1. No matter how great or small importance modern historians may attach to the Gunpowder Plot, this episode and its aftermath have a strong claim on the attention of students of Neo-Latin literature, for two related reasons. First, it inspired a great amount of literature, a good deal of which written in Latin (including two major items contained in the Philological Museum, Thomas Campion’s De Pulverea Coniuratione and John Milton’s In Quintum Novembris). Second, the way in which the official governmental interpretation of the Plot was promulgated in quasi-official publications, and endlessly repeated and embroidered by loyalist writers, repays close and comprehensive study as an early example par excellence of a propaganda campaign organized by a modern State and employing the printing press as its tool. While not the first English example of such an orchestrated campaign, NOTE 1 it shows how adept the government had become at the political cooptation of literature and the clever use of the published word for the purpose of shaping public opinion. NOTE 2
2. The governmental line was set forth in two publications that appeared in 1606. The first, A Discourse on the maner of the discovery of this late Intended Treason, printed in the same volume with the King’s speech from the throne delivered soon after the discovery of the Plot, featured the confessions of the Plotters who survived to be brought to trial. The second, A true and perfect relation of the proceedings at the severall arraignments of the late most barbarous Traitors, contained transcripts of the trial of the Plotters and of the subsequent trial of Father Henry Garnet, Jesuit Superior of England, together with an account of the hanging of Father Garnet. Both volumes were produced by the London printer Robert Barker, “printer to the Kings most excellent majestie,” and the latter one bears an aggressively large royal coat of arms on the verso of the title page. Since the Crown did not own and operate its own press, these books were the closest approximation to official state publications then possible.
3. The single most important propaganda theme, subsequently much amplified in literature, had to do with the divine protection by which the Plot was averted and with King James, in a flash of God-given inspiration, penetrating the meaning of the cryptic letter handed in by Lord Monteagle. For all the English royal blood in his veins, James was still essentially a foreign monarch confronted with the problem of finding acceptance in the eyes of his English subjects, and even before the Plot we can see him casting about for a legitimizing dynastic myth. One such attempt (embodied in Matthew Gwinne’s Tres Sibyllae and then in Macbeth) had to do with the divine destiny of Banquo and his Stuart progeny, a legend of presumably limited interest to James’ non-Scottish subjects. The myth that grew out of the Plot was altogether more satisfactory: it demonstrated God’s approval of His favorite sovereign, and it provided an admirable instance of James’ special relation with the Almighty and gave him the opportunity to present himself a kind of prophet-king. It is by no means coincidental that the prophet-king David is mentioned, and his psalms quoted, very often in the present work. In subsequent Plot literature the struggle between England and Rome is often presented as a kind of Manichaean conflict between cosmic forces of good and evil, with James serving as God’s chosen instrument for the discovery and defeat of the Plot and of diabolic Papist machinations standing behind it. This is not done in the present volume, but certainly the way is paved for such literary embroidery.
4. The modern reader of A true and perfect relation will no doubt be surprised at the fact that the volume is dominated, not by transcripts of legal proceedings, but by a lengthy speech allegedly delivered by Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, at the conclusion of Father Garnet’s trial. This is especially so because an appended note by the anonymous editor of the volume candidly acknowledged that at the trial no such speech was delivered:
(Reader) to prevent mistaking, I wil yeeld a short reason of the length of this worthy and learned Earls Speech, exceeding the proportion wherein it was first uttered. The subject being of so great importance, and the Copy brought me so unperfect, I repaired to that grave and noble Lord, with an humble, yet importune request, that since it was expedient to set out the whole course of the proceedings, and the same to passe the file of so many, and so divers judgements, it might please his Lordship to overrunne that maimed Copy, as others had done theirs, that were wronged in the same measure.
His Honour finding the review of that fragment (so farre short not onely of that which should have bene, but of that also which was at that arraignment delivered) to be a work of greater labour then the transcript, offered two Copies to my hand, the one secundum literam [literal], as neere as his Lordship could call to minde, the other amplified and enriched upon the same grounds, but with greater variety of Arguments (in respect that Canon Nos Sanctorum had bene the chiefest base and false foundation of this and many other precedent conspiracies. The choise thus left me out of his courteous Honour, and finding with what egernesse it was desired by the Auditors after the delivery, I presumed good Reader that besides thy satisfaction and delight (holding the same essentiall parts) it would better fit the motive in folio, then in decimo sexto, in the fruit then in the blossom, and the larger the better.
5. In the “amplified and enriched” form that the editor elected to print, this speech, or rather this lengthy manifesto presented in the form of a speech, is so huge that it occupies about half the volume. One can see that Northampton had personal motives for writing it. A Catholic himself, who had been rescued from eclipse by James’ favor, and a member of a distinguished family which (as he candidly acknowledges at X.187) was still recuperating from past disgrace, he had plenty of reason to use the occasion to offer a conspicuous show of obsequious loyalty to King and State, and the speech has plenty of such demonstrations. Likewise, at the time English Catholics were no doubt scrambling to disassociate themselves from the hothead Plotters and their alleged Jesuit accomplices, so another objective of Northampton was to clear loyalist English Catholics of any taint of guilt by association, by constructing an argument that the proper authority of the Pope was spiritual, but not temporal. The single most crucial question asked at Garnet’s trial was posed by Cecil (VII.29):
Then the Earle of Salisbury bad him deale plainely, for now was the time, whether in case the Pope per sententiam orthodoxam [by orthodox sentence] should excommunicate the Kings Majestie of Great Britaine, his subjects were bound to continue their obedience?
Although Garnet himself refused to give any reply, the implication of Northampton’s speech is that it was indeed possible for an English Catholic to answer this question with a resounding No.
6. Such considerations serve to explain some of Northampton’s tendentious motives in writing this lengthy document, but of course they do not explain why the editor chose to print it. This most learned of Peers had in fact written what was doubtless the most careful and closely-reasoned explanation of English national policy ever penned. The essence of Northampton’s argument was that, originally and by rights, the power of the Papacy was purely spiritual. Those Popes of the Middle Ages (above all Gregory VII in his struggles with the Holy Roman Emperor Henry IV) who began intermeddling in temporal affairs by abusing their powers of excommunication and anathematization, and arrogated to themselves the power to raise up and cast down sovereigns were acting in disregard of Scripture, the Fathers, and the practice of the primitive Church. The relation between the sovereign and God is personal and direct, the sovereign is answerable to God alone, the temporal power of the sovereign is absolute, and hence the sovereign is entitled to resist Papal interference by any means at his disposal. It therefore follows that the sovereign is entitled to defend himself against agents of Papal interference, domestic as well as foreign, whereas the Pope has no right to absolve subjects of their sworn obedience to their sovereign. All this is not quite the same as asserting the absolute sovereignty of nations, but it is an important step along the road to that more recent doctrine.
7. To an extent this apologia may have been aimed at wavering English Catholics to steady them in their loyalty toward the Crown. But surely it was in large part aimed at the world as a whole, as a justification, not only of the trial and execution of Garnet and the Plotters, but also of England’s national policies under Elizabeth, and now under James. This was appreciated by William Camden’s biographer Thomas Smith, NOTE 3 who wrote …[ut] in aeternam rei memoriam editis authoritate regia libris quaquaversum per universas Europae regiones patefieret; nec quispiam aptior Camdeno repertus, qui rem illam stylo facile et accurato, et argumentorum, quae inibi tractanda erant, gravitati omnino pari, Latine repraesentaret (“…[that] as an everlasting monument of this affair, it was to be published in books distributed all over Europe by royal authority, nor was anyone found fitter than Camden to represent this business in an easy and accurate stule, and handle in Latin the arguments which must be handled therein with appropriate gravity.”] Such a translation, by which Northampton’s often eloquent and witty rhetoric was transformed into Ciceronian periods, was accordingly supplied by Camden, who by doing so contributed the extra prestige of his enormous personal reputation. As is insinuated by Smith, just like its English predecessor this volume indeed does bear the stamp of officialdom, being printed by John Norton, who describes himself as Serenissimae Regiae Maiestatis in Latinis, Graecis, et Hebraeis Typographus. With slight variations Camden’s Latin is a straightforward translation of the English book, although the addition of one extra sentence at X.176 (Itaque…rumpitur) suggests he may have been working from Northampton’s original manuscript: other than short phrases added for the purpose of clarification, he does not otherwise manufacture his own material, so that it is easier to imagine that the printer of the English text accidentally omitted this sentence than that Camden invented it.
8. The full text of A true and most perfect relation has not been reprinted in modern times, although much of the trial transcript portion was reproduced in Donald Carswell in The Trial of Guy Fawkes and Others in the Notable British Trials series (London - Edinburgh, 1934) and the portion of the volume devoted to the trial of the Plotters is available here. The text used here is that of the first edition (Short Title Catalogue 11618, Early English Books reel 1350). The copy employed for the Early English Books microfilm is that owned by the Folger Shakespeare Library, and the title page of that copy bears the owner’s signature of William Shakespeare, clearly legible on the microfilm copy. My Berkeley colleague Professor Alan Nelson, an expert on Shakespeare signatures, personally inspected this copy and reported to me that it is not the usual William Henry Ireland forgery but “It doesn’t look authentic either, particularly the h, but it’s among the better signatures,” by which he presumably meant one of the better jobs of fakery. Likewise, the present Latin text is based on the first edition (Short Title Catalogue 11620, Early English Books reel 1065). In both texts, typographical errors have been corrected and modernized punctuation imposed. For ease of reference, I have numbered the sections into which the text naturally falls, and, in the case of the Latin one, paragraphs are numbered sequentially within each section. But since the paragraph articulation of the Latin and English texts is not always identical, English paragraphs are not numbered. As I am a student of literature, not history, I have not added more than a very small number of historical notes, and have limited my annotations to the citation of those classical and Scriptural quotations that I could identify.
NOTE 1 Dr. William Parry M. P. was executed in March 1585 for allegedly plotting to assassinate Queen Elizabeth. Soon thereafter appeared a volume entitled A True and Plaine Declaration of the Horrible Treasons Practiced by William Parry (printed by C. B., London, undated), which likewise contained confessions and trial transcripts, and set the tone for subsequent literature on the subject by William Gager and George Peele in his Pareus). It looks almost as if the propaganda exercise associated with the Parry incident was a dress rehearsal for the later one associated with the Gunpowder Plot.
NOTE 2 For the way the Plot came to be handled in Latin narrative verse, see the Introductions to the works in the Philological Museum just described, see my “Milton’s in Quintum Novembris, Anno Aetatis 17 (1626): Choices and Intentions,” in Jon Mikalson and Gareth L. Schmeling (edd.) Qui Miscuit Utile Dulci (Festschrift for Paul Lachlan MacKendrick on his 85th birthday) Bolchazzi - Carducci, Chicago, 349-375.
NOTE 3 Thomas Smith in his 1691 Gulielmi Camdeni Vita. Smith pointed out that this book was placed on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum et Expurgandorum (Madrid, 1667).