Emma’s picture hung in Nelson’s cabin aboard HMS Victory. It was cleared away by a sailor on the morning of the battle of Trafalgar. ‘Take care of my guardian angel’, Nelson told him, as the Royal Navy prepared for action.
The man had a supply of slow-matches with him. Thirty six barrels of gunpowder were hidden nearby – enough to blow the whole place to pieces when King James I arrived later that day to open Parliament.
The man was a Roman Catholic. He was part of a conspiracy to blow up King and Parliament in revenge for the persecution of Catholics then taking place. He gave a false name, but was arrested at once and taken to the Tower of London for questioning.
The interrogation took place in the Queen’s House. A plaque commemorating the event was erected in the house’s council chamber (top floor, right) in 1608 and is still there on the wall.
The prisoner stubbornly refused to name his co-conspirators, so the King signed a warrant for his torture, stipulating that ‘the gentler tortours are to be first usid unto him’, before anything nastier was tried.
The prisoner still wouldn’t talk, so he was probably stretched on the rack in the White Tower. His body was certainly broken by the time he confessed two days later. Hanged at Westminster on 31 January 1606, he was still so weak that the hangman had to help him up the ladder to the gallows.
HISTORIC LONDON: X MARKS THE SPOT. Question 49. Who was this religious zealot who tried to blow up England’s Parliament ?
‘Scintillating’ – Literary Review
‘Sets an example that will be hard to equal’ – Daily Mail
Waterstone’s recommendation of the month