Robert Cecil, Earl of Salisbury, plays a very interesting part in the Gunpowder Plot of 1605. He was a trusted servant of James I who was all but a prime minister in Stuart England. To this day, there are historians who believe that sufficient evidence exists to show that Cecil orchestrated the whole plot – unknown to the plotters – to convince James I that Catholics were not to be trusted and that they should once and for all be thrown out of the country. Cecil was the skilled puppet master and Guy Fawkes and company were the puppets in his total control – so some believe.

Cecil’s family had a history of loyal service to the crown. His father, Lord Burghley, had faithfully served Elizabeth I, and Cecil had inherited his father’s small but very efficient secret police.

What writings we have from Cecil are vague probably deliberately as nothing can be pinned on him. An example is as follows written on October 24th 1605 to James I’s secretary:

“I spend my time in sowing so much seed as my poor wretched fingers can scatter, in such a season as may bring forth a plentiful harvest. I dare boldly say no shower or storm shall mar our harvest except it should come from beyond the middle region.”

 This was written just a fortnight before the discovery of Guy Fawkes in the House of Lords. What does it mean? It can mean many things to many people, which is probably what Cecil wanted but some see it as a coded letter that nothing can stop his plan except if those from the Midlands (where the plotters came from) bugled their part.

One curious incident was when Robert Catesby’s servant died. He claimed on his death bed, that Catesby had visited Cecil three times in the months leading up to November 5th 1605. This cannot be proved and may have been an attempt to tarnish the name of Cecil. Others have argued that the fear of Hell and the desire to get to Heaven at this time in History, meant that people told the truth on their deathbeds and that this statement must have some relevance. However, there is no evidence yet found that Cecil and Catesby ever met.

Cecil’s relationship with Lord Monteagle is interesting. Monteagle was a Catholic. This simple fact should have made both men despise one another. Monteagle referred to James I as “odious”. Cecil was a loyal servant of James. Yet Cecil clearly protected Monteagle in the investigations after Fawkes was found. On the back of a letter which would have got Monteagle into a great deal of trouble because of his comments about the king, clearly written in the hand of Cecil were the words “this was forbidden by the king to be given in evidence.” Was Monteagle one of Cecil’s spies? He was given a very handsome pension after the whole affair was finished. His name was also removed from all documents relating to the Gunpowder Plot. Was he secretly passing information over to Cecil and giving the plotters ‘advice’ on how to proceed with the plot – with Cecil’s full knowledge? We will never know.

Perhaps most interesting to this is the following instruction Cecil gave to the prosecuting council on the night before the trial of the plotters took place:

You must deliver in commendation of my Lord Monteagle words to show show sincerely he dealt….because it is so lewdly given out he was once of this Plot of Powder and afterwards betrayed all to me.

The ‘evidence’ we have now would not convict Cecil of being the main person behind the plot. However, Cecil had made many enemies. When he died in 1612 a common ditty was heard in London:

“But now at Hatfield lies the Fox, who drank while he lived and died of the pox.”

 Hatfield was the huge palace Cecil lived in and his nickname was the Fox.

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