William Parker, Lord Monteagle, is very much linked to the 1605 Gunpowder Plot. It was Lord Monteagle who mysteriously received a letter that clearly warned Monteagle not to attend Parliament on the day James I was due to open Parliament for its new session.
Monteagle was born in 1575. In 1589, as plain William Parker, he married Elizabeth Tresham, the sister of Francis Tresham – one of the conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. A Catholic, Monteagle was implicated in the plot to remove Elizabeth I from power in 1601. This plot failed and Monteagle, despite the minor part he had in the conspiracy, could consider himself fortunate to receive a fine of £8,000.
The Gunpowder Plot had one simple aim – to blow up Parliament when James I opened it on November 5th killing the king and as many others in the building as was possible.
If Lord Monteagle had attended the opening of Parliament, as many Lords would have done, his life would have been in peril. On October 26th, Monteagle received a letter clearly warning him not to attend Parliament on November 5th. The letter was shown to Robert Cecil, the chief minister. The end result of this was that Parliament was searched and ‘John Johnson’, Guy Fawkes, was caught. As a result of torture, Fawkes gave up the names of his accomplices. One of those caught was Francis Tresham, Monteagle’s brother-in-law. It seems likely that it was Tresham who sent the warning letter to Monteagle.
Despite the security that would have surrounded the infamous captives in the Tower of London, Tresham was poisoned in his cell. However, he did escape the butchery of being hung drawn and quartered – the penalty paid by some of the conspirators. The fact that Tresham was poisoned, quickly led to rumours that this was organised by Monteagle and Cecil as it was the letter, probably from Tresham, that led to the discovery of the plot and the capture of a number of conspirators. Poisoning would have spared Tresham from being hung, drawn and quartered – almost a ‘reward’ for his warning. However, none of this can be proved. If Cecil was involved he left no clues – not for nothing was he nicknamed ‘the fox’.
James I, who had always had a morbid fear of a violent death, was generously grateful to Monteagle and gave him an annual pension of £500 for life and land that was worth another £200 a year. Monteagle used his newfound wealth to invest in companies such as the Virginia Company, the Northwest Passage Company and the East India Company.
William Parker, 4th Lord Monteagle, died on July 1st 1622.