Remember, Remember Monteagle’s Letter
We’ve all heard of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot, the Catholic conspiracy to kill King James I by blowing up Parliament, but why did it fail?
Perhaps it was because the authorities received a tip-off a terrorist attack was about to happen. This blog covers the fascinating the tale of the tip-off, known as the “Monteagle letter”.
William Parker, both Baron and Lord Monteagle, was a member of the House of Lords. Although the man had close connections with prominent Catholic families, he’d pledged his allegiance to King James and the state Protestant religion. However, some still suspected Monteagle of being at least a Catholic sympathiser, if not a full-blown traitor, placing him in a very precarious position.
Monteagle was dining at his home in Hoxton about three and a half miles north east of Westminster on 26th October 1605 when he received, or at least claimed to have received, an anonymous letter.
“My lord, out of the love I bear to some of your friends, I have a care of your preservation, therefore I would advise you as you tender your life to devise some excuse to shift your attendance at this parliament, for God and man have concurred to punish the wickedness of this time, and think not slightly of this advertisement, but retire yourself into your country, where you may expect the event in safety, for though there be no appearance of any stir, yet I say they shall receive a terrible blow this parliament and yet they shall not see who hurts them, this counsel is not to be condemned because it may do you good and can do you no harm, for the danger is past as soon as you have burnt the letter and I hope God will give you the grace to make good use of it, to whose holy protection I commend you.”
This was sensational. Monteagle was being warned to stay away from the opening of Parliament to avoid being caught in “a terrible blow”. The meaning was clear. With Parliament due to open in just over a week’s time on the 5th November, an attack was planned.
What should the Lord do? Sit on the letter or turn it over to the authorities? Monteagle chose the latter. With many historians thinking him a Catholic sympathiser, why would he do this? Taking good intentions aside, there’s a significant probability Monteagle thought the letter was a trap, set for him by the Secretary of State and spymaster general, Robert Cecil. He wouldn’t have been the first person tested in such a way. By keeping quiet, he’d confirm his treachery, and open himself up for arrest and worse.
So, Monteagle duly handed the letter over to Robert Cecil and the Privy Council. What Cecil did next was intriguing. He didn’t immediately send a message to alert the King. Instead he waited a number of days for James to return from his countryside hunting expedition, before meeting with him and revealing the letter. King James was alarmed, and on November 4th two searches took place around the vicinity of Parliament. Eventually, during the second search, Guy Fawkes was arrested, and his gunpowder uncovered.
If this search seemed alarmingly late in the day, perhaps Robert Cecil was already well aware of the Gunpowder Plot, and only foiled it at the last minute to gain maximum exposure and kudos. Perhaps he knew the details all along, and the letter was part of his scheme.
It’s also possible Monteagle discovered the plot, and manufactured the letter, to throw suspicion away from himself and/or for personal gain. After all, following the plot’s discovery, he was rewarded with much money and land. There’s another theory the letter was developed in cahoots by Monteagle and Cecil working together.
But what if the correspondence was genuine? Could one of the plotters really have cared so much for Monteagle’s life, they’d risk jeopardising their cause and their own personal safety? It’s certainly possible, for at least three of the plotters had substantial motives.
Francis Tresham’s sister was Lord Monteagle’s wife. Thomas Wintour had previously worked for Monteagle. And finally, Thomas Percy had lent Monteagle a substantial amount of money. Dead men make bad debtors, or creditors, depending on who you think wrote the letter. If one of the Gunpowder Plotters did write it, they’d soon come to regret the fact the man they tried to save didn’t burn the missive as they’d advised. By the end of January 1606 all three of the plotters and ll their confederates had been hunted down and killed or tried and executed.
The truth is, as is often the case, nobody really knows who the author really was but it’s a fascinating puzzle, and one of the many aspects of the Gunpowder Plot I focused in on when writing my first novel “Remember, Remember the 6th of November”.
Remember, Remember the 6th of November
Remember, Remember the 6th of November is a thrilling retelling of the story of Guy Fawkes and the Gunpowder Plot. England in 1605 is a country concerned about terrorism, religious tensions, government surveillance and conflict with Europe. A small group of conspirators led by charismatic Robert Catesby and Guy Fawkes plan regime change. In a race against time can spymaster Robert Cecil and his lover Katherine Suffolk prevent the country from descending into all-out civil war.
Remember, Remember the 6th of November is available in Paperback and Kindle formats.
Pick up your copy TODAY!
1617 is the exciting sequel to Remember, Remember the 6th of November - a thrilling alternate history filled with secrets, treachery and intrigue. King James is dead. His daughter Queen Elizabeth has transformed England into a centre for religious tolerance but conflict is brewing across Europe and there’s trouble in Ireland. A peace envoy is needed. Sir Everard Digby appears the perfect choice but he’s a man with a secret which the Queen must not discover…
1617 is available in Paperback and Kindle formats.
Pick up your copy TODAY!
Tony Morgan lives in Yorkshire in the UK, close to the birthplace of Guy Fawkes. His books have been described as a perfect read for lovers of the works of C.J. Sansom and S. J. Parris and anyone interested in how historic events have shaped our own times. Profits from his books to date have raised hundreds of pounds for good causes, including St Leonard Hospice in York, Save the Children UK and York Teaching Hospital Charity’s dementia appeal.