Man who helped to foil gunpowder plot

PUBLISHED: 18:25 29 October 2008 | UPDATED: 15:54 11 May 2010

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IF it were not for a quirk of history, the words of the old Bonfire Night rhyme could be very different – and Royston shamed by notoriety. Brought to the English throne as James I on the death of his relative, Elizabeth I, King James VI of Scotland stoppe

IF it were not for a quirk of history, the words of the old Bonfire Night rhyme could be very different - and Royston shamed by notoriety.

Brought to the English throne as James I on the death of his relative, Elizabeth I, King James VI of Scotland stopped overnight in Royston on his way south in April 1603.

He seems to have fallen in love with the town, returning for hunting and calling Royston "....beyond all places for hunting of hare, which are more stout and whose scents lie better that in any other place".

James acquired two old inns, The Greyhound and The Cock, near the Cross, converting them into a hunting lodge. A large cohort of courtiers took up most of the remaining accommodation.

A senior Catholic courtier, Lord Mounteagle, occupied Whitehall House, near the top of Royston High Street.

At the end of October 1605, an anonymous letter was handed to Lord Monteagle in London urging him to avoid the opening of Parliament due the next day in the presence of the king, the royal family and nobility.

Lord Mounteagle should, the letter said, "....devise some excuse to shift off your attendance at this Parliament", which was to be dealt a terrible blow by an unseen hand.

Despite the lateness of the hour, Lord Mounteagle hurried to the secretary of state Sir Robert Cecil. Next morning, at Royston, Sir Robert showed the letter to the king.

Materials including 30 barrels of gunpowder were later discovered in vaults below Parliament.

Guy Fawkes, giving his name as Johnson, was caught carrying a lantern.

Tortured on the rack for the names of his co-conspirators, he was hanged in January 1604.

He had been defiant when brought before the royal court. Believing that Catholics would be oppressed under the new king, he had cried that a dangerous disease required a desperate remedy.

The first November 5 bonfire was held two years later. Soon, the practice spread of burning Guy Fawkes in effigy, much as effigies of witches had long been burned at Halloween.

However, what we know as the story of bonfire night might never have happened. The king could have fallen victim to a lone assassin.

We have an Edwardian historian, Alfred Kingston, to thank for revealing a proposed conspiracy.

Writing in 1906, Kingston tells of unearthing, in the state papers of exactly 300 years before, an official declaration by a captain Newce.

Newce stated that a Spaniard, known to him only as Jacques, had promised him an enormous sum, £40,000, for "secret services"

And Jacques had made overtures to him ".....to shoot the king at Royston".

Had events taken that turn, what rhyme would children chant today if not

"Remember, remember, the Fifth of November,

"Royston, Treason and Plot....."

n Information sources: A History of Royston by A Kingston, Warren Bros (1906); A Companion to the Folklore, Customs and Myths of Britain by M Alexander, Sutton Publishing (2002).

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