The fifth of November,
The Gunpowder treason and plot;
I know of no reason
Why the Gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot!
Actually there’s every reason why the plot might have been forgotten! There were at least four plots against James I during the early years of his reign. Yet it is Guy Fawkes, a York boy, who is remembered. This post is about two earlier plots and the wonderfully named Sir Griffin Markham.
Sir Griffin, the eldest son and heir of Thomas Markham, of Ollerton in Nottinghamshire, served as a soldier under the Earl of Essex in an expedition sent by Queen Elizabeth to the assistance of Henry IV of France. He was knighted during the siege of Rouen in 1591. He afterwards served in Ireland but there was a problem for this soldier that got worse with the passage of time. Sir Griffin was a Catholic at a time when being Catholic was a cause for suspicion and an impediment to power.
In the Parish Register of Mansfield it is stated that Griffin Markham was at the Market Cross in Mansfield and other gentlemen of the region for the proclamation of the accession of James I (pictured at the start of this post). Catholics had every reason to hope that persecution, which they faced during Elizabeth’s reign, might ease – after all, James’ mother and wife were Catholic. Yet, it appears that within a very short time of James’ accession Sir Griffin wasn’t a happy man. Four months later he was arrested on a treason charge – he’d become involved in a plot that history knows as the Bye Plot or the Treason of the Priests. (Ironically, Jesuits who were concerned that the Bye Plot was a harebrained scheme that would result in major difficulties for English Catholics revealed the conspiracy to Cecil.)
During the course of investigations into the Bye Plot a second plot, which became known as the Main Plot, was uncovered. The two were separate but involved many of the same people!
Sir Griffin Markham, Lord Grey (a radical puritan), Lord Cobham and George Brooke found themselves incarcerated in the Tower along with a couple of catholic priests- William Watson and William Clarke. They were charged with a plot to kidnap James and his Privy Council and then force them to make concessions to the Catholics including the repeal of anti-Catholic legeslation…like that was going to happen and with only three hundred men – not that there is any evidence of Sir Griffin being able to round up a posse that size. This was the Bye Plot.
At the same time Sir Walter Raleigh found himself under arrest on account of a slightly different plot called the ‘Main Plot’ to depose James (‘the kyngge and his cubbes’) and replace him with Arbella (Arabella) Stuart, the grand-daughter of Bess of Hardwick through her daughter Elizabeth Cavendish and Charles Stuart Earl of Lennox – who was the son of Margaret Douglas who in turn was the daughter of Margaret Tudor, eldest daughter of King Henry VII of England.
It is probable that Raleigh was caught in the net of the Main Plot because of his friendship with Lord Cobham who’d been travelling around Europe have shady chats with Spanish types looking at bankrolling the venture. The problem for Raleigh was that Cobham travelled home via Jersey where Raleigh was governor and clearly stopped off for a chat with his old friend. Cecil put two together, or so it would appear, and found an opportunity to rid himself of a political adversary. There’s another theory that says that Raleigh played his old friend along playing the role of agent provocateur and then managed to get caught in Cecil’s net – whichever way you look at the Main Plot it seems hard to believe that Raleigh would plot with the Spanish. There’s a third view that Raleigh himself spoke of at his trial which was that he thought that he was being offered a pension – not treasonable and something that Cecil was in receipt of himself!
The common denominators between the Main Plot and the Bye Plot were George Brooke and Lord Cobham who were, incidentally, brothers.
The Bye Plot conspirators including Lord Cobham were tried in Winchester and found guilty. A scaffold was built especially for the occasion in Winchester Castle. The warrant was signed on the 7th December and Sir Griffin went to his fate on the 9th complaining bitterly that his confession had been given on the promise of leniency. It was only as he was just about to lay his head on the block that a member of the King’s household arrived with another warrant from James I giving him an extra two hours of life. The same grisly process awaited Lord Grey who prayed for half an hour before the sheriff issued the stay of execution and then Lord Cobham. All three mounted the scaffold, thought their last moments had come only to be given a short reprieve at the last moment – sounding suspiciously like someone somewhere had a very nasty sense of humour or someone in authority wanted to entrap Raleigh through a pre-execution confession from his fellow conspirators.
Each of the three men also believed that the other two men had been executed until they were all bought back to the scaffold for a piece of Jacobean theatre contrived by the king for the news that they were to be spared death but banished from the kingdom. Brooke was the only one to be executed in Winchester, even though he might have reasonably expected leniency being married to Lord Cecil’s sister (talk about a family embarrassment).
Raleigh spent the next thirteen years in The Tower and Parliament passed an act called the ‘Statute Against Catholics’ banishing Catholic priests from England was passed into law as a result of the Bye Plot. Sir Griffin ended his life in continental poverty. According to some stories it is said that he often donned disguise and returned home, and that he assisted in the attempted escape of Arabella Stuart.
Fraser, Lady Antonia. (2003). The Gunpowder Plot: Terror and Faith in 1605. London: (Phoenix) Orion Books
Orange, James. (1840) History and Antiquities of Nottingham Vol II. London: Hamilton, Adams and Co. pp733-745