The Lords and the Commons
House of Lords:
The Earl of Northumberland
Henry Percy, ninth Earl of Northumberland was born in 1564.
The Percys were a very powerful family with huge estates in
Yorkshire, Northumberland and Cumberland with others scattered
right across England and Wales. Their attachment to Catholicism
had made them exceptionally dangerous to the government of
Elizabeth I. The seventh earl had been executed in 1572 for
his role in a rebellion in 1570; the eighth earl died in the
Tower of London in 1585, where he was being held under suspicion
of involvement in a plot to free Mary Queen of Scots from
The ninth earl was brought up a Protestant but was thought
of as more interested in science and magic than in religion
- he was known as the 'wizard earl'. He was however interested
enough in the plight of the English Catholics to try discussing
their future with King James of Scotland before he came to
the throne of England. He selected Thomas Percy - his cousin
and a senior manager of his estates - to do so for him. After
James's accession, the King made Northumberland the captain
of his bodyguard and a member of the Privy Council, but he
continued to act as spokesmen for the English Catholics.
When the Plot was discovered, Thomas Percy's involvement
led the government to suspect that Northumberland had something
to do with it too. They assumed the plotters would have a
nobleman in mind to lead the country if the Plot had succeeded
and found it difficult to believe that Thomas Percy would
have let Northumberland die in the explosion.
Northumberland was arrested and held in the Tower of London
on 27 November. He was not tried until 27 June 1606 when he
was stripped of his public offices, fined £30,000 and
condemned to imprisonment during the King's pleasure. He remained
in the Tower until 1621 - though in comfortable conditions.
He died in 1632.
William Parker, fifth or first Baron Monteagle (1575-1622),
attributed to John de Critz the elder, c. 1615. Berger Collection
Education Trust at the Denver Art Museum, ColoradoWilliam
Parker, Baron Monteagle was born around 1575 and brought up
a Catholic. He was closely involved with extremist plans for
Spanish military intervention in support of the English Catholics
during the reign of Elizabeth.
Married to Francis Tresham's sister, he knew Thomas Winter
well and was involved in Essex's rebellion in 1601. Despite
being imprisoned and fined for this involvement he was still
joining in discussions on Spanish intervention in 1602, but
when James came to the throne he promised him that he was
no longer interested in plots.
Monteagle received the 'Monteagle letter' on 26 October.
He was present during the first search of the House of Lords
basement on 4 November. For his prompt action, Monteagle was
awarded with lands and an annual pension, although he still
seems to have been treated with suspicion by the government
and others. He died in 1622.
The House of Commons:
It is not known when Ralph Ewens, the Clerk of the House
of Commons in 1605, was born. He was trained as a lawyer,
and was an MP in 1597 and 1601. He was made Clerk of the House
of Commons in 1603. In 1604, when all the members of the House
of Commons went to a grand summer dinner, Ewens is recorded
as presenting them with a 'march-pane' (probably a cake made
out of marzipan) in the shape of the House of Commons in session.
Ewens later recalled that at the time of the Plot, he had
lodgings 'under the Court of Wards, being the next wall to
Either he, or one of his staff, wrote the entry in the House's
Journal recording the discovery of the Plot. In his will he
left money to provide for a sermon to be preached at St Clement
Dane's Church, London, every year 'in remembrance of our particular
deliverance from the gunpowder treason'. He died in 1611.
Sir Thomas Knyvett
Detail from The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Henry Perronet
Briggs c.1823 Laing Art Gallery (Tyne and Wear Museums)Sir
Thomas Knyvett and Edmund Doubleday found Guy Fawkes in the
basement of the House of Lords on 4 November. Born around
1546, both Knyvett's father and grandfather had served in
the royal household, and by 1572 Knyvett was in the royal
From 1584 he served as MP for Westminster as well as serving
as keeper of both Whitehall and Westminster Palaces. He and
his wife became trusted servants of King James and his wife,
Anne of Denmark, looking after their children and some of
their money and masterminding alterations to the royal palaces.
Knyvett was also warden of the Mint. In 1607 he was made a
peer, perhaps because of his role in the Plot. He died in
Detail from The Discovery of the Gunpowder Plot, Henry Perronet
Briggs c.1823 Laing Art Gallery (Tyne and Wear Museums)Edmund
Doubleday was with Knyvett on 4 November. Born around 1564,
the son of an obscure London haberdasher, he began his career
as a scrivener,
but became wealthy enough to get himself a formal legal training
and a business as a vintner.
Doubleday became a close friend and ally of Knyvett, who
probably got him a job in the Royal Mint. On 4 November he
and Knyvett challenged Fawkes, and tried to search him.
This account of the arrest published in 1631 paints a vivid
picture of Doubleday's role. Fawkes 'very violently gripped
Master Doubleday by the fingers of the left hand. Through
pain thereof Master Doubleday offered to draw his dagger to
have stabbed Fawkes, but suddently better thought himself
and did not; yet in that heat he struck up the traitor's heels
and withal fell upon him and searched him, and in his pocket
found his garters, wherewith Master Doubleday and others that
assisted him bound him' (John Stow, Annals, 1631).
It wasn't the only time that Doubleday apprehended a criminal.
On Christmas Day 1611 he caught a thief in Whitehall, a man
who was later hanged. His own house was burgled in 1614. Doubleday
followed Knyvett as MP for Westminster in 1614. He died in
Sir Edward Coke
Sir Edward Coke, 1593, unknown artist. Speaker of the House
of CommonsSir Edward Coke was born in 1552. The son
of a lawyer, Coke himself trained in the law, and by the 1580s
was one of the most prominent lawyers in England - well known
for his success as a barrister, arguing cases for his clients.
Coke was lucky to have close links with the powerful Cecil
family - William Cecil, Lord Burghley, and Robert Cecil, the
Earl of Salisbury. His link to Burghley probably helped him
to get the important government post of Solicitor General
in 1592, and Attorney General in 1594. His rival for the posts
was another able lawyer, Francis Bacon.
Coke was also an MP and served as Speaker of the House of
Commons in 1593. As Attorney General, it was his responsibility
to prosecute on behalf of the government, and he did so at
many trials of people accused of treason, including the Earl
of Essex in 1601, Sir Walter Raleigh in 1603 and the Gunpowder
Plotters in 1606. The fees to which he was entitled made him
Shortly after the prosecution of the gunpowder plotters,
Coke became Lord Chief Justice. As a judge, though, he found
it much more difficult to retain the favour of the King, whom
he often annoyed with his judgements, and he was removed from
the job in 1616. He died in 1634.
Sir Edward Phelips
Sir Edward Phelips, by an unknown artist. Speaker of the House
of CommonsSir Edward Phelips was born around 1555.
He became a successful lawyer and from 1584 sat in the House
of Commons. Profits from his law practice helped to finance
his great house at Montacute, Somerset.
In 1604 he was elected as Speaker. Some thought that he was
much too close to the government as Speaker and he was involved
in the interrogations of the gunpowder plotters. He also opened
the prosecution of the plotters at the trial on 27 January
1606. He died in 1614.
Sir Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon, Viscount St Albans, attributed to George Vertue
after Paul van Somer c.1734. Palace of Westminster CollectionSir
Francis Bacon was born in 1561, the youngest son of a great
lawyer and politician and became himself ambitious for high
government office. He trained as a lawyer, and became an MP
in 1581. A very strong Protestant (his tutor at college had
been John Whitgift, a future Archbishop of Canterbury), in
Parliament he called for the execution of Mary, Queen of Scots,
in 1586 and suggested other measures to resist Catholicism.
Despite a family relationship to the powerful Cecil family
- William Cecil, Lord Burghley and his son, Robert Cecil -
during the 1590s he associated himself with the Cecils' rival
for political power, the Earl of Essex. He also offended the
Queen by his actions in Parliament, and as a result he failed
to get appointed to either of the two great government legal
posts he coveted - which went, in turn, to his own rival,
He was chosen to help in the prosecution of his old associate,
Essex, after the failure of Essex's rebellion in 1601. He
hoped for better professional success in the reign of James
I and worked hard at promoting James's pet project, the Union
of England and Scotland, in Parliament. He was involved like
Phelips in the interrogation of the gunpowder plotters.
Bacon won his reward - the promotion to the post of Solicitor
General - in 1607. Already a celebrated writer on science,
philosophy and politics, he was to have a brilliant political
and legal career. He went on to become Lord Chancellor and
Viscount St Albans, although he fell from power in 1621. He
died in 1626.
Back to People