induced the Earl at this time to seek retire-

1 Northumberland to Cecil, 21st July, 1603.— State Papers.

2 The last time that we find the Earl's personal attendance upon the
King recorded was on the occasion of a royal visit to Oxford, where, in
common with several other peers, on 30th August, 1605, he received
the degree of Master of Arts. The entry in the University books is as
follows :

" Henry Percy, the most generous Count of Northumberland, a great
encoura^er of learning and learned men, especially mathematicians,
who, as^others, have in a high manner celebrated his worth."— Wood's
Fasti Oxotiienses, part i. 312.

3 "The Manor of Isleworth-Syon, and Syon House, and the demesne
lands with Free Warren and all Royalties and Appurtenances," had been
granted to the Earl under Letters Patent dated July, 1604. He had
previously occupied Syon Park and Dairy Farm, as a tenant under a
•ease from Elizabeth.




a.d. ment. He had ceased to entertain the hope that und< i
*5 4^J 3 2 t ^ c new r gg{ me the English nobility would be restored t
their ancient weight in the royal Councils ; while the atir.
sphere of the Court of King James could have proved
little congenial to his fastidious tastes. The prou I
Percy would not consent to be jostled by the crowd ol
Scottish adventurers ' who blocked the avenues to the
throne, and scrambled, "like dogs over a bone," for
scraps of the royal favour. He was by habit and de-
position inclined to play the courtier, but could as little
have brooked the violent outbreaks of James's capricioL ;
temper, as his coarse and vulgar familiarities. 2 li<
accordingly held himself aloof from scenes in which
he could take no part without loss of dignity ; but there
is no indication whatever of his having: at this time
engaged in political intrigues. 3

With his accustomed imprudent candour he may very
probably have given expression to his disdainful opinion
of King James's Court ; remarks which his enemies would
not fail to carry in exaggerated terms to the King, who
had a better memory for injuries than for benefits ; who
had from the first been offended at the magmificence '

1 In later times the English nobles in like manner resented the
intrusion of the Dutch and German followers of William of Orange and
George of Hanover ; and, yet more recently, the influence of Scotti-::
adventurers and office-seekers during the ascendency of Lord Bute.

2 It will be remembered that " Beagle " and " Ferret " were terms of en-
dearment by which the King habitually addressed Cecil, and that Buckini
ham to the last used to subscribe himself as " Your Majesty's good dog '

3 It was not until after Northumberland's disgrace that such a charge
was preferred against him. The English Ambassador at Madrid then
wrote to Cecil: "A late secret inquiry is made by some great ones < ■■
this state whether there be any likelihood of liberty for the Earl o:
Northumberland. I have it lately said unto me with much asseveration
that there was those that had, long before the restraint of that Lord.
commission from the State to deal with him." — Sir Charles Cornwall •>
to Earl of Salisbury, 14th June, 1607. Original State Papers.

4 '"The King was amazed at the magnificence and pomp of the
northern peers .... and very soon attempted to abate the greatness
of the English nobility." — Osborne's Traditional Memoirs.



.tnd independent attitude of the great English nobles; ad.
. : r K l who is also said to have resented Northumberland's * ° 4 ~ 1 ° 5
intimacy with his son, the Prince Henry. 1

To humble the pride of such a man would be a grate-
ful task to King James's jealous and ignoble nature, and
it was not long before the opportunity presented itself.

It will be remembered that Thomas Percy, the trusted
hearer of the secret letters between Northumberland
and the King of Scotland, 2 had professed to have received
from the latter verbal assurances of concessions to be
made to the English Catholics in excess of those con-
veyed in his written communications. There is no
reason to doubt the truth of his statements. James
subsequently denied having in any way pledged himself
upon the subject of religious toleration ; but his own letter
to the Earl stands upon record to contradict him, 3 and
Percy could at that time have had no object in repre-
senting the Kincr as more favourable to the Catholic
cause than he had expressed himself to be.

)No satisfactory reason has ever been assigned for the
fact that, as soon as he was firmly seated on the throne
of England, Kine lames assumed an attitude of decided
hostility to the Catholics. His mother's devotion to that
faith, and her sufferings in the cause of the Church of
Rome, his own predilections in early life, and his anxious
desire at this time to establish friendly relations with
the Court of Spain, 4 would, it might be thought, have

1 Osborne says that the Prince, then in his fifteenth year, and having
a great admiration for the Earl, whom he considered neglected and
ill used, had in his favour " cast a malignant aspect on the houses of
Suffolk and Salisbury." — Traditional Memoirs.

2 He seems to have had a great power of ingratiating himself and
inspiring confidence. Francis Osborne says that King James was so
pleased with him that in token of his trust and favour he permitted
Percy on several nights " to lay in his chamber."

3 See ante, p. 240.

4 At the request of the Spanish Ambassador the King had early in

25 1


a.d. combined to predispose him to toleration and leniencv.
i5 6 4~* 6 3 2 gy t j iat stran g e perversity, however, which led him
so frequently to show favour to those who had been
most conspicuous as the enemies and persecutors of
Queen Mary, and even to those who had originally
opposed his own succession, 1 he now alienated the sup-
port and good will of a large and influential class of his
subjects, and forged weapons for the use of many of his
foreign enemies, by putting in force the most vexatious,
if not the most stringent, of Elizabeth's penal laws against

the ancient ritual.


* *

Thomas Percy, one of the two sons of Edward Percy
of Beverley, 2 was born about 1560. He had been bred
a Protestant, and in his youth had been turbulent 3 and

1605 allowed a force of two thousand horsemen, all Catholics, to be
raised in England for service with the Spaniards in the Low Countries.

"There are certaine young gentlemen that shew themselves very
desirous to serve the Archduke in the Wars of Flaunders, and desire
leave to goe, as Sir Charles Ley, and Sir Josselyn and Sir Richard Percy.
The Spanish Embassador urges to have two thousand voluntaries, which
Sir Charles Percy shall comand." — Rowland Hill to Earl of Shrewsbury,
April, 1605. Lodge's Illustrations, vol. iii. 281. The force was actually
raised, but the Earl would not allow his brother Charles to accept the
command, which then devolved upon Lord Arundel of YVardour. — Sec-
Letter from Earl of Northumberland to the Council, 14th November,
1605. Original State Papers.

1 " Brave Fortescue, that did first oppose the Scottish succession, but
upon caution, enjoyed his liberty without any more considerable loss
than that sustained by the exchange of the Chancellor's place in the
Exchequer fur that in the Duchy of Lancaster ; whereas Northumber-
land, that had drawn his sword in his [King James's] favour, was made
captive, disgraced and insulted over by his enemies." — Osborne s
Traditional Memoirs.

2 Son of Jocelyn, the fourth son of the fourth Earl of Northumberland
(see ante, vol. i. p. 30$), and therefore a distant cousin of the ninth
Earl. For the pedigree of this branch of the family see Appendix X.

3 In February, 1596, the Earl of Essex writes to Mr. Justice
Beaumont : " I understand by this bearer, my servant Meyricke [pro-
bably Sir Gilly Meyrick] of your willing disposition to favour Thomas
Percy, a near kinsman to my brother of Northumberland, who is in
trouble for some offence imputed unto him. I pray you to continue the
same, that thereby his life may not be in hazard. He is a gentleman



licentious, but became an enthusiastic devotee on his a.d.
conversion to the Church of Rome. Me had for ten ! °tll ° 5
years past been in the confidential employment of the
Karl, who had made him his Constable of Alnwick
Castle, 1 and in 1604 admitted him into the Band of
Gentleman Pensioners.

As the Earl's chief agent in the North he seems to
have acted with harshness and dishonesty ; and it is
surprising that the numerous complaints preferred
against him by the tenantry, and which, confirmed as
they are in various quarters, leave little room to doubt
their justice, should not have caused him to forfeit the
confidence of his employer. 2

Northumberland, who appears to have held no strong
religious convictions, 3 had, as we have seen by his letters
to the King, a considerable Catholic following, com-
munication with whom, with a view to securing their

well descended and of good parts, and very able to do his country good
service ; you shall do a thing very acceptable to us both and not dis-
agreeable with equity, which we will upon all occasions deserve of you."
— Alnwick Jl/SS., vol. v.

!Two years later we find Thomas Percy's name in a list of recusants
confined in Wood Street compter. One of his fellow prisoners was
William Richardson, a Jesuit of Seville College, who was tried by the
Lord Chief Justice " for having come to England contrary to the
statute," and, in spite of his prayer for a short respite, was hanged,
drawn, and quartered on the following morning. — State Papers.

1 His name first appears in the list of the Earl's officers in the
North, in October, 1594. In the various letters from his employer
he is addressed as " My loving cozen, Tho. Percy, my Constable of

3 The documents relating to these charges throw so much light on the
character of Thomas Percy, and his own correspondence so strongly
shows his capacity and plausibility, that they are quoted in extenso in
Appendix XI. These records also serve to illustrate the despotic
powers then wielded by the great landowners, and, in their absence, by
their agents, over the property and the liberty of their tenantry.

3 Hallam describes the Earl as being (i rather destitute of religion
than a zealot for popery" (Const. History, vol. ii., p. 47), but this learned
writer, in common with other historians, was in error in believing him to
have been a Catholic by profession. He had, as is shown, been brought
up a Protestant, and had always outwardly conformed to that faith.



A - D - support of James's claims, he had maintained throu. '
»o 4-1 32 t j ie ag enC y Q f Thomas Percy. There is no doubt thai
in reliance upon James's promises, Percy had held ■
hopes of concessions to be made to his co-religioni 1
and when, instead of their fulfilment, the Catholi
found themselves treated with exceptional severif
they charged him with having either artfully delud<
and betrayed them, or of having allowed himself to
be stupidly duped. Smarting under these reproaches,
and stung by wounded vanity, he seized the first
opportunity of revenging himself; threw in his lot with
the English and foreign Jesuits and conspirators, and, by
his resolution and energy, soon became a guiding spirit
among the desperate men who determined to rid England
of a perjured and heretic sovereign. 1

It will only be necessary to refer to the well-worn storv
of the Gunpowder Plot so far as to show the part played
by the conspirator whose crime involved the reputation,
the fortunes and the liberty of his innocent kinsman.
The more carefully the mass of official documents relating
to this matter are studied, 2 the more incomprehensible it
becomes how a suspicion of the Earl of Northumberland's
complicity could ever have been seriously entertained.

Thomas Percy was now in his forty-sixth year,
though premature greyness of hair made him appear
older. He is described as " in figure tall and hand-
some, his eyes large and lively, and the expression

1 "Percy, who was one of the House of Northumberland, and at that
time one of the King's Pensioners, according to the bluntness of his
temper, did offer himself for the service, and that he would without an)
more ado undertake to assassinate His Majesty." — Philopater.

He was indeed always a man of action rather than words : ''About
the middle of Easter Term, Thomas Percy, as hote as Hotspur himself,
came puffing to Catesby's lodging in Lambeth, and asked, ' Shall we
always be talking here and never doe anything?' " — Speed.

2 They form a separate collection under the title of The Gunpowdtf
Plot Book, in the Record Office.



of his countenance pleasing ; though grave and not- a.d. 1604
v, ithstanding the boldness of his character, his manners
were gentle and quiet." J

His conduct throughout the desperate work in which
he became engaged proves him to have possessed much
courage, and strength of will and character. For a
whole fortnight he was occupied with Catesby in
piercing through the stone wall, and excavating the
ground, of his own house, in order to gain access to the
adjoining premises ; and his Jesuit accomplice expresses
his surprise that " men of their quality should do more
than as many workmen accustomed to earn their daily
bread by labour," and wonders how they, " who were
unusually tall men, could endure for so long a time
the intense fatigue of working, day and night, in the
stooping posture rendered necessary by the straitness
of the place." 2

When the preparations for the conspiracy had been
completed, and the mine had been, literally as well as
figuratively, laid, Thomas Percy proceeded to the North,
and according to custom received from the agents of the
Earl's different estates the rents collected by them, with
the avowed object of conveying these moneys to London.
The sum so received by him exceeded ,£3,000, which
he had determined to expend in the furtherance of
the plot. He returned to London on Friday, the 1st
November, but did not show r himself to his employer, who
believed him still to be in the North. On the following
Sunday, one of Percy's servants, named Davison, called

1 Father Greemvay's MS. In the proclamation for his capture he is
thus described : "The said Percy is a tall man with a great broad beard,
a good face ; the colour of his beard and head myngled with white haires,
but the Head more white than his Beard. He stoopeth somewhat in the
shoulders, is well coloured in the face, long-footed, small-legged." —
Original State Papers.

3 Fatlier Green-cay's MS.

2 55


a.d. upon Sir Jocelyne Percy (a nephew of the conspirator in
15 +^ 6 3 2 the service of the Earl) ' to inquire after his master, and it
is evident that, but for this indiscretion, Thomas Percy
would have remained in concealment till after the
accomplishment of his designs. Finding, however, that
his presence in town would become known or suspected,
he thought it more prudent to appear in public, and
accordingly waited upon the Earl at Syon House on
Monday the 4th November, and, after dining there,
proceeded to visit other members of the family at Essex
House. The conspirator's visit to Syon House on the
day preceding the attempted crime became the ground
of suspicion against the Earl, but in point of fact affords
the strongest evidence of his innocence of all complicity
in, or knowledge of, the plot. Would Thomas Percy, in
presence of the numerous guests seated at table, have en-
deavoured to obtain information from an accomplice on the
subject of the approaching meeting of Parliament ? Would
he not rather have avoided such a topic before strangers.
and chosen a more convenient moment for seeking to
ascertain from an ally what foundation there existed for
the rumours already prevalent, that the plot had been
discovered ? Again, the Earl was then in possession ot
the fact that Lord Monteagle had received a letter of
warning, and that this letter had been communicated to
the Council of which he was a member. Would he not,
had he been a favourer, or even cognisant, of Percy's
design, have informed him of this discovery, and warned
him of the danger that awaited the conspirators ?

Thomas Percy, on the contrary, left Syon House re-
assured as to the alarming rumours ; and not until the
arrest of Guy Faux did he and his accomplices seek safety
in flight. Hotly pursued, and brought to bay, Percy and

1 See his quaint deposition, Appendix XII.


Catesby determined to sell their lives dearly. Standing a.d. 1605
Kick to back they killed or disabled several of their
assailants, but were finally brought to the ground by
••one bullet of musket shot" which penetrated both
bodies. 1

When we consider the atrocious character of the crime
contemplated, and so nearly accomplished, and the com-
mon tendency of such acts to produce a panic followed
by indiscriminate vengeance, the moderation of King
James's Government, and of the populace, becomes matter
for surprise. The hideous massacre of their co-religionists
in Paris on St. Bartholomew's nigfht was still fresh in
the memory of Englishmen, and a general retaliatory
rising against the Catholics would have been an in-
telligible, if not an excusable, national impulse. No
such feeling, however, betrayed itself ; the offenders
were as a rule tried in due course of law, and punished
with no exceptional severity; and even the more stringent
enforcement of the existing laws against the members
of the Church of Rome seemed intended rather as a
demonstration against the Catholic powers of the
Continent, than a penalty upon English conspirators.

This moderation makes the severe treatment of the
Earl of Northumberland the more remarkable. Thomas

1 Speetfs Chronicle. The shot by which Catesby was killed upon the
^pot and Percy mortally wounded was fired by one Thomas Hall, whose
name appears on the Exchequer Rolls as late as in 1640, as the recipient
of a pension of two shillings a day in reward for the act. There were,
however, several claimants for this honour, among others John Street
of Worcester, who petitions the Earl of Salisbury for a reward of no less
than ;£i,ooo, or an equivalent annual pension, for having " carryed
himself so resolute .... that it was his fortune at two shootes to slay three
of the principall of them [the conspirators] viz. Pearcy, Catesby and
bright, and to hurt Ruckwoode sore besides ; and since spared no cost to
provide chirurgery, and all other necessary meanes for the preservacon of
tl't-ir lives thaCwere sore hurt, attenaing y"' hither at his own charges, with-
out having anie benefit in ye world by them." — Lodge's Illustrations,
*©L hi. p. 300.

VOL. II. 257 S


a.d. Percy was known to have been his kinsman and
1564-1632 confidential servant, 1 to have been in possession of fund
beloncrinor to him, and to have visited him at Syon Hou.s*
on the evening preceding the attempt. These circum-
stances served to arm the Earl's numerous enemies at
Court, and although they would not warrant a powerful
Peer, of hitherto irreproachable loyalty and honour, being
openly charged with complicity in so foul a crime, they
sufficed to implant suspicion in the mind of the jealous
King, and to justify to his own peculiar conscience the
arbitrary measures which, as time went by, he thought fit
to adopt.

To the inquiries of the Earl of Worcester, who was in
the first instance despatched to Essex House, North-
umberland, being awakened from his morning sleep.
replied with "an air of scorn and confidence," that un-
doubtedly Thomas Percy had dined with him on the
evening of 4th November ; expressing at the same
time some anxiety as to the rents which that person had
received in the North and still retained in his hands, and
his willino-ness to render every assistance for his apprc-
hension. At a meeting of the Council on the same day.
at which the King presided, it was determined that th
Earl be " for the time placed under restraint," with the
Archbishop of Canterbury (Richard Bancroft) at his
palace at Croydon.

Cecil, in his letters to the King's representatives at

1 Osborne remarks that Thomas Percy had been in confident u
communication with the King, in whose chamber " he had
many a night while employed" in private by him with the Eng» sl1
Catholicks. Yet His Majesty would have taken it ill to have be-
thought a papist, or a conspirator for Elizabeth's death." He scouts '•■ -
idea of the Earl's complicity in so foul a plot, which "did not suit w -i;
anything I could observe in' his temper ; much less with a person ot • s
honour and fortune, to exchange so happy a present condition for a
future advantage he could hope to scramble out from amongst U -
cinders and ruins of his country." — Traditional Memoirs.



foreign courts, thus endeavours to justify, and at the same a.d. 1605

lime to minimise, the importance of this measure : —

" It hath been thought meet in pollicie of State (all
circumstances considered) to commit the Earl of North-
umberland to the Archbishop of Canterbury, there to be
honorably used untill things be more quiett; whereof if you
should hear any Judgment made, as if His Majesty or his
Councill could harbour a thought of such a savadge practise
to be lodged in such a nobleman s breast, you shall doe well

ito suppresse it as a malicious Discourse and Invention ; this
being only done to satisfie the World that nothing be
undone which belongeth to pollicie of State, when the
whole Monarchy was proscribed to dissolution ; and
being no more than himself discreetly approved as
necessarie, when he received the Sentence of the Council
for his Restrainte." '

There is no evidence on record to confirm the
statement that the Earl had " approved " of the course
adopted against him ; but, however this may have been,
his lanoaiaQfe wa s that of a man who had nothing to fear
or to conceal, and who was anxious to contribute, by all
means within his power, to the detection of the crime and
its perpetrators.

On 8th November he writes to the Council from
Croydon : —

I" I shalbe gladde as matters falles out to store you
with circumstances, to the ende that the bare truth may
appeare. Amongst the rest forgett not this one, I praye
you. First by the letters of Ffotherley, 2 you may
see how he [Percy] stored himselfe with my money, as
passing with three Portmantues filled upon Friday, at

1 Earl of Salisbury to Sir C. Cormvallis, 7 tli November, 1605. —
H'VrnL'oocfs Memoirs, vol. ii. p. 172.

2 The Earl's Receiver or Auditor, whose letters to him, dated 7th and
Sth November were enclosed in this communication.

259 S 2


a.d. night, at Ware. Secondlie, his horse kept in diett at Don-
x 5 4-J 3 2 caster for his retorne ; and Wednesdaye, the day after this
horrible fact should be committed, was the tyme appointed
for him to meet with the rest of my Money and the rest
of my Companie. Thirdly, that by Ffotherley's letter
your lordships may see Percy's excuse ; for the money
that was wanting was to be receaved at London, soe as
there was a greater proportion of horses sente downe by
appointement, than there was that came upp. 1

" Ffourthlie, as most palpable ; this was one. Ffriday
was the day hee came to London ; I, neither anie of
myne, did see him till Monday twelve of the clock,
when he came to Sion to me ; went away presentlie
after dinner, after he had Sawsed mee with a Gudgeon ;*
and then appeared to the rest of my people at Essex
House, from whence hee was to passe as hee told me,
and then told them, to Ware, that night ; givinge them

Online LibraryEdward Barrington De FonblanqueAnnals of the house of Percy, from the conquest to the opening of the nineteenth century (Volume v.2 pt.1) → online text (page 22 of 31)