Gunpowder, treason and Nottingham

Not many people would connect the High School and Guy Fawkes’ Gunpowder Plot, but the link is there, if you trace it through carefully……

…..Brian Garnett, or Garnet, is thought to have been the Master of the Free School during some unknown period between the years 1564-1575.

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It is considered most probable that he took up the post between 1564-1567, and then retired in, probably, 1575. He may then have lived in Beeston, but he was certainly buried in Heanor in Derbyshire on December 21st 1576, as the “Late Skoolemaster of Nottingham”.

With his wife, Alice Jay, he had at least three sons, Richard, John and Henry, and three daughters, Margaret, Eleanor and Anne,  all of whom became nuns at Louvain.

Of the sons, Henry is the most notable, because eventually he was to become the Superior of the Jesuits in England, and, allegedly, an active member of the Gunpowder Plot which, in earlier centuries, often used to be called the Gunpowder Treason Plot or the Jesuit Treason. In general terms, the plot, of course, was a failed assassination attempt to blow up the Protestant King James I of England and his entire Parliament, by filling the cellars of the building with gunpowder. lighting the fuse, and retiring quickly and sensibly to a minimum distance of at least fifty yards.

GunpowderPlot dddddddddGarnet was not quite tasked with carrying the barrels of gunpowder into the cellars, but rather, he was deemed to have been guilty of knowing all the details of the assassination attempt, but then doing nothing to save either the King’s life or those of his courtiers. Here he is….

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In recent times, some doubt has been cast on the extent to which Garnet was actually aware of the dastardly plot, because all the details he knew were revealed to him through the plotters’ confessions. Of course, by the strict rules of his Catholic religion, Garnet was automatically prevented from informing the authorities by the absolute confidentiality of the confessional.

None of this alters the basic fact, though, that Henry Garnet was executed for treason, on May 3rd 1606. At his trial, the jury had needed only fifteen minutes to reach their verdict.

Where the tiniest of doubts still exists, however, is whether Henry was ever a pupil at the Free School, as no registers of this period are still in existence. It is certainly true, though, that he was educated in Nottingham, and the national rules in place at the time allowed only one school in each town or city. In any case, it is surely beyond credibility that he was not associated with the Free School during his father’s tenure of the position of Master, that is to say, the only teacher who was working there.
Indeed, at least one source says that young Henry came to the Free School during Henry Cockrame’s time as Master (most probably 1563-1564), possibly a year or so before Cockrame left in 1565 and was replaced by Henry’s father, Brian Garnett of Heanor, Derbyshire. Henry is supposed to have studied for two years under his father’s tutelage, before leaving for Winchester College where he was elected as a scholar on August 24th 1567 and duly entered the school in 1568.

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Henry had been well taught in Nottingham, and proved to be an able student at Winchester. According to “The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography”…..

“His love of music and “rare and delightful” voice were complemented by an ability to perform songs without preparation, and he was reportedly also skilled with the lute.
Father Thomas Stanney wrote that Garnet was “the prime scholar of Winchester College, very skilful in music and in playing upon the instruments, very modest in his countenance and in all his actions, so much that the schoolmasters and wardens offered him very great friendship, to be placed by their means in New College, Oxford.”

Instead of the delights of New College, Oxford, however, when he left the school in 1571, Garnet moved to London to work for a publisher. Shortly afterwards, in 1575, he travelled to the continent and joined the Society of Jesus. Garnet then moved to Rome to study for the priesthood with the Jesuits. He was finally ordained as a priest around 1582. (Note the ear of corn which will be important)

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Whatever happened in his life during the next twenty three years in the service of the Lord, by virtue of the events of May 3rd 1606, Henry Garnet must surely remain the only Old Nottinghamian ever to have been convicted as a terrorist, and, indeed, one of the very few ever to have been hanged, drawn and quartered, and then to have had his severed head placed on a pole on London Bridge.

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(That’s going to hurt)

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(This engraving will be next month’s Caption Contest)

Thankfully, the more lurid details of his execution have survived in Antonia Fraser’s book, “The Gunpowder Plot”…..

“Garnet said his prayers, and was then thrown off the ladder and hanged.

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Before the executioner could cut him down alive, many in the crowd pulled on his legs, and as a result, Garnet did not suffer the remainder of his grim sentence. There was no applause when the executioner held Garnet’s heart aloft and said the traditional words, “Behold the heart of a traitor”.
His head was set on a pole on London Bridge, but crowds of onlookers fascinated by its pallid appearance eventually forced the government to turn the head upwards, so its face was no longer visible.”

From this peculiar pallid appearance of course, came the widely held belief that Garnet’s head did not suffer any signs of decay or change.

nov 4th heads xxxxxxx(Can you spot Garnet’s head?)

Nowadays, of course, we are a lot more civilised and the heads of traitors are no longer placed on a pole on London Bridge. Instead, we have just two or three of the more unsuccessful Premier League managers.

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(Why is nobody taking any notice?)

The final, and a slightly more serious thing to be said about Henry Garnet is that way back on May 3rd 1606, according to those who were there, a miraculous portrait of him apparently appeared on an ear of corn onto which drops of his blood had fallen at the moment of his execution. This particular ear of corn was later credited with achieving a number of miracles. At one point, it was taken secretly out of the country into the possession of the Society of Jesus, before, with its size surely playing a part, it was lost, rather appropriately, during the French Revolution.

-Portrait_of_Henry_Garnett zzzzzzzzz

The Roman Catholic Church, of course, has a large number of saints who have done far less than Henry Garnet to earn their sainthoods. Names which spring to my mind would include St.Buriana, St.Erc, St.Ia and any number of Cornish villages named after other dimly remembered saints.

Perhaps one fine day, Henry Garnet may yet become the only Old Nottinghamian ever to be canonised.

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Filed under History, Humour, Nottingham, Politics, The High School

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