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Morgan, George Blacker / The Identification of the Writer of the Anonymous Letter to Lord Monteagle in 1605
file was produced from images generously made available
by The Internet Archive/Canadian Libraries)


"A strange letter, from a strange hand,
by a strange messenger; without date to
it, name at it, and (I had almost said)
sense in it. A letter which, even when it
was opened, was still sealed, such the
affected obscurity therein."

FULLER'S _Church History_, x. 32.


[Transcriber's note:
[***] denotes an asterism, that is, a triangle comprising three asterices.
A carat symbol ^ indicates that the ensuing letters of the word are
superscript letters.]


One of the great mysteries of English history is the anonymous letter to
Lord Monteagle, warning him not to attend the opening of Parliament,
appointed for the Fifth of November, 1605, which is popularly supposed
to have led to the discovery of the Gunpowder Plot. The writer's
identity was carefully concealed by the Government at the time; the
intention being, as explained by Lord Salisbury, "to leave the further
judgment indefinite" regarding it. The official statements are,
therefore, as unsatisfactory as might be expected in a matter that, for
State reasons, has not been straightforwardly related. The letter,
however, remaining and in fair preservation, there was always the
possibility of the handwriting being identified; and this, after the
lapse of over three hundred years, is now accomplished.












1. The anonymous letter as delivered to Lord Monteagle, October 26,
1605, warning him not to attend the opening of Parliament
appointed for the Fifth of November (From the original letter in
the Museum of the Public Record Office) _Frontispiece_

2. A page of the MS. entitled "A Treatise against Lying," etc.,
formerly belonging to Francis Tresham, of which the handwriting
was attributed by his brother, William Tresham, to William
Vavasour. Now in the Bodleian Library. (Laud MSS. 655,
folio 44) [1]

3. William Vavasour's handwriting in the letter to the Earl of
Salisbury, dictated and signed by Francis Tresham when dying in
the Tower, December 22, 1605 ("State Papers, Domestic," James I.,
ccxvi. 211) [1]

Stated by Vavasour to have been written by Mrs. Tresham.
On March 24, 1605-6, he confessed that he wrote it and signed
a note to it to that effect.

4. William Vavasour's handwriting in his _untrue_ statement, written in
the presence of the Lieutenant of the Tower, that No. 3 was
written by Mrs. Tresham. Dated March 23, 1605-6 ("State
Papers, Domestic," James I., ccxvi. 207) [1]

[***]To avoid detection of his falsehood, he writes a hand
quite different from his ordinary writing in Nos. 2 and 3, thus
producing a hand which is in itself identical with his former
disguised writing as seen in the anonymous letter (No. 1).

5. George Vavasour's handwriting on the last leaf, which he renewed
for Francis Tresham, of the MS. entitled "A Treatise against
Lying," etc. (Laud MSS. 655, folio 61) _To face page 26_

The Identification of the Writer of the Anonymous Letter to Lord



Francis Tresham, of Rushton, in Northamptonshire, has recently
(September 11, 1605) succeeded his father, Sir Thomas Tresham (a great
sufferer for the Roman Catholic religion), in an inheritance of at least
five thousand a year, in present money; after having, as he says, spent
most of his time overburdened with debts and wants, and resolves within
himself to spend his days quietly. His first cousin, Robert Catesby,
being hard-up with funds exhausted in financing the scheme known as the
Gunpowder Plot, seeing in Tresham the chance of obtaining a further
supply (though previously distrusting him), induces him, in the
interests of their religion, to join the conspiracy, of which he thus
becomes the thirteenth, and last, sworn conspirator (October 14, 1605).
Catesby is careful to impose the oath of secrecy before fully disclosing
the plot; of which Tresham, on hearing, entirely disapproves, and
endeavours to dissuade his cousin from, or even to defer it; meanwhile
offering him the use of his own purse if he will do so. Finding he
cannot prevail with him, he is very urgent that the Lords Monteagle and
Stourton, particularly the former, may be warned, each having married
Tresham's sisters; but Catesby can give no definite assurance. Tresham
then intends, as he says, to get the conspirators shipped away, and to
inform the Government by some unknown, or anonymous, means.

Tresham has a serving-man named William Vavasour, who attended Sir
Thomas Tresham, and who, with his elder brother, George Vavasour (whose
education Tresham has particularly encouraged), and their sister Muriel
(gentlewoman to Lady Monteagle who is the daughter of "Muriel" Lady
Tresham) are favoured dependants of the Tresham family, being the
children of an old and much valued Catholic servant. Both George and
William are confidentially employed by Tresham as amanuenses, in
transcribing religious, or treasonable, treatises of the time.

Lord Monteagle unexpectedly orders a supper to be prepared (October 26,
1605) at his house at Hoxton (belonging to his brother-in-law Tresham),
and where he has not been for some months. As he is about to go to
supper, a letter is handed to him by his footman, to whom it has been
given in the street by "an unknown man of a reasonable tall personage,"
who knows that he will find him at so unfrequented a residence.
Monteagle opens the letter, which is anonymous, pretends he cannot
understand it, and shows it to his secretary, Thomas Ward, who, he is
aware, is familiar with some of the conspirators; whom Ward, the next
evening, tells of the receipt of the letter, which Monteagle at once
takes to Whitehall, about three miles away, where he finds the Earl of
Salisbury (Principal Secretary of State) with other lords of the Council
together assembled, "ready for supper." The Government censor, or
suppress, the name of the place where the letter was delivered. The
conspirators and the Jesuit priests, who are involved in the plot
through the confessional, at once suspect Tresham; and Catesby and
Winter directly charge him with having betrayed them, which he denies,
while urging them to escape to France, and giving them money for the
purpose. Although Tresham is a sworn conspirator, he alone remains
behind and at large, after Fawkes's arrest (November 4-5, 1605), and
flight of the others into the country, and offers his services to the
Government. A week later he is taken to the Tower, where being ill, his
wife and serving-man, William Vavasour, and a maid servant constantly
attend him; an indulgence _never under any circumstances_ permitted to
anyone who was really a prisoner and upon a capital charge there.
Becoming worse, he dictates a letter for Vavasour to write to Lord
Salisbury, retracting a statement that he has been induced to make
respecting Father Garnet, and dies (December 23, 1605). This letter, or
dying statement, being misunderstood, is considered to be so incredible
that the writing is particularly inquired into. Vavasour thereupon, in
the presence of the Lieutenant of the Tower, writes an _untrue_
statement (consequently using a hand quite different from his ordinary
writing and, _in itself, identical with the writing of the anonymous
letter_), asserting that his master's dying statement was written by
Mrs. Tresham (though in every way proper for Vavasour to have written),
which she at once repudiates and says that Vavasour wrote it. He is then
examined in the Tower by Chief Justice Popham and Attorney-General Coke,
when he confesses that he wrote the dying statement at his master's
dictation; and had denied it "for fear." Fear of what? In case the
writing should bring into question some other and less innocent letter
written by him for his master.

Upon Tresham's death in the Tower, the Lieutenant writes to Salisbury
(December 23, 1605) of the "marvellous" confidence shown by Tresham and
his friends that had he survived, they feared not the course of justice.
Later, having left no male issue, his inheritance passes to his brother,
who is described as of Rushton, when created a baronet on the
institution of that Order by James the First, the very king whom the
plotters intended to destroy; and although a baronetcy at that time was
merely a monetary distinction or transaction, _some_ discrimination was
no doubt made in the bestowal or disposal of that dignity, which
probably would not have been conferred upon Catesby's son, who was then
living, even if he had been able to afford it after the forfeiture of
his family inheritance.

The Attorney-General, at Father Garnet's trial (March 28, 1606),
pronounces Vavasour as being, in his opinion, "deeply guilty" in the
treason; yet he is not even brought to trial, while other serving-men
are tried and executed; although Lord Salisbury expressly declares that
he will esteem his life unworthily given him, when he shall be found
slack in bringing to prosecution and execution ALL who are in any way
concerned in the treason; and his exertions in the matter are accounted
to be so successful, that he is rewarded with the Order of the Garter.

Francis Tresham's inheritance remains in the family; and his
serving-man, the "deeply guilty" William Vavasour, goes free.


[Footnote 1: _These facsimiles are issued separately in order to
facilitate comparison._]



The authentic, or rather the official, story of the delivery of the
letter, as published by the Government at the time, states that on
Saturday, October 26, 1605, Lord Monteagle "being in his own lodging,
ready to go to supper, at seven o'clock[2] at night, one of his footmen
(whom he had sent on an errand over the street) was met by an unknown
man, of a reasonable tall personage, who delivered him a letter,
charging him to put it in my lord his master's hands; which my lord no
sooner received, but that having broken it open, and perceiving the same
to be of an unknown and somewhat unlegible hand, and without either date
or subscription, called one of his men[3] to help him to read it. But no
sooner did he conceive the strange contents thereof, although he was
somewhat perplexed what construction to make of it (as whether of a
matter of consequence, as indeed it was, or whether some foolish devised
pasquil, by some of his enemies to scare him from his attendance at the
Parliament), yet did he, as a most dutiful and loyal subject, conclude
not to conceal it, whatever might come of it, whereupon notwithstanding
the lateness and darkness of the night in that season of the year, he
presently repaired to his Majesty's palace at Whitehall, and there
delivered the same to the Earl of Salisbury, his Majesty's principal

Neither the official version nor any State paper mentions the place
where the letter was delivered, which in such a mysterious matter would
be the first inquiry. "Own lodging" at that time signified a person's
house. Hoxton is generally stated to have been the place of delivery,[4]
which was then a single street in the outlying suburb on the great north
road; at a house which Monteagle is known[5] to have occupied, belonging
to his brother-in-law, Francis Tresham; and this ownership may have been
Salisbury's reason for not naming it, which so curious an omission seems
to imply. The letter is as follows:

"My Lord out of the loue i beare[6]; to some of youere frends i haue
a caer of youer preseruacion therfor i would aduyse yowe as yowe
tender youer lyf to deuyse some excuse to shift of youer attendance
at this parleament for god and man hathe concurred to punishe the
wickednes of this tyme and thinke not slightlye of this
aduertisement but retyre youre self into youre contri wheare yowe
maye expect the euent in safti for thowghe theare be no apparance of
anni stir yet i saye they shall receyue a terrible blowe this
parleament and yet they shall not sei who hurts them this cowncel is
not to be contemned because it maye do yowe good and can do yowe no
harme for the dangere[7] is passed as soon as yowe have burnt the
letter and i hope god will give yowe the grace to make good use of
it to whose holy proteccion I commend yowe."

(Addressed) "To the ryght honorable
the lord Monteagle."

It was the opinion of the other conspirators, as well as of the Jesuit
priests who became involved in the plot through the confessional, that
the warning letter originated with Francis Tresham, whose sister was
Lady Monteagle, and another sister had married Lord Stourton; and
Tresham had been most earnest with Catesby that those two lords,
particularly Monteagle, should be warned. In each instance, Catesby was
careful to impose the oath and engage the faith of the conspirator,
before disclosing the plot; and Tresham, the thirteenth and last, sworn
conspirator, on hearing the particulars, entirely disapproved of the
conspiracy, from which he tried to dissuade Catesby, offering him the
use of his own purse if he would even defer it.[8] Tresham could indeed
have desired nothing less than to become involved in such a matter. His
father had recently died, and he had succeeded to a considerable
property,[9] which alone induced his first cousin Catesby to bring him
into the plot. As Tresham wrote when in the Tower:[10] "I thank God I am
owner of such a fortune as is able to afford me what I desire, the
comfort whereof is so much the sweeter unto me, as I have spent most of
my time overburthened with debts and wants, and had resolved within
myself to spend my days quietly."[11] He acknowledged that his
intentions with regard to the other conspirators were "to ship them away
that they might have no means left them to contrive any more ... then to
have taken a course to have given the State advertisement by some
unknown means."[11] He was consequently the only conspirator who
remained behind and at large after Fawkes was taken and the others had
fled. There can be no reasonable doubt that Tresham, though not the
writer, was the sender of the letter; and upon this hypothesis all
investigators must go, as there is none other at all likely.


[Footnote 2: Salisbury, in his letter to Sir Charles Cornwallis,
Ambassador at Madrid (November 9), gives the hour as six o'clock.]

[Footnote 3: This was his secretary, Thomas Ward, who was known to
Monteagle as a friend of some of the conspirators (as Monteagle himself
was), and one of whom, Ward, the next morning told of the receipt of the
letter. "As a plan concocted by Monteagle and Tresham to stop the plot,
and at the same time to secure the escape of their guilty friends, the
little comedy at Hoxton was admirably concocted" ("What Gunpowder Plot
was," by S.R. Gardiner, D.C.L., 1897, p. 124).]

[Footnote 4: Father John Gerard (1564-1637) gives particulars of the
delivery of the letter at Hoxton in his contemporary "Narrative of the
Gunpowder Plot," published in 1872.]

[Footnote 5: "Calendar of Tresham Papers," p. 132.]

[Footnote 6: The word "yowe" (you), here cancelled in the original,
indicates the writer's first thoughts, and, no doubt, his real meaning.]

[Footnote 7: Various attempts have been made to explain the nature of
the danger alluded to, which the King and Salisbury at the time, and
others since, have understood as in allusion to the danger of the plot.
Jardine describes it as "mere nonsense" ("Gunpowder Plot," 1835, p. 73).
But the meaning clearly is the danger of the letter being discovered.
The counsel may do him good, and can do him no harm, except through the
danger of keeping the letter, which being burnt, the danger is past.
There is no allusion intended to the danger of the plot, as that, unlike
the danger of the discovery of the letter, could not be affected by
burning the letter.]

[Footnote 8: Tresham's statement made when in the Tower ("State Papers,
Domestic," James I., xvi. 63).]

[Footnote 9: The rental of the Rushton Hall estate alone, as given in
the "Return of Owners of Lands" in 1873, is 5,044 yearly. The Tresham
family also owned property at Hoxton and elsewhere.]

[Footnote 10: He died in the Tower six weeks after writing that letter,
aged thirty-seven.]

[Footnote 11: "State Papers, Domestic," James I., xvi., 63.]



The style of handwriting of the letter, as seen in the facsimile, is not
in this writer's opinion, from a familiarity of thirty years with old
scripts, apart from the disguise, the hand that an educated person would
write at the time, but is essentially a commonplace and, no doubt
intentionally, rather slovenly style of handwriting. The use of small
"i's" for the first person seems, in view of modern usage, to suggest an
illiterate writer; but educated writers, even the King,[12] then
occasionally lapsed into using them. In the letter, however, they are
consistently and may have been purposely used, to avert suspicion from
being the work of an educated person; though an illiterate appearance
would rather cause such a letter (if genuine) to be disregarded, than to
deter a nobleman from attending the opening of Parliament, for which
leave or licence was required.

The handwriting has been variously ascribed, but the direction of this
inquiry is indicated by the incautious admission made by Sir Edward
Coke, the Attorney-General at the trial, respecting the real manner in
which the plot was discovered. Salisbury's careful instructions to the
Attorney-General for the trial are with the State papers, in which he
says: "Next, you must in any case, when you speak of the letter which
was the first ground of discovery, absolutely disclaim that any of
these" (the conspirators) "wrote it, though you leave the further
judgment indefinite who else it should be."[13]

Salisbury thus, in effect, requires Coke by absolutely disclaiming that
any of the conspirators wrote (he does not say "sent") the letter to
Monteagle, and by which alone the treason was discovered, to declare in
Court, as upon the authority of the Government, that therefore none of
the conspirators divulged the plot; which, in any case, could be true
only so far as the disclosure to the Government was concerned. Coke,
however, for some reason--perhaps because he was not fully in
Salisbury's confidence respecting the letter--describes the real manner
of the discovery, according to his own knowledge. Towards the close of
his speech for the prosecution, he said: "The last consideration is
concerning the admirable discovery of this treason, which was by one of
themselves who had taken the oath and sacrament, as hath been said
against his own will;[14] the means by a dark and doubtful letter to my
Lord Monteagle." This, together with Salisbury's statement that none of
the conspirators wrote the letter, shows that the divulging of the plot
preceded the sending of the letter,[15] which was not, therefore, as is
popularly supposed, the means by which the plot was discovered, except
to the general public.

Hitherto those who have attempted this identification have invariably
sought amongst such as are likely to have written the letter for a
handwriting _resembling the disguised writing_, which seems a strange
method of investigation, as surely the object of a disguised hand[16]
would be to make the general appearance as unlike the writer's ordinary
hand as possible? The writing being in a set and rather large character,
such is the style they have sought for and found, but in a much more
refined hand and without arriving at any satisfactory result.

It seems, however, reasonable to suspect that this set and rather large
character may be what principally constitutes the disguise, and that the
writer's ordinary hand would be different. The manner in which the lines
are forced upwards at the right side, shows that the writer has had
difficulty in maintaining the large, set, regular character which would
push an unpractised hand in that direction.

Among the more prominent peculiarities, as seen in the facsimile (No.
1), the writer invariably uses the long "s" as an initial letter in the
ten examples that occur, even when the letter is not a capital. Such
consistent use was usual in legal but not in private hands, though
within a word the long "s" was very common. The "t's" are peculiar;
being made with a twist or short line at foot, crossed midway projecting
from each side, while a stroke is put on the top as a disguised, or
elaborated touch. The "w's" finish with a side loop. Some of the "g's"
show flat tops; the cypher portion being commenced from the left side
with a stroke along the top. The tails of the "y's" are brought forward.
The "hanger" portion of the "h's" invariably drags below the line which,
though not unusual, again indicates in the numerous examples that occur
the writer's habit; while an unusually broad quill has been used to
further the disguise.[17]

After the plot was discovered, Fawkes arrested, and the other
conspirators had escaped into the country, Tresham remained in London
and even offered his services to the Government. A week later he was
taken to the Tower where, being ill, his wife also came, and he was
attended by his serving-man, William Vavasour, and his maid, Joan Syer.
He was induced "to avoid ill-usage," to say that he thought Father
Garnet, against whom the Government desired to obtain evidence, had
written a letter in furtherance of what was known as the Spanish
Treason, in 1602. Six weeks later, his illness becoming dangerous, he
dictated to his man Vavasour a letter to Lord Salisbury, retracting his
statement respecting Garnet, as being more than he really knew;
declaring upon his salvation that he had not seen him "in sixteen years
before," clearly meaning before the Spanish Treason in 1602, which is
the entire subject of his letter and the fact; and not, as the
Government misunderstood him to mean, before the then time of writing in
1605. This statement, written by Vavasour (Fascimile No. 3), was signed
by Tresham, who asked his wife to deliver it personally to Lord
Salisbury, and within three hours died:[18]

"I being sent for before yo^r Lordships in the Tow^r, you told me y^t
(that) it was Confessed by Mr Winter, y^t he went upon some
imploym^{ts} in ye Queens time into Spayne & y^t yo^r L. did nominate
to me out of his Confession all the partyes names y^t were acquainted
therew^{th} _namely 4 besides himselfe_[19] & yet sayd y^t ther were
some left for me to name. I desired yo^r L. y^t I might not answere
therunto bycause it was a matter y^t was done in the Queens time and
since I had my pardon.

"Yo^r Lordships wold not accept of y^t answere, _but sayd y^t I should
be made to speake therunto. And I might thanke my self If I had beene
worse used than I had beene since my Coming to the howse_[19] I told
yo^r Lords^p (_to avoyde ill usage_)[19] y^t I thought Mr. Walley[20]
was p'cured to write his letter for the furthering of this Jeorney. Now
my LL. having bethoughte myselfe of this businesse (being to weake to
use my owne hand in writing this) w^{ch} I do deliver here upon my
salvacon to be trew as near as I can call to mynde, desiring y^t my
form'r Confession may be called in & y^t this may stand for truthe. It
was more than I knew y^t Mr. Walley[20] was used herein, & to give your
Lords'p p'ofe besids my oathe, I had not seene him in sixteene yere
before, nor never had messuadge[21] nor letter from him & to this
purpose I desired Mr. Leiftenant to lett me see my Confession who told
me I should not unlesse I wold inlarge it w^{ch} he did p'ceive I had
no meaning to doe.

(Signed) Francis Tresame.

"24 m'ch 1605 [-6].
This noate was of my owne
hand writing
By me Willia' Vavasore."

Tresham's statement being misunderstood to mean that he had not seen
Garnet for sixteen years,[22] while the Government knew from Tresham
himself[23] that he had recently been in Garnet's company, was
considered such awful perjury to commit when dying as to be incredible.
Coke wrote to Salisbury: "It is true that no man may judge in this case,
for _inter pontem et fontem_ he might find grace; but it is the most
fearful example that I ever knew of to be made so evident as now this
is." Salisbury at the trial said: "Mr. Tresham in his lifetime accused
you, Garnet, before the lords, yet now upon his salvation, he under his
hand did excuse you, being at the very point of death, saying he had not
seen you _in sixteen years_, which matter, I assure you, before you were
taken shook me very much. But, thanks be to God, since the coming of the
King, I have known so much of your doctrine and practices, that
hereafter they shall not much trouble me." The writing of Tresham's
dying statement was, therefore, particularly, inquired into, and
Vavasour had to make a written statement respecting his knowledge of it;
evidently for comparison of the handwriting. This appears to have so
alarmed him that in his statement (Fascimile No. 4), written in the
presence of Sir William Waad, Lieutenant of the Tower, he asserted that
the dying statement was written by Mrs. Tresham, at her husband's

"I do rememb' y^t my m^r did cause my m^{res} to write a note wherto he
did did (_sic_) bid the mayd and me beare witnes y^t he did set his
hand unto it, but it was not reade at y^t time but since m^{res}
Tressa' did reede it to me and sayd it was y^t noate y^t my m^r did
bid us beare witnesse and she comaunded me to carye a letter to S^r
Waulter Cope and to desire him to deliver the noate inclosed to my
Lorde of Salsburye and further my m^r did say y^t he cold not write
him selfe bycause he was not able but he did sett his hande unto it
as before I have sayd and this was done some day before his death.

"(Signed) By me William Vavasor.

"23. March 1605 [-6].
Taken before us:
(Signed) W. Waad.
Willus Lane."

If for any reason Vavasour did not desire his writing to be brought into
question, there could be no harm, beyond his falsehood, in naming Mrs.
Tresham as the writer of that letter, as neither could possibly be
blamed for writing such a statement for his master. The question arises,
whether Vavasour would have ventured upon an untrue statement, except
through panic, unless feeling sure of Mrs. Tresham's support? As Mrs.
Tresham throughout made no attempt to conceal the truth for Vavasour,
she may have been unaware of any reason for diverting inquiry from
himself respecting letters written for his master. Even if Mrs. Tresham
had been willing to connive at his falsehood, she could not have done
so; as Salisbury, being convinced that she not only wrote but composed
her husband's dying statement and induced him to sign to shield Father
Garnet, was so incensed against her that he declined to see her,[24] or
even to receive her husband's statement, when she tried to deliver it.
She was therefore obliged, in view of possible consequences to herself,
to own[25] that Vavasour wrote the statement at her husband's dictation.
Vavasour was then examined in the Tower by Chief Justice Popham and by
Coke, when he confessed[26] that he wrote the dying statement at his
master's dictation, and had denied it through fear, which could only
arise from having written some other and less innocent letter for him.

Vavasour, when writing his untrue statement, would avoid using his
ordinary handwriting, as already appearing in the letter in question
(No. 3), which he had ascribed to Mrs. Tresham. He, therefore, disguises
his writing, so far as having to write off-hand and under the
observation of the Lieutenant of the Tower and an attendant Justice,
with the consciousness that he is writing what is false, and while
having to be careful not to reproduce his former disguised hand, as seen
in the anonymous letter, permits him; and the hand thus produced betrays
him as the writer of that letter, with which the writing is, in itself,
identical. The long "s" is invariably used for a word commencing with
that letter, even when not a capital; there are the same peculiar "t's,"
though in a less disguised or elaborated form than those of the
anonymous letter, but there they clearly are; the "w's" have no side
loops, but in Vavasour's note at foot of No. 3 a conspicuous example is
seen; there are no "g's";[27] the "y's" are particularly noticeable,
being in two varieties: Vavasour's ordinary "y," of which the tail is
tucked back; in the other, the tail is brought forward; and no one can
fail to see that the latter are by the same hand as those in the letter;
the "hangers" of the "h's" invariably drag below the line; and
generally, the writing may throughout be detected as by the same hand
that wrote the anonymous letter.

The best specimen of Vavasour's handwriting, although not so useful as
No. 4 for identification purposes, is in the MS. entitled "A Treatise
against Lying," etc., identified by William Tresham as having been
transcribed by Vavasour for Francis Tresham, which is now in the
Bodleian Library (Facsimile No. 2). To anyone familiar with the
handwriting of the period, Vavasour's writing is the usual law-writer's
or copyist's hand, such as appears in conveyances and deeds of the
time,[28] and is not the style of hand that an educated person would
then write. Each initial "s" is of the long form; each "w" has a side
loop; the "g's" are flat-topped; and the "h's" come below the line, etc.
Tresham's dying statement (No. 3) appears to be in a similar but
smaller[29] and less carefully written hand. Vavasour wrote a neat,
small hand, which, when disguising, the probability is that he would
attempt an opposite style. If it were not for the testimony of the
Lieutenant of the Tower, that the untrue statement (No. 4) was actually
written in his presence by Vavasour, the writing would not, from the
general appearance, readily be recognized as by the same hand that wrote
Tresham's dying statement (No. 3), and so acknowledged by Vavasour. This
shows that he was naturally clever in disguising his hand, hence his
employment by Tresham in writing the anonymous letter to Lord Monteagle.

* * * * *

Upon the evidence of the handwriting alone, William Vavasour was the
writer of that letter.[30]


[Footnote 12: In the "Correspondence of James I. with Sir Robert Cecil"
(published by the Camden Society in 1861), both the King and the Earl of
Northumberland occasionally use them (pp. 64, 70, etc.). The latter also
uses them in his general correspondence.]

[Footnote 13: "State Papers, Domestic," James I., xix. 94.]

[Footnote 14: Tresham was throughout the only unwilling conspirator, but
he did not take the oath sacramentally, only seven or eight of the
thirteen conspirators did so.]

[Footnote 15: "No wise man could think my lord (Monteagle) to be so weak
as to take any alarm to absent himself from Parliament upon such a loose
advertisement" (Letter from Salisbury to Cornwallis, November 9).]

[Footnote 16: Salisbury, in his letter to Cornwallis, particularly
describes the writing as being "in a hand disguised," and he, like
Monteagle, would know not only the writer, but how the letter came to be

[Footnote 17: In an expert examination of handwriting, the angle at
which the pen is held, as indicated by the long strokes, and the spacing
between the lines which a writer naturally uses, have also to be
considered--being the basis of handwriting, the first movements that are
made in learning to write, and become each writer's characteristics in
those respects. In each specimen of William Vavasour's handwriting,
including the anonymous letter, the long strokes are generally at the
same angle, and the spacing between the lines (except in No. 3) is
throughout generally similar, while his brother George's hand is in each
respect quite different.]

[Footnote 18: "He died this night, about two of the clock after
midnight, with very great pain; for though his spirits were much spent
and his body dead, a-lay above two hours in departing" (Lieutenant of
the Tower to Salisbury, December 23, 1605, "State Papers, Domestic,"
James I., xvii. 56). Tresham's death, being so opportune for Monteagle,
if not for Salisbury, has been attributed to poisoning; but Stowe's
"Annals" (1615, p. 880) states it to have been occasioned by strangury,
though giving the date of his death incorrectly as November 22. Ten
years later a subsequent Lieutenant of the Tower was executed for
poisoning a State prisoner.]

[Footnote 19: The portion printed in italics was underlined by Coke for
_omission_ when the statement was read at the trial. The "4 besides
himself," having reference to Monteagle, was therefore suppressed; the
other suppressions in the statement were made for obvious and unfair

[Footnote 20: "Walley" was one of Father Garnet's aliases.]

[Footnote 21: This is very suggestive of a law-writer's spelling of
"message" (messuage and tenement).]

[Footnote 22: When Garnet returned from Rome in 1585, as Superior of the
Jesuits in England, he made the Treshams' acquaintance, being a
prominent Roman Catholic family, when Francis was eighteen. Garnet was
not their confessor, and the acquaintance had dropped for at least
sixteen years before the Spanish Treason in 1602. Garnet's statement,
made (March 23, 1605-6) after Tresham's death, is: "I knew him about 18
years ago, but since discontinued my acquaintance until the time between
his trouble in my lord of Essex's tumult and the Queen's death"
(1602-3). Garnet would have neither motive nor inclination to shield
Tresham, whose betrayal of the plot had brought Garnet to the Tower. He
might otherwise have discerned Tresham's real meaning in his statement
of "sixteen years before," which the contemporary Jesuit Father Gerard
correctly interprets as before 1602 in his narrative of the plot. It was
not Garnet's complicity in the Spanish Treason in the previous reign
(for which he had his pardon) that the Government cared about, and that
so shook Salisbury, but simply Tresham's dying statement being
misunderstood to mean that he had not seen Garnet for the past sixteen
years, which is all that the present writer is concerned with.]

[Footnote 23: "State Papers, Domestic," James I., xvi. 62.]

[Footnote 24: So he said at the trial: "She came to see me, but I spared
either to speak with her or hear her." But Mrs. Tresham in her
examination said that, "in respect of her sorrow and heaviness," she
"was enforced to send it"; and in her note enclosing the dying statement
to Sir Walter Cope for delivery, she wrote: "My sorrows are such that I
am altogether unfit to come abroad; wherefore I would entreat you to
deliver it yourself unto my lord, that I may have my husband's desire
fulfilled therein" ("State Papers, Domestic," James I., ccxvi. 211).]

[Footnote 25: Examination of Mrs. Tresham (_ibid._, ccxvi. 209).]

[Footnote 26: Examination of William Vavasour (_ibid._, ccxvi. 207).]

[Footnote 27: Vavasour, in his authentic and ordinary writing, used
flat-topped "g's," as seen in the anonymous letter, as well as in No. 2,
ascribed to him.]

[Footnote 28: The deed of Robert Catesby's marriage settlement with
Katherine, eldest daughter of Sir Thomas Leigh, of Stoneleigh (1592), in
the possession of T.W. Whitmore-Jones; Esq., of Chastleton House, Oxon,
is in a similar legal hand, with precisely the same peculiarities of
"s," "g," "w," "h," etc. A law-writer's hand to-day is in a
"copper-plate" style, which, although most suitable for the purpose, is
not the kind of hand that an educated person would write whose business
was not copying, and there was then a similar distinction between them.]

[Footnote 29: Apparently owing to restrictions of space and paper.]

[Footnote 30: The original letter is framed and exhibited upon a
pedestal in the Museum of the Public Record Office. The facsimile has,
therefore, had to be made from a negative taken of the letter as seen
through glass, while the other facsimiles have the advantage of being
made from negatives taken of documents unglazed.]



The Attorney-General in his speech for the prosecution at Father
Garnet's trial (March 28, 1606), as given in the official report,
alluding to Tresham's dying statement, said: "Upon his death-bed he
commanded Vavasour his man, _whom I think deeply guilty in this
treason_, to write a letter to the Earl of Salisbury."

Henry Garnet's trial was purposely held at the City Guildhall, instead
of Westminster Hall, the usual trial place where the conspirators had
been tried, in order to make the occasion as imposing, and his case as
exemplary, as possible, on account of his position as Superior of the
Jesuits in England.[31] The King was privately present, and there was a
most distinguished assembly of ambassadors, nobility, and others.

Before this audience, the Attorney-General, whose opinion determines or
considerably influences a prosecution for high treason, states in Court
that a person who is not even present nor arraigned is in his opinion
"deeply guilty" in the most infamous treason ever attempted, and for
which the conspirators had already been executed: so "heinous, horrible
and damnable"[32] was it considered, that the authorities had even
proposed to devise some specially severe form of torture for the
perpetrators to undergo, in addition to the usual terrible penalty for
high treason.[33]

Coke, who it will be remembered was the most eminent counsel and the
greatest jurist of the time, however desirous he would be of bringing to
light everything connected with such a treason upon the occasion, would
scarcely, as legally representing the Crown in his capacity of the
King's Attorney-General, express so extremely damaging an opinion
without sufficient reason. There is something in his mind concerning
Vavasour,[34] respecting whom he is not satisfied; and it can only be
Vavasour's having written, not the letter to Salisbury--as that could
not possibly implicate him, nor render him "deeply guilty" in a treason
_which had been discovered and ended six weeks before the letter to
Salisbury was written_--but that other and most treasonable letter to
Monteagle, for there was nothing else against him in the matter.[35]
Coke evidently knows, or suspects, that Vavasour wrote the warning
letter; and he cannot understand why he is not brought to trial.[36] He
therefore expresses his opinion of Vavasour's guilt as strongly as
possible, and even describes him with what for an Attorney-General in
ordinary circumstances would be a singular redundancy of legal
expression, as being "deeply guilty" in the treason.[37] No one would
know better than the Attorney-General that in high treason itself the
law makes no distinction whatever of degrees of guilt, nor can there
even be an accessory: once participant, whatever the part played may be,
all alike are principals.

Coke's statement in Court has been officially in print for over three
hundred years, yet no investigator seems to have noticed it and so have
been led to inquire what was done to Vavasour?--by which alone a clue
might have been obtained to the writer of the letter.[38] Although
Vavasour was publicly stated by the Attorney-General to be "deeply
guilty" in a treason of which Salisbury wrote: "I shall esteem my life
unworthily given me when I shall be found slack in searching to the
bottom of the dregs of this foul poison, or lack resolution to further
to my small power the prosecution and execution of ALL those whose
hearts and hands can appear foul in this savage practise"[39]--yet he
was not even brought to trial, while other serving-men were tried and

It is questionable whether Salisbury, unless agreeing with Coke's
opinion of Vavasour's guilt, would have allowed the allusion to appear
in the official report of the trial, prepared by himself and sanctioned
by the King;[41] as, if innocent of the treason, an intolerable
injustice would have been done to Vavasour by the publication, which
probably neither the King nor Salisbury would have permitted, in making
a senseless attack upon the reputation of an innocent man, who would
certainly have protested.

Without, however, assuming too advanced ideas of justice for the time,
it is unlikely that so capable a person as Salisbury appears to have
been,[42] could fail to perceive that the publication of the
Attorney-General's opinion of Vavasour's guilt must, in the absence of
any prosecution, call attention to Vavasour, and thus furnish a clue to
the writer of the letter.

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