185:  A Cat of Distracted Mind

After my ill-usage at Paws’ [St Paul’s], I confess that I ran flat-eared until I was clear of the citie.  Then I rested myself ’neath a shed before I crept cold through the fields to my house.

Once within, I sought my bed and cleansed my feet and paws.

There was no true rest for me.  I had too many thoughts.

A black and white cat peering out from underneath a coverlet.
Harry, feeling stressed.

What was this blow that Picker and Stealer knew of?  Would it still come?  Would it hurt me? 

I rose and crept about.  It were All Hallow E’en.  The servants supping ale by the hearth arrkst, “What troubles his lordship’s cat?”  “What do he see that we cannot?”

I myself was too affrighted to take pleasure in affrighting them.

More nights passed.  Had the King come?  Or had he fled to a place of safetie?  And what of me?

I could do nowt but gnaw my paws. 

Then I began to doubt I’d gone to Paws’ and been accused of having writ a letter.  Were that a horrid dream?  Worser, were I a cat of distracted mind?

I was keeping watch upon our roof (cold, but safer out than in) when I saw my lord come and go in haste.

Then came sounds of excitations.  I slipped inside, and learnt l was not crazie.  There had been a conspiracie!  

A plot to make a great clap.  Like unto thunder, I guessed.  But so loud as to flat parlement’s house and all houses thereabouts.  And kill they that heared it close.

Sure, it would have killed me.  And those cats in Paws’ Yard that delight in wickedness.

This devilish work, the like of which was never seen, was not done by forrein troublers. No.

An Englishman had been took that morn.  This man’s master was a known Catlick, so he too was sought.

The Lord Mayor had been arrkst to have a care for the Spanish ambassador’s safetie, for folk might blame him for such wicked doings.  In truth, the ambassador hisself would have been killed because he meant to visit parlement that day.

As night came on all the bells gave voice, and I nosed the scents of fires in the streets.  That meant great rejoycings.

So free from fear was I now, I pulled a cushion from a chair and fought it fierce.  None spake sharp to me.

Then, thinking on my fear, I had a new question.  Why was newes of this plot so late in coming?

When next my lord came from White-Hall, I kept close by him.

Thus I learnt that Mr Secretary first thought the letter might be lies or lunatick.  But he and his friends had also spake of a powder that kills folks.  And of the chambers where such powder might be hid.

When the King saw the letter, he was of the same mind.  They resolved not to look for powder until the night before parlement.  Why?

So all the plotters’ wicked practises might be revealed.

Mr Secretary, aka Sir Rabbit: Robert Cecil, now Earl of Salisbury.

When I thought of my paw-gnawing, and how nigh I’d come to believing myself a crazie cat, I was shamed.  I knew Mr Secretary was a spyder who spins his web slow but strong.

Why had I forgot it?

Because, steel myself as I might, I was not of the metal that earls’ cats are made.

My lord loves politicks.  I did not.  I wished myself back in the countrie.

Toutparmoi - Note from the EditorHarry over-estimates the force of the “blow”.  He’d have been safe in Southampton House in Holborn, about a mile and a half away from parliament, though the sound would have terrified him and the cats of St Paul’s Yard.

I like the Richard Hammond documentary The Gunpowder Plot: Exploding the Legend.  The historical background details aren’t the best, but the story of how an authentic “test explosion” was created and the damage it would have caused is fascinating.

It’s hard to estimate the casualties.  King James put the figure at 30,000.  Somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 seems more likely.

The “establishment”, an elite group, always gets a mention.  Parliamentary administrators, servants and attendants wouldn’t have been far away.  The lords’ personal retinues, and those of other attendees, would have been in the vicinity.  Then there are those who lived or worked nearby.  The state records (and their minders) would have been lost.  And would the streets have still been crowded with people who’d come to see the King, Queen, and their sons?

The six days from 30 October, when Harry heard of the plot, to its official discovery on 5 November must have seemed very long to him.  What Harry says he later learnt from the Earl of Southampton is similar to what Robert Cecil wrote to English ambassadors overseas on 7 November (although his letters weren’t sent until 9 November)[1].

In brief, when Cecil saw the letter Lord Monteagle brought him on 26 October he thought it could well be a hoax.  He was also surprised that only one Catholic lord should have received a warning.  (Did he wonder if others had?  If so, he kept that to himself.)  He and other members of the Privy Council thought of gunpowder, and considered a search.

Delaying any action until the King’s return on 31 October sounds extremely risky, as does waiting until 4 November before taking obvious action.  However, it was a calculated risk in a society much less risk averse than ours. 

King James was given the credit for the plot’s discovery, as was proper.  His popularity soared.  Just as well.  His succession had been smooth, but the honeymoon was over.

James was a Scot with unpopular Scottish retainers.  He was criticized for spending too much time hunting outside London (i.e. neglecting state business).  And, not content with uniting the kingdoms of Scotland and England in his royal person, he wanted one united kingdom with one parliament and legal system.  Few liked that idea.  

[1] Gardiner, Samuel Rawson  What Gunpowder Plot Was.  (Longmans 1897) p31