Sir Everard DIGBY
Born: 16 May 1576 / 1578
Died: 30 Jan 1606, St. Paul's Churchyard, London, England
Father: Everard DIGBY of Stoke Dry
Mother: Maria NEALE
Married: Mary MULSHO
1. Kenelm DIGBY
2. John DIGBY
Son of Everard Digby of Stoke Dry, Rutland and Maria, daughter of Francis Neale of Keythorpe, Leicestershire. The family had ancient roots: Digby's son Kenelm later commissioned a genealogy which allegedly traced the family's descent from Aelmar, "Anglicus-Saxonus". His father died when he was fourteen or sixteen and his wardship was purchased by Roger Manners, Esq. and may later have been sold back to his mother.
Although Digby's parents may have had catholic tendencies, they managed to avoid detection, and Digby of all the conspirators never experienced persecution first hand, leading an untroubled and seemingly Protestant early life.
In 1596 he married Mary Mulsho, the only daughter and heiress of the staunchly Protestant William Mulsho of Gothurst (later Gayhurst), and resided in their household. This seems to have truly become a marriage of great affection. Digby described his wife as 'the best wife to me that ever man enjoyed', and by her he had two sons, Kenelm and John.
As a wealthy and well-connected young man, Digby soon presented himself at court and was received into the office of gentleman pensioner, although he later claimed, as did Thomas Percy, that he 'tooke the othe belonging to the place of a pencioner and no other'.
Handsome and popular, Everard Digby was the 'goodliest man in the whole court' and 'as complete a man in all things that deserved estimation, as one should see in a kingdom'. He was the embodiment of all the qualities expected of a dashing young courtier of the time; an excellent horseman, swordsman and musician.
He did not have much of an interest in politics however, and being a strong and well-built young man with a passion and ability for field sports, he spent most of his time on his estates pursuing his love of hunting, horses and hawking. As was common for the time, he and his new stepfather, Mr. Erdeswick, became involved in lawsuits brought by his tenants for enclosing land and for taking money for leases that were not honoured, including a suit brought by the husband of his old nurse.
In about 1599, Digby was introduced by a neighbour of his, Mr. Roger Lee, to the Jesuit priest John Gerard who was represented as simply being Lee's friend. During their conversations, they would raise catholic issues in passing, with Lee taking the bolder stand in order to lead suspicion away from the priest. Digby was so convinced by this act, with Gerard's impeccable dress and knowledge of hunting, that he even once inquired of Lee as to John Gerard's suitability as a match for his sister. He said he wanted to see her married to a catholic because they were 'good and honourable people'.
After the death of the parents of Digby's wife Mary, she became the mistress of the house. During one of her husband's trips to London, Mary expressed a wish to convert to the catholic faith. She received the news that Gerard was a priest with disbelief. "Why, the man lives like a courtier". she said, "Haven't you watched him playing cards with my husband?" She was only convinced when she saw him in clerical dress.
Soon afterwards, Everard Digby became seriously ill in London, and while being attended by Gerard, he was received into the church. Digby expressed less surprise than his wife on finding out that Gerard was a priest, and was glad to have a priest who 'understood men like him' and could 'appear in company without danger of his priesthood being discovered'.
Secrecy was such that Digby asked Gerard's help in bringing his wife into the church. Gerard said nothing, but in amusement decided to wait until Mary arrived in London and watch them each try to convert the other.
Digby and Gerard became firm friends and constant companions. Says Gerard, "To me he was always a most loyal friend, and we might have been brothers in blood. In fact we called each other 'brother' when we wrote or spoke to each other". Under Gerard's guidance, Digby set up a model catholic household. Now when they played at cards, at the end of the game they exchanged the money (which they used for appearances) for Ave Marias.
Digby was one of those who welcomed the new King James at Belvoir Castle, and was knighted there on 23 April 1603. However, as with the others, he soon grew bitterly disillusioned when the promises of James vanished into thin air.
He was one of the last conspirators to join, enlisted for his wealth, ability and devotion, although the story of his induction and subsequent actions are shrouded in mystery. Most of the traditional story comes to us from his later confessions. However, in secret letters smuggled out of the tower that were only discovered 70 years after his death amongst his son Kenelm's papers, he makes quite clear the extent of his lying to his examiners in order to protect other, throwing all of his statements under examination into serious doubt.
Some hold that Digby was supposed to have been enrolled into the plot by Robert Catesby toward the end of Aug 1605 while his wife was away on a pilgrimage with Garnet and others to St. Winifred's Well. While riding from Harrowden back to Gothurst, Catesby revealed the plot to him without his having to take the Blessed Sacrament, due to the fact that they were such close friends.
Digby was shocked and wanted to hear no more, and was only persuaded when Catesby assured him that the Jesuits knew and approved of the plot. Others hold that this took place while out riding during a visit of Catesby to Gothurst at the Feast of St. Luke (Oct 21st).
However, in his letters from the Tower, Digby states that he told the examiners that he did not take the Sacrament so that he could avoid the question of who administered it. Also, Oswald Tesimond (who has never been known to make an error of fact) later says that it was Thomas Wintour who actually revealed the Plot to Digby. It is possible that Digby was looking to protect the still-alive Wintour. In a letter to Gerard he says "I do not well conceive my brother, for I did never say that any other told me but Mr. Catesby..."
However he became involved, Digby agreed to provide 1500 pounds to the project, and to move to Coughton Court in order to be more centrally located.
Digby's role in the plot was to manage the Midlands operations. He was to gather a large group of disaffected catholic gentry at Dunsmoor Heath under the guise of a hunt, who would be brought into confidence once the gunpowder was fired. This group would be used to capture Princess Elizabeth, who was staying nearby at Coombe Abbey, before the news became public, and to lead a general uprising.
There are some who plead Digby's ignorance at what was to happen in London, but this can surely be discounted in the face of his statement "...for that night, before any other could have brought the news, we should have it known by Mr. Catesby, who should have proclaimed the Heir Apparent at Charing Cross, as he came out of Town; to which purpose there was a proclamation drawn; if the Duke had not been in the House, then there was a certain way laid for possessing him; but in regard of the assurance, they should have been there, therefore the greatest of our business stood in the possessing of Lady Elizabeth...".
On Monday, 4 Nov, Digby was in position with over 100 others at the Red Lion Inn at Dunchurch. This group included his uncle Sir Robert Digby, Humphrey and Stephen Littleton, John Grant, John Wintour, Henry Morgan and Father Hammond, and 7 servants.
On the arrival of his bedraggled and exhausted co-conspirators from their desperate flight from London on the evening of the 5th, Catesby told Digby that the plot was discovered, but "though the field be lost, all is not lost", and they decided to try to proceed with the uprising. On hearing of these plans, many in the hunting party, his uncle Sir Robert Digby included, were shocked and quickly departed, although a vast majority of them remained. Given the circumstances, it seems unlikely that Catesby would have told him that the King and his Chief Minister, Robert Cecil, were both dead, as it would have required the cooperation of all of the other conspirators to pull it off.
Digby then told his servant "but now there is no remedy", and a servant at the inn overheard him say "I doubt not but that we are all betrayed".
On the band's flight towards Wales, they made detour to break into the stables at Warwick Castle, and then they stopped at Norbrook at about three in the morning for breakfast and to collect arms that Grant had stored there. During their brief stay, Digby and Catesby composed a letter which they sent with Thomas Bates to Father Garnet who was with Lady Digby at Coughton Court, to advise them of what had happened, to "excuse their rashness" and to for assistance. Garnet naturally refused, but Tesimond was persuaded to come to their aid and help his friend Catesby.
After the explosion at Holbeache, Digby departed, some say to make good his escape, some to give himself up to the authorities, but by his own claim to obtain assistance. BEF leaving, he offered his servants money and horses to enable them to escape, but two of them refused to leave him, and the three left Holbeache together.
They had only travelled four miles away, to a spot near Dudley, when they were spotted by a posse. They attempted to hide in a pit in the middle of a wood, but they were seen by their pursuers who cried 'Here he is, here he is'. To this Digby replied "Here he is indeed, what then?", after which he attempted to break out of the pit using an advanced equestrian manoeuvre called a curvette. It was not until he saw over a hundred reinforcements, and realised the futility of escape, that he gave himself up.
While in the Tower of London, Digby was treated fairly leniently and not tortured, perhaps because he was such a latecomer to the conspiracy and was thus not held to know that much.
Digby was tried separately from the other conspirators as he was the only one of them to plead guilty. The others had refused to plead guilty because the indictment included charges against the priests, which they denied. Given Digby's later determination to protect the priests, this is surprising behaviour on his part, although in doing so it gave him permission to make a speech.
He gave four reasons for his involvement in the plot; the cause of his religion, his friendship and regard for Catesby, his fear that harsher laws were in the making against Catholics, and quite bravely, because of the King's broken promises of toleration to Catholics. This provoked Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton, the government's catholic 'lame duck', to make a vehement denial that any such promises were ever made.
Digby asked the court that although he did not justify his act, and that he deserved 'the vilest death', that punishment not be visited on his innocent family. He also asked that in consideration of his status that he be beheaded. Both requests were denied.
Upon receiving the sentence of death, Digby who had many friends present at his trial, said to the Lords "If I may but hear any of your Lordships say you forgive me, I shall go more cheerfully to the gallows". The Lords replied to him, "God forgive you, and we do".
Digby, Robert Wintour, John Grant and Thomas Bates were the first scheduled to be executed. Their executions took place at St. Paul's Churchyard on 30 Jan 1606. Digby was the first to mount the scaffold, which he did unrepentant. In his speech he had claimed that he 'could not condemn himself of any offense to God' in his motives of the 'ending of the persecution of the Catholics, the good of souls, and the cause of religion', although he freely admitted to offending the laws of the realm, for which he was willing to suffer death, and 'thought nothing too much to suffer for those respects which had moved him to that enterprise'.
He refused to pray with the preachers, and called on the Catholics in the crowd to pray with him, whereby he "fell to his prayers with such devotion as much moved all the beholders".
He then saluted each nobleman and gentlemen upon the scaffold, in 'so friendly and cheerful manner' that they later said that he seemed 'so free from fear of death' that he could have been taking his leave of them as if he was just going from the Court or out of the city.
Digby was hung only a very short time, and was undoubtedly alive when he went to the quartering block and was disembowelled. Cecil's cousin, Sir Francis Bacon told the story that when the executioner plucked out his heart, and held it up saying, as was the custom "Here is the heart of a traitor", Digby managed to summon up the strength to respond "Thou liest".
|For more information, visit:|
Dictionary of National Biography, 1895
Fraser, Antonia, Faith & Treason - The Story of the Gunpowder Plot, 1996
Parkinson, C. Northcote, Gunpowder Treason & Plot, London, 1976
State Papers Domestic, xvii, 10.
Gerard, John, S.J., What Was Gunpowder Plot? The traditional story tested by original evidence.
Gardiner, Samuel Rawson, What Gunpowder Plot Was,
Cobbett's Complete Collection of State Trials.., II, 1603-1627
Bacon, Sir Francis, Historia Vitae et Mortis
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